NYC's - and the Nation's - Schools are Segregated, 50 Years After Brown v Board of Education
Brown v. Board of education changed American public school education forever.
Or did it?
Lesson in equality
Historic case went deeper than integrating schools
By Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World
Friday, May 14, 2004
TOPEKA - Fifty years after what some call the greatest court decision on human rights in U.S. history, people are still getting it wrong.
And as attention focuses on Topeka for Monday's opening of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Cheryl Brown Henderson and historians hope to set the record straight.
"None of what you all have been reporting to the public is true, and we need to stop it," Henderson said recently.
Henderson is the daughter of Oliver Brown -- the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit -- and she is president of The Brown Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides information and educational materials about the history of the case.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision that declared unconstitutional racial segregation in public schools. The ruling was a lethal blow to apartheid-like Jim Crow laws as the struggle by blacks for full civil rights gained momentum.
Kansas University professor Norman Yetman said the importance of the decision by the court under Chief Justice Earl Warren could not be overstated.
"It was a dramatic reversal of three and a half centuries of American history," said Yetman, who taught a course this semester on the Brown case and events leading to the decision.
But Henderson said the case had little to do with her family -- the Browns -- the often-told story about her older sister Linda's long bus ride to an all-black school or even education.
"Brown was about African-Americans as a community wanting to be enfranchised in this country," Henderson said.
The Brown name became forever linked with the history of civil rights through a series of historical twists of fate.
In 1950, the NAACP decided to challenge the "separate but equal" doctrine in schools allowed under the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson when the court permitted racial segregation.
In summer of 1950, McKinley Burnett, president of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP, started recruiting black parents to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Topeka school board challenging segregation.
The Rev. Oliver Brown, an assistant pastor at St. John's A.M.E. Church and welder for the Santa Fe railroad, signed up on behalf of his then-8-year-old daughter, Linda. Linda had to cross the railroad tracks and take a bus about a mile to all-black Monroe Elementary, though an all-white elementary school was just four blocks away from their home.
In 1951, the NAACP filed the lawsuit and Oliver Brown was listed at the top of the plaintiffs, probably because he was the only male.
As the Topeka case moved up the judicial ladder, the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated it with other appeals from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The Brown case was selected as the lead case, though the reason for that has been the subject of much speculation ever since. Some historians said the court picked a non-Southern case so to not inflame the South further at a time when racial tensions in the region already were at a breaking point.
But others say the Topeka case was chosen because at the lower court level, U.S. District Judge Walter Huxman, a former Kansas governor, allowed testimony into the record by Louisa Holt, an assistant professor of psychology at Kansas University in the early 1950s, and other sociologists on how segregation implied that blacks were inferior.
The lower court said it had to uphold segregation because of the Plessy decision. But the social science information was crucial to the U.S. Supreme Court reaching a decision.
Writing the Supreme Court's decision, Warren said: "The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court which nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs: 'Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a [racially] integrated school system.'"
Yetman said many people had a simplistic view of the civil rights movement that has made the Browns icons. In reality, Yetman said, the Browns stood on the shoulders of generations of black people who struggled for equality, including the dozens of families who were plaintiffs in the other cases.
"This was the collective effort of hundreds of people including those who lost their lives, property, were run out of town and constantly intimidated and terrorized. The effort they made basically is unsung," he said.
Yetman said the plaintiffs in the Southern states "put their lives on the line."
He added, "I don't want to diminish what Oliver Brown did, but he didn't face the same kind of terrorism that many people who tried to fight for their basic rights endured."
Steve Adams, National Parks Service superintendent of the Brown v. Board of Education site, said in travels to other civil rights battlegrounds there was some animosity that the Brown decision seemed to get all the attention.
"It's extremely important that when we tell the story, we tell the true story," he said.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said some of the misperceptions about the Brown decision stemmed from ambivalent feelings about it in Topeka.
"It is ironic that the Browns don't want attention now because in 1954, when the case was settled, they and other Topeka litigants received little media attention," said Beatty, who also taught a course focusing on the case.
When the Supreme Court decision was announced, Topeka papers published the news but ignored the local plaintiffs.
The Topeka State Journal on the day of the decision had a banner headline that read: "School Segregation Banned," but nowhere on the front page did it mention the title case was an appeal from Topeka.
"The newspapers here showed it as a Southern issue and a problem that the South needed to deal with, and it was good for America and that Kansas was a leader in civil rights," Beatty said.
The Topeka school superintendent at the time, Wendell Goodwin, was quoted as saying the Supreme Court decision would have no effect on Topeka schools because "segregation is already being terminated in an orderly manner."
