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Resegregation in American Public Schools? 
Not in the 1990s

John Logan

Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research
University at Albany

April 26, 2004


Mumford Center assistants Jacob Stowell and Deirdre Oakley
contributed toward the preparation and analysis of the data reported here.


As the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision approaches, numerous media reports have stated that our schools are in the midst of a massive resegregation movement, compromising the achievement of the 1960s and 1970s.  This is the conclusion reached by Gary Orfield, Co-Director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project and author of many books, articles, and reports on school segregation.  “We are losing many of the gains of desegregation,” he is quoted as saying (The Washington Post, January 18, 2004). “We are not back to where we were before Brown, but we are back to when King was assassinated” [in 1968].

The chief evidence in favor of this thesis is the declining share of black and Hispanic students in majority white schools since 1990.  But is this trend caused by resegregation or by broader changes in the American population? Our analysis points to the latter, demonstrating that whites did not move toward increasingly white schools as minorities increasingly attended minority schools.  Instead national demographic shifts involving all racial and ethnic groups have resulted in schools with lower shares of whites and higher shares of black, Hispanic, and Asian enrollment.  It is misleading to label these trends as resegregation.

Specifically, we find:

  • White students make up a declining share of public elementary enrollment due to rapid growth in the number of Hispanic and Asian students.
  • There has been an overall shift in the composition of elementary schools, with declining numbers of students of all races in schools that are predominantly (more than 90%) white and growth especially in majority minority schools.
  • White students have shifted from schools that are predominantly white, increasing their representation in schools that are moderately (50-89%) white or moderately (50-89%) minority.  Black, Hispanic and Asian students have shifted from schools that are moderately white toward those that are moderately or predominantly minority. 
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