Have public schools in our country lived up to the promise of Brown v. Board of Education? The new initiative from the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) says no, and is aiming to change that and make Brown’s Promise a reality.
In the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the majority held that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
While that credo remains true, almost seventy years later, it has not become a reality—“schools today are as racially segregated as they were in the late 1960s.”
Thus marks the environment sixteen years later in which Ary Amerikaner and Saba Bireda, two senior U.S. Department of Education officials under President Obama, founded “Brown’s Promise,” aiming to advance the principles the high court espoused in the Brown ruling.
As Bireda said, “In the nearly 70 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the research has become even more clear that Brown’s promise — a public education system where students from all backgrounds learn together in well-resourced schools — is the right thing to do for all students, especially for Black and Hispanic communities, and for our country as a whole.”
“We’re talking about changing life trajectories here — lifting families out of poverty, avoiding incarcerations, and increasing educational attainment. We’re also talking about the health of the American democracy and economy — reducing bias and prejudice, building students’ problem-solving skills, and laying the foundations for more integrated neighborhoods,” continued Bireda.
Why are we still fighting the same battles? Given their recent rulings, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court plays a hand in continuing segregation.
In 2007, with a 5-4 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the Court decided to strike “down two local school board initiatives meant to reverse extreme racial segregation in public schools,” which “marked the end of an era of efforts by local authorities to fulfill the promise of racially integrated education envisioned by the Supreme Court in 1954.”
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a blistering dissent, issuing a warning that this would be “a decision the Court and the Nation will come to regret.”
Breyer’s prediction would come true, as segregation largely remained and Black students continue to bear the brunt of its worst outcomes. Amerikaner cites three effects of persistent segregation.
“First,” Amerikaner told Forbes “because segregation concentrates students living in poverty in certain schools, and serving those schools well is really expensive…segregation increases the overall cost of fully funding schools.”
“Second, segregation requires a tremendous amount of redistribution. In a system funded substantially by local property taxes, states must move money from relatively wealthy districts to relatively less-wealthy districts to achieve equality, much less equity. That sort of redistribution of funds is extremely unpopular,” said Amerikaner.
“And finally, segregation is limiting the impact of school funding reform. After all, money doesn’t matter if it doesn’t improve the student experience. Too often, even when we spend more money in schools serving high concentrations of Black or Latino students, those schools still rely on disproportionately high rates of novice teachers, experience constant teacher turnover, lack equal access to more rigorous and advanced coursework, and are overly reliant on harmful exclusionary discipline practices,” concluded Amerikaner.
Raymond C. Pierce, President and CEO of SEF said, “Improving our nation’s public schools requires us to help eliminate racial segregation and provide more equitable learning opportunities for every student,” continuing, “Brown’s Promise is focusing on these essential goals, expanding SEF’s work to address some of the greatest challenges in education, especially for students of color and those from low-income families.”