Are Pasadena’s Public Schools Still Segregated?

4 min read

Last year, our fifth and sixth grade class at Sequoyah School in Pasadena read the book Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling. We learned how Sylvia Mendez and her father went against the Westminster School District in 1946 to desegregate public schools in California. It took Pasadena an additional 25 years to desegregate their schools, which is ridiculous! But even since 1971, have schools truly been desegregated? Do Pasadena’s schools match the city’s population?

We wondered about this and decided to research this question for a poster competition for the American Statistical Organization. We found data about ethnic groups in Pasadena public schools by looking at the California Department of Education’s website. We made a table of the number of students by race at each Pasadena public school, and then calculated the percentage of each race in the schools.

The first thing we saw in our public school data was that school racial populations were not representative of Pasadena’s entire population. Overall, the largest ethnic group in Pasadena public schools was Hispanic, which was almost four times more than the next highest group, White. But, the Hispanic percentages were also the most varied; at one school 99.5 percent of the students were Hispanic, while others had very few Hispanic students. White students are the biggest ethnic group in the city of Pasadena, but their percentage varies with each public school. The school that had the most white students was 54 percent, but most schools had 10 percent or below.

When we added up all the students, we found out that the racial composition of Pasadena schools is much different than the racial composition of the entire population of Pasadena, according to 2017 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Pasadena public schools, only 14 percent of students are white, 67 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are African American, and 5 percent are Asian. In comparison, the Census estimate for Pasadena for 2017 said that Pasadena is about 37 percent White, 34 percent Hispanic, 11 percent African American, and 16 percent Asian.

From the Census estimate percentages from Pasadena, we thought that a truly integrated school should have between 30–40 percent white students and 30–40 percent Hispanic students. From our data, only one out of the 26 public schools in Pasadena (or 3.8 percent of schools) meet our standards for a school to be integrated. So to answer our question, yes, public schools are still segregated.

Our classmates worked on a similar project for private schools, and found that they were also segregated, but they had much higher populations of White and Asian students. If we use the same method to decide whether a school is segregated or not, only two of the private schools are integrated.

In fact, our school, Sequoyah School, is not completely integrated by our methods. Regardless, over 50 percent of students at our school are of color, which makes Sequoyah one of the most diverse, integrated private schools in Pasadena. In our classroom, we feel like we benefit every day by working with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles.

According to a study by the Century Foundation, for the first time the K–12 student population in the United States is less than 50 percent white, non-Hispanic. The amount of students of color will continue to increase year after year. If kids are used to going to school with people have the same stories and same backgrounds, how will they learn how to work with others with different backgrounds? Our generation is a diverse group of people. We need to be be friends with different types of people, we need to see and value their perspective and share ours. We all need to have the skill where we do not judge people by the way they look or how they are different from us, but by the way they act.

We see the benefits of diversity in our class every day, but we also found a lot of research about it from an article by the The Century Foundation. The article shows that students going to diverse schools have higher test scores, are more likely to go to college, and are also less likely to dropout. We like working with people that have different perspectives and backgrounds and this article says that being in this kind of classroom promotes creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. These skills will be very valuable when we go to college and get jobs in the real world!

Since there are so many benefits to diverse schools, we think that all Pasadena schools needs to reflect the diversity Pasadena’s entire population has. We do not know the answer to fix this, but we have some ideas.

The reason why our school is diverse is because our school gives scholarships to make sure that there is a diverse group of students, but not all private schools do this. The tuition at many private schools in Pasadena is higher than the average poverty line for a family of four in California. For the people that only make that much money a year, how could they possibly afford a school like ours?

We think that all schools should be diverse not only racially, but economically. If wealthy kids are only going to school with other wealthy kids, how will they ever learn what it is like to live like most people who are less fortunate than them? We believe that all private schools should offer lots of support for the families who would like for their kids to attend private schools.

We also know that part of the reason we go to Sequoyah is because Pasadena Unified public schools do not have a good reputation, but we do not really know why. To balance out all schools, this reputation needs to change and more Whites and Asians need to go to public schools, too.