Eliminating racial segregation can be a little like playing whack-a-mole: Instead of going away, too often it just finds a new outlet.
A massive new study of North Carolina classrooms over nearly 20 years finds that as racial segregation between schools went down, the racial isolation within the classrooms inside those schools went up. This class-level isolation can limit black and Hispanic students’ access to challenging courses and hamstring district efforts to encourage the broader social and academic benefits of diversity.
In a working paper released earlier this month, Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers looked at data on the number of white, black, and Hispanic students in every class in the Tarheel State’s K-12 traditional and charter public schools. The researchers focused on English and math classes in grades 4, 7, and 10 during the 1997-98, 2005-06, and 2012-13 school years, a time when the state’s Hispanic student population grew from 3 percent of all students to 14 percent. They defined segregation as the degree to which the racial makeup of classrooms departed from the racial composition of all public school students in the county.
Segregation within schools accounted for up to 40 percent of all racial segregation in North Carolina, which has been a bellwether for national efforts to integrate schools. The study’s findings suggest this “hidden segregation” can become a problem for the very districts focused on making their overall schools more diverse.
“Within-school segregation is significant. Ignore this at your peril,” said Charles Clotfelter, who co-authored the study with Duke colleagues Helen Ladd and Mavzuna Turaeva, and Steven Hemelt of UNC-Chapel Hill, at a summit here by the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, part of the American Institutes of Research.