The landmark case Brown v. Board of Education turned 60 last weekend, but a new study published at UCLA shows that there’s no reason to celebrate, as de facto segregation in education is growing progressively worse. The study analyzed the segregation landscape of school districts over a period of time in America and found that racial isolation has been steadily increasing over the past quarter century, especially for Latinos. A commemoration of the Brown v. Board decision becomes bitterly ironic because the clause “separate is inherently unequal” has fallen on deaf ears, with little to no federal efforts to solve the problem. Racial integration has failed in its implementation nationwide.
The desegregation process was productive throughout the late 1980s until the Supreme Court began adopting conservative policies that reflected skepticism and even hostility toward desegregation programs. The post-1980s Supreme Court believed that courts should have a limited social role and prioritized local control over court control in the operation of schools. They ruled that court-ordered desegregation decrees, such as mandatory busing programs, could end before reaching their statistical goals for racial integration and desegregation plans were terminated en masse. Without federal leadership, school districts lacked the incentive to racially integrate, and local schools simply abandoned desegregation as a priority. The vestiges of institutional racism remained and began to grow.
Now, we are seeing the consequences of the failed effort to implement the goals established by Brown v. Board. The study by Orfield et al at UCLA found that California is one of the top three worst states for racially isolating black students, as well as the state in which Latino students are the most segregated. In San Diego, black and Latino exposure to white students has decreased by almost 10 percent in the last decade. Without desegregation efforts, schools and housing continue to be racially and socioeconomically isolated, resulting in less qualified teachers, less successful peer groups and inadequate teaching facilities and materials for disadvantaged groups.
The number of unqualified teachers is 6.75 times higher in high-minority schools than in low-minority schools, according to a research study by Darling-Hammond in 2001. In a segregated system, disadvantaged children are isolated from middle class students and continue to be overwhelmed by an oppressive structure that they did not create and cannot completely overcome by themselves.
A key insight in this study is that no single community can solve a problem that reaches beyond its boundary lines. Segregation is not contained within individual districts but extends between districts, leading local authority to be inadequate in addressing the issue. There is currently no basis in federal law for cross-district cooperation in diversity plans. Concerted efforts are necessary to dismantle segregation and should be reflected in federal policies that provide incentive for diversity efforts. Education enables social mobility, and awareness of this fact as well as of the worsening climate of segregation is necessary to apply the vision set forth in Brown v. Board.