John Thompson: What’s Behind the “Third Wave” of Resegregation
John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the resurgence of segregation in America’s schools.
Are we heading into another resegregation era? A half century ago, at least in terms of urban education, “White Flight” gave Jim Crow a new lease on life. Then, Reaganomics subsidized more “suburban flight” as “Supply Side Economics” provided subsidies for moving good-paying jobs from cities to the exurbs. This further stimulated the “Big Sort,” or resegregation based on personal preferences. Segregation by choice, this time accompanied by gentrification and competition-driven corporate school reform, fired a second shotgun blast at inner city schools; this occurred as the Rightwing accelerated the destruction of our industrial base, and they were followed by New Democrats seeking to “end of welfare as we know it.”
Research by Cornell’s Kendra Bischoff, Stanford’s Sean Reardon, Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, and others raise the specter of a third wave of resegregation. Bischoff and Reardon recall that income segregation increased by 4.5% per decade since 1970. It has accelerated greatly since 2007. By 2012, more than 1/3rd of families in large metropolitan areas lived “in neighborhoods of concentrated affluence or concentrated poverty,” as “middle-class neighborhoods have become less common.” Moreover, Bischoff further explains why this segregation is so damaging to schools, “Local environments are important for children’s early and adolescent development, so the more polarized communities become, the more unequal the opportunities available to high- and low-income children.”
Reardon and Ann Owens add nuance to the sorry tale that we’ve always known – how flight from desegregated urban schools played a huge part in dividing modern America against itself. In doing so, it severely damaged our social and physical environments and our physical as well as moral health. Owens finds “that neighborhoods in the 100 largest cities became steadily more isolated by income between 1990 and 2010–but the segregation was driven by families with school-age children.”