HAVE U.S. SCHOOLS become more racially segregated in the past two decades? It should seem a simple question to answer, based on the racial composition of schools then and now. But it’s a raging debate among academics, journalists and policy advocates. It turns out that there are different ways to measure segregation or racial diversity and the different measures can sometimes point in opposite directions.
Consider the city of Providence, R.I. In 2000, just over a third, or 36 percent of the district’s 55 public schools were at least 90 percent minority – black, Hispanic or Asian. Fifteen years later, almost three quarters, or 74 percent, of the schools were 90 percent or more non-white. At first glance, that might look like a dramatic resegregation. It was the biggest jump in non-white schools of any district in the nation, according to Meredith Richards, an expert in school segregation at Southern Methodist University, who calculated these figures for The Hechinger Report.