July 17th, 2001

Harvard University Study Reveals Re-Segregation of American Public Schools

On July 17, 2001, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project published a study on the resegregation of school districts more than 45 years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared legally-mandated racial segregation in public education unconstitutional. In the study, then-Harvard Professor of Education and Co-director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Dr. Gary Orfield, evaluated statistics from the 1998-1999 school year and concluded that school districts across the nation and particularly in the South were resegregating at an alarming rate, with many Southern school districts returning to segregration levels of the early 1970s.

The study found that more than 70% of African American students attended predominantly minority schools in the 1998-1999 school year. This marked a significant increase from the 63% of African Americans who attended predominantly minority schools in the 1972-1973 school year, before the implementation of many full-fledged desegregation plans. The study linked this resegregation trend to a series of Supreme Court cases decided in the early 1990s -- Board of Education of Oklahoma City vs. Dowell (1991), Freeman v. Pitts (1992), and Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) -- which made it easier for school districts to be released from federal desegregation orders and more difficult for desegregation orders to be reinstated, thereby crippling desegregation efforts and undercutting progress toward racial integration in public schools.