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November 1, 2010
Vol. 68
No. 3

Overcoming Triple Segregation

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Instructional Strategies
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Racial segregation is increasing in the United States among African American, Latino, and white students. Paradoxically, as the country becomes more diverse, students are becoming more separated by where they live and go to school. Today, white students are the most segregated of all groups, which places them at a disadvantage in a country in which whites will soon no longer be the racial majority and in which it will be imperative to know how to work and live among diverse groups.
After white students, Latinos are the most segregated student group in the United States. Although the problem of school segregation has traditionally been cast as a black/white issue, today Latinos are more likely than African Americans to attend segregated schools. In 2005–06, approximately 78 percent of Latinos attended predominantly minority schools (from 50 to 100 percent minority), whereas about 73 percent of black students attended similarly segregated schools. More than 60 percent of Latinos living in urban areas in the western U.S. attend schools that are hypersegregated—that is, in which 90 to 100 percent of students are nonwhite (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2008).
The rapid rise in segregation of Latino students is the result, in part, of the explosive growth of the Latino population and the concentration of Latino families in central cities, where affordable housing is more readily available. Today, more than one in five students in the United States is a Latino; the U.S. Census projects more than 28 percent of all school-age youth will be Latino by 2025 (Fry & Gonzalez, 2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). California now has a Latino majority in its schools, and Texas is only a year or two behind.
The size and growth of the Latino population have huge implications for the United States because this group is also the lowest performing of all major ethnic minority groups in U.S. schools. Although African Americans also fare poorly in the nation's schools with respect to achievement outcomes, Latinos are the most likely to drop out. This has negative consequences for the dropouts, their communities, and society as a whole. There are no longer enough jobs (especially permanent, decent-paying jobs) for the number of students dropping out of school.
Segregation is closely tied to academic outcomes for this population—especially the triple segregation that so many Latinos experience in their schools.Similar to African Americans, Latinos are segregated by race/ethnicity as well as by poverty, and each type of segregation carries its risks. However, Latinos who are Spanish speakers are segregated, even isolated, by a third factor—language—and this carries a particular disadvantage with respect to schooling.

Racial Segregation

Negative Stereotypes

Evidence continues to mount that children of color are acutely aware of the positive stereotypes applied to whiteness and the negative stereotypes applied to blackness or brownness. An important aspect of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) was the testimony of Kenneth and Mamie Clark regarding their study of black children's preferences in dolls; when given the choice, the children chose white dolls over black ones. The Clarks concluded that the black children's preference demonstrated a learned sense of inferiority that resulted from living and going to school in segregated environments.
More recently, Margaret Beale Spencer (2005) found that black children have acute understandings of what the majority culture favors—and it's not blackness. The act of segregating the less favored students sends a strong message—one at the core of Brown—that students of color are less valued in this society.
Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson (1995) have conducted numerous studies on students of color and the concept of stereotype threat. Students of color realize early on that society doesn't view them as being as cognitively competent as white or Asian students. These students often fear that performing poorly on a test will confirm that negative view; this fear can cause a stress reaction that can undermine their performance. Segregated settings reinforce such stereotypes. In the absence of interactions with members of other racial groups, students tend to hold tight to impressions that may result from biased societal messages.

Lack of Strong Staff

In contrast to more advantaged schools, minority-segregated schools are more likely to offer their students inadequate facilities and materials, less experienced and less qualified teachers, and less successful peers (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2005; Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002; Phillips & Chin, 2004; Rumberger & Palardy, 2005). These factors tend to produce lower educational achievement for the students assigned to these schools.
Of course, segregated schools also have a strong tendency to serve poor children, but independent effects of race also contribute to the schools' lack of human resources. For example, teachers often prefer to work near where they live and to teach students like themselves. Currently, most teachers are white and middle class; many prefer to teach in nearby middle-class suburban areas where schools are less racially diverse. When new young teachers are assigned to racially segregated schools, they often transfer as soon as they build seniority. Similarly, districts often allow new principals to "earn their wings" in low-income schools while they await their chance to take on a "really good" school where middle-class parents may lobby the district for a principal with a proven track record.
It's also easy to understand how low teacher morale can lead teachers to leave a school when it repeatedly fails to make its annual yearly progress goals under No Child Left Behind—a situation typical of schools serving large percentages of Latino English language learners (ELLs). Schools that lack stable staff cannot sustain strong programs, and teachers may not get to know their students well enough to plan effectively for their education.

