Advancing the Promise Made in Brown v. Board of Education 60 Years Later

By Leticia Bustillos, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR

BrownvBoard_FB-06 (2)_blogsThis weekend we commemorate the day the highest court in the land declared in one voice that “separate but equal” has no place in our country and that all children, regardless of ethnicity or race, are entitled to an equal education. Because of the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, “equity” and “excellence” are not mutually exclusive terms used to describe an ideal education. They are also expectations that we have for all children when it comes to their opportunities to learn and to achieve. The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education cannot be disputed: the opportunities available today to our community are greater than they have ever been in our history.

Today, more than four million Latinos over the age of 25 have Bachelor’s degrees or higher. In 2012, nearly three-quarters of Latinos attained high school diplomas; and in fall 2014, almost three million Latinos enrolled in college, representing a 9 percent increase over just a decade ago. Latinos hold some of the most prestigious posts in our government; examples such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrate the potential of our diverse Latino community.

While we celebrate these tremendous accomplishments, our triumphs are tempered by education challenges that remain to be addressed:

  • Less than a quarter of Latino students are proficient in reading and math in fourth and eighth grades, respectively.
  • At least one quarter of Latino youth failed to attain a high school diploma.
  • As much as 30 percent of the Latino students entering college require some form of remediation.
  • In 2011–2012, only 10 percent of U.S.-born Latinos earned Bachelor’s degrees.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, we must draw attention to these startling facts and challenge ourselves to do more to change them. Children deserve more than access to education; they also deserve for that education to be of quality.

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This was crystallized in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s majority opinion: “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Though change has been slow and far from equal, we have reason for hope. With the adoption of college and career-ready standards in 44 states, we are holding ourselves accountable to ensure “equity and excellence” is not just the ideal, but the reality in our schools. In adopting the Common Core State Standards, we have declared in one voice that no single group of students is better than others, and that all children have the capacity to achieve greatness.

It is as true today as it was 60 years ago, that education, as Chief Justice Warren wrote, “is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.” Our children’s education should not be left to luck or happenstance. It must be a right guaranteed to them on equal terms. To do otherwise negates our responsibility to our children and undermines the legacy of Brown.

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