70 years ago, school integration was a dream embraced by many. Sadly, it remains a dream deferred.

70 years ago, school integration was a dream embraced by many. Sadly, it remains a dream deferred.
  • May 16, 2024
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This week, seven decades ago, the United States Supreme Court declared that racial segregation of students in schools was unconstitutional. In theory, the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which is taught in almost every American school, is still in effect.

However, resegregation in American schools has been going on for decades. The nation is more diverse than it has ever been, and pupils are exposed to a wider range of backgrounds among their peers. That being said, four out of ten black and Hispanic students attend schools where nearly all of their peers are also students of color.

Socioeconomic circumstances and extreme racial segregation are related: schools with over 90% student populations of color are five times more likely to be found in low-income neighborhoods. This, in turn, has severe academic ramifications: regardless of their family's financial situation, students who attend high-poverty schools perform worse academically.

The growing trend of school separation in America has put a stop to attempts to slow down or reverse it. Brown v. Board gave rise to a dream that has been gradually undermined by court decisions, giving districts less and fewer resources to integrate schools by the early 2000s.

In this instance, the moral universe's arc does not appear to be bending in the direction of justice.

According to Derek Black, a law professor at the University of Southern California, school integration is currently little more than an idea and a memory in America. In fact, a sizable portion of Americans believe it to be a good idea. That's all, though.

NOT JUST DIVERSE SCHOOLS

Diversity alone has never been Brown's dream. It was about the opportunities that come with equality.

Financing and integration have always been intertwined.

According to Ary Amerikaner, the originator of Brown's Promise and a former Obama administration official, whiter schools and districts have greater resources, and that is incorrect. However, that is a fact. Additionally, it compromises our future democracy and the opportunities available to students of color.

We recall Brown v. Board as the landmark decision that ended school segregation in the US. However, expressing values by itself cannot alter reality. Even though the case was settled in 1954, school districts didn't really start letting black pupils enroll in white schools for over ten years after that, due to delays and avoidance.

Several judicial decisions, oversight, and enforcement were necessary to usher in a brief period of integration for hundreds of school districts. The life trajectory of the students who participated in those desegregation programs was altered; black children fared better on measures like educational attainment, graduation rates, health, and earning potential, with no negative effects on white children, the longer they attended integrated schools.

For a while, it appeared that the nation understood the need for more profound solutions. In Swann v. Mecklenburg, a 1971 ruling that supported the practice of busing to integrate schools in North Carolina, Chief Justice Warren Burger remarked that, all else being equal and with no history of prejudice, it would well be beneficial to assign kids to schools nearest their homes. However, under a system that has been purposefully designed and upheld to uphold racial segregation, nothing is equal.

But those results would be reversed shortly thereafter by a different set of judicial rulings. In Milliken v. Bradley, decided fifty years ago, the court overturned a plan to integrate Detroit public schools across district boundaries. Because small districts in the Midwest and North permitted white households to avoid integration, the decision jeopardized desegregation efforts in those regions.

Thereafter, more choices were made. In Freeman v. Pitts, the court decided that it could not keep an eye on demographic changes and resegregation due to private choice. Desegregation programs that were under judicial supervision were terminated in more than 200 districts. After the court's 2007 decision in Parents Involved v. Seattle Public Schools, voluntary integration plans were prohibited from considering the racial assignment of children.

Former Seattle Public Schools board member Stephan Blanford stated, "You really don't have a whole lot of tools if the Supreme Court takes them away from you."

A MICROCOSM WITHIN A DISTRICT

In the city where the historic Swann busing case began, history's arc is evident.

Educators from all over the nation visited Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during its height because it was thought to have been so successful at integrating classes and narrowing the achievement gap between black and white children. CMS is the most segregated district in North Carolina as of right now, more than 20 years after a court decision invalidated the practice of busing pupils based solely on race.

Even though it's not legal, segregation of students based on race and socioeconomic status is a reality in a lot of schools.

Black and white students were enrolled in the same schools thanks to Charlotte's extensive and intricate busing network, which also gave black pupils access to white children's resources for the first time. When white families filed a lawsuit after their children did not receive their first choice of school placement in a lottery that took race into consideration, the district's integration program was terminated.

Rather, the district developed a procedure for assigning students to schools that states that family decisions will determine diversity. It left Mecklenburg County's families on their own, some of whom have always had greater options than others. Black families were more likely to attempt to use the choice plan in the first year of the district's choice program in order to select a different school. Also, their chances of not getting into any of the magnet schools they desired were higher.

An anniversary is a time to pause and reflect. Brown was founded seventy years ago, but the task of realizing its purpose is still incomplete. What other option is there when there are no clear-cut, straightforward solutions but to attempt flawed paths that lead to a more diversified nation that approaches Brown's promise?

"What other option is there?" stated Bireda. We are moving toward a nation where the majority of the population will be of color. We can have a robust multiracial democracy, but only if we stop letting the majority of American kids avoid attending school alongside kids from diverse backgrounds.

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