A memorial to the Little Rock Nine remembering the nine teenagers who stood up to an angry crowd protesting integration in front of Little Rock’s Central High in 1957. Photo by Steve Snodgrass, Flickr CC

Brown v. Board of Education ushered in a new era of legal action in school districts to promote racial integration in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1990s, however, desegregation efforts in schools have begun to stall, and some research suggests that white flight and poor economic conditions have actually worsened racial segregation in school districts. To address these issues, John Logan, Weiwei Zhang, and Deirdre Oakley explore school desegregation trends in metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2010.   

The study draws from an index of 358 court cases from the American Communities Project and data on the racial composition of schools compiled from multiple sources. Logan and colleagues use multilevel modeling techniques to examine segregation within districts, the effects of court mandates on this trend, and the effect of mandates on white flight at the district level. 

They find that most desegregation at the metropolitan level occurred between 1970 and 1980, with little change after 1990, particularly in the South. At the district level, white and black students attend districts with larger shares of minorities, suggesting that both white and black students are becoming less isolated at school from other minority groups like Asian and Latino students. The findings indicated that legal mandates have had a substantial impact on both desegregation and changes in white enrollment within districts — districts that faced an initial desegregation mandate in the 1970s reduced segregation in their schools more than districts with no mandate. Desegregation mandates, however, also resulted in white flight between districts, slightly diminishing desegregation gains within districts. 

Together, these findings suggest that the unprecedented desegregation gains made in the formative years following Board v. Brown may have been superseded by a “post-desegregation status quo” due to white flight. Thus, despite an abundance of court litigation in metropolitan areas, desegregation within schools has essentially reached a stalemate.