Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Race Matters in Milwaukee – Part 4: Segregation and Education by Nathaniel Holton

It has been suggested that education is the civil rights issue of our time, and there is no question that the black community continues to lag behind when it comes to all matters of education. This is especially so here in Milwaukee, where MPS reading scores lag behind those of other major urban school districts, state black reading scores are the worst in the nation, and the percent of blacks with a college education is lower here than it is in most other places. These are crisis-level facts.

This has not completely escaped the community’s notice. Everybody understands the importance of improving Milwaukee Public Schools. And while massive disagreement concerning proposed changes ultimately resulted in the prevailing of the status quo, rather than some sort of meaningful compromise or reform, at least the community showed that it was energized and willing to fight for local education.

But one thing that seems to continue to escape notice, maybe since the time that Chapter 220 was created, is the impact that segregation has on education.

Segregation and 4th Grade Reading Scores

The landmark study on segregation by the U.S Census Bureau ranked several dozen metro areas in terms of how segregated each is. Meanwhile, the Trial Urban District Assessment ranked 18 participating urban school districts in various standardized test scores. In total, 14 metro areas, including Milwaukee, were included in both studies. Each of these urban school districts contends with the issues of poverty and parenting that are frequently cited as the primary reasons for MPS’ struggles.

The graph below shows the level of segregation and the 2009 black 4th grade reading scores of the 14 districts that were included in both studies.

The link between segregation and black 4th grade reading scores is “significant“ at the 99% level, and segregation “explains” 45% of the variance in the reading scores. Note also that the link between segregation and overall reading scores (for all races) is significant at the 95% level and explains 37% of the variance in the reading scores. Milwaukee black 4th grade median reading score was second worst, ahead of only Detroit.

Segregation and Bachelor’s Degrees

The yearly American Community Survey keeps track of how many people ages 25 and older have acquired a bachelor’s degree. The graph below shows metro area segregation and the percent of the black population within the metro area that has a bachelor’s degree, averaged from 2006 to 2008. The correlation is significant at the 99% level and explains 32% of the variance in the percent of the black population that has a bachelor’s degree.

In this time, 12.3% of the black population in metro Milwaukee had a bachelor’s degree, the worst out of all of the metro areas included in the segregation study.

The graph below shows metro area segregation and the white/black bachelor’s degree disparity, defined as the ratio of percent of white people with a degree divided by percent of black people with a degree. Once again, correlation is significant at the 99% level and this time explains 30% of the variance in the white/black disparity.

Metro Milwaukee’s white/black degree disparity of 2.79 (34.3%/12.3%) was the worst out of all the metro areas in the segregation study.

What Does It Mean?

It is pretty clear that segregation and poor education outcomes correlate with one another. This does not prove that segregation causes poor education outcomes, or even that poor education outcomes cause segregation. But, as is the case with other socioeconomic indicators, segregation can be tied to the problems of Milwaukee that we all experience and are concerned with. It will be hard to move Milwaukee forward in jobs and education without impacting our segregation. With all of the talk about jobs and education during this election season, this is something that ought to be kept in mind.

This post originally appeared in The Milwaukee Drum on September 29, 2010.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Education
Cities: Milwaukee

4 Responses to “Race Matters in Milwaukee – Part 4: Segregation and Education by Nathaniel Holton”

  1. pete-rock says:

    I’ve found this series on segregation in Milwaukee to be enlightening. However, I’ve also noticed how there are very few comments posted on the commentary. Some viewers here may find segregation is not much of a planning issue anymore, but I think planning is at the heart of the matter.

    Yes, blacks in Milwaukee are quite isolated from the balance of the region, by many measures. And yes, this is also true for so many other cities around the nation. However, I’ve always believed that isolation does not exist without insulation — that segregation of blacks in urban environments does not occur without insulation from it in suburban environments.

    I’d be interested in seeing a correlation between sprawl and segregation (or did I miss that in the analysis here?).

  2. Pete, there are a few things I’d say regarding comments on this series:

    1. Posts I run from others tend to garner less comments than ones that I write for some reason. (Similarly, my “replay” series from the archives collect fewer comments).

    2. People as a general rule tend to be uncomfortable commenting on race issues.

    3. Urbanists tend to focus on things like land use, transportation, and architecture vs. social issues like segregation. So I suspect I have fewer readers who directly respond to that topic.

    However, it is impossible to separate urban issues and urban success from matters like race and class, and the history thereof. These items continue to play a significant role in our urban fortunes. I believe that those who ignore inclusiveness and social justice do so to their own downfall, as illustrated by the poor economic performance of not just black but white Milwaukee.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    I wonder if people here have read Shirley Cashin’s book, The Failure of Integration. Despite the name, the book makes a case for integration and against segregated black middle-class formation, the sentiment that “freedom means you no longer need to know white people to succeed.” The book focuses on PG County and not Milwaukee, and so the issues are more relevant to suburbia than to the city, but it provides some explanations for why segregation would lead to higher disparity in wealth and education:

    1. Black middle-class suburbanization tends to happen in the ill-favored quarter: east of DC, east of Atlanta, on the South Shore of Long Island. This means that there’s less access to jobs and high-quality retail, since, at least in Washington and Atlanta, the edge cities are located in the favored quarter.

    2. To explain 1 further, this suburbanization tends to occur as people exit the ghetto, and therefore the black middle-class areas are quite close to the worst neighborhoods in the city: PG County is right next to Southeast DC, and Jamaica is right next to East New York. Therefore as the ghetto expands outward, those areas become poorer and start suffering from intense crime and poverty problems. This means it’s harder for those suburbs to become long-term middle-class communities.

    Cashin also talks about different classes’ involvement in schools, which she considers important for school performance. But I forget whether she implicates blacks for being insufficiently involved rather than merely talking about class.

    In contrast, Cashin proposes integration as the answer. The places she’s thinking of (for example, Mount Vernon) have a more stable biracial middle class and tend to do better. The problem: it’s really hard, and requires intense community effort to prevent white flight once black people start moving in.

  4. Alexis says:

    This is a bit of a quibble, but I’d suggest that you might want to use “accounts for” rather than “explains” to discuss these correlations. As you note, there isn’t an obvious effect direction or way of understanding why these factors are correlated, and “accounts for” is the more neutral term I’ve often heard used in cases like that.

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