Bush, Kerry among scheduled visitors
Topeka -- The 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling will bring plenty of dignitaries to Topeka through Monday. Among those scheduled to visit:
• President Bush is the key speaker at the grand opening of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, 1515 S.E. Monroe St. The event starts at 10:30 a.m. Monday.
• U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., will attend a state commemoration proclamation at 8:30 a.m. Monday on the south steps of the Capitol.
• The Rev. Jesse Jackson will speak at 11 a.m. Sunday at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, 610 S.E. Lime.
Of course, segregation was a problem in Kansas, Beatty said. It took decades for the Topeka school district to desegregate. The case was reopened again in 1979 and wasn't settled until 1999 when the supervising court declared that the district had complied with the court's goals.
Beatty said Topeka had been "very hot and cold about this case."
"On Monday, we are dedicating a national historic site at Monroe Elementary school, and at one point it was a week from being torn down," he said.
Unlike Yetman and Henderson, Beatty said he saw no problem with people focusing on the story of Linda Brown, as long as that leads a person to further study of the civil rights movement.
"You can't escape what Linda Brown symbolizes, and her story makes a good starting point," Beatty said, especially for youngsters who can relate to her age when the case was winding through the courts.
Yetman said another danger in focusing too much on the Brown decision was the tendency by some to say the case ended discrimination.
"Today we still have situations that are dramatically separate and unequal," he said.
The current struggle over school funding in Kansas -- where a judge has declared that Kansas unconstitutionally discriminates against poor students -- is an extension of the court's rulings in Brown, he said.
Linda Brown currently is a program associate for The Brown Foundation. She and Cheryl Brown Henderson go on speaking engagements across the country on the case, but they rarely give interviews.
Henderson's comments came during a surprise visit with media that were meeting at Monroe Elementary to be briefed on Monday's celebration.
Henderson urged people to read about earlier cases leading up to the Brown decision, such as lawsuits in Oklahoma and Texas that challenged segregation of graduate students at universities.
She said the Brown case was another milestone in the civil rights movement, but that her family's role was minimal.
"I don't enjoy it -- taking credit for something we never did," she said.
History of public school desegregation
The Rev. Oliver Brown filed suit against the Topeka Board of Education, seeking equal education for his daughter Linda. May 17, 1954, The Supreme Court ruled in the Brown case that a "separate but equal" education system is "inherently unequal."
In the decision known as "Brown II," the Supreme Court ordered districts to desegregate with "all deliberate speed." Many Southern states continued to resist.
National Guard troops escorted nine black students into their high school in Little Rock.
Prince Edward County, Md., closed public schools to avoid implementing the Brown decision.
Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in voting, public accommodations, schools and employment.
The Supreme Court ruled that busing is an acceptable means of desegregating public schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.
Black lawyers returned to court in Topeka seeking to speed desegregation of the school system.
School integration reached an all-time high. Almost 45 percent of black students in the United States were enrolled in majority-white schools, according to the the Harvard Civil Rights Project.
The Supreme Court allowed school districts to declare themselves integrated in Oklahoma City vs. Dowell. The national resegregation trend picked up momentum.
A federal judge ordered the Topeka school district to "eliminate the vestiges" of segregation. The subsequent remedy included closure of 13 predominantly black schools and the opening of two magnet schools.
The Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in higher-education admissions in Grutter vs. Bollinger but also ruled against fixed racial quotas.
In New York City, if you are an African-American child, you most probably attend a school that is segregated. All the beautiful, glossy, multi-colored brochures will not change this sad fact, nor will these documents sway the heartache minority parents have over the inequality in public school education they see with their own eyes every single day. Parents who have not read any studies on this are very aware of the racial divide, and the very obvious consequences of this gap. Anyone who talks to African American parents or guardians (often the grandparents) will be told about the run-down school facility; the lack of supplies, books, good teachers, even homework assignments. In these schools, 50 years after the momentous Brown v Board of Education decision, very little has changed, and not one official from the Bloomberg/Klein/DOE administration have stepped forward to explain why this is so, or what they will do to change this.
ACORN studied this problem Secret Apartheid:A Report on Racial Discrimination Against Black and Latino Parents and Children in the New York City Public Schools[several years ago, and followed up with two other studies. It was ACORNS' evidence of the lack of equity in the provision to all parents, fair access to the range of programs in the schools that captured the attention of the regional office of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Ultimately, the claim ACORN filed with OCR resulted in the resolution agreement ( MOU) with the Board of Education which compeled the Board of Education to institute concrete measures to
democratize access to information about the schools and their programs. The two subsequent studies were:
Secret Apartheid II: Race, Regents, and Resources
Secret Apartheid III: Followup to Failure
This segregation is all the more disastrous for New York City, because we have a Mayor who has staked his political career on education reform in New York City and has done nothing to end this problem. Does this mean that he does not really care about the segregation, or that he does not really believe this is a political situation that needs to worry him? Or both? African-American Benjamin Tucker, appointed by Chancellor Klein to oversee the school violence and security, quit two weeks ago without comment.
