The 10 metro areas where school segregation is the most extreme

In 2018-19, one in six students attended public schools where over 90% of their peers shared their racial background.
By: | May 18, 2022

America’s students are far more diverse than they were when Brown v. Board of Education found school segregation unconstitutional. In 1954, the school population was 85% white and 12% Black. Today, less than half of U.S. students are white, nearly one in three identify as Hispanic and 15% are Black. Those changing demographics, however, haven’t “translated into integration,” according to a new analysis by The Century Foundation, an equity-focused think tank.

In the 2018–19 school year, one in six students attended public schools where over 90% of their peers shared their racial background—i.e., white students attended a school that was mostly white. Schools also remain segregated by economic status due to exclusionary zoning policies and school choice programs, says the analysis by Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the foundation.

Potter uses a zero-to-one scale to assess segregation in a city or region. A “zero,” which indicates the most integration, means that every school has the same racial composition. In other words, there is no difference in the percentage of Black students in the average white student’s school versus in the average Black student’s school. If segregation were 1, it would mean both groups are totally isolated.

She gave schools nationwide an overall score of 0.21, signifying a 21-point difference between the percentage of white students at the average white student’s school and the percentage of white students at the average non-white student’s school.

Black-white segregation is especially high in metro areas, and the level of Hispanic-white segregation isn’t far behind. On a national scale, segregation is most extreme in the Northeast (see this interactive map), followed by the Midwest, the South and the West, Potter said. But there are regional nuances. Segregation is most apparent between school districts in the Northeast and Midwest, where there are multiple districts per county that tend to serve racially and economically segregated communities.

There are 120 school districts in just the two counties on New York’s Long Island, for example. “The result is that some of these school districts have almost all white enrollment and others serve almost entirely students of color,” Potter says.

3 principals to watch: They have high expectations for staff and students

Segregation within districts is a bigger factor in the South, where most students attend sprawling countywide districts. While the districts overall are more diverse that diversity may not extend to individual schools in racially and economically homogenous neighborhoods.

Here are the 10 metro areas with the most extreme segregation of white and non-white students:

  1. Detroit–Dearborn–Livonia, Michigan
  2. Monroe, Louisiana
  3. Milwaukee–Waukesha, Wisconsin
  4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  5. Cleveland–Elyria, Ohio
  6. Reading, Pennsylvania
  7. Beaumont–Port Arthur, Texas
  8. Jackson, Mississippi
  9. Baton Rouge, Lousiana
  10. Pine Bluff, Arkansas

The numbers vary when broken down between white students and individual racial and ethnic groups. Milwaukee and Newark, New Jersey, had the most extreme segregation of white and Black students. Philadelphia and Boston were among the highest for segregation of white and Hispanic students.