Expansive School Segregation in Texas: Predicts Accountability Rating

Although U.S. schools are more racially diverse than ever before, they are growing increasingly segregated, with African American and Latina/o students attending more segregated schools than at any time in the past 20 years (Orfield, 2009). Although current levels of school segregation are reminiscent of the pre-Brown era, the demographics of students in U.S. schools have shifted dramatically since that time. One of the most notable shifts has been the growth of the English language learner (ELL) student population, a population that has more than doubled in the past 25 years, with high growth expected to continue (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011).

Although the ELL population is growing, the extent to which such students are affected by segregation by race, poverty, and language proficiency is not well understood. This study examined the segregation of ELL students in schools across Texas, the state with the second largest population of ELL students in the United States (NCES, 2010), by using school-level data from the Texas Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) data system. We consider how federal and state legal decisions and policies have directly and indirectly affected levels of school segregation for ELL students in the state. We then descriptively examine levels of racial, economic, and linguistic isolation experienced by students across the state of Texas. Finally, we conduct an inferential statistical analysis to understand the association between segregation by race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, and language proficiency with high-stakes accountability ratings.

Citation: Vasquez Heilig J. & Holme, J. (2013). Nearly 50 Years Post-Jim Crow: Persisting and Expansive School Segregation for African American, Latina/o and ELL students in TexasEducation and Urban Society. doi: 10.1177/0013124513486289

Abstract: This study addresses the segregation of English language learner (ELL) students in schools across Texas. We descriptively analyze levels of racial, economic, and linguistic isolation experienced by ELL students across the state of Texas. We also examine the association between segregation by race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, and language proficiency with high-stakes accountability ratings. Despite nearly two decades of accountability policies that have promised equality, our statistical analyses show that a majority of ELL students in Texas still attend high-poverty and high-minority schools, and we find that segregation by socioeconomic status (SES) and race and ethnicity is highly significant for predicting whether schools will be low performing relative to high performing.

Our Findings: Our analyses of Texas data indicate that ELL students in Texas experience high levels of segregation in schools by race, poverty, and language status. The reasons for the growing segregation are less clear, and merit further research; but there are a number of potential causes indicated within the literature. One such cause indicated within the research literature is the growing residential segregation by race, language proficiency, and poverty—segregation that has increasingly been found, as our data show, in suburban school systems. It is also possible that educational policies contribute to high levels of triple segregation as well. Some policies that have been adopted with the intent of improving language acquisition, as in the past, have the effect of increasing linguistic isolation: for example, research has found that school systems that are racially diverse often adopt “clustered bilingual” programs in an effort to best serve the linguistic needs of ELL students. As in the past, a linguistic rationale used by school districts in terms of meeting the needs of ELL has the effect (intentionally or unintentionally) of increasing isolation of ELL students and reducing exposure to native speakers during the school day.

Another policy that can have the indirect effect of worsening ELL segregation is school choice: Many school districts in the state of Texas have adopted “open enrollment” policies that allow students to transfer between schools within the same district. These policies, as research has shown, tend to advantage more well-resourced students (particularly because transportation is not provided with most such policies). Due to differences in cultural and social capital, it is likely that students whose home language is not English are less likely to take advantage of choice (Vasquez Heilig, 2011a) due to lack of familiarity with the application process.

One of the most significant contributions to segregation in schools, however, is housing. ELL students, who are often Latina/o, are increasingly residentially isolated in urban and, increasingly, suburban neighborhoods. As Gandara and Contreras (2009) observed, “Housing segregation has particularly onerous effects on Latina/o students learning English. When students’ lack appropriate language models and individuals with whom to interact in English, their acquisition of academic English is delayed” (p. 74). This lack of opportunity is exacerbated when students residing in high-poverty and linguistically isolated neighborhoods attend schools isolated by race/ethnicity, poverty, and language.

In conclusion, nearly 50 years since Jim Crow, the intensity of segregation in Texas schools is still largely problematic. Our statistical analyses show that a majority of ELL students in Texas attend high-poverty and high-minority schools. One positive note is that elementary schools serving ELL students are more likely to be high performing than low performing schools. However, this finding is tempered by the fact that as ELL students progress in the education pipeline in Texas, they are more likely to attend low performing middle schools and high schools (results not shown). Furthermore, ELLs enrolled in secondary schools ultimately have the highest dropout rates and lowest tests scores and graduation rates in Texas (Vasquez Heilig, 2011a). Surprisingly, after almost two decades of Texas-style accountability, the overall finding that segregation by SES and race and ethnicity is still highly significant for predicting whether schools will be low performing relative to high performing suggests that high-stakes testing and accountability as systemic reforms have still not delivered as a cure-all in Texas.

