Racial Inequality and the American City: Segregation and Unequal Opportunities in Public Education

America’s public education system continues to witness racial inequalities. This is specifically seen throughout the American city. This includes inner cities, metropolitan areas, and urban centers across the country. Although America continues to be growing in diversity and multiculturalism, the country remains stagnant when it comes to social integration and providing equal opportunities of success. The inner city continues to be the main focal point. This is because the inner-city offers a geographical perspective for research. Inner cities have the largest concentration of minorities. As a result, urban areas offer insight into diversity and how people of color are marginalized through systems of oppression. This includes oppression and inequality within public school systems as seen by achievement gaps and educational outcomes for people of color. The inner city’s multiculturalism helps to assist individuals in gaining a better understanding to the cause and effect of racial inequality. It effects not only education and educational outcomes, but also poverty, socioeconomic segregation, and racial disparities in housing, income, and the American labor force. By analyzing the effects of racial inequality in inner city schools, individuals can address ways to improve the education system by providing equal education and opportunities to all students regardless of race.


America continues to be a multicultural society representing individuals from different cultural backgrounds. Latinos, Blacks, Asians, and Native Americans represent a growing subpopulation of American citizens. Hispanics and Latino’s represent both the largest and the fastest growing minority group in America (Orfield & Lee, 2005). As a result, Latino’s represent 18% of the population, “followed by Black students at 17%; in the West and South Blacks and Latino’s make up 54% of the nation’s public school students (Orfield  Lee 2005, p. 10). As minority populations continue to grow, it bears to question the impact that diversity plays in racial disparities observed in American cities. This can be observed in public education. Statistics indicate that racial disparities are present in educational institutions. This is marked by high school dropout rates, achievement scores, and student higher education. According to Hochschild and Shen, “91% of non-Hispanic Whites, compared with 83% of Blacks and only 60% of Hispanics over the age of 25 had at least a high school disagree” (2009, n.p).

Gaps in education indicate the racial disparities in quality education received by minority students. As a result, race is a strong predictor of educational success. Asian Americans and White Americans are most likely to obtain a high school diploma and earn degrees in higher education (Hochschild & Shin 2009). All the while, Blacks, American Indians, Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders are less likely to receive the education required to participate in the work force and earn high paying jobs. These minority groups continue to be marginalized in housing, economy, and health. Many of these outcomes relate to the discrepancies in the education received from White students compared to students of color. Unfortunately, “these outcomes result from a complex interaction of residential location, recency of immigration, family socioeconomic status, personal preference, discrimination or biased treatment, and quality of schooling” (Hoschild & Shin 2009, n.p).

Segregation, Integration, and American Education

The Civil Rights Movement paved the way for social equality weakening social disparities between Whites and minorities. However, racial inequality remains constant and consistent more than 50 years later. The Civil Rights Movement was stimulated by the Supreme Court case, Brown v the Board of Education. In 1954 Thurgood Marshall, lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (NAACP), challenged the United States Board of Education on their policy promising separate but equal education for Blacks and people of color. Throughout the hearing, Marshall argued that, “separate school systems for Blacks and Whites where inherently unequal” (Brown v Board of Education 1954, n.p). Inequality in education presents a violation of 14th amendment rights granted in the U.S Constitution. Brown v Board of Education became a historical and landmark decision. The court determined that, “the constitutionality of segregation in public education… that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws”, (Brown v Board of Education 1954, n.p). The case encouraged social integration in American school systems. It also guaranteed all American citizens the right to free and equal education regardless of race or socioeconomic status. However, six decades after the decision public education continues to be racially segregated. In addition the education received in public institutions is not equal. Research conducted by Valerie Strauss found that, “initial school integration gains following Brown stalled and Black children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time since 1970” (2014, n.p). This can especially be seen in public schools throughout American inner cities.


