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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report and Data Tool Show Vast Income Segregation Issues in Nation’s Schools
Press Release

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Washington, D.C. — A new analysis by the Center for American Progress, which examined 1,700 large public school districts across the country, affirms that public schools are in as much need of integration today as they were 100 years ago. The report finds that millions of students attend highly segregated schools, with 4 out of 10 U.S. public-school districts experiencing intense economic isolation.

A two-year long research project, CAP’s report examines class-based economic segregation across the nation, and it features a new interactive data tool that generates “segregation scores” for most large urban districts in all 50 states, covering 60 percent of the student population.

The report also examines public opinion on this issue. Using survey data and focus groups, the report finds that the public underestimates the problem of economic segregation in schools. While Americans believe that school diversity issues exist, they are not fully aware of how pervasive the problem is, according to authors Ulrich Boser and Perpetual Baffour.

“At a time when President Donald Trump has used divisive rhetoric to threaten many of the bonds that hold modern Americans together, public schools can serve as critical space to bring people closer to teach and embrace the nation’s diversity. This report outlines and encourages policies to move our educational system to a place where it reflects the country as a whole,” said Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at CAP. “The report comes at a time when a wave of research shows that students perform better in diverse classrooms.”

According to the report, most Americans are not aware of these shared benefits of diverse schools, however. Nonetheless, support for reform remains high. According to the report, 70 percent of Americans support the economic integration of schools.

“Class-based segregation remains deeply entrenched in the educational system despite public support for more diverse schools. It’s time for local, state and federal leaders to tackle the pervasive and insidious problem of segregation,” said Perpetual Baffour, research associate at CAP.

CAP’s report profiles a variety of policy solutions for federal, state, local, and district leaders, from weighted student lotteries to innovative housing policies. The report also finds that parents believe in school diversity in theory, but they generally reject policies that limit the educational options for their child. The report calls for policymakers to be more innovative in their approach to solving the problem of income segregation in schools.

CAP’s report focuses on economic segregation rather than racial segregation as a result of a growing number of schools and districts that have integrated based on students’ socioeconomic status rather than by race or ethnicity. Part of this shift is a result of a Supreme Court opinion limiting the use of race and ethnicity in school integration plans.

Click here to read “Isolated and Segregated: A New Look at the Income Divide in Our Nation’s Schooling System,” by Ulrich Boser and Perpetual Baffour.

Click here to explore the interactive data tool, “Segregated by Income: A District-by-District Evaluation of Economic Segregation in America’s Schools.”

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Devon Kearns at [email protected] or 202.741.6290.