Are U.S. Schools Really Resegregating? Maybe Not, Says Researcher.

The phenomenon of white families fleeing their neighborhoods to avoid racially integrated schools is part of the reason why black and white students rarely learn together in the same classrooms.

There are two major ways to measure school segregation. One of them is called the exposure index, and by this yardstick.

Going by the exposure index, for the average black student in a U.S. public school in 2012, only 27 percent of his or her schoolmates were white — a figure that has been on the decline in recent decades, says Dr. Steven Rivkin.

The racial dissimilarity index, paints a different picture. According to this metric — which compares the racial makeup of individual schools in a district to the racial makeup of that district overall school segregation has in fact been on the decline.

How do these two measures tell such different stories?

Rivkin theorizes that natural population changes shed light on the issue. With Hispanic and Asian making up a greater share of the student population, whites simply have a smaller enrollment share in public schools than they used to. Thus, says Rivkin, “a pronounced increase in Hispanic and Asian public-school enrollment and consequent decline in the white enrollment share, not a pattern of resegregation, has driven the fall in the exposure of black students to white schoolmates.” He points to the racial dissimilarity numbers as proof of this.

“I think what people observe and talk about a lot is black children now have far fewer white schoolmates than they did around 1980, and that’s often referred to [as] resegregation. On average, I think that’s misleading.” “There has been some resegregation in some districts that no longer undertake desegregation efforts, but in the country as a whole, children I think are more mixed than they’ve ever been in this country,” Rivkin said.

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