Moving Backward: Resegregation in America’s Public Schools

schoolsegregation2This spring will mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1954 on public school desegregation. A sobering report by NPR today from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, based on a recent study by ProPublica and an article in Atlantic Monthly magazine, confirms what most of us already know but would rather not face: public schools in America have systematically become resegregated.

Of course where segregation reigns, the achievement gap for children of color widens dramatically, and equal opportunity plummets. The thinly consoling American mythos of “separate but equal” is as patently false today as it was 60 years ago.

As noted int he NPR report, just as integration “gave black children for the first time resources that usually followed white children,” and further served “to unite the community around a single high school,” so the reverse dynamic is painfully true: the gradual resegregation of our public school system is “not just something that happens naturally.” It is a willful process abetted by the courts, with predictably devastating results for children of color. By the time students get to Tuscaloosa’s Central High School, for example, “most have spent nine years in low-performing, virtually all black schools.” Even for top-performing students at Central High the prospects for higher education are dim.

“In recent years, a new term, apartheid schools—meaning schools whose white population is 1 percent or less, schools like Central—has entered the scholarly lexicon.”

How did we get here? What factors have led to the gradual but effective dismantling of Brown v. Board of Education?

segregated schools.2“We may think that students don’t notice or aren’t bothered by the segregation around them, but they absolutely feel it, they understand it, and they know that it’s not right.”

The NPR story concludes very movingly with several high school students reading their “six word essays” about racial segregation in Tuscaloosa’s public high schools.

Please listen here, and as ever, I welcome your thoughts below.

Two additional perspectives: Ebony magazine, “Still Separate, Still Unequal” / and America magazine, “America’s Real Racism”

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