May 19

Brown v Board of Education: Separate and Unequal Schools in 21st Century America

brown v. board of educationReflections on the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education–the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that declared state laws establishing segregated schools unconstitutional–received a significant amount of coverage over the weekend. But it was Michelle Obama’s commencement address in front of a group of high school seniors, partly a policy speech and partly a reflection on her own experiences, that poignantly described the challenges the U.S. education system faces today.

Citing a growing view of segregation in today’s schools, the First Lady told 1,200 graduates in Topeka, Kansas–the same city that gave rise to Brown v Board of Education– that “today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech.”

A feature last month in The Atlantic echoed the fears of Mrs. Obama. Investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones spent time visiting schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to show how separate and unequal education is making a comeback. While the school systems aren’t as starkly segregated as they were in the early 1950s, the report illustrates how racial politics and financial interests have perpetuated a school system that looks much like the one that existed before the Brown v Board of Education decision.

For more analysis, watch the following video from the Aspen Ideas Festival where Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, contends that, in some ways, the American education system is worse now than it was when it was segregated.

And next from the Century Foundation, a panel debates what work must be done in order to raise the achievement of low-income and minority students through turnaround schools.

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    1 comment

    1. Kevin

      cannot force integration. Sure you can move students from one school to
      the next based on their color or lack thereof but the poorly performing schools
      are NOT poorly performing because they are predominately one color or another. If this were the case then one could make the
      ridiculous argument that “students of color” are inherently poorly
      performing. It’s that or the teachers of
      said students are poorly performing. The truth is that the schools are
      poorly performing because of the teachers and administration and not because of
      the color of the students. Replace those and you will see a marked
      improvement in student performance. In many of these school there are
      good teachers but very poor administration or administration that will not
      support the teachers need to remove disruptive students. We tried replacing poorly performing teachers
      and administrators in our school district and the results were amazing. You cannot blame student performance on poor
      economics either. The school with the
      poorest student performance in my city is the school with the highest per
      student cost. This school spends 70%
      more per student than the school with the best academic performance. Yes, this poorly performing school is
      predominately black and the best performing school is predominately white but
      moving the students from the poorly performing school to the better school is
      NOT the solution. Fix the broken school –
      fix the broken administration and replace the bad teachers, that’s the

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