The New York Times:For a Historic Anniversary, Few Hurrahs for New York
By SETH KUGEL [May 9, 2004]
P.S. 68 in Wakefield, the Bronx, is 87 percent black and 1 percent white. P.S. 21 in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, is 93 percent black and 0.35 percent white. P.S. 56 in Staten Island is 1 percent black and 90 percent white.
A week from tomorrow, educators and others around the country will observe the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark court decision outlawing school segregation. But according to a nationwide study of elementary schools conducted by the Lewis Mumford Center at SUNY Albany, New York doesn't have much to celebrate.
In fact, New York's is the only one of the nation's 30 biggest school systems in which black-white segregation increased from 1968 to 2000, according to the "dissimilarity index," a measure used in the study. The index calculates the percentage of black or white children who would have to switch schools to achieve an even distribution. In New York, that percentage rose from 72.2 in 1968 to 81.7 in 2000, while everywhere else, it fell. "New York City has been stuck since the 1960's, and surprisingly so," said John R. Logan, the sociologist who did the study.
Choosing how to gauge segregation, however, is tricky. Mr. Logan favors the dissimilarity index, but Gary Orfield, a professor of education at Harvard and an expert on segregation, called it "a terrible measure" in cases where the school system has few white students. In 2000, New York's elementary schools were 15 percent white and 34 percent black, with Hispanics and Asians making up the bulk of the rest.
But Mr. Orfield agrees that New York is badly segregated, and a second measure used in the Mumford Center study, the exposure index, leads to the same conclusion. This index calculates how many whites are in the school attended by the typical black student. In 1970, this hypothetical school was 21 percent white, but, by 2000, it was just 5 percent white. Although New York's was not the only big school system to regress, it fell the most.
Why has the city fared so badly? First, most segregation lawsuits were filed in the South. "Nobody ever had the money to sue New York," Mr. Orfield said.
Also, integrating areas like the South Bronx, where whites are rare, is difficult. "Reducing barriers in the housing market is, in the long run, the best and perhaps the only viable solution," Mr. Logan said.
Jerry Russo, a spokesman for the city's Department of Education, would not address the racial breakdown of schools directly, but said the department was seeking to furnish an equal education to all children.
New York has a few bright spots. White-Hispanic segregation has dropped since the late 60's, although less so than in many cities. And the average New York student is attending a school that is, on the whole, more diverse (though less white) once Hispanics and Asians are counted.
Still, the city is hardly a model for the nation. When Mr. Orfield comes to New York, he said, he likes to announce: "I'm glad to be here in the heartland of segregation."
New York Schools: Fifty Years After Brown
by Gail Robinson [Gotham Gazette,May 05, 2004]
Even parents who can afford private schools send their children to P.S. 6 on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The school offers instruction in political cartooning and foreign language and a joint program with the Museum of Natural History. And all the innovation apparently pays off. More than 92 percent of the students at the school meet the state standards in reading and math for their grade level.
But there is another P.S. 6 in New York City, this one in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Despite a well-regarded principal, only 40 percent of its students meet the state standards in reading and less than a third in math.
The Manhattan P.S. 6 is overwhelmingly white and includes only a smattering of poor students. Its East Flatbush counterpart is more than 92 percent black, with almost 90 percent of its students from families with low enough incomes to qualify the children for a free school lunch.
The differences between these schools reflect the state of education in New York City public schools today, 50 years after the Supreme Court outlawed legally enforced school segregation in the United States. Despite a far greater ethnic diversity, with an increasing number of Asian and Hispanic students, New York City public schools are among the most segregated in the country. But, if integration has not been achieved, few New Yorkers seem to see it anymore as the most important goal in education.
THE BROWN DECISION
On May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, legalized segregation in the country had just started to crumble in the wake of World War II. But separate and decidedly unequal still held sway across much of the country, particularly the South, with black Americans forced to sit in the back of the bus, drink at different fountains, and sit in separate train cars. They were barred from Woolworth lunch counters and could not try on clothes in department stores. Poll taxes, tests with arcane questions and intimidation prevented them from voting.
Linda Brown, a black third grader in Topeka, Kansas, had to attend a school a mile from her home, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. The principal of the white school refused to admit Linda, setting in motion the events that would lead to the historic court ruling.
In defense of its dual school systems, the Topeka school board argued that segregated schools prepared youngsters for the segregated society in which they would live and were not harmful to black youngsters.
