By Dr. Mark Mussman
The Cincinnati region is home to segregated neighborhoods and schools. The typical American mantra is that we have overcome segregation and with that, we’ve created a level playing field. Recently, I wrote about how little has changed in Cincinnati over the past couple of decades, and I mentioned that schools are more segregated now than ever, especially when it comes to income segregation. As an educator, I wanted to dig deeper into racial segregation in our schools.
There is considerable educational research that shows that educational success is only linked to two indicators: family income and school expenditures on curricular materials. In Ohio, these two things are intricately linked, as school funding is dependent on property taxes. In a few rare cases, there are some communities who are able to offset their residential property taxes with commercial property taxes, but for the most part, if a neighborhood has expensive homes, the schools in the neighborhood will be able to spend more per student. The school that spends the most in Ohio, spends nearly $40,000 per student on their education. In Hamilton County, Indian Hill spends the most per student; in 2016 that number was nearly $20,000. These amounts dwarf the $10,000 spent on each student in Cincinnati Public Schools.
As my work brings me in and out of schools on a constant basis, I am always surprised when I visit a non-segregated school. It is rare, but it does happen. I wondered what this would look like, on a statistical level, so I began doing a data search. The State of Ohio keeps records on public schools, but does not provide information on charter, private, or religious schools. Since the segregation in the Catholic Schools in Cincinnati seems to be anecdotely related to racism: as my family members have vocally said they will send their children to Catholic schools because there are “too many Black people” in the public schools, I can readily and wholeheartedly say that the push for a Catholic school education comes more out of racism than their adherence to Catholic beliefs. However, the Catholic schools in Cincinnati aren’t completely white, as many schools are completely Black, especially at the elementary level. An example of this is in East Walnut Hills, where St. Francis de Sales Elementary is almost entirely African American, and Mercy Montessori, just a few blocks away is mostly white. Until the demographic information is made available, we can just go from our experience, and know the Black Catholic schools and the white Catholic schools.
Focusing on the public schools has the benefit of also thinking deeper into the racial dynamics of the neighborhood, or municipality, in which the schools operate. In my research, I am including the demographic data from 49 local schools. I was unable to get Ohio data from Dater, Gamble, Taft, and Seven Hills School, which I suspect are each racially segregated. I also had to use Mason Middle School data, as the high school data wasn’t on the state’s page. Finally, Harrison High School data was not available. However, the data I did collect represents more than 50,000 students in the Cincinnati region, in Ohio. I did not include Northern Kentucky, although recents reports put that region near the top of the most economically segregated schools in America. When school desegregation efforts were in full swing in the 1970’s, the definition of segregation was a school with 70% or more of one race or ethnic group. This is the standard that I am using here. The results below show that most students in Cincinnati go to a segregated school.
The level of segregation would be shocking, if we didn’t expect this to be the case. Of the 50,274 students in the 49 local schools, 34,814 students attended racially segregated schools. Far more than half of the attendees. 9 schools have less than 10 African American students in attendance: Ross, Claremont-Eastern, Bethel- Tate, New Richmond, Goshen, Taylor, Mariemont, Batavia, and Madeira. The total population of these schools is 5,237 students. Less than 90 students total, in all of these schools, are African American. Ross High School has the distinct honor of the most white, at 98%. Other schools that are 90% or more white include: Amelia, Loveland, Turpin, Anderson, Oak Hills, Milford, and Little Miami Local School District. Schools in the 80-89% white category include Lebanon, Kings, Reading, Monroe, and Indian Hill. Schools that are 70-79% white include: Wyoming, Lakota, Deer Park, and Norwood. This leaves Sycamore on the border at 67% with a 8% African American population.
It should be noted, that these levels of segregation are not natural, and that segregation comes from decades of racism in housing, education, employment, transportation, health care, etc. None of this “just happens” but rather it is a concerted effort by banks, real estate professionals, racist policies, and policing. Many of these communities were “Whites Only” communities, through redlining, restrictive covenants, and other concerted efforts to exclude people of color from settling there. This is also not some historical issue, if it was, then we wouldn’t continue to have severely segregated schools.
There’s another side to this, where schools are segregated at more than 70% African American. The most segregated Black school is Woodward, (again Taft data wasn’t available, which I suspect is very highly segregated as well), with 94% African American, and 1% white. Shroder comes in second at 93% African American, followed by Hughes at 90%, Aiken at 86%, Withrow at 83%, North College Hill at 81%, Western Hills at 78%, Mount Healthy at 74%, and Virtual High at 70% African American. Other than North College Hill and Mount Healthy, these are Cincinnati Public Schools. Generational poverty creates a more expensive remedy for these schools, as schools are forced to pick up more slack, even serving two or three meals a day, ramping up wrap-around services such as medical care, and providing family-based education options. Schools that are majority white have less additional expenses because of the generational wealth that our public policies granted them over the last generations.
There are some schools that aren’t so severely segregated, but I might argue are still segregated, but they have a larger Hispanic or Asian population, which tilts the numbers into 3 boxes, instead of two: African American and white. This includes Princeton, which is 23% white, 46% African American, and 21% Hispanic. While no one is a majority alone, it reaches segregation levels while including Asian and Pacific Islander as well. Also, I would put Mason City Schools into this category as well, with 61% white, but less than 4% African American. There is a large Asian population in Mason schools, at 24% of the student body. Winton Woods also fits in this category with 27% of the students of Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial identity. A discussion about the so-called “model minority” in education, what that means for other minorities, and how this dilutes race-based measures, will need to be saved for another article, but it’s an important consideration when looking at the statistics.
We are left with 11,120 students who attend desegregated schools, based upon the formula I discussed above (70% threshold). Each of the following 10 schools have less than 70% of a single race or minority grouping. The percentage of African American and white students total in each school is between 80 and 88 percent. While these numbers may not accurately portray the community within which the school resides, as there are other schools, such as charter and religious schools, it may make a statement about the school’s commitment to creating a social system that enables students to make informed decisions on their exposure to people of different ethnicities. Four of the schools, Clark Montessori, Oyler, SCPA, and Walnut Hills are Cincinnati public schools, while the other six are mostly suburban schools: Colerain, Fairfield, Finneytown, Lockland, Northwest, and St. Bernard/Elmwood Place. Only one school, SCPA is more than 50% African American, at 53%.
These numbers don’t get to deeper issues of representation. What does it matter if a school’s student population is desegregated if there are no African American teachers or administrators? How are Black students treated differently when it comes to punishments, or even advance courses such as AP? What is the graduation rate for African American students? What is the level of police presence in each school? How are the relationships different between students and staff, including detention guards and so-called School Resource Officers? But what we can gleam from this data is that we are still in an active mode of segregation when the vast majority of our students attend extremely segregated schools, live in segregated neighborhoods, and ultimately, live segregated lives.