57 Years After Brown: The Impact of Residential Segregation on Educational Equity

Commemorating the 57th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education today, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund explains our current challenge:

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of yet another great education debate – this time about the future of “education reform” and the role of the federal government in ensuring educational equity. Despite notable progress since the Brown decision, America is in a state of emergency when it comes to providing quality education to our nation’s poor children and children of color, particularly African-Americans.

Public schools are more racially and economically segregated today than they were in early 1970s. Only about half of African-American and Latino students graduate from high school on time and they are more likely than their peers to attend “dropout factories” that graduate less than 60% of their students each year. Racial and geographic inequities in access to effective and qualified teachers and high-quality educational programs persist, and in far too many instances are widening. And the students most in need of educational support are most likely to be suspended, expelled or otherwise caught in the School-to-Prison Pipeline. These problems reveal that beneath the so-called “achievement gap” lies an even more sinister “opportunity gap.”

That last point about resegregation is really important, and it isn’t about integration as social engineering. It isn’t about wanting kids of different races to go to school together and get to know one another – though that is incredibly important.

It is about the fact that resegregation has the effect of concentrating a disproportionate number of Black and Latino children in poorer schools that are more likely to have inexperienced teachers and fewer resources (like AP classes and WiFi).

One of the primary reasons that poor schools are underresourced is that K-12 education funding comes largely from property taxes collected by local governments. That means if you live in a neighborhood with a lower tax base  – as a disproportionate number of Black and Latino children do – your school (generally) receives less money than schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

School funding is very complicated, with states using complicated formulas to either make up the difference or,  many times, not. But the bottom line is that the quality of education a child gets is overdetermined by where that child lives.

And that should not be the case.