Brown v. Board 63 Years Later

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As more and more Latinos succeed in school, it’s important to recognize the long road it took for them to get there. Graduation rates and test scores for Latinos are the highest they’ve ever been, and more Latinos are entering college. And while there are outdated systems that keep many of our children from having the tools to succeed, we’ve come a long way since 1954, when the Supreme Court decided that segregating schools is un-American. Still, 63 years later, schools are experiencing the effects of those systems.

On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ordering the desegregation of our nation’s public schools. While segregation in schools doesn’t exist in the same context as it did then, it continues to be an issue. Last year, a Government Accountability Office report showed a sharp increase over the last decade in what they classify as isolated schools, where more than three-quarters of the student population is of the same race/ethnicity. Interestingly, this isolation is happening most in some of our country’s most diverse states and cities. In states like California, Texas, and New York, more than half of their Latino students attend schools that are more than 90% Latino.

In a recent study, researchers at Stanford University found that the strongest predictor of racial educational achievement gaps is directly correlated to the number of low-income students in a school’s population. These majority-minority schools tend to offer fewer science, math, and technology classes, and have little to no college preparatory class options. These schools have more kids who come from single-parent homes, and more parents who lack a college education. Thus, these parents are forced to work longer hours or work under unpredictable work schedules, preventing them from participating in their children’s school lives. These are kids who have the added stressor of economic instability, lack of resources, and too often they don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. All of this makes it harder for struggling schools to attract good teachers. These students, who represent a significant percentage of our nation’s future workforce, are getting the short end of the stick.

We are as diverse a country as ever, but the disparities have continued to grow. There is some good news, though, including the fact that 63 years after Brown v. Board of Education, researchers, analysts, educators, and many policymakers are keenly aware that it is an issue we must address. A solution to the issue won’t derive from one singular agency or group. The federal government can do its part by ensuring schools in lower-income communities are receiving appropriate resources. States can employ creative ways to balance choice and diversity standards, offering free transportation options for students to attend schools out of their neighborhoods. And schools can do more to engage those parents who have traditionally been excluded from meaningful outreach.

More than six decades after that landmark decision, we know that what we do today will impact how well schools prepare each child for a meaningful future. We can remain a diverse nation of innovators ready to succeed. This is no small task, but with a concerted and coordinated effort, we can ensure that the promise of Brown v. Board of Education is finally realized.

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