Brown’s Limited Legacy

A study issued in the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education shows how our school system remains effectively segregated by race:

According to the UCLA Civil Rights Group, which conducted a similar study two years ago, minority students and white students attend demographically distinct institutions. On average, white students attend schools that are 72.5 percent white, Latino students attend schools that are 56.8 percent Latino, and black students attend schools that are 48.8 percent black. And minority students make up the vast majority of metropolitan public schools, whereas their white counterparts attend suburban institutions. In the suburbs of large, medium, and small cities, white students make up 50 percent, 60.3 percent, and 61.7 percent of public school populations, respectively.

Geographically, the highest rates of segregation occur in the West and South. Between 1991 and 2011, for instance, the percent of black students attending “racially isolated minority schools” in the South increased by more than 8 percent. The percent of black students enrolled in similarly segregated schools in the West rose by roughly 8 percent as well. In the same two decades, the percentage of Latino students in 90-100 percent minority schools jumped 16.2 percent in the West.

Emily Badger blames housing segregation:

Since the Civil Rights Era, residential racial segregation across the U.S. has steadily declined. But segregation among school-aged children has startlingly lagged behind this progress. In the communities where they live, black and white children — as well as the poor and non-poor — are more isolated from each other than adults in the U.S. population at large. …

How is it possible that school children would experience residential segregation at higher rates than the rest of us?

Think about who lives in the changing neighborhoods of Washington, Philadelphia or Brooklyn. Whites have begun to move back into urban neighborhoods – but, for the most part, they are not yet moving back with children. Young singles, childless professionals and empty-nesters are returning to cities that were abandoned by the white middle class decades ago in large part because of their struggling schools.

Bouie agrees:

School segregation doesn’t happen by accident; it flows inexorably from housing segregation. If most black Americans live near other blacks and in a level of neighborhood poverty unseen by the vast majority of white Americans, then in the same way, their children attend schools that are poorer and more segregated than anything experienced by their white peers.

We could fix this. If the only way to solve the problem of school segregation is to tackle housing, then we could commit to a national assault on concentrated poverty, entrenched segregation, and housing discrimination. We could mirror our decades of suburban investment with equal investment to our cities, with better transportation and more ways for families to find affordable housing. And we could do all of this with an eye toward racism—a recognition of our role in creating the conditions for hyper-segregation. To do this, however, requires a commitment to anti-racism in thought, word, and deed. And given our high national tolerance for racial inequality, I doubt we’ll rise to the challenge.

Well geez. Arit John adds that even in well-integrated schools, racial discrimination is pervasive:

A 2007 study from the Journal of Educational Psychology analyzed dozens of previous studies, spanning more than three decades, on how teachers interact with different kinds of students. Researchers found that, overall, teachers’ expectations and speech varied depending on the race of the student. Teachers directed the most positive behavior, like questions and encouragement, to white students.

A 2012 study from the American Sociological Association found, “Substantial scholarly evidence indicates that teachers—especially white teachers—evaluate black students’ behavior and academic potential more negatively than those of white students.” The study analyzed the results from the Education Longitudinal Study, a national survey of 15,362 high school sophomores, as well as their parents and teachers. Again, the evidence showed a bias among white teachers that favored white students.

With a more constructive take, Peg Tyre looks at some of the ways in which the Brown ruling backfired on black Americans:

[B]ecause the decision specified that black children would benefit from an education with white children, the grossly underfunded African-American run public education system, which for decades had been dedicated to serving children in black communities, was dismissed as inferior and dismantled. In the 1960s and 1970s, many more black schools than white schools were closed. African-American teachers and principals, who in many states held about the same level of professional certification as their white counterparts and who for decades had served as steadfast anchors in black communities, were fired en masse. African-Americans would never again have as great a role in educating our county’s youth. Sixty years later, at a time when nearly half of all public school children in the United States are black, Hispanic or Asian, 80 percent of public school teachers are white.