Addressing the Lasting Impacts of Racist Choices on Virginia’s Education System
Diverse learning environments are beneficial to all students, and especially students of color. The widespread benefits include higher academic achievement, increased likelihood of going to college, better workforce preparation, and an improved likelihood of students having the school resources that they need. Virginia students are increasingly racially diverse. More than half of Virginia students are students of color (22% Black, 17% Latinx, 7% Asian American/Pacific Islander, 6% multiple races).1 But students have not been able to access the full array of benefits from this increasing diversity, because segregation in Virginia schools remains a significant challenge and is even getting worse by some measures.
Virginia’s long history of passing both overt and covert racist policies has segregated schools and deprived communities of color of educational opportunities and resources. Black Virginians and other groups of color have fought for educational equity and sought to improve their lives through the creation of intellectually rigorous and accessible educational institutions. These efforts led to the creation of public education in Virginia. Yet more than a century of white-led racist policies, including student placement, housing discrimination, exclusionary employment practices, attacks on Black wealth building, school closures, privatization, limits on integration across school district boundaries, and white flight have entrenched racial segregation within Virginia schools.
By some measures, racial segregation has gotten worse in Virginia over the past 15 years. TCI analysis shows three alarming trends:
- Black and Latinx students are increasingly likely to attend schools that are almost entirely non-white and these schools have fewer resources and course offerings than schools with larger shares of white students.
- Black and Latinx students continue to attend schools with high levels of poverty compared to white students and the overall student body.
- School segregation has increased in many of Virginia’s metro areas.
Diverse learning environments are beneficial to all students, and especially students of color.
Virginia’s long history of passing both overt and covert racist policies has segregated schools and deprived communities of color of educational opportunities and resources.
As history demonstrates, current-day schooling segregation continues to be crafted through a web of overt and covert racist policy choices. “Color-blind” solutions will not address the issues discussed in this report, but instead would ignore and reinforce the racism that exists within the education system. Intentional, anti-racist policy solutions like district rezoning, regional integration efforts, need-based funding, a racial-equity centered school rating system, and affordable housing considerations are strong options that, together, would begin to build a more equitable system of public education.
This project examines the history of school segregation in Virginia, how it looks today, the benefits of well-integrated learning environments, and policy solutions to help ensure a more equitable future for students.
The Commonwealth Institute would like to acknowledge and extend sincere thanks to the following for their expertise, insight, feedback, and guidance throughout this project:
- Dr. Claudrena Harold, University of Virginia
- Janel George, Learning Policy Institute
- Dr. Lauranett Lee, University of Richmond
- Mariah Williams, Director of Research and Policy, Housing Opportunities Made Equal
- Larry Roeder, Director, Edwin Washington Project