After years of argument and deliberation, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, rejected those claims. In the decision, Warren wrote, "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn."
Brown and a related ruling "reflected and encouraged developments that would soon spark the burst of humane, bold and heroic action that we now know as the civil rights movement," Eric Foner and Randall Kennedy wrote in a special issue of The Nation magazine commemorating the Brown decision.
Some predicted all schools would be integrated within five years. But change came slowly. In 1955, the Supreme Court ruled that desegregation could proceed "with all deliberate speed," a phrase that many school districts took to mean "as slowly as possible." And so a decade after Brown, less than two percent of black youngsters in the South attended integrated schools.
But the civil rights movement helped change that. And by 1974, 20 years after Brown, almost half of all black children throughout the nation went to white-majority schools. Despite what many call the 'resegregation' of the last few decades, some of that change remains, including in Topeka, the city that gave birth to Brown.
But this is not the story in New York City, where the racial composition of schools today almost resembles those in the South of the 1950s.
Indeed, the city's schools were not much more integrated than Southern schools when the Brown decision was issued -- even though Governor Theodore Roosevelt had directed the New York State Legislature to abolish the last two officially black schools in New York City way back in 1900. But as recounted by Diane Ravitch in her book The Great School Wars in 1954, Kenneth Clark, a psychologist whose research bolstered the NAACP arguments in the Brown case, issued another report concluding that New York City had a segregated school system and that black children received an inferior education. The head of the New York City Board of Education then, Arthur Levitt, said the segregation had not "been deliberately imposed by legislation" but was nonetheless "not good educational policy."
At the same time, the population of the school system was undergoing a huge change, as many whites left the city for the suburbs, and more and more Hispanics moved to New York. There were many subsequent efforts to address the segregation in the city -- some sincere, some cosmetic, few successful.
NEW YORK'S SEGREGATED SYSTEM
Today, of the approximately 1.1 million students in New York City public schools, about 13 percent are Asian, 15 percent white, 32 percent black and 40 percent Hispanic. Given the makeup of the student body, one reason for segregation of New York City schools, said Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education, is that "there are no kids to integrate with."
But the population of many schools is even more skewed than the student population as a whole. Some 60 percent of all black students in New York State, including those in New York City, attend schools that are at least 90 percent black, according to a recent study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University; more Latinos in New York State than in any other state go to schools that are 90 percent or more Latino.
Another study, this one by the Lewis Mumford Center at the State University of New York at Albany, found that Asians and Hispanics are more segregated from whites in New York schools than in any other school system in the country. For black-white segregation, New York ranks third.
The Mumford study also found that, in 2000, the typical black student attended a school where only five percent of the other students were white, a sharp drop from 1970.
This segregation has a different cause than that in the South of the 1950s. In New York, "the segregation in the schools reflects segregation in the housing market," said John Logan, who conducted the Mumford center study. While New Yorkers think of this as a progressive city, it is Logan, said, "one of the most segregated cities in the country in terms of blacks and whites."
But the city has had little success implementing policies that might reduce the effects that housing segregation has on schools.
Particularly at the high school level, the city established schools with special programs around the city, in an effort to encourage students to leave their neighborhoods. But the effort has not done much to improve integration. Although some of the individual school programs are good, "I don't believe school choice has made New York a less segregated city," said Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, which works on school issues.
In another attempt to encourage diversity, the city requires that some high schools with special programs admit the same number of students who do poorly on standardized tests as those who score substantially above average. But this gives the lowest scoring students a better chance at admission because far fewer of that group applies. And some parents, many of them white, complain that their children are being unfairly denied a place in these schools.
Partly in response, white parents in several communities have lobbied to bring back the neighborhood high school, at least in their communities. "Despite paying the highest tax rates in New York City, we don't have a school that will prepare our children to go to the superior colleges they are qualified to attend," a proposal by East Side parents said.
The parents won creation of the new Eleanor Roosevelt High School on East 76th Street, but the school admits children from a broad swath of Manhattan, not just the immediate neighborhood, as the parents had wanted. Eleanor Roosevelt, now in its first year of existence, is 10 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 35 percent Asian, and 40 percent white.
Parents in the white, affluent Park Slope section of Brooklyn fought to revamp John Jay, a high school attended largely by black and Hispanic students from outside the community. They believed that three new small schools, with grades 6 through 12, would enable more Park Slope kids to attend high school in their neighborhood. They won their fight but may have achieved a Pyrrhic victory. Top students from Park Slope have been slow to embrace the three new schools and at least one is plagued by discipline problems and a poor reputation in the area.
THE EFFECTS OF SEGREGATION
If the schools are still segregated, does segregation still matter? Some would argue that it does.