Poor School/Home Communication

My own research has shown that one of the most frustrating things for teachers who do not speak their students' languages or understand their students' cultures is their inability to communicate with parents (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005). Unfortunately, there are relatively few Latino teachers in our public schools and even fewer bilingual teachers available to bridge this gap.
Mainstream public schools depend on parents to volunteer time and raise needed funds. However, Latino parents have, on average, the lowest education level of any major ethnic group in the U.S.—more than 40 percent of Latina mothers of public school children have less than a high school education compared with less than 6 percent for white mothers and a little more than 18 percent for African American mothers. Thus, Latino parents—especially if they do not speak English—often feel they have nothing to contribute. For this reason, these parents are less likely to be involved in their children's schools.
Unfortunately, this feeling is often confirmed by the schools' inability or lack of interest in reaching out to them. In a study of resources for ELLs in California, we found that schools with high percentages of Latino ELLs had significantly larger student–adult ratios than other schools because there were fewer adult volunteers (Gándara, Rumberger, Maxwell-Jolly, & Callahan, 2003).

Socioeconomic Segregation

High-Poverty vs. Low-Poverty Schools

Concentrated poverty is associated with everything from less optimal physical development to families' inability to stay in the same neighborhood long enough for schools to have powerful educational effects. Teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely to report problems of student misbehavior, absenteeism, and lack of parental involvement than teachers in low-poverty schools; teachers' salaries and level of training are also lower in high-poverty schools than in low-poverty schools (Miller, 2010; Roza, Hill, Sclafani, & Speakman, 2004).
Moreover, segregated schools have much higher turnover of both students and faculty, producing difficult conditions for learning. High student mobility is a significant predictor of school failure, and Latino students—especially those from immigrant families—are twice as likely to change residences than other students are.
Schools serving low-income and segregated neighborhoods also provide fewer rigorous college-preparatory and honors courses than schools in more affluent communities. Thus, students who attend segregated and impoverished schools are more likely to drop out of high school; if they do graduate, they are less likely to be successful in college.

Out-of-School Factors

Schools that serve poor children must deal with many out-of-school factors beyond their control. Latino students attending schools segregated by poverty typically live in unsafe neighborhoods with minimal opportunities for exploration and recreation. They are more mobile, their parents' employment is less stable, and they are less likely to have access to basic health care, which results in both chronic and acute medical conditions that affect achievement.
According to the U.S. Census, 28 percent of Latino children lived below the poverty line in 2007. It's little wonder that these children tend to suffer disproportionately from chronic illnesses and medical problems that go untreated, such as earaches, toothaches, poor vision, asthma, and poor nutrition. Schools staffed by a revolving door of teachers and administrators typically are helpless to confront these factors that have such powerful effects on student learning. Yet these schools are held accountable for their students' learning outcomes, just as any middle-class school is.
Concentrated poverty in schools is also closely related to students' and parents' diminished social capital—their lack of knowledge of how important institutions work and their lack of access to people with the ability to advocate on their behalf. As a result, black and Latino communities are frequently powerless to improve circumstances in their neighborhoods or schools.

Linguistic Segregation

Latino students experience two kinds of linguistic segregation that have profound effects on their learning.

