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Miami Herald: Florida schools growing more segregated — and the problem is worst in Miami, study says

Friday, September 29, 2017


While Florida has become more diverse over the past two decades, its schools have grown increasingly segregated. And nowhere is the problem more acute than in Miami.

That’s according to a new study from Florida State University’s LeRoy Collins Institute, which found that one-fifth of the state’s schools are intensely segregated, with African-American and Hispanic students making up 90 percent or more of the student body, compared to just over a tenth of Florida schools in the mid-1990s.

The percent of schools where 99 to 100 percent of the student body is nonwhite, which the study’s authors referred to as “apartheid schools,” also doubled during that period, from 2 percent to 4 percent.

“Florida is becoming more diverse as a state, but that diversity is not showing up in the schools,” said Carol Weissert, the director of the LeRoy Collins Institute. “That’s kind of a mismatch.”

The worst segregation is concentrated in urban and suburban areas. Miami has the highest concentration of highly segregated schools, the study found, although segregation is also an issue in Broward and Palm Beach schools as well as in other cities farther north, including Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee. The problem is also worse in charter schools than in traditional public schools, according to the study.

 And racial segregation is compounded by poverty, with most students in the “apartheid schools” living below the poverty line.

That’s bad news for Florida students. School segregation can have a negative impact on the quality of the education students receive. Research has shown that schools with a larger portion of middle-class white students tend to have access to more resources and more challenging classes, which also benefit disadvantaged students enrolled at the schools.

“You are concentrating students who already come to school with fewer resources, less support and maybe a more destabilized community, which can depress outcomes,” said Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami who specializes in education issues.

But the impact goes beyond academic opportunities, James said. Children who aren’t exposed to people from other backgrounds are less likely to see racial and economic disparities as a problem, she said.

“It creates a sense for white students in all-white schools that their monopoly on resources is normal,” she said. “If people grow up thinking that’s normal, they will not question it later and that’s a real problem.”

The resurgence of segregated schools in Florida dates back to the mid-1990s, when court orders that helped integrate schools in the 1970s and 1980s were lifted, the study found. State and national education policies that emphasize standardized tests also shifted the focus from school segregation to school grades, the authors wrote.

At the same time, Florida’s demographics have shifted. The state has seen an influx of Hispanic students, while the proportion of white students has dropped from 68 to 40 percent since 1994. The proportion of African-American students has remained relatively constant at around 22 percent.

In many cities, including Miami, neighborhood segregation also plays a major role in segregating schools, the study found.

James agreed that court decisions and demographics are important factors, but added that local school districts and individual schools shouldn’t be let off the hook.

“No policy decisions should be made without a consideration of how it’s going to impact enrollment patterns, race and ethnicity,” James said. “I see that happening too much in South Florida.”

A previous Miami Herald analysis found that local policies like allowing cities to pay for the expansion of magnet programs in exchange for seats for their residents have increased segregation along race and class lines in some areas.

The responsibility also lies with individual families, James said.

“I do think not enough onus is placed on parents themselves to think really hard about the schooling decisions they make and how those decisions affect others.”

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