Claude Steele, a professor at Stanford University, listed some effects segregation has on black students. "They are more likely to go to poorly funded schools in run-down buildings and more likely to be taught by uncertified and poorly trained teachers," he wrote. "They are likely to be counseled with lower expectations. They are more likely to go to schools with few or no Advanced Placement courses, and they are likely to have less access to test-prep courses and related tutorials."
Although there are exceptions, schools in New York City with higher test scores tend to have greater numbers of white and Asian students, while struggling schools are more likely to be composed primarily of black and Hispanic students.
In the 1990s, the community group ACORN charged that many junior high schools in predominantly black and Hispanic areas did not teach students what they needed to know in order to do well on the test for the selective specialized high schools, such as Stuyvesant. In response, rather than improve the program for all youngsters, the city began offering special instruction for selected students. Despite the classes, less than 10 percent of students at Stuyvesant are black or Hispanic.
Black and Hispanic students score significantly lower than whites and Asians on virtually all standardized tests and are less likely to finish high school. About 94 percent of white youngsters in New York State who started high school in 1999 were seniors in June 2003, but only 61 percent of Hispanic children and 65 percent of black students were.
As New York increasingly relies on standardized tests, some critics worry that black and Hispanic students will be most affected. For example, most students at Taft High School and Bushwick High School, both of which are 98 percent black and Hispanic, did not pass even one of the five Regents tests required for graduation. "On the 50th anniversary of Brown, we've come full circle," said Jane Hirschmann of Timeout From Testing. Relying so much on Regents and other tests, she said, "is very unequal and very unfair."
Test proponents argue, however, that the lack of firm standards in education has been discriminatory, awarding black and Hispanic students diplomas but without giving them the skills they need to earn a living or function in society.
Black and Hispanic students also bear the brunt of discipline in the city schools. More than 90 percent of students at Second Opportunity Schools for students serving lengthy suspensions were black or Hispanic, according to Advocates for Children.
Academics, educators and politicians endlessly debate the reasons for these disparities. But one factor could be that, along with the achievement gap, there is a resource gap. Predominantly black and Hispanic New York City spends $10,500 per pupil, about half the $21,000 that the rich -- and largely white -- Long Island suburb of Manhasset spends, Jonathan Kozol has noted. At the same time, many senior teachers avoid poor, minority schools in the city in favor of richer schools.
The gap to some extent reflects the fact that much of the money for schools comes from local tax revenues, and more affluent -- usually white -- communities have more money to spend than the black and Hispanic communities that tend to be less affluent.
But critics charge that New York State does nothing to erase the gap, and some things that make it worse. According to David Jones, president of the Community Service Society, in New York State "school districts with the highest percentage of minority students receive over $2,000 annually less than school districts with the lowest percentage of minority students." He blames the state's method of allocating funds to districts.
THE BENEFITS OF INTEGRATION
The demand for integration is not purely academic. Students who attended the more integrated schools of the 1970s, and those who attend the segregated schools of today, apparently see the value of diversity.
A recent study by Columbia University Teachers College looked at people who had attended school in the peak integration years of the 1970s before courts began rolling back orders requiring busing and other integration measures. While the integration may not have completely reformed society, it did change individual members of the class of 1980.
The study concluded that the integrated schools did more than any other institution, except perhaps the military, to "bring people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds together and foster equal opportunity." And, the people interviewed said they found attending mixed schools "to be one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives, the best -- and sometimes the only -- opportunity to meet and interact regularly with people of different backgrounds."
Today's school children seem to want a similar chance. Advocates for Children conducted an essay contest to mark the Brown anniversary, asking students to write about such topics as whether integration is important.
In the essays, some of which will be on the group's web site later his month, students wrote about the value of diversity, said Deborah Apsel of the group. "There were kids who said we really wish our school had more Caucasian students or kids from outside our neighborhood," she said. "A lot of kids talked about "tolerance" or "about how integration in the classroom builds on the learning and can add a different dimension to discussions."
LESS AGAINST "SEPARATE", MORE FOR "EQUAL"
But experts debate the value of integration.
Derek Bell, a former civil rights lawyer who teaches at NYU law school, said that in some respects Brown was "a disaster." Those who cheered the decision at the time failed to recognize how entrenched segregation and white racism was in America, he said. Rather than trying to do away with separate schools, Bell has argued, the Supreme Court "might have been better off" if it had set out steps, such as monitoring and enforcement, to ensure that black youngsters attended schools truly equal to those for white students.
Others who support integration, such as Gary Orfield, author of the Harvard Civil Rights Project study, question whether meaningful segregation can take place without crossing boundaries between city and suburb. But in 1974 -- 20 years after Brown -- the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley ruled that school integration efforts did not have to cross government boundaries -- in that case between predominantly black Detroit and its white suburbs.
