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PBS Asks: Are Baton Rouge Schools 'Separate And Unequal'? We Look At North Texas

UT San Antonio

Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court said racially divided schools were unconstitutional, a curious thing has happened. Many school systems are more segregated than ever, but in a completely different way. Tonight, PBS Frontline takes a look at this phenomenon in Baton Rouge, La., in a documentary called Separate and Unequal. What about the numbers in North Texas?

In 1971, when a federal court forced Dallas schools to integrate, the overwhelming majority of students -- 70 percent -- were white. A quarter were African American, in segregated schools, and the rest were Hispanic. 

Today, after decades of court oversight,  less than 5 percent of students are white. The share of blacks hasn’t changed, and  70 percent are now Hispanic.  

“There are more children who are of Hispanic descent than there are of any other race or ethnic group., state demographer Lloyd Potter says about the statewide trend. 

“And so we’re certainly seeing within the schools a tremendous growth in terms of the number of students who are enrolled that are of Hispanic descent.”

When integration was enforced in Dallas, thousands of white parents moved out or sent their kids to private schools.  For many, suburban Plano was a destination. A quarter-century ago, nearly all Plano ISD kids – 87 percent - were white. These days, Hispanics, Asians and African Americans make up more than half of Plano's student population.

“In almost all school districts across the state we’ll continue to see increasing percentages of the student body being of Hispanic descent. Potter says.

Twenty-five years ago, a third of Fort Worth ISD students were white, a third black and a quarter Hispanic. Today, most are Hispanic.

Fort Worth and Dallas also have a number of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Potter says bad ratings are often tied to low-income students who need to learn English. Research shows high-scoring schools have fewer minority and poor students. That historic pattern follows a predictable course of academic and income improvements over time.

“As we start seeing the Hispanic population becoming second and third generation in Texas,” Potter says, “more and more Hispanic households will be speaking English at home. We’ll start seeing better integration of Hispanic populations into the  labor force, and we have been seeing steady improvements in education attainment among Hispanics.”

This trend is not new. Potter says it’s similar to past immigrant groups including the Irish and Italians who arrived here in big numbers between a century and a century and a half ago.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.