The Village

  • 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education: The Resegregation of Public Education

    May 15, 2014. Written by Bruce Ormond Grant

    On May 17, 1954, the US Supreme Court offered a decision on the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. What you may not know, however, is that the case known as Brown v. Board of Education actually encompassed five cases that were to be argued before the US Supreme Court concerning the idea of ‘separate but equal’ in U.S. public schools. These cases were noted as follows:  Gebhart v. Belton (Delaware); Bolling v. Sharpe (Washington, DC); Davis, et. al.  v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (Virginia); Briggs v. Elliot (South Carolina) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas). Given that each of these cases raised concerns with the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools, the US Supreme Court consolidated the five noted cases under one name — Brown v. Board of Education.

    60 years after this landmark decision by the US Supreme Court, most black children are reared and educated in the South. Yet today in the South, and indeed in most of the United States, public education is segregated unlike any other time in the past 40 years.  According to Nikole Hannah-Jones of ProPublica, black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in 40 years. Consequentially, the achievement gap between black and white students has widened as our public schools have become more segregated. It is noteworthy that the segregation is both racial and class based in nature, as there is a disproportionate number of low income students enrolled in majority-black schools. It is also evident that black children are now more socioeconomically and racially isolated than ever before; they are more likely to be poor, they are more likely to reside in a neighborhood with other economically and racially isolated kids and more likely to attend intensely-segregated schools.

    Segregated schools in poor neighborhoods with poor people provide an array of data points that speak to factors that may limit educational and life outcomes. We know from research conducted by ProPublica for example, that in some of these low income neighborhoods, the curriculum is less challenging, the teachers are less experienced, and consequentially, some students may receive a limited educational experience.

    It is not only the public schools of the South that have resegregated. In a new report entitled “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation,” researchers state that 85 percent of black students in New York City attended intensely-segregated schools (schools with <10 percent white students) in 2010-2011, while 73 percent of the charter schools in New York City were classed as apartheid schools (schools with <1 percent white enrollment).  According to this report, there were greater proportions of poor students (76 percent) in New York City charter schools than in New York City public schools (74 percent) in year 2010.

    As several recent court decisions and public policies, particularly housing policies, have rolled back many of the gains of the desegregation movement, there is a sentiment among many that the movement to desegregate has yet to yield optimal results. According to Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, Brown v. Board of Education was least effective in integrating education. Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed moment in American history, but there is still more work that has to be done to close the achievement gaps created by “separate but equal” public education. The nation needs to continue to have honest conversations about race, justice, class, and all of the other elements that influence the American way of life. It is necessary for us all to participate in this great nation that we call the United States of America.

    The Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion, authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), is available online at, http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/347/483/case.html

    A brief history and summary of the decision is posted on the United States Courts website, http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/get-involved/federal-court-activities/brown-board-education-re-enactment/history.aspx