School Segregation Persists, But Not In Louisville

If you’re a black public school student in Chicago, there’s a 70% chance you’re in an intensely segregated school (90%+ minority student body).  Similar trends occur for Latino students in Los Angeles.  Examine enrollments in many urban districts across the land and you’ll see similar trends suggesting that despite our country’s status as a melting pot, many of our public schools are more like one or two ingredient stews. 

chicago public school students

And according to The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, fifteen percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools” across the nation in which whites make up zero to 1 percent of the enrollment.  

There’s no law driving these numbers, but there is also little being done to remedy inequities, and The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss sums up the research: 

“Segregation in public schools has been linked to a number of problems that affect the achievement of minorities. Schools with a big majority of students who live in poverty have higher dropout rates, fewer experienced teachers and far less resources than schools with majorities of middle- and upper-class students. The studies note that expert teachers and advanced courses more common in predominantly white and/or wealthy schools help create educational advantages over minority segregated settings.”

If the above is true, then how come there aren’t more incentives for experienced teachers to teach in more segregated schools?  How come policy-wonks obsess over closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, yet most school systems accept these types of structural inequalities?  

Civic leaders and policy makers in Louisville, Kentucky, however, have long determined that we don’t want de facto segregation to rule the roost.  After all, we could have neighborhood schools that are intensely segregated by race and income.  We’re no different than many urban areas regarding housing and neighborhood demographics.

As school ended this afternoon in Louisville, thousands of public school students boarded buses to begin their journeys home.  For some, a simple five or ten minute drive delivered them to their stop.  For others, their trek included a transfer at a bus depot, and a much longer trip.  There are students who live in the predominantly black West End and attend schools in the lily-white eastern suburbs.  And vice-versa.

I grew up in Concord, NH, and I always attended my neighborhood public school.  It seemed like everybody did.  Bake sales, open houses, and other community events were big deals, and they were also relatively easy to get to.  More than 90% of my classmates were white, and I was oblivious and insulated from the challenges–both on a personal and systemic level–that plague our urban schools.

I honestly don’t know what would be better for our community.  We still have large achievement gaps.  We still have disproportionately high discipline problems with minority students.  We still have “schools within schools,” where tracking and AP courses result in classrooms segregated within our buildings.  Home and neighborhood influences still seems to exert greater sway over educational outcomes, despite the fact that many of our students, in theory, attend “better” schools due to busing.

I’d like to believe the busing has positive effects on the educational attainment–and also the personal growth–of our students.

Even if the academic effects are marginally positive, isn’t busing a good thing to help foster tough-to-measure human characteristics like tolerance? If you’re a single-parent in an impoverished part of the city, is it beneficial for your student to travel away from the neighborhood to attend school?  Does the busing lead to less neighborhood cohesion, as true neighborhood schools are generally diluted?  Do our students become more prepared for the “real world” thanks to exposure and interaction with those different from themselves?

Look forward to your thoughts.


  1. Reblogged this on chosenandinpurpose and commented:
    This is a very interesting article, and a eye opener to me. Growing up in the rural south in Selma Alabama. I would like to feel that segregation is a thing of the past, but Im not naive to believe race issues do not still exist in America. As a mental health provider I strive to break down barriers for the African American people by opening their horizon by educating them and helping to break down walls and myths that have ruled their life.

  2. I’m sure there are. JCPS doesn’t promote the word busing, but instead they like using the term diversity. They use their system to promote diversity, which is needed I suppose.

  3. Well said Paul. You raise good questions. Ones I have pondered myself. Right or wrong I will say that I know the JCPS bus depot staff does an amazing job looking after and making sure all of those students get home safely. I helped out at a bus depot during the start if school in 2011 and was so impressed by the professionalism and care for students.
    But I’m still not sure I would want Simon, as a five year old, rinsing the bus for an hour to get to school.

  4. Paul,
    Look into Louisville Central High School. The community fought to waive the minority enrollment percentages so that they could have a neighborhood school. Their enrollment consists of more than just their community, but still above 95% minority.

  5. Paul, I am a teacher in Louisville and enjoy working with kids from different backgrounds. While I personally like working in a diverse environment, I can also see why others don’t and therefore lean towards neighborhood schools.
    I like what you said about kids getting out of their every day surroundings and seeing what else is out there. Providing an education across town is a good option and I’m glad our school district gives that opportunity. With that being said, unfortunately we still have a major issue with the achievement gap and it makes me wonder are our efforts in vain.

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