Many Americans who live far from our major cities and have no firsthand knowledge of urban public schools harbor a vague notion that racial isolation—a matter of grave national significance some 35 years ago—no longer exists in any serious form. The unhappy truth, however, is that schools that were already deeply segregated 30 years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools that had been integrated (either voluntarily or by the force of law) have since been rapidly resegregating. You only need look at public school enrollment figures in most major cities. For example in the academic year beginning 2002, segregation rates of black or Hispanic students ranged from 75 percent in New York city to a more typical 84 percent in Los Angeles to a nearly total segregation rate of 94 percent in Washington D.C.
Stark as they are, even these statistics cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, 90 to 95 percent of students are black or Hispanic. For the year 2003, only 3.5 percent of the more than 4,000 students at John F. Kennedy High School were white; at Harry S. Truman High School, only two percent of the 2,700 students were white; and at Adlai Stevenson High School, a mere eight-tenths of one percent of 3,400 students were white.
A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out her sole white student to me with the remark: “I’ve been at this school for 18 years. This is the first white student I have ever taught.”
There is a well-known high school named for Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City. It was located in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood in the hope th