Faced with that and other court decisions that have chipped away at efforts to integrate schools, activists in New York have shifted their efforts to trying to get more funding to improve the schools that black and Hispanic youngsters attend.
In one, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity challenged the formula New York State uses to determine how much money the state gives each local school district. Activists in other states have also argued that poorer school districts need more money to help their students meet new state standards.
In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, the state's highest court ruled that Albany's funding formula denied students in New York City and other cities in the state their right to a "sound, basic education," and ordered that the situation be corrected. But the issue remains entangled in politics and disputes about the amount of money required. Neither Governor George Pataki nor the legislature -- nor localities -- have come up with a means to fund the court's mandate. The governor suggested using funds from electronic gambling machines.
Elise Boddie of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said she hates to choose between fighting for integration and struggling for more money. But she admitted that in light of legal rulings and hostile courts, "Funding equity cases may be our only hope."
That funding, said Pedro Noguera, can lead to better schools and maybe even more integrated ones: "If you can get really outstanding teachers into high-need areas and really outstanding programs . . . then you're going to attract middle-class kids of all races," he said. "Quality is what is ultimately going to bring people in, -- whites and Asians as well as middle-class black and Hispanics."
But it will be a long hard road. And many experts, while recognizing the promise of Brown, see few reasons for optimism on its much-observed anniversary.
New York is, sadly, not the only school district that has remained a bastion of segregation, as Sanjay Bhatt writes in The Seattle Times, May 9, 2004, about Seattle's Garfield High School :"Decades of effort fail to close gap in student achievement".
"A new federal stick
The "No Child Left Behind" Act holds out the threat of loss of federal aid to schools unable to show achievement gains - the same kind of stick used in the '60s and '70s to push school districts to desegregate.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige recently wrote that the act "is the logical next step after Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation. If this country is firmly committed to a future in which racism is eradicated, then we must recognize that Brown itself was just a start and that affirmative action is only transitional. At some point, we must eliminate disparities directly."
Today, Seattle has "a new kind of separate but unequal," said Phyllis Beaumonte, a retired Rainier Beach High teacher and chairwoman of the Washington NAACP's Education Committee.
"It is unequal access to resources," she said, such as sustained support from alumni foundations and core-subject teachers with the same cultural background as students.
Beaumonte will fly to Topeka, Kan., next week to join other civil-rights leaders gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision in the city where the case originated. They will reflect on where we've been and where we're going. At times, it will sound dishearteningly familiar.
"Schools segregated in fact teach only subject matter and fail to fulfill one of the traditional goals of public education; they fail to prepare youth to function in a multiracial society as participating citizens."
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights made that observation - in 1963."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Integration in reverse
Akron Beacon Journal By Stephanie Warsmith and Katie Byard
"Let me assure you that most minority parents don't believe it for a minute,'' said Juliet Saltman, a retired Kent State University professor who was involved in the lawsuit against the Akron Plan. ``They know that, if it is a segregated school, or predominantly black school, the quality goes down... These are the schools that get the less experienced teachers and have the worst infrastructure.''
Saltman, who is white and now lives in San Diego, is concerned about what she calls a ``regression'' toward segregation.
``I think, sadly, the civil rights revolution is going to be fought all over again,'' she said. ``The same situations are existing now.''
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Beacon Journal writer David Knox contributed to this report.
American Schooling Has Failed Children of Color
An Essay by Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is Executive Director of Parent-U-Turn, a parent advocacy group based in South Gate and Lynwood dedicated to improving the educational opportunities of urban students in Los Angeles schools and communities. Mary Johnson has also served as a Parent Liaison at Hosler Middle School, Parent Director of the UCLA Parent Project, and a South Gate City Commissioner. For the past ten years she has worked extensively with the community in South Gate and Lynwood and has run for City Council of South Gate. Ms. Johnson currently lives in South Gate where she also serves as Director for Community in Action, an organization that locates resources for communities in South Gate.
For more information about Parent-U-Turn, click here.
I am a single African-American female raising three boys and one girl in a neighborhood where most students drop out of school by the ninth grade. This story is about my experiences and struggles to create quality schools in Lynwood and South Gate. These two cities are located 3 to 5 miles from Watts and Compton in California. Watts and Compton are always in the newspapers for their low standardized test scores. The same is true for the neighborhoods on the boundaries of these cities. American schools have failed children of color due to a lack of resources, such as, books, high expectations, and a rigorous curriculum. All across America children of color are scoring the lowest on standardized tests as compared to Caucasian and Asian children.
