Suburban blacks and Latinos go to increasingly segregated schools-- a look at the numbers

April 23, 2009

I was swamped with other work when the Pew Hispanic study first came a few weeks ago, and vowed to come back to it. That turned out to be much more rewarding: Richard Fry, the study's author, helped me crunch some local numbers that form the basis for today's report. The following chart shows how conditions in Chicago-area suburban schools have changed over the past 15 years. The isolation measure is the extent to which Chicago suburban students go to schools with students of the same race/ethnicity as themselves. pew1-final So the typical suburban Chicago Hispanic student went to a school 15 years ago that was 34 percent Hispanic. Today that typical suburban Hispanic student goes to a school that is 49 percent Hispanic. The typical suburban Chicago black student went to a school that was 51 percent black during the 1993-94 school year. Today, that student goes to a school that is 53 percent black. Here is the national chart from the Pew report: pew2-final11 So suburban schools in Chicago are showing a more rapid trend toward segregation than suburban schools nationwide, and for black students the level of isolation here is more severe. MOST SEGREGATED As I mention in my report, Fry ranked the 25 districts nationwide with the highest black segregation in 2006-07 and the 25 districts with the highest Hispanic segregation. Chicago had 5 districts on each list. No other metro area in the country had more total districts named. For this measure, Fry only considered districts with at least 1,000 black or Hispanic students. Also, this "most segregated" measure can be a little deceiving -- it's looking at segregation WITHIN school districts. Districts that are nearly all black or Hispanic wouldn't show up here. I was told by Stanford's Sean Reardon that about one-third of suburban school segregation is due to this within-district segregation. The other two-thirds occurs when nearly all students in a school district are from a certain race/ethnicity. Bremen CHSD 228 made the list for highest black segregation. Sixty-two percent of that district's African-American students are concentrated into a single high school, Hillcrest. Interestingly, the Chicago metro area had the most segregated district on both the black and Hispanic lists -- and it was the same district, Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview SD189. So the segregation here is black-brown. Supt. Thea Perkins told me the district had at one time considered locating a middle school in between the two communities to promote integration, but the downturn in the economy has killed that option. CAVAETS As happens with most things you start digging into, you find caveats. There's a big one in this study -- and it has to do with the definition of "suburban." The U.S. Department of Education classifies all school districts as City, Suburban, Rural or Town. Fry's national analysis looked only at districts the Dept. of Ed classifies as "suburban." In our area, that means some districts we would consider suburban are left out of the analysis -- Joliet, for instance, is considered a City district. So is Evanston. So is Arlington Heights. And on the other extreme, districts we consider suburban are actually classified as "rural" by the Dept. of Ed. So Frankfort SD157C and some other fringe suburban districts were left off. When we ran the Chicago metro analysis we left these districts out as well.