Linguistically Isolated Schools

Linguistically isolated schools allow few opportunities for students—even English-speaking students—to come in contact with mainstream English, especially as it is used in academic contexts. This is a situation that African Americans and other language groups sometimes experience.
Even many students designated as "English proficient" face academic challenges in these schools. Although English may be their stronger language, the "proficient" students don't have the regular informal contact with English that builds a strong vocabulary or sophisticated use of the language. These students need exposure to the same linguistic inputs that mainstream English speakers receive daily. Linguistically isolated schools embedded in linguistically isolated communities do not provide this exposure. As a result, these students fare poorly on examinations that require them to read, write, analyze, and interpret language with which they have little ongoing familiarity.
One study found that 5,000 schools in the United States educated 70 percent of all ELLs (Cosentino de Cohen, Deterding, & Clewell, 2005). Likewise, in 2005, more than one-half of all elementary-age ELLs in California attended just 21 percent of the state's elementary schools, where they represented more than 50 percent of the student body in each school. We have found similar patterns in Arizona and Texas. In these settings, linguistic minority students exist in separate language communities. It is difficult to learn the language of the land if a student is exposed to few native English speakers and has few friends or neighbors who speak the language well.
In a 2007 study of U.S. schools serving ELLs, researchers from the Urban Institute found that schools that serve linguistically isolated Latino students tend to be much weaker than other schools in their ability to deliver a quality education (Cosentino de Cohen & Clewell, 2007). These schools are more likely to be in urban centers and have larger enrollments, larger class sizes, higher incidences of student poverty and health problems, and more difficulty filling teacher vacancies; they're also more likely to rely on unqualified teachers and have lower levels of parent involvement. The study also found that as the concentration of ELLs increased, the percentage of fully credentialed teachers qualified to serve them decreased.

Linguistically Isolated Within a School

Segregating students within a school can be as damaging to students as segregating them in different schools. In their research on English language development, Saunders and Goldenberg (2010) found that although direct language instruction is important for English learners—a practice that most likely involves some segregation on the basis of language proficiency—using English with English-speaking peers in natural and academic settings is equally important.
In a recent study in Arizona, where state policy dictates segregating ELLs by language proficiency for at least four hours each day, 87 percent of the 880 teachers surveyed expressed grave concern about this type of linguistic isolation (Rios-Aguilar, Canche-Gonzalez, & Moll, 2010). In addition to other problems it causes, separating students from their peers often stigmatizes the students; in the absence of social acceptance, many will simply drop out.
A 2008 study by Suarez-Orozco, Suarez-Orozco, and Todorova found that the best predictor of an immigrant student gaining a firm mastery of English was whether the student had a good friend who was a native speaker of English. Without regular access to English speakers in classes, this is not likely to occur.

Making the Case

One recent study of mathematics achievement in the United States concluded that although the increase in the average education and income of Latino families should have significantly closed achievement gaps, the damage caused by increased segregation had cancelled out those gains (Berends & Peñaloza, 2010). Likewise, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara concluded that the variable that explained the greatest amount of variance in academic achievement between ELLs and native English speakers was the degree of segregation that the ELLs experienced (Rumberger & Tran, 2010). They recommended that the most important policy change that states could enact to raise ELLs' achievement would be to reduce the segregation in their schooling.

What We Can Do

Research by Allport (1958), Cohen and Lotan (1995), and others has shown that children will learn from and come to respect one another if they are regularly exposed to learning situations in which they have sustained positive contact and equal social status.
Good bilingual immersion programs provide such an environment by giving English speakers and English learners ample opportunities to interact in and out of the classroom. Successful programs also tend to share a respect for students' native language. When students are more culturally comfortable in a classroom, they are more able to link their cultural knowledge to their classroom work.
Programs that actually develop students' native language while also teaching English and academic content provide particular benefits for ELLs. In addition to being a more efficient way to teach reading and other subjects, these programs more quickly prepare students for complex coursework and provide the long-term social, cognitive, and economic benefits of multilingualism. From a cognitive perspective, children who develop healthy degrees of bilingualism tend to exhibit greater ability to focus on and use language productively and have improved comprehension. They also may develop "cognitive flexibility," which leads to more creative ways of approaching learning.
Such programs benefit monolingual English speakers as well. Dual-immersion, dual-language, or two-way bilingual programs (all terms used to describe the programs) educate monolingual English speakers and non-English-speaking groups simultaneously in both target languages.
For these reasons, there is a rapidly growing movement toward creating dual-language programs throughout the United States. When well implemented, they appear to yield greater achievement outcomes than English-only or transitional bilingual programs, producing students who are both bilingual and biliterate (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2008).
The biggest challenges associated with mounting these programs is finding ways to bring diverse groups of students into the same school and finding and preparing strong bilingual teachers to teach in the programs. But these are not insurmountable challenges. Magnet schools have a long record of successful implementation of such programs, and dual-immersion programs are extremely popular with middle-class parents. Moreover, the United States abounds with potential teachers who come from homes in which they learned another language. The only thing missing is the will to do it.

