By ROB TRICCHINELLI, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - A nationwide trend of segregation creeping back into public schools is especially pronounced in Maryland, more than 50 years after the Supreme Court struck down separate schools for separate races as unconstitutional, a pair of studies released this week says.
Maryland had the largest segregation trend among Hispanic students of any state over the last 12 years, said one report released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in the District.
In the 1993-1994 school year, only 7 percent of Hispanic students in Maryland attended "nearly all-minority schools," defined as a school in which fewer than 5 percent of students are not minorities. In 2005-2006, however, that number rose to 21 percent of Hispanic students—the largest increase nationally.
The only other state with a double-digit increase was Colorado, which jumped from 0 to 10 percent over the 12-year period. Twenty-eight states in all saw the percentage increase since the 1993-94 school year, a byproduct of what the report called a "powerful demographic shift"—the dramatic increase in the "Hispanic slice of the public school population."
Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that Hispanic students are the fastest-growing part of the county's student population. The district is now majority-minority, she said, which marks a "considerable shift" from the numbers decades ago.
"You walk into any school and it's like the United Nations," said Harrison, who also said increases in diversity are beneficial to the district.
"We're not the same county of 20 years ago," said Pilar Torres, director of Centro Familia, an advocacy group based in Silver Spring that promotes early child care and education among Latinos.
The population changes have left many Maryland students feeling alienated, which can hurt the community if not corrected, Torres said.
"We have changed very rapidly," she said. "All of us have to adjust. Things have to look different. We have to adjust to the new community. Otherwise, we stagnate and we're not going anywhere."
Over the same 12-year period, the Pew study also found the percentage of black students in "nearly all-minority schools" has increased dramatically, from 32 percent to 45 percent. Maryland was one of eight states with at least a 10-percentage-point jump.
"Maryland has had a striking increase in segregation, probably reflecting the segregated suburbanization of Washington and Baltimore's black middle class," said the other report, released Wednesday and sponsored by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
The report defined Maryland's segregation in terms of "isolation" of black students—many of whom attend schools with high concentrations of minority students. In the 2005-2006 school year, 81 percent of black students in Maryland attended schools with at least 50 percent minority enrollment. In fact, the report found, more than half of Maryland's black students attended schools with 90 percent minority populations.
Maryland ranked fourth among states in each of those two categories, and Chungmei Lee, a co-author of the report, said it "was notable" that Maryland ranked higher than the past.
Since 1998-1999, Maryland's ranking in those categories has increased steadily. In that period, New York, California, Michigan and Illinois also experienced a high level of segregation of black students by those same measures.
Terrylynn Tyrell, the education director with Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, which promotes equity in education, said many children in Maryland are being "left behind," and many of them are minority children.
"There are persistent gaps between white and minority students," said Tyrell.
Segregation continues to be an issue despite a 1998 federal judge's order marking the end of mandatory busing in Prince George's County. The program was phased out over subsequent years.
The UCLA report said American schools in general are "experiencing accelerating isolation," and it is "doubtless" that a recent Supreme Court ruling would intensify the trend.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that two desegregation plans voluntarily undertaken by schools in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., were unconstitutional even though they were designed to encourage integration.
In those districts, race sometimes played a part in the decision to send a student to a particular district if the decision would have a desirable effect on the school's racial makeup.
The report expressed concern over the decision's likely effect—an increase in segregation nationwide—and said that "most voluntary desegregation actions by school districts must now be changed or abandoned."
The Pew report also noted that the decision has "focused public attention on the degree of racial and ethnic integration in the nation's public schools."