by Megan Tench


Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court forced public schools to desegregate, Harvard University researchers say the classroom of America are failing to fulfill that order, especially in states with large numbers of minority students, and once again offering unequal education.

New York and California are among the most segregated states for blacks, with only one in seven enrolled in a predominantly white school, according to the study issued Saturday by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard. The two states also fare badly with Latinos.

Michigan, Illinois, Texas, New Mexico and Rhode Island also have been doing a poor job integrating schools, the study said. Massachusetts ranked 16 among the top 20 most segregated states when it came to black students and 13th for Latinos.

The states with the most integrated classrooms were Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska and Delaware.

The findings were made public just before the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on Monday, a time, Orfield said, when Americans should reflect and take action against "separate but equal" solutions to education.

In the study, "white" refers to non-Hispanic whites and "Latino" or "Hispanic" to children of Latino origin, whatever their racial background.

In Brown v. the Board of Education, issued on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate, making unconstitutional the "separate but equal" ruling issued May 18, 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson. The 1954 ruling set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1960's as blacks rallied behind an organized effort to defend their rights under new laws.

The court's ruling had the most impact on Southern states, according to the study, because they were the most segregated and resistant to enforcing the new law. But new court rulings over the past decade striking down affirmative action preferences have made it easier for districts to return to neighborhood schools even if it means resegregation, researchers said.

Fearing being hauled into court, some schools districts have dropped policies that consider race when assigning students to schools in order to ensure diversity in classrooms.

Whites make up to 60 percent of all U.S. students. The typical white student attends a school where four out of five pupils are white, the study said. The typical Latino student attends schools where only 28 percent of students are white and the typical black student is in a school that is 31 percent white.

On average, black and Latinos attend schools where two-thirds of the students are black or Latino. Asian students attend the country's most integrated schools, where on average 22 percent of their classmates are Asian. And American Indians are in schools where one-third of the students are of the same race.

While white students are getting little exposure to black and Latino students, minority students often find themselves in impoverished schools, getting shortchanged on quality teachers and the chance to attend top-notch colleges, researchers said.

In the 2001-2002 school year, 43 percent of all schools in the United States were "intensely" white - schools where less than a 10th of the students were black and Latino. Of the 43 percent, only 15 percent were poor schools. In contrast, 88 percent of "intensely" minority schools were found to be impoverished.