Nearly seven decades after the US Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the court’s stated goal of integrated education has still not been achieved.
American society is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. But many of the country’s public K-12 schools are not well integrated and instead are primarily attended by students of one caste or another.
As an educational sociologist, I fear the nation has effectively decided that it is not worth pursuing Brown’s goals. I also fear that admitting failure may harken back to the days of the case that Brown had overturned, the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. That case set “separate but equal” facilities for different races, including schools and universities, as a national priority.
Brown’s decision was based on a refutation of that idea and the recognition that “separate but equal” had never been achieved. I’m sure it will never happen.
a historic blow
In many ways, it would be shocking to declare the ideal of integrated schooling a lost cause. Consolidation was so important in 1957 that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent Confederate troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to ensure that nine black students were safe when enrolled in the city’s Central High School.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many communities across America experienced considerable conflict and even bloodshed, despite federal government intervention. Many white citizens actively and violently opposed school integration, which often came in the form of court-mandated busing of black students to schools in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Despite protests, many Americans work incredibly hard to integrate, and the benefits are clear: Many American children have experienced enhanced educational opportunities and improved academic success as a result of these efforts.
separate, if not separated
However, in 2018–2019, the most recent school year for which data is available, 42% of Black students attended majority-Black schools, and 56% of Hispanic students attended majority-Hispanic schools. Even more surprising is that 79% of white students in the US went to majority-white schools during the same period.
Those statistics do, in fact, indicate the existence of a racially segregated educational system. But these data about race don’t show how low-income black and Hispanic students are likely to attend schools where the majority of children are poor and their general segregation based on socioeconomic status exists in most urban schools across the United States. There are resources available for the service. are insufficient.
Since 2001, education policy makers have made bold promises to close what they call the “racial achievement gap.” Yet they have largely ignored the fact that across the country, poor children of color are most likely to attend schools, where they are not only separated by race and class, but where they have access to education. The quality is less than that of their white peers.
Accommodation and School Options
Several factors help to explain the degree of race and class segregation and the educational inequality that is now widespread in the US. To begin with, many communities across the United States are characterized by high levels of racial and socioeconomic segregation. However, while residential patterns pose an obstacle, a 2018 study by the Urban Institute found that neighborhood segregation by itself does not explain current patterns of school segregation. The study identified several cities and suburban communities where schools are significantly more isolated than their neighborhoods.
Policies that allow parents to choose which public schools their children attend have done little to change these trends and may, in fact, be contributing to the problem. Several studies have shown that public charter schools are more likely to be racially divided than traditional public schools.
Furthermore, in most major US cities, affluent residents are more likely to enroll their children in private schools than in public schools. This includes many affluent parents of color, who often choose to enroll their children in predominantly white independent schools in search of a better education, even as their children experience subtle aggression and alienation related to race.
Over the past 20 years, cities such as Boston, New York, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Seattle have seen an increase in affluent white populations—but the overwhelming majority of students in those cities’ public schools are from low-income black and Hispanic families. , Those kinds of racial imbalances have become increasingly the norm.
integration can be successful
When the poorest and most vulnerable children are concentrated in special schools, it is even more difficult to achieve racial equality in educational opportunities, either through integration called by Brown or “separate but equal” as called by Plessy. by following.
There is good reason to be concerned. For decades there has been consistent evidence that when schools serve a disproportionate number of children in poverty, their students are less likely to improve their academic success.
Evidence also shows that when black and Hispanic children attend racially integrated schools, they outperform their peers who do not. For example, students who participated in the Metco program, a voluntary segregation effort that makes it possible for children of color from Boston to settle in affluent schools in the suburbs, did better academically than their counterparts. who remained in the racially segregated schools of Boston. , The research doesn’t show that this is primarily due to the better resources available at white suburban schools or the fact that they have parents who are active enough to get them into suburban schools. It could be that both factors play a role.
A 2018 study from UCLA found that all schools that produce large numbers of black students who are eligible for admission to the University of California are racially integrated. Unfortunately, the study also found that the majority of black students in Los Angeles do not attend integrated schools.
However, the study also found a notable exception: King/Drew Health Sciences Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. That school, which serves almost exclusively black and Hispanic students, sends more black students to the University of California than any other high school in the state of California.
At King/Drew, students have a rigorous, enriching education that includes multiple honors and advanced placement courses. Those opportunities are the norm in many affluent suburban schools, but they are rare in public schools in urban areas.
The lack of schools like King/Drew – well resourced and serving low-income or majority-minority student bodies – should serve as a reminder that racially segregated schools are rarely equal. When Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP took up the Brown case, they knew that funding for education generally followed that of white students.
This was true in 1954, and it remains largely true today. A recent study found that non-white school districts in the US receive US$23 billion less funding than predominantly white schools, although they serve a similar number of students.
For this reason, on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of the Brown Decision, I believe it is important to remember why and how civil rights and educational opportunity are so deeply intertwined. Despite its flaws and limitations, efforts to racially integrate the nation’s schools have been important and remain critical of what kind of pluralistic and diverse nation America is becoming. It also plays a central role in the ongoing quest for racial equality.