The residents of my neighborhood are African-American and Hispanic. Most of the parents work in the service industry or perform physical labor for minimum wage and most have little or no formal education. Every morning adults walk to the bus stop to catch the bus to work as maids and car washers in cities where they can't afford to live. Folks from my community clean expensive hotels where we can't afford to stay and wash cars that we can't afford to buy. The majority of our parents complain of lower back pain because of the physical labor of bending and lifting. We work hard to make a better life for our children. The outside world classifies our community as a ghetto, but we call it home.
In our neighborhood, you will see advertisements for liquor stores, but never a child reading a book. There are also advertisement posters from big sporting companies programming our children to believe that the only way out of our neighborhood is through sports. The first gifts we buy our boys are footballs or basketballs because in our hearts we feel that our earnings won't allow us the opportunity to send our children to college. Society has forced parents of color to send our children the wrong messages. There isn't one bookstore within a 15 miles radius. In the local schools there are no book clubs on the school campus.
There are many barriers that parents of color must overcome. In many schools, children aren't being taught to be critical thinkers, so they aren't able to challenge the conditions they face. This is one of the main reasons that our children do badly in college. College success is based on critical thinking. Critical thinking ensures that our children will be better prepared for a higher level of learning. However, when students of color display critical thinking, they are looked at as being disrespectful. When our children challenge a teacher in the classroom about educational issues, they often are sent to the Dean's office for disrupting the class.
To be critical thinkers students must have access to learning materials. It seems that our State and Federal governments give monies to local school districts, but ask for no accountability for the use of that money. State laws require that every child has a book for each subject matter. In our neighborhood we get copies or dittoes of books. Books are needed for homework and for test preparation. Children in affluent schools and communities have two sets of books, one for the classroom and one set for home. Many children of color work with books that are outdated or with pages missing. Many school districts have failed to purchase books and materials. It seems year after year there are fewer books than in previous years.
Many young teachers lack experience and depend heavily on books as a reference for teaching. There is a high percentage of uncredentialed teachers in our neighborhoods as compared to affluent neighborhoods. Many teachers are teaching out of their subject matter. Some children have a different substitute-teacher every day. Research shows that most uncredentialed teachers are teaching in low-income to high unemployment areas. This is probably the main reason that standardized test scores are lowest in neighborhoods populated by people of color.
The environment that our children go to schools in is second class. Our children are forced to go to schools where the classrooms are overcrowded. Most classroom ratios are forty students to one teacher and no aide. There are not enough open bathrooms. There is also a lack of toilet paper and hygiene products. Some of the schools we visit have lead poison in the water, exposed chips of lead paint, rusted pipes, water damaged ceilings, and holes in the walls of the restrooms. Some classrooms have no heat or air conditioning.
Our president came up with this wonderful bill, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This law was another politician's way to fool the people again. NCLB gave false hope to people of color that they would benefit from school reform. What a joke. We thought that NCLB would bring changes long over due for our children. All we wanted was to even the playing field for quality education for our children. NCLB was an overrated flop. The president promised the money on one hand and with the other hand, took it back. Again the politicians have let our children down.
The public school system is in need of being revamped to meet the needs of all children in the system. Now the government is trying to blame a failing school system on our special needs children. The government is trying to revamp the ideas that protect children's rights who have learning or behavior problems so these children can secure an education. African-American black males are overrepresented in special education. Special education children have been overlooked and have the lowest expectations from most school district officials. Most special education programs are a joke. There are extra monies allocated for special education, but these classes have no materials. Most special education classrooms have a revolving teacher all year round. If you are lucky enough to have a regular teacher, most likely the teacher is not credentialed in special education. We have teachers in the system that degrade students and take away the children's self-esteem. Teachers are expected to teach children with multi-disabilities with one aide. Children aren't being taught according to their personal IEP. Teachers are using the same method of teaching for whole classes. The graduation rate for children in special education is very low, because the system is taking the money allotted for special education and using it for other school uses. Most of these children have never tasted success, only failure. We must find ways to help these children to feel good about themselves.
For our children to be able to relate to teachers in the classrooms, we must get more teachers that live or have lived in our community. All over America we see new teachers with no experience coming into schools with good intentions but very little understanding about how to teach our children. New teachers that are coming into our schools often have no experience with children of color, or little knowledge about how to use our children's culture as a resource in their learning. The majority of new teachers in our neighborhoods are white and liberal and want to save the world. Teachers come into the community with pity or apathy for our children. But what our children really are in need of is caring and a rigorous curriculum.
It's seems like the local districts are afraid to empower parents with skills to help their children be successful in the classroom, because it's about control and not sharing. The local districts have failed to enlighten and provide parents with what to look for in good teaching.