Racial inequality within the American education system is a side effect of racial inequality observed in economy and housing. Studies produced by Richard Rothstein found “strong links between individual poverty, school poverty, race and educational inequality” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 6). This is because where individuals live, determines the school students attend, and the quality of education they receive. Students are mandated to attend schools assigned by a district or zone. However, when people of color are segregated into urban areas, it restricts students to these schools. Furthermore, it restricts student’s opportunities for success and future outcomes. “Extensive research demonstrating that Blacks and Whites with similar economic status live in dramatically different residential environments, with Blacks living in areas with higher crime rates, poor quality schools, higher poverty rates, lower property values, and severe racial segregation” (Sharkey 2013, p. 4). As a result of the social inequality observed within the American city, it creates a domino effect. Racial inequality has infiltrated the framework of multiple social systems and institutions. Race determines where families live, the education they receive, access to economy and the American workforce.

According to research, “since the 1970’s, there has been a gradual decline of White families in large metropolitan centers as they moved to suburbs or small cities, leaving a large concentration of Black and Latino students in central cities”, (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 14). The cause of this is two-fold. Whites left the inner-city and flocked to the growing and more desirable suburbs. Most of this was due to the decline of working-class jobs located throughout urban areas. Along with freeway development, shopping centers, and neighborhood transformation, White families no longer had a need to stay in the city. These families found new careers in the emerging technology fields and other areas, leaving minorities and people of color inexperienced, jobless, and impoverished. As a result, “the decline in manufacturing jobs within central cities, joblessness skyrocketed…the rate of families headed by single parent rose sharply, as did the welfare recipient” (Sharkey 2013, 1). In addition to this, the emerging suburbia was highly segregated and marginalized against African Americans, Latinos, and people of color. This is because minorities are heavily discriminated in housing. They are less likely to receive a home loan to purchase a house or denied housing in suburban areas (Sharkey 2013). Although the fair Housing Act of 1968 ensured equal access in housing, the inner city became hyper-segregated. The racial segregation that continued in urban America caused a “concentration of urban poverty and all of the social programs that emerged with it” (Sharkey 2013, p. 2). This includes racial inequality in education.

Journalist Valerie Strauss cites that, “education policy is housing policy” (2014, n.p). This is because housing plays a significant role in where students go to school. However, where families live is also determined by income, economy, and the labor force. In this way, racial inequality in education boils down to money and poverty. Poor neighborhoods, community housing, and housing voucher programs are not only racially segregated but centralized in undesirable locations. These areas are notorious for high crime and poor infrastructure. They are identified by over-all neglect. In these poor neighborhoods residents are highly segregated from mainstream White America. The Black and Latino families that populate the ghetto are marginalized and segregated by location due to discrimination in income and housing. Furthermore, minority families suffer the consequences of housing segregation, attending inner-city schools that offer low quality and inadequate education. As a result, “schools remain segregated today because neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated. Raising achievement of low-income Black children requires residential integration, from which school integration can follow” (Strauss 2014, n.p).

Most importantly, poverty plays a key role in housing and education. Researchers state that, “segregation has never been about race: segregation by race is systematically linked to other forms of segregation, including segregation by socioeconomic status, by residential location, and increasingly by language” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 14). This is observed as income determines where individuals live, their housing, and their community. When families live in poor neighborhoods, these communities receive little tax revenue or resources to improve the community. This limited economy also feeds into schools located in these areas. For people of color however, income has little effect on where families live. Especially for working-class and middle-class families of color, segregation and marginalization force families into poor neighborhoods. This was observed in studies conducted by Orfield and Lee which show that even when families make the same income, people of color were more likely to live in poor racially segregated neighborhoods, (2005). As a result, many of the educational institutions in these communities are not only highly segregated by race, but are also impoverished. “In the entire metro region, 97% of the schools with less than 10% of White students face concentrated poverty compared to 1% of the schools with less than a 10% minority student population” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 6).

Schools located in poor neighborhoods are known as high-poverty schools. High-poverty schools reflect negative education outcomes and limited academic achievement. This is observed through limited course options, curriculum, and resources needed to give inner-city students the opportunity they need for educational success. Scholars found that, “Blacks and Latinos are a disproportionate share of students with low socioeconomic status… so it is important to remember that class disadvantages may play a role” (Hochschild & Schen 2009, n.p). By understanding how inner-city housing and poverty influence where students go to school, more can be done to address segregation and racial inequality not only in education but also discrimination and marginalization in urban housing. Poverty then not only affects the quality of life for families, but also the education that students receive. Although education is free to the public and required for youth, household incomes can have a strong influence on educationa quality.