See the brand-spanking new full peer-reviewed article here.

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  • In addition to the troubling effects on children and others living in segregated communities, it turns out that segregated societies also have more difficulty surviving over the long-term, giving us even greater reason to develop real, lasting solutions that promote integration. In “Language Policy and Civil War,” Stanford Professor David D. Laitin found that nations divided by language face survival difficulties, particularly once nations weaken. A review of several studies on the dissolution of empires found that societies that do not integrate break up quickly, with the average empire lasting just 220 years. As a nation, I believe we should drive toward integration, while encouraging bilingual and trilingual education along with other elements of cultural diversity, because it is the right direction for individuals and multi-lingual citizens will be better able to compete in the global economy as U.S. economic influence wanes. It is also the right direction for those hoping to live a lifetime without serious internal conflict. I wrote two books, “Melting Point 2040” and “Secession 2041,” to tell stories of what happens if we fail. We need to look outside traditional solutions to find more points of integration to improve our success rate.


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  • Theresa Valls Trevino

    Brilliant article, but very sad. In the last five months of testifying at the legislature on the side-effects of STAAR on ELLs, dyslexics and those living in poverty with now 250,000 students in 9th and 10th grade not on track to graduate, no one mentioned the issue of poverty. Even with many elementary schools with high concentration of ELLs doing well on accountability standards, it is important to note that the pressure is on to get ELLs English proficient by the end of 5th grade. That is when the bilingual program ends and in middle school the ESL program begins. These two programs are very different in their approach on teaching ELLs, with ESL being much less time-intensive on helping students learn the new language. Also, STAAR is not offered in Spanish beginning in 6th grade. (that was true with TAKS, as well). I recently helped a mom of three boys at an ARD meeting held for her youngest son in Elgin, in a school with high concentrations of ELLs. Her older sons, now in high school, successfully completed the TELPAS program in Elgin and are English proficient. They have done well in their studies with aspirations for college. I encouraged the mom to have her older sons speak to their younger brother in English as much as possible. It is so important for ELLs to hear the native language. What is your solution for accomplishing greater ELL success in English? What does Dr. Daniel King, Superintendent in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, do to have great success with his mostly poor, ELL population? He speaks of a very active drop-out prevention program and very dedicated teachers who “pour on the English” from a young age. What would be best practices that we could learn from this district to apply statewide?


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Yes, Bertis Downs … it is sad. Society does loose. In New Orleans (from where the article you mention comes) many of us struggled for decades; Pre-Katrina to find solutions that would encourage policy and on the ground opportunities for students to be educated in non-segregated schools that included Magnet Schools. In New Orleans, there are Charter Schools and advocates for using “privatization” through the charter movement in N.O. to create non-segregated schools of high quality. I know of one personally in my old neighborhood in the 7th Ward. So, in my opinion it’s not “privatization” per se. Even voucher systems (advocated for in Louisiana by the state’s Governor) could be designed to reduce segregation. It’s a matter of policy, purpose and design. Right now, it seems, the majority of those who want “privatization” and would advocate for continuing, even extending segregation have the upper hand in Texas and elsewhere; CA where I now teach, for example. The ugly underbelly of all this has to do with the “racial history” –and continuing attitudes of far too many- in America. The sad fact remains in my opinion, that there remain too many persons who out of fear or hatred or sometimes even religious belief, want segregation! They seem to want to continue marginalizing minorities! Look, for example, at the vitriolic comments by some “leaders” on TV about immigration in recent days. The photo on this last Blog would leave one to believe that Texas is racist and perhaps other parts of the U.S.A are not! Surprise! Project Censored in CA will soon come out with an article in its 2014 edition that tells us otherwise. This is a nation-wide problem neither Southern or Northern/Western so I’ll just go by a bumper sticker message that I got from an organization in New Orleans called “ERACISM” -All colors with love and respect … It’s an organization that simply helps people of all colors to meet informally in coffee shops, homes, churches, etc., to have meaningful conversations about “Race.” We as a society have a long way to go. Personal experiences as a school administrator in CA and from research on “Looking for Social Justice” in CA, tells me this!


  • and sadly, we all lose, indeed society loses, by this segregation that is more and more the norm– see, e.g., the excellent article by Loyola New Orleans Law’s Prof Rob Garda on The White Interest in School Integration, in which he argues forcefully that ALL students, majority and minority, do better and learn more, in diverse, integrated schools: http://works.bepress.com/robert_garda/1/, and an interview with the author: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2x_aVS9Pns


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