America’s Schools: Still Separate, Still Unequal

What the hell good is Brown V. Board of Education if nobody wants it?
–Bill Cosby, Address at the NAACP’ on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Fifty-five years after the Brown decision, blacks and Latinos in American schools are more segregated than they have been in more than four decades.

Schools remain highly unequal, sometimes in terms of dollars and very frequently in terms of teachers, curriculum, peer groups, connections with colleges and jobs, and other key aspects of schooling.
–Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society

One regularly hears people speak as if we have in fact achieved the goals of the Brown decision. We have not.

America’s schools remain stubbornly segregated and unequal as Gary Orfield documents in Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge. By the standard of integrated and equal education, we have been moving backward, further away from the Promised Land of racial equality.

Given the miraculous success of Barack Obama winning the presidency, some people believe that America has finally overcome racial discrimination. But Obama’s achievement is only the removal of one obstacle on the path to equality. There are still many more, including institutionalized inferior education.

Obtaining equal and integrated education for black students may be the most difficult challenge in the struggle for black civil rights. Equal educational opportunity was one of the first goals of the Civil Rights Movement. Many believed that the Brown decision would cause America to provide integrated and equal education for blacks. This did not happen. The majority of black students remain in segregated and unequal schools.

The figure below shows that nearly three quarters of black students attend majority nonwhite schools. Thirty-nine percent attend schools that are 90 or more percent nonwhite.
Source:Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge, p. 26.

Majority nonwhite schools tend to be of lower quality than majority white schools. For example, an analysis of teacher quality from Illinois below shows that even with recent improvements, majority nonwhite schools had much lower teacher quality (ITAC) ratings than majority white schools. The solid black line is the average score for majority white schools. The other lines indicate increasing percentages of nonwhite students as one moves further below the line for majority-white schools. Today, as in the past, the best American schools go to white students, the worst to black students.