Press Release

Lost Learning, Forgotten Promises

Center for American Progress Releases A National Analysis of School Racial Segregation, Student Achievement, and “Controlled Choice” Plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The struggle to desegregate America’s schools while ensuring equal educational opportunities for students of all races is one of the greatest social challenges the nation has faced over the last half century. While significant progress has been made since the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, thousands of schools around the country are still almost completely segregated.

In the coming months, the Court will once again address the issue when it considers the constitutionality of “controlled choice” programs in Louisville and Seattle. These efforts, unlike the controversial busing of the 1960s and 1970s, are implemented without court intervention and allow parents a variety of school choices while still ensuring some degree of racial integration.

A new Center for American Progress report (PDF) considers the educational consequences of the considerable racial segregation that remains in schools today and the potential of controlled choice to address them. It begins with an extensive review of research regarding the effects of school integration. Previous research provides relatively strong evidence that desegregation helps minority students reach higher academic achievement and better long-term outcomes such as college attendance and employment.

This report provides a new, exhaustive analysis of racial segregation across the country. The study analyzes the effects of segregation in more than 22,000 schools across the country that enroll more than 18 million students. Previous studies on the subject have included no more than a few thousand students, making this study arguably the largest ever conducted on the effects of segregation.

The new information is used to address two basic questions: First, do minority students learn more in integrated schools? Second, would racial integration improve the equity of learning outcomes in general and in the Louisville and Seattle districts that are the subjects of the Court case? The answers to these questions appear to be “yes.”


  • African Americans and Hispanics learn more in integrated schools. Minorities attending integrated schools also perform better in college attendance and employment.
  • Controlled choice and other forms of desegregation benefit minority students.
  • Racial integration is a rare case where an educational policy appears to improve educational equity at little financial cost.

Using the data gathered by the Bush administration on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the report finds that minority students have lower achievement in segregated schools. Given the Bush administration’s stated priorities to raise achievement in minority schools, these findings raise serious questions about the administration’s opposition to the controlled choice plans that help reduce segregation in our schools, and therefore improve achievement among minority students.

These results have significant implications for the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision. In the original Brown decision, as well as a more recent case involving race and admissions to universities, a majority of the Court argued that considering race in school assignment was constitutional partly because racial integration is an important part of the learning environment. By showing that less learning takes place in segregated schools, the results in this study support the contention that racial diversity is important to the learning environment. If the goal is to improve achievement, then opposing controlled choice is counterproductive.

Click here to read the full report: Lost Learning, Forgotten Promises (PDF)