Studies show that Brown v the Board of Education was ineffective, (Strauss 2014). This is because the landmark case did not fully integrate inner-city schools which was the main goal of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP legal defense team. Marshall was able to rid of the nation of the separate-but-equal clause to ensure all students receive an education that is equal to those who are White or affluent. The landmark decision determined that segregation is unconstitutional and integration was enforced. Although it is illegal to reject students based on race, Brown does not guarantee that all schools are racially integrated. Furthermore, it did not guarantee that all American public schools are equal. This can be seen as the majority of American students attend schools racially segregated schools. In most schools 70% of the student population is of the same race or ethnic background (APA 2014). In addition, schools with large minority student populations do not offer basic courses for students like Chemistry and advanced Algebra, (Rich 2014). Due to these cases and others, racial inequality continues throughout the American school system, especially those in metropolitan cities and urban areas.  For this reason, “Brown was unsuccessful in its purported mission—to undo the school segregation that persists as a modal characteristic of American public Education today”, (Strauss, 2014, n.p).

A report conducted by the New York Times determined that, “racial minorities are more likely than White students to be suspended from school, have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience” (Rich 2014, n.p). This indicates that high-poverty schools lack resources for educational achievement. Students are most likely to be people of color. It not only suggests racial inequality found in American public schools, but also racial segregation observed in the institution. The United States Department of Education agrees, admitting that “it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed”, (2014, n.p). This is because high-poverty schools lack adequate school curriculum, are more likely to retain bilingual students, and place heavy consequences on Black and Latino students through zero tolerance policies. However, most alarming, these short comings are dominated in inner-city schools that are segregated. It has created limited educational achievement and success for minority youth so much so that it has caused high dropout rates from Black and Latino students. Incidentally, schools with the highest dropout rates are centralized in “heavily minority high schools in big cities” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 5).

Racial disparities and inequalities observed throughout inner-city public schools are demonstrated through statistics. Research found that, “2 out of every 5 white students attend schools that are 90% White… reflecting substantial concentration of White students in certain areas, such as the suburbs of our nation” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 13-4).  While suburban schools are majority White, suburban schools also have different courses and resources available to students. Suburban schools offer a larger variety of school curriculum and courses, in addition to resources for extracurricular activities like music and fine arts. They also have advancements and tools of technology for learning and preparation for the high-tech workforce. Families that live in the suburbs, including White families, are more likely to achieve educational success such as a High School diploma and College degree. However, they are less likely to learn from or experience multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. This is because, “due to the severe White residential isolation in outlying suburbs, white students are the least likely group to attend truly multiracial schools” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 12). Segregation and racial isolation ensures that White suburbia stays White. It perpetuates segregation, racial inequality, stereotypes and assumptions placed on people of color. With the aid of segregated suburbia, it guarantees that White upper and middle class citizens remain out of touch with the realities of the multicultural society. Social isolation maintains segregation in education, housing, and the workforce throughout the generations.

Disparities in Educational Outcomes and Achievement

Due to the lack of resources, funding, and curriculum, inner city public schools show racial disparities in educational outcomes and academic achievement. This is specifically seen in minority groups and people of color. Racial disparity in academic achievement is also known as the achievement gap. Studies show that the gap between Black and White students is wide. White students continue to excel in knowledge retention and understanding, while Blacks score better than only 25% of white students, (Strauss 2014). As a result, “the drop- out rate for Latino students is nearly four times the rate of White students, and the suspension and expulsion rates for African American students is three times the rate for White students”, (APA, 2014, p.14).

Achievement gaps and racial disparities in education are observed in all grade levels, from pre-school to high school. Research conducted by the U.S Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights found that even pre-k students are subjected to high rates of suspension and time-outs which can negatively affect student learning (2014, n.p). Some suggests the cause of achievement inequalities come from disparities in the treatment of people of color.  Researchers from the American Psychological Association claim that, “ethnic and racial differences in achievement that are the consequences of discrimination by educators, weather intentional or not, represent the more obvious and egregious forms of ethnic and racial disparities” (2012). Stereotypes, discrimination, hostility, and aggression through educational practice and policy have a negative effect on minority student’s educational outcomes.

