A Recommitment to School Desegregation, 67 Years Later

May 21, 2021 | National

Monday, May 17, marked 67 years since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This ruling “ended legal segregation in education and laid the groundwork to dismantle segregation in all sorts of other areas, including housing, transportation, voting, employment, and public accommodations.” It is widely regarded as one of the most important Supreme Court rulings in our country’s history and changed the lives of innumerable children. But it represents a dream yet unfulfilled.

America’s schools “have been quietly resegregating at rates that rival those that preceded the landmark school desegregation case in 1954” and are currently deeply segregated along racial and economic lines. As we reported in the State of America’s Children® 2021, while nearly 7 in 10 Black children attend schools in which the majority of students are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian, only 1 in 8 white students attend schools at which that is the case. These patterns of segregation bring with them massive under-investment in the schools that students of color predominantly attend, which results in these students having significantly less access to highly-qualified and experienced teachers and high-quality education resources—and we see correspondingly lower academic indicators, such as standardized test scores and graduation rates. In fact, every single U.S. school district in which segregation is high or even moderate has a large achievement gap.

There are many reasons for the resegregation we’ve seen, including white supremacy deeply entrenched in discriminatory housing policies and federal disinvestment in policies and practices that were leading to successful integration. But we believe that all students deserve to attend diverse, integrated schools, which researchers agree provide the best environments for higher academic achievement, improved cross-cultural understanding, improved critical thinking, and much more. In a blog post published this week, our friends at the Learning Policy Institute call for a recommitment to intentionally desegregating our nation’s schools and share recommendations for federal policy we must pursue to remedy school resegregation. Their recommendations include:

  • Establishing and expanding federal support of school integration programs, including the measures outlined in the Strength in Diversity Act, which was recently reintroduced in Congress and which the Children’s Defense Fund endorsed last year.
  • Updating and reissuing federal guidance on integration for states and districts, such as the guidance outlining evidence-based approaches to school diversity that the Obama Administration issued to states, but which the Trump Administration rescinded in 2018.
  • Highlighting the availability of federal funds for transportation to foster school integration, because a ban on use of federal funds for transportation for school integration was recently lifted.

As the Learning Policy Institute notes, historic investment in America’s schools as part of COVID-19 recovery efforts offers us a chance to reexamine strategies for finally fulfilling the promise of Brown. We stand with them in calling for intentional desegregation to advance racial equity and improve student outcomes.