FILE – This Aug. 22, 1958 file photo shows Thurgood Marshall outside the Supreme Court in Washington. May 17 marks the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Many inequities in education still exist for black students and for Hispanics, a population that has grown exponentially since the 1954 ruling. Marshall, the head of the NAACP’s legal arm who argued part of the case, went on to become the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice in 1967. (AP Photo, File)
May 17 marks the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in public schools, ordering states to end segregation “with all deliberate speed.” The court made clear that separate was not and could not be equal.
But according to the Education Policy Institute, “black and brown children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time since data have been available.” The social and political will to continue on with the task of integrating schools has diminished. With court decisions limiting Brown, the continued underfunding of public education and segregated neighborhoods, our nation’s school system looks far too much like that of the 1950’s.
America’s schools were not founded to educate all children to high levels. Our school system was, and continues to be, a mechanism to perpetuate racial and economic stratification. Brown and the Civil Rights Movement forced us to see that Black Americans were being treated as second class citizens, but the goals of full integration and access have never been met.
Just as in the pre-Brown era, children of color are getting fewer educational resources and lower quality educational opportunities, and thus are less successful academically. Students of color go to schools with worse facilities and larger class sizes. They have less access to advanced curricula and programs and are more likely to be taught by newer, less experienced teachers than their white peers. They are more likely to be suspended or expelled. In 2015, 59% of Black boys and 65% of Latinx boys graduated from public high school, compared to 80% of white, non-Latinx boys.
Since forced integration, we have seen the militarization of schools. The first school police officer position was created in 1953. In 1975, only 1% of schools had police on campus. Now armed police, metal detectors, and surveillance are common in schools, particularly in schools serving black and brown students. Black students are three times more likely than other students to attend a school with security personnel but no counselors, suggesting that desegregation and racial animus have been animating forces in decisions to put police in schools.
Here in Los Angeles, InnerCity Struggle is one of many organizations around the country fighting to advance the true intentions of Brown. An historic lack of investment in public education has led to under-resourced and constrained schools perpetuating inequity for Black and Latinx students, often rendering them invisible. This has only solidified the achievement gap. In addition, issues like gun violence, trauma and homelessness substantially affect a student’s ability to learn. Today, there is an unconscionable concentration of high need schools in parts of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While the federal government has a mandate to ensure the promise of Brown is implemented, they have made it clear they will continue to shirk that responsibility. Instead, it will fall to us locally to ensure our schools are equally serving black and brown students. We know from our work that it can be done. We believe public education plays a significant role in eliminating poverty and racism for the future of all Angelenos.
In 2014, as an anchor member of the Equity Alliance for LA’s Kids, InnerCity Struggle helped secure the historic ‘Equity is Justice’ Resolution, allocating state Local Control Funding Formula dollars to LAUSD’s highest need schools, utilizing the Student Equity Need Index (SENI). With this landmark victory, the Los Angeles School Board agreed to allocate state funding based on need and acknowledged inequitable schooling and student experiences. In 2018, we won a second commitment to strengthen the definition of highest need schools through the School Board’s adoption of the ‘Equity is Justice 2.0’ Resolution. We also secured $25 million for the current school year, and for the upcoming school year $281 million will be distributed to the highest need schools, utilizing an updated SENI that includes community indicators (gun violence and childhood asthma rates) to help close the opportunity and achievement gaps. The Equity Alliance for LA’s Kids will continue to advance this work.
Three generations of children have gone through our schools since 1954, when Brown was decided. While there have been gains in educational achievement for black and brown students, they have not kept pace with that of white students. It is up to us to ensure that children are no longer subject to that inequity.
Maria Brenes is the Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, a community organization based in the Eastside of Los Angeles that for 25 years has organized youth and families to advance educational justice and opportunity in public education.