Racial segregation remains a stubborn fact of life for many K-12 students

More research shows that embedding racial equity into wellness initiatives improves the well-being of students and staff of color.
By: | January 3, 2022

White students are especially likely to go to a school where most of their classmates share their racial or ethnic background, a new analysis has found.

The same is true for students of all backgrounds but the rate remains highest among white children, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Department of Education data.

Nearly 80% of white K-12 students went to schools where at least half of their peers were also white in the 2018-19 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, the analysis found. That rate was 56% for Hispanic students and 42% for Black learners in traditional public schools and public charter schools.

But these numbers fail to reflect the demographics of the nation’s public schools, where white children comprise 47% of students (a decline from 65% in 1995), 27% are Hispanic and 15% are Black, the analysis concluded.

The opposite holds true for racial and ethnic groups that make up smaller shares of the student population. For Asian Americans—who make up around 5% of all public school students—86% attend a school where fewer than half of their classmates are Asian. The rate is even higher for Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Children tend to go to schools where their classmates share their racial or ethnic background even in more diverse school systems. Mississippi’s student population is evenly divided between Black and white students, but in half of the state’s schools more than 50% of students are Black, and more than half of students are white in four in 10 schools.

The same holds true in Maryland, where 37% of students are white, 32% are Black and 18% are Hispanic. Still, over the last 25 years, white and Black students have become less likely to attend public schools where most of the other students are of the same race.

The findings also noted that white students remain the majority in all but seven states and the District of Columbia. Hispanic students are the largest racial or ethnic group in New Mexico (62%), California (55%), Texas (52%), Arizona (47%) and Nevada (44%) while Black students are in the majority in D.C. (59%) and Mississippi (48%). In Hawaii, Asian Americans account for the largest share of students.

Infusing equity into school wellness

Meanwhile, more and more research shows that embedding racial equity into wellness initiatives improves the well-being of students and staff of color.

“Longstanding patterns of racial and ethnic discrimination, both inside and outside of schools, may negatively impact the well-being of school staff of color and contribute to higher rates of attrition than among their white counterparts—a problem the pandemic may be exacerbating,” notes a new Child Trends research brief.

The report encourages state and local educators leaders to incorporate more racial equity components into employee wellness initiatives to ensure resources are distributed fairly. Such initiatives can extend to improving working conditions by:

  • reducing class sizes
  • improving access to technology and other instructional resources
  • replacing exclusionary discipline practice with restorative justice techniques
  • granting teachers greater professional autonomy and voice in decision-making

“Districts can recognize the value that teachers of color bring to schools by providing financial compensation for the extra duties they disproportionately perform, such as mentorship, translation, and community outreach and engagement,” the brief says.

K-12 leaders should also consider providing more professional development that builds the cultural competence of administrators, teachers, and staff. Critical topics in this area include the impact of systems of power on individual and organizational attitudes and behaviors; the role of implicit biases on school culture; and ways to identify and confront inequities in school policies and practices.

Leaders should disaggregate hiring, retention, and staff evaluation data by race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Administrators should also collect qualitative data through, interviews, focus groups and open-ended surveys to better understand the experiences of teachers of color.

“As state and local leaders leverage federal recovery funds to help schools address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that they focus on racial and ethnic equity when addressing wellness,” the brief says. “Equitable approaches to wellness are essential to ensure that the experiences, needs, and voices of school employees of color are included in school recovery and improvement efforts.”