Brown v. Board: 60 Years Later, What Happened to Desegregation?
I love my job. I teach in an extremely diverse high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. My school is 43 percent Hispanic, 22 percent white, 19 percent Pacific Islander, with Hawaiian Native, African-American and American Indian filling out the rest of the demographics.
Oh, and did I mention that my principal is an African-American female, and her assistant principal is a Hispanic female.
Having grown up in an all-white community in the southwest of England, I am thrilled with my multicultural surroundings.
Sadly, my school is the exception.
Sixty years after Thurgood Marshall successfully argued to end the legal basis for school segregation in the U.S., students of color still lag behind in education and income.
On May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, now acknowledged as one of the greatest Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century, unanimously held that the racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Huge Benefits of Desegregation
Even though this law passed in 1954, it took many years before America’s schools began to integrate. But once they did, the benefits became obvious. One study found that integration led to a 25 percent fall in African-American dropout rates in the 1970s.
Another study, conducted in 2011, found that desegregation led to higher earnings, better health and overall better prospects in life.
According to numerous studies, African-American students who attended integrated schools did much better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and to attend and graduate from college. The longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did.
They weren’t just more successful in school; they were also more successful in life. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity.
Interestingly, research has discovered that all students, both majority and minority students, in integrated schools do better.
Back to Pre-Brown Conditions
Yet, in spite of these findings of the benefits of desegregation, the U.S. has moved backwards in recent years, into what can only be described as pre-Brown conditions.
Today, nearly half of public school students in the U.S. are low income. Forty-four percent are students of color, and both populations are concentrated in segregated schools. Eighty percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of African-American students are in schools where the majority of students are not white.
So poverty, as well as race, is clearly a factor. As Care2′s Kristina Chew writes here: “The gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially over the past few decades according to a recent study by researchers from Stanford University. Since the 1960s, the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by 40 percent; it is now double the testing gap between black and white students.”
Whatever Happened to Desegregation?
The Supreme Court’s ruling that racially segregated schools were “inherently unequal” shook up the nation like no other decision of the 20th century.
Yet today, in 2014, desegregation appears to be effectively dead. In fact, the U.S. has been giving up on desegregation for a long time.
In 1974, the Supreme Court rejected a metropolitan integration plan, leaving the increasingly black cities to fend for themselves.
In 2001, the Supreme Court overturned the busing policy that delivered integration to public schools.
Seven years ago, a splintered Supreme Court delivered the final blow when it decreed that a school district couldn’t voluntarily opt for the most modest kind of integration – giving parents a choice of which school their children would attend and treating race as a tiebreaker in deciding which children would go to the most popular schools. Thus, it invalidated even voluntary school desegregation plans, ruling that there was no competing state interest in achieving diversity.
As a result, public schools and neighborhoods in the U.S. have become increasingly segregated by income and by race. Both factors are important now. And when that happens, it’s really difficult to break the cycle.
“What we’ve seen over the past two decades is a slow but steady increase in the isolation of Black and Latino students,” says Gary Oldfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project. “It’s not just an issue of race. There’s a ‘double segregation’ of race and poverty.”
All children, regardless of where they are born, or how much money their parents have, have equal rights to a good education. Unfortunately, our legal system no longer seems to support that right.
Resegregation is on the rise, and that’s a terrible tragedy.
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