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Most Americans Say Segregation in Schools a Serious Problem

Most Americans Say Segregation in Schools a Serious Problem

Story Highlights

  • Nonwhites more likely than whites to say segregation is a serious problem
  • Small majority says government should take action to reduce segregation
  • Busing is the least favored proposal to reduce segregation in schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of Americans say that racial segregation in U.S. public schools is a "very" (21%) or "moderately serious" (36%) problem. A slim majority of whites (52%) consider school segregation a serious problem, but the view is even more widespread among U.S. blacks (68%) and Hispanics (65%).

Views on the Severity of Racial Segregation in U.S. Schools
Do you feel racial concentration or segregation in U.S. public schools is a very serious problem, a moderately serious problem, not too serious a problem or not a problem at all?
Very/Moderately serious Not too serious/Not a problem
% %
National adults 57 41
Whites 52 45
Blacks 68 33
Hispanics 65 34
Republicans 35 62
Independents 57 40
Democrats 75 24
July 15-31, 2019

Democrats (75%) are more than twice as likely as Republicans (35%) to say that segregation in schools is serious, with the views of political independents falling about halfway in between.

These data come from a July 15-31, 2019 Gallup poll. The issue of racial segregation has been an ongoing challenge for U.S. schools since the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that the concept of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. The issue gained renewed prominence this year when Democratic presidential candidates sparred over ways to address the issue in the first set of candidate debates.

Though most Americans rate racial segregation in schools as a serious problem in the U.S. today, a majority (54%) believes that U.S. schools are less racially segregated than they were 20 years ago. The rest are divided between those who say that schools are more segregated today (23%) or that segregation hasn't changed over the past two decades (20%). Whether schools are, in fact, less segregated is a matter of debate in academic circles, with the answer largely dependent on what measure of segregation is used.

Small Majority Favors Government Action to Address Segregation

Americans are slightly more likely to say that the federal government should take additional steps to reduce racial segregation in U.S. schools (53%) than they are to say that the government should not take such steps (45%). However, this sparks a significant racial divide.

Less than half of U.S. whites (43%) say the government should act to address segregation, while more than three in four blacks (78%) and Hispanics (76%) say it should take action on the issue. Similarly, relatively few Republicans favor government intervention on the issue (27%), while most Democrats (73%) and a small majority of independents (54%) would like to see the federal government work to reduce segregation in schools.

U.S. Views on Whether Government Should Take Steps to Reduce School Segregation
Do you think the federal government should or should not take additional steps to reduce racial concentration or segregation in U.S. schools?
Should Should not
% %
National adults 53 45
Whites 43 55
Blacks 78 21
Hispanics 76 23
Republicans 27 70
Independents 54 44
Democrats 73 25
July 15-31, 2019

Most Americans Favor Magnet Schools, While Busing Remains Unpopular

Gallup also asked Americans whether they favor or oppose each of four proposals to reduce segregation in U.S. schools.

Most popular among the proposals is the creation of magnet schools, which about four in five Americans (79%) favor. Americans also support policies to promote low-income housing in higher-income areas (66%) as well as redistricting school boundaries to diversify districts (60%).

Least popular among these proposals is what is commonly known as "busing," which means requiring school districts to bus a certain percentage of students to neighboring school districts in order to racially diversify schools. Forty-three percent of Americans favor busing, while 55% oppose it. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Gallup found consistent opposition to busing, based on a variety of questions on the issue.

U.S. Support for Various Proposals to Reduce Segregation in Schools
Do you favor or oppose each of the following proposals to reduce racial concentration or segregation in U.S. public schools?
Favor Oppose
% %
Creating more regional magnet schools that offer specialized courses or curriculum 79 18
Initiating policies to promote more low-income housing in suburbs and other higher-income areas 66 32
Redrawing school district boundaries to create more racially diverse school districts 60 38
Requiring school districts to bus a certain percentage of students to a neighboring school district to make schools more racially diverse 43 55
July 15-31, 2019

Magnet schools enjoy majority support across all racial and political party identification groups as a proposal to reduce racial concentration in certain schools. Meanwhile, promoting more low-income housing in suburban or higher income districts and redrawing district boundaries as a means of integrating schools receive majority support among all of these groups except Republicans. Majorities of Republicans oppose both proposals.

Busing is the toughest sell, with low support among whites and Republicans as well as less than half of independents. Most blacks, Hispanics and Democrats support busing, but not to the same degree as they support the other three proposals.

Support for Proposals to Reduce Segregation in Schools, by Race and Party ID
Magnet schools Low-income housing Redrawing district boundaries Busing
% Favor % Favor % Favor % Favor
National adults 79 66 60 43
Whites 76 58 54 33
Blacks 86 81 74 65
Hispanics 88 83 75 65
Republicans 72 43 37 20
Independents 80 66 61 45
Democrats 84 83 78 59
July 15-31, 2019

Bottom Line

Segregated schools are a major issue in many U.S. communities, including in the South where a new report details the increasingly common creation of "splinter" school districts. These are new school districts created when school systems secede from larger districts and leave behind lower-income and predominantly nonwhite students. But segregation is common even in blue states like New York and California, where some of the most segregated school districts in the country can be found.

Policies around segregation produced the top highlight of one of the June presidential candidate debates after Sen. Kamala Harris chided former Vice President Joe Biden for his 1970s opposition to student busing. Biden's stance at the time was consistent with the solid majorities of Americans who opposed busing. And that strong opposition paved the way for the much less controversial creation of magnet schools, which were seen as an alternative to busing, and became popular in the 1980s with funding from President Ronald Reagan.

Over time, magnet schools have shifted from a focus on integration to one that is more about education competitiveness, and it is the top favored proposal on Gallup's list.

View complete question responses and trends.

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