For the first time in American history this fall, students from racial and ethnic minorities represent a majority in public schools. That even Des Moines, Iowa is an example of this growing diversity may surprise some, but the population of white students in the city's public schools has dropped to 45 percent, and the district is home to students representing more than 100 languages and dialects.
That diversity is a source of pride to many—but Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department, warns that the trend hasn't been accompanied by equal access to quality education for students of all races.
"American schools are disturbingly racially segregated, period," Lhamon said Wednesday in Des Moines at a National Journal event presented with support from Emerson Collective. "The reality is that northern schools are more segregated than they ever have been, that all too many southern schools are reverting back to segregation, and we are not seeing the kinds of schooling that the Supreme Court promised us that we should see in the Brown vs. Education decision, and that I want for our kids."
Lhamon used the Des Moines Public School District as a case study. The school system has committed to hiring teachers from more diverse backgrounds to better reflect the student population, and to focus more resources on helping black and Latino males, who are disproportionately more likely to drop out or be suspended. While she praised progress already made and continued efforts at improvements, Lhamon noted that the city had much more work to do in correcting "poor performance."