The Erosion of Brown v Board of Education: Can We Reverse the Re-Segregation of America’s Schools?

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court’s unanimous (9–0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and over the next few decades the courts removed barriers to school integration and the feds passed legislation enforcing the court decision.

Sixty years later efforts to end school segregation have eroded.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan bemoans a path back to segregated schools,

Brown outlawed the notion of “separate but equal” schooling or legal segregation, but it did not stop de facto segregation. Many school districts today are intensely segregated–as much as they have been at any time since after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many school districts that were desegregating in the 1960s and 1970s have since resegregated. And within metropolitan areas, educational opportunity and diversity can vary widely among dozens of urban and suburban school districts within a short drive of each other.

Today, about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, and white students are similarly isolated from their peers of color—only 14 percent of white students attend schools that you could consider multicultural.

NYS Commissioner of Education John King also decries the re-segregation of schools and offers a few suggestions,

... just 58 percent of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school in New York compared to 86 percent of White students. In the speech, I called on communities of color to demand better schools that are accountable for helping all students learn.

* Restructure school funding formulas to promote greater equity…

* Foster greater socioeconomic and racial integration by establishing magnet secondary schools serving multiple districts, redrawing school boundaries within districts, and changing district-level enrollment policies.

King knows that school funding formulas are at the discretion of the state legislature and he has failed to include his other initiatives in the State Education Department legislative priorities.

Interestingly Afro-American scholars and intellectuals have not been leading the charge to integrate schools,

Mary Pattillo the Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University argues,

… that calls for integration rest on the unstated “problem” of Blackness, making it a problematic principle upon which to build equality…. I am by no means against integration…. my point is simply to identify the following conundrum of integration politics: Promoting integration as the means to improve the lives of Blacks stigmatizes Black people and Black spaces and valorizes Whiteness as both the symbol of opportunity and the measuring stick for equality. In turn, such stigmatization of Blacks and Black spaces is precisely what foils efforts toward integration. After all, why would anyone else want to live around or interact with a group that is discouraged from being around itself?

A UCLA study reminds us that it’s double segregation – race and poverty – that stigmatizes students,

… school segregation remains very high for black students. It is also double segregation by both race and poverty. Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates (64%) are low-income, nearly double the level in schools of the typical white or Asian student (37% and 39%, respectively). New York, Illinois, and Michigan consistently top the list of the most segregated states for black students…

… we underscore the fact that simply sitting next to a white student does not guarantee better educational outcomes for students of color. Instead, the resources that are consistently linked to predominately white and/or wealthy schools help foster real and serious educational advantages over minority segregated settings. For these reasons, it remains vital to explore and understand the extent to which other racial groups are exposed to white students.

Richard Rothstein reviews the literature and concludes,

Accumulating evidence confirms the need for school integration. Black students’ achievement decreases as their school wide proportion grows (Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2009). Attendance at high-poverty schools causes disadvantaged students’ performance to decline (Rumberger, 2007). A review of studies evaluating court-ordered desegregation concluded that “the circumstantial case linking school segregation to the test score gap is compelling” (Vigdor & Ludwig, 2008, p. 208).

Perhaps even more important than narrowing the test score gap are the positive behavioral outcomes from school racial integration: improved graduation rates, higher rates of employment, and higher earnings in adulthood, as well as avoidance of teen childbearing, delinquency, homicide, and incarceration (Guryan 2004; Johnson, 2011; Weiner, Lutz, & Ludwig, 2010). For both academics and behavior, benefits of integration for black students are unaccompanied by corresponding deterioration in white students’ outcomes.

Afro American students in integrated schools have substantially better data, both in areas measured by test scores as well as other social indicators, i.e., higher income, lower rates of crime, less homelessness, etc., however, there is no motivation at the federal, state or local level to implement any policies.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the feds offered grants to school districts to “reduce racial isolation” and school districts around the nation created policies that integrated schools. In my school district in Brooklyn, a district that included a densely populated neighborhood that was all Afro-American and at the other side of the district all white schools. The district created “frozen zones,” addresses in the all-Black neighborhood that was each assigned to an all-White school. Thousands of students, Black and White, attended integrated schools. Today the feds are only interested in test-score driven outcomes, namely, Race to the Top. There is no interest at the federal level to put dollars onto programs to encourage integration and discourage segregation.

At the state level the situation is just as bad … district to district funding disparities in New York State are staggering. There are numerous examples of district and school boundaries and zoning that clearly were created to segregate schools and the State Education Department avoids rocking the boat.

Actually Americans themselves may be resolving the issue without legislation. When my wife and I married in 1970 interracial marriages were rare: only 1 in 100 marriages were bi-racial, today 12 in 100 marriages are bi-racial and the percentages are escalating every year.

The tanning of America may make Brown v Board of Education an interesting footnote in history.


One response to “The Erosion of Brown v Board of Education: Can We Reverse the Re-Segregation of America’s Schools?

  1. The findings of The Supreme Court indeed did declare “that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” .The court did not however offer any coherent plan for effecting nationwide change in its finding. So in the immediate years following the courts ruling, we saw no real or substanitive changees.For years, states rights advocates, mostly in the South, effectively paid little heed to the Courts findings, and held onto segregation in every facet of its daily life. All of the rioting, marches,protests, demonstrations to be sure were well intended, integrated efforts to effect change.But, It wasn’ however, until Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryant walked into that school in Little Rock did the first act of re-enforcing the courts findings become a reality. To be sure, the marches protests, demonstrations all contributed to the event. So why are schools in NYC, and so many other American cities still segregated? The answer goes to socio economic living choices. The stalling of the attainment of upward mobility in and among the African American and Latino community, can be seen as one reason for a continuance of segregated schools in NYC. When that dynamic began to change for the better, efforts to integrate were further stymied by such gamesmanship tricks as “passing houses down” so as to freeze out blacks and other minorities from ”breaking into” the white community, which in turn served to further delay integrating into the all white schools.In the fianl analysis, for the most part community integration efforts have been a one way street. For sure ,middle and upper middle class whites weren’t moving to African American communities. What has changed however is that White America has finally begun to understand what multiculturalism is all about, and that a true multi cultured community is enriching for everyone.
    Of course there are some exceptions,to movement patterns.Witness the emergence of West Harlem in NYC. This new zip code is an integrated community of mostly young middle class Whites,African Americans,Latinos and Asian citizenry. If this community continues to grow in the direction it has chosen to take, then its children will soon be seated in The Frederick Douglass and other notable Harlem schools. And their parents will be unified in their insistence for quality education for their children.


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