Allport, G. (1958). The nature of prejudice. New York: Anchor Books.

Berends, M., & Peñaloza, R. (2010). Increasing racial isolation and test score gaps in mathematics. Teachers College Record, 112(4), 978–1007.

Clotfelter, C., Ladd, H., & Vigdor, J. (2005). Who teaches whom? Economics of Education Review, 24(4), 377–392.

Cohen, E., & Lotan, R. (1995). Producing equal-status interaction in the heterogeneous classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 32(1), 99–120.

Cosentino de Cohen, C., & Clewell, B. (2007). Putting English language learners on the educational map. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Cosentino de Cohen, C., Deterding, N., &; Clewell, B. C. (2005). Who's left behind?Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Fry, R., & Gonzales, F. (2008). One-in-five and growing fast: A profile of Hispanic public school students. Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center.

Gándara, P., Maxwell-Jolly, J., & Driscoll, A. (2005). Listening to teachers of English learners. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, PACE, and the University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

Gándara, P., Rumberger, R., Maxwell-Jolly, J., & Callahan, R. (2003). English learners in California schools: Unequal resources, unequal outcomes. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 11(36).

Genesee, F., Lindholm-Leary, K., Saunders, W., & Christian, D. (2008). Educating English language learners: A syntheses of research evidence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2002). Teacher sorting and the plight of urban schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24(1), 37–62.

Miller, R. (2010). Comparable, schmomparable: Evidence of inequity in the allocation of funds for teacher salary within California's public school districts. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Orfield, G., & Frankenberg, E. (2008). The last have become first. Los Angeles: UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles.

Phillips, M., & Chin, T. (2004). School inequality. In K. Neckerman (Ed.), Social inequality (pp. 467–519). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Rios-Aguilar, C., Canche-Gonzalez, M., & Moll, L. (2010). A study of Arizona's teachers of English language learners. Los Angeles: Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles.

Roza, M., Hill, P. T., Sclafani, S., & Speakman, S. (2004). How within-district spending inequities help some schools to fail. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Rumberger, R. & Palardy, G. J. (2005). Does segregation still matter? Teachers College Record, 107(9), 1999–2045.

Rumberger, R. & Tran, L. (2010). State language policies, school language practices, and the English learner achievement gap. In P. Gándara & M. Hopkins (Eds.),Forbidden language: English learners and restrictive language policies (pp. 86–101). New York: Teachers College Press.

Saunders, W., & Goldenberg, C. (2010).Improving education for English learners. Sacramento: California Department of Education.

Spencer, M. B. (2005). Crafting identities and accessing opportunities post-Brown.American Psychologist. 60(8), 821–830.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. .Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5), 797–811.

Suarez-Orozco, M., Suarez-Orozco, C., & Todorova, E. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Current population survey. Unpublished data. Retrieved

End Notes

1 Although the second largest group of English language learners in the United States speaks one of several Asian languages, Asian students are not as segregated as Latinos on any of the three dimensions of segregation—race, socioeconomic status, or language.

Patricia Gándara is professor of education, University of California Los Angeles, and codirector of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. She is the coedtior, with Rebecca M. Callahan, of The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the U.S. Labor Market (Multilingual Matters, 2014).

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