Differential treatment of students is expressed through social perception of minorities. These include stigma, stereotypes, bias, and negative assumptions regarding a culture and class of people. Some educators and administrators may have hostility towards people of color as well as cultural misconceptions regarding crime and violence. For instance, some teacher may perceive Latino students as low achievers due to language barriers. However they do not put into account the difference between new immigrants and Hispanic American citizens. As a result, by treating students according to the biases and assumptions, it can have a negative impact on student performance and academics. Research found that, teacher bias and student racial status accounted for one in three minority students to earn low academic achievement as a result (APA 2014).

Only 82% of African Americans and 63% of Latino earn a high school diploma (Hochschild & Shen 2009). For some minority students obtaining a high school diploma is a challenge. This is due to testing and achievement scores mandated by the state, educational policies, and the No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush administration. Researchers determined that, “higher rates of grade retention and dropping out in states and cities that have instituted test requirements for promotion or graduation… [created]  a widening gap in graduation rates between white and minority students” (Darling-Hammond 2007, p. 253). As a result, many inner-city schools are unable to prepare minority students for standardized testing. This causes institutions to push out low achieving students, so much so that these students are discouraged from completing their high school education. Furthermore, students are also encouraged to stay back a grade in order to meet the demands of state and federal testing.

As a result of standardized tests provided through education policy and reform of No Child Left Behind, most minority students are taught according to the test. These students do not learn according to their education needs or goals. Standardized testing was first used to monitor and record educational systems usefulness. Instead, it is used as a measure to determine if a school is passing or failing which all equals to educational funding. Teaching for standardized tests and mandatory exit exams for high school students have caused negative consequences for the graduation rates of minority students. “The high school graduation rates for most ethnic and racial minority groups continue to stagnate just over 60% with many large urban districts serving primarily low income and minority students having high school graduation rates substantially below 50%”, (APA, 2012, p. 14).


It is good to be well informed and knowledgeable about racial disparities in the inner-city. However, it is more important to strategize for a solution. “If high poverty schools are systematically unequal and segregated minority schools are almost always high poverty schools, it is much easier to understand both the consequences of segregation and the conditions that create the possibility of substantial gains in desegregated classes” (Orfield & Lee 2005, p. 8). The path to a solution to racial inequality is to apply Brown v Board of Education.  This means to practice and participate in racial integration. Educational systems must support integration by ensuring that public educational institutions are diverse and represent America’s multicultural society. Schools must not only be integrated. They must also ensure students receive equal education. High-poverty schools must receive the funding and resources required for academic success. Simple strategies should be applied such as improved libraries and computer labs, updated textbooks, and extra-curricular activities and curriculum.

While improved resources and funding is essential, limiting racial inequality cannot occur without addressing the layers of discrimination and inequality observed throughout American society. Issues found in housing discrimination, healthcare, and socioeconomic disparities must be addressed. Simply improving the wage gap between Whites and people of color is not enough. Discrimination must be met by addressing housing and the differentiation of socioeconomic class between urban and suburban. This is best stated by Journalist from the Washington Post who cites, “segregated neighborhoods lead to segregated schools”, (Strauss, 2014, n.p). Thus, integrating inner city neighborhoods is the key to integrating education and severely limiting racial disparities observed in inner-city public schools. Integration can weed out gaps in funding and resources for school. Furthermore, it puts upper-class White students in contact with the multicultural society. Through integration, bias, stereotypes, and assumptions can be dispelled creating understanding and awareness between cultures.

