In the past decade, resegregation through so-called “white flight” and relaxed integration enforcement is leading to greater inequality from an earlier age. Modern inner-city schools are often underfunded, while dropout rates are high and violence is common. Police officers routinely intervene to discipline students for minor infractions, exposing minority kids early to the criminal justice system. Greater allocation of resources may not be enough to halt the cycle of racially-skewed poverty and crime as long as racial and class segregation continues, according to an analysis by Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman.
Over 50 years since the Supreme Court desegregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education, integration has helped keep black students from dropping out, while improving their earnings, health and decreasing incarceration rates. But resegregation of schools since 2001, when poor black students stopped getting bused to integrated schools, is fast undoing the progress made since the civil rights era.
Fisman highlights a recent study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina, a civil rights battleground used in a 1971 Supreme Court decision to allow busing of minority students into white schools. Before 2001, school populations were racially mixed through the inclusion of some minority neighborhoods not immediately around the school. After busing was halted, the district redrew its school boundaries to re-sort students into mostly black and mostly white schools. The study found that even with increased funding to minority schools, young black students placed in resegregated schools were suddenly tangling with law enforcement more frequently:
Despite cushioning minority students from academic decline, the resegregation of Charlotte schools nonetheless led to a jump in arrests and incarcerations of minority students—particularly among poor black males, who are most at risk for crime. According to the authors’ calculations, a poor black male was 15 percent more likely to get arrested if assigned to a school that had 60 percent minority students rather than 40 percent minority.
The study’s findings suggest that clustering those already most vulnerable to turning to crime—poor black males—in certain schools may lead to their acting as negative influences on one another. These findings also underscore the fact that desegregation isn’t the zero-sum game that it’s often portrayed to be, with benefits to black students coming at the expense of whites. White students didn’t commit fewer crimes with the end of busing, while black students committed significantly more.
Court-ordered integration led to more equitable resources and spending per student regardless of race, allowing poor minority students to access, to an extent, the same kinds of opportunities as white children. In the Charlotte study, increased resources for resegregated minority schools kept the dropout rate level. But active integration policies are necessary to help students change their socioeconomic fates. The study links the racial crime gap directly to segregation, concluding, “Policies that allocate additional resources to segregated schools can improve classroom instruction and course offerings, but only deliberately integrative student assignment policies can change the racial or socioeconomic backgrounds of students who walk in the doors of the school.”