Since the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, researchers and policymakers have paid close attention to trends in school segregation. While Brown focused on black-white segregation, here we review the evidence regarding trends and consequences of both racial and economic school segregation. In general, the evidence regarding trends in racial segregation suggests that the most significant declines in black-white school segregation occurred at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s. Although there is disagreement about the direction of more recent trends in racial segregation, this disagreement is largely driven by different definitions of segregation and different ways of measuring it. We conclude that the changes in segregation in the last few decades are not large, regardless of what measure is used, though there are important differences in the trends across regions, racial groups, and institutional levels. Limited evidence on school economic segregation makes documenting trends difficult, but in general, students are more segregated by income across schools and districts today than in 1990. We also discuss the role of desegregation litigation, demographic changes, and residential segregation in shaping trends in both racial and economic segregation.
One of the reasons that scholars, policymakers, and citizens are concerned with school segregation is that segregation is hypothesized to exacerbate racial or socioeconomic disparities in educational success. The mechanisms that would link segregation to disparate outcomes have not often been spelled out clearly or tested explicitly. We develop a general conceptual model of how and why school segregation might affect students and review the relatively thin body of empirical evidence that explicitly assesses the consequences of school segregation. This literature suggests that racial desegregation in the 1960s and 1970s was beneficial to blacks; evidence of the effects of segregation in more recent decades, however, is mixed or inconclusive. We conclude with discussion of aspects of school segregation on which further research is needed.
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