There are other solutions to racial inequality that can be found in policy initiatives in housing and poor communities. For instance, the Obama administration has developed different strategies to take racial segregation. They work to integrate the inner city by encouraging improved opportunities and access to housing and special funding. Furthermore, it encourages Whites to move back to the City and people of color out of the ghetto. These include changing zoning and housing ordinance that encourage new community development in suburbia that creates affordable housing for low income families. Other programs such as those that target poor neighborhoods must be reexamined and remodeled for infrastructure and community improvement. Both inner city and suburban programs most accommodate special provisions for integration. This includes, “rehousing the displaced residences, many of whom are forced to leave their gentrifying neighborhoods to seek homes in newly integrated suburbs”, (Strauss 2014, n.p). By including all members of society such as poor and middle class households, more can be done to ensure that citizens are treated fair in housing and economy. Loosing discrimination, marginalization, and segregation within the American inner-city can improve the educational outcomes for people of color attending poor and underfunded public education institutions.


Racial inequality and social disparities are present within American society. This can be observed throughout mainstream America in areas that remain heavily segregated along race, culture, and class lines. Differentiating people according to their socioeconomic status and cultural differences reflects socioeconomic segregation that is stubborn, multidimensional, and the significant cause of education inequality in the American school system (Orfield & Lee 2005, p.5). America is recognized as a cultural melting pot. Americans represent different cultures, backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities. However, when citizens do not fit into the White non-Hispanic, Anglo majority, they are most likely to be marginalized or oppressed according to race and income. People of color are then restricted to certain aspects of American society and outcomes. Black, Hispanics, and some Asians are marginalized into poor communities and ghetto neighborhoods. They are segregated into undesirable areas, where their families must suffer the consequences of differential treatment. Throughout the process of segregation, people of color are being isolated and the inner-city becomes the urban epicenter for multiculturalism. However American multiculturalism includes excluding certain people from equal access and opportunities. These include racial disparities in health, crime, education, and the American work force. The only way to improve these outcomes is to “make housing opportunities for low income, black, urban residents available in White middle-class suburbs”, (Strauss, 2014, n.p). Racial segregation must turn into racial integration. Suburbia and rural America must mirror diversity and multiculturalism observed within the inner-city. This can limit racial segregation observed throughout the country all the while encouraging integration and cultural awareness. Addressing issues of racial inequality is vital to maintain a progressive and just society.



American Psychology Association. 2012. Ethnic and racial disparities in education: Psychology’s contributions to understanding and reducing disparities. Presidential Task Force on Educational Disparities. Available at: https://www.apa.org/ed/resources/racial-disparities.pdf

Darling-Hammond, L. 2007. Race, inequality and educational accountability: The irony of ‘no child left behind’. Race Ethnicity and Education 10(2): 245-260. Available at http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Linda_Darling-Hammond/publication/248970714_Race_inequality_and_educational_accountability_the_irony_of_’No_Child_Left_Behind’/links/0a85e537c69a9a5d14000000.pdf

Hoschschild J.L, and F.X Shen. 2014. Race, ethnic, and education policy.Oxford Handbook of Racial and Ethnic Politics in America. New York: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://scholar.harvard.edu/jlhochschild/publications/race-ethnicity-and-education-policy

Orfield, G. 2008. Race and schools: the need for action. Los Angeles: California University of Los Angeles, National Education Association. Available at http://www.nea.org/home/13054.htm

Orfield, G., and C. Lee. 2005. Why segregation matters: Poverty and educational inequality. UCLA: The Civil Rights Project. Available at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/4xr8z4wb#

Rich, M. 2014. School data finds pattern of inequality along racial lines. New York Times, 21 March. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/school-data-finds-pattern-of-inequality-along-racial-lines.html?_r=0

Sharkey, P. 2013. The Inheritance of the Ghetto. Stuck in place: Urban neighborhoods and the end of progress toward racial equality. University of Chicago Press.

Strauss, V. 2014. How, after 60 years, Brown v. Board of Education succeeded- and didn’t. Washington Post. 24 April. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/24/how-after-60-years-brown-v-board-of-education-succeeded-and-didnt/

U.S Department of Education. 2014. Expansive survey of America’s public schools reveals trouble racial disparities. Washington D.C: U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/expansive-survey-americas-public-schools-reveals-troubling-racial-disparities

U.S Supreme Court. 1954. Brown v. Board of Education. Washington, D.C. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/347/483


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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