School segregation is worse than it was 45 years ago. While we saw relatively rapid integration after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, we have been back pedaling since 1988. Racial isolation, particularly of low-income black students, is increasing,
At the same time, racial and ethnic inequalities in morbidity and mortality persist.
There is little chance of decreasing health inequities among racial minorities without de-segregating our schools. If not for the educational, ethical and many other reasons that children of any race deserve equal opportunity to succeed, poor health outcomes for the next generation will greatly affect our nation’s future.
I won’t waste time proving that separate isn’t equal. We know school districts in low-income, minority neighborhoods often lack resources such as books and computers, and suffer from overcrowded classrooms and poor teacher credentials.
Structural racism, such as school segregation, affects children’s short and long-term health. The aggregated advantage of educational opportunities over time has been found to decrease reports of health limitations in early adulthood. For respondents with fewer educational advantages, such as advanced placement courses and tutoring, Blacks experience a greater health burden as they age compared to Whites and Hispanics. Another study found segregation within the curriculum (racial disparities in advanced placement classes, etc.) is related to students’ health behaviors (smoking and drinking), as well as to decreased educational aspirations among Black males. Studies on residential racial isolation have similarly found there to be an effect on health outcomes.
Yet, despite what we know, every possible strategy is used to avoid integration. This includes creating charter schools, aiming to improve schools in poor or minority neighborhoods, tying school funding to test scores, and requiring intensive teacher evaluations. But, none of those efforts work to erase the achievement gap like integration.
The State of California annually spends $1 billion in desegregation funds that are sent to school districts throughout California. However, the funds are not tracked by the state to determine their use and there have not been any assessments to determine which strategies are helping or hindering the students. In California, Latino students are extremely segregated, with typical Latinos attending schools that are 84% non-white. The most segregated districts are in the Los Angeles-Inland Empire Region. The most integrated large districts are in the Sacramento and Fresno areas, where, not-surprisingly, housing segregation is low.
Education, public health and other cross sectoral programs and policies are desperately needed to diminish the impact of school segregation and push for integrated schools. Policies such as affordable housing, integrated housing, and increased resources to enforce anti-discrimination policies in education are all required, as is education for parents who fear that integration will result in violence and lower test scores (which it doesn’t).
Segregated schools threaten our future health and well-being. Integrating schools will have positive impacts across sectors, likely including, but not limited to, higher graduation and employment rates, decreased hospitalizations, and ultimately better health outcomes for all.