Increasing Isolation Threatens Minority Students

Last week’s news that Colorado ranked second nationally in the increasing segregation of Latino public school students did not catch Alan Gottlieb off-guard.

“I could not have been less surprised,” said Gottlieb, a vice president with the Public Education and Business Coalition. “If anything, resegregation in Denver is worse than the nation as a whole.”

A Pew Hispanic Center report on racial and ethnic composition of the nation’s schools showed that while the number of white students going to school with minority students grew from 1993-1994 to 2005-2006, the number of “all-minority” schools nationwide nearly doubled in the same period.

In Denver, added Gottlieb, an urban education expert, whites are more isolated from minorities than they used to be.

A survey of the city’s elementary schools using data available at the Piton Foundation’s website shows 41 of Denver’s 103 elementary schools with minority enrollments above 95 percent.

This pattern of racial isolation is potentially devastating for Latinos, African-Americans and other minority children, Gottlieb and Piton Foundation education expert Van Schoales agreed.

“We’ve found that poor kids perform better in integrated schools,” said Schoales.

Gottlieb said he will soon unveil research done by Piton and the University of Colorado that measures the cost of allowing poor Latino children to become segregated.

“Kids who are English language learners who go to school only with other English language learners make no gains on the CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) between third and fifth grades,” Gottlieb reported. “In schools integrated by race and socioeconomics, the gains for English language learners are dramatic.”

Furthermore, Gottlieb said, the numbers show that going to school with minority and poor kids does not hinder the performance of wealthy or upper middle class white students.

Poverty plays as big a role as race in this equation. But minority-only schools also tend to be among the poorest.

Housing patterns and the ability of parents to choose their children’s schools also contribute to racial isolation, Schoales said. Gottlieb pointed to a Colorado law that lets any child attend any school in the state so long as there are student slots available and parents provide transportation.

“Housing policies that lead to more socio-economic integration could help,” Schoales said. “But Colorado isn’t interested in that. You look at places like Douglas County and there’s something like one percent low income housing.”

With the Pew Center reporting that one in 10 Colorado minority kids are stuck in a school with more than 95 percent minority enrollment, the prognosis for progress is bleak. Likewise, the need for reform is urgent.

“Obviously,” said Gottlieb, “mixing is good for everyone, and not mixing is really bad for minorities.”

Just as obviously minorities are not mixing enough in Denver or Colorado or across the country.

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Jim Spencer

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