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The Racial Achievement Gap, Segregated Schools, and Segregated Neighborhoods: A Constitutional Insult


Social and economic disadvantage—not only poverty, but a host of associated conditions—depresses student performance. Concentrating students with these disadvantages in racially and economically homogenous schools depresses it further. Schools that the most disadvantaged black children attend are segregated because they are located in segregated high-poverty neighborhoods, far distant from truly middle-class neighborhoods. Living in such high-poverty neighborhoods for multiple generations adds an additional barrier to achievement, and multigenerational segregated poverty characterizes many African American children today. Education policy is constrained by housing policy: it is not possible to desegregate schools without desegregating both low-income and affluent neighborhoods. However, the policy motivation to desegregate neighborhoods is hobbled by a growing ignorance of the nation’s racial history. It has become conventional for policymakers to assert that the residential isolation of low-income black children is now “de facto,” the accident of economic circumstance, demographic trends, personal preference, and private discrimination. But the historical record demonstrates that residential segregation is “de jure,” resulting from racially motivated and explicit public policy whose effects endure to the present. Without awareness of the history of state-sponsored residential segregation, policymakers are unlikely to take meaningful steps to understand or fulfill the constitutional mandate to remedy the racial isolation of neighborhoods, or the school segregation that flows from it.

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  1. Compare to overall national rates in 2007 (in percents): all, 68; whites, 75; blacks, 47; Hispanics (all generations), 50 (U.S. Census Bureau 2014).


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Correspondence to Richard Rothstein.

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Rothstein, R. The Racial Achievement Gap, Segregated Schools, and Segregated Neighborhoods: A Constitutional Insult. Race Soc Probl 7, 21–30 (2015).

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  • Education
  • Housing policy
  • Segregation
  • African Americans
  • Achievement gap
  • Neighborhoods