Parents are excluded from the training that would help them understand school systems and policies that effect or govern their children's education. Most parents don't know what courses students need to go to college. Parents are excluded from training that would teach them about the allocation of school funds and where the money should be spent. Section: 11118 of the No Child Left Behind Act states that parents should be trained on subject matters that are aligned with standards that schools are teaching. This is not happening.
As parents of color we must ask questions of administrators regarding why our children aren't making the grade and how they are planning on fixing this problem. People of color must start to pull together and go back into the neighborhood to work and live and play a major part in rebuilding. Our coalition must include people of color that have been successful and moved on to other communities. These individuals need to come back and teach our children and be mentors. The more questions we ask, the more pressure will be put on administrators to perform. We must stop going to administrators as individuals and start going as a group. When we show up in numbers, we send a message that this is a community problem. Parents must learn to outreach outside their communities to look for resources, such as, data and research that match their school conditions. We, as parents, always knew what the problem was, but didn't know how to present the evidence to back up our statements about the conditions. It's very important for parents to seek out resources that help parents gain the skills and the methods on how to organize.
In the last three years a group of parents from South Gate and Lynwood, California have started a 13-week parent project to teach parents state standards, policy, and research methods to educate parents about the school system. Parents are taught how to develop a survey and analyze the data regarding school conditions. In the 13 weeks, parents learned how to navigate and advocate for equal access for quality education for all children. We must remember as parents that we are our children's first teachers. As the first teacher you must learn your rights as a parent and your child's right to be able to advocate for her or him. You must learn to hold the school system accountable for educating your child. We, as parents, must stop blaming our children for not making the grades and start pointing the fingers at the system. Parents must look for resources to help our children to improve in academics. It is very important that parents know what the State and Federal law says that their child should be learning in each grade level. We must all ask ourselves why the U.S. constitution does not insure all children equal access to a quality education. Then we must acknowledge that our constitution was written by white male elites. This system is built to leave children of color behind.
If you have a question or comment for Mary Johnson you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
Educational equality eludes us, even now
By Rod Paige
Newsday, May 13, 2004
I went to elementary and secondary schools in rural Mississippi in the 1940s and early '50s. Our schools were in a constant state of disrepair. The only textbooks that came our way were hand-me-downs. This was not an environment that encouraged black children to dream of opportunities, let alone higher education. But my parents were determined that my sisters and I go to college, and their resolve rubbed off on me. Back then, there were not as many options as there are today - especially for a black man in the South. I was fortunate to be admitted to Jackson State University, a historically black college in Mississippi.
I was a junior in college 50 years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court sent shock waves through this country with its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. The justices declared clearly that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. After the decision, the process of desegregating schools began.
There was jubilation on my campus, the feeling that a world of opportunity would open to us. Sadly, looking back, although Brown made it illegal to officially segregate schools, many of today's schools are not integrated, and the disparity in access to high-quality education remains. In fact, most urban schools are overwhelmingly "majority minority." The difference is that in this day and age, the segregation is voluntary.
If we ever hope to eliminate racism, the best way is through higher standards, better teachers, real accountability and, ultimately, educational opportunity.
I recognize that I was one of the lucky ones in that pre-Brown era. Both of my parents were educators. I worry that many of today's youths don't see education as the path to a better future. As several African-American scholars have noted, many of today's black youths see education as a "white thing."
That notion is painfully evident: Today, only one in six African-Americans can read proficiently upon leaving high school. The achievement gap in reading between blacks and whites is staggering. Nationally, at the fourth-grade level, the gap is 28 percentage points. Other indicators show similar trends: Black students in the K-12 system have almost triple the rate of disciplinary problems (measured by suspensions) as their white peers. Blacks earn college degrees at half the rate of whites.
What a travesty. But equality of opportunity must be more than just a statement of law; it must be a matter of fact. Then and now, our work begins in our educational institutions.
We still have a two-tiered public education system. Some fortunate students receive a world-class education. But millions are mired in mediocrity, denied a high-quality education. Most are children of color. This is not the legacy of Brown we imagined.
Some still believe we can fix our public education system by spending more money. But we already spend more per pupil on K-12 education than any other country except Switzerland. The issue is how the money is being invested. Historically, accountability in our education system has been absent.
Two years ago, the president and Congress, in a show of strong bipartisanship, passed a sweeping law that challenges the status quo. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is the logical next step to closing the racial achievement gap in education after Brown ended segregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act promised an equitable society.
With NCLB, the achievement gap is closing. A recent study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the achievement gaps in both reading and math in urban schools between African-Americans and whites, and Hispanics and whites, are narrowing. Now, every state has an accountability plan, parents are newly empowered, and every student will be taught by a highly qualified teacher.
Some have resisted this law. But Brown also met resistance. To those of us who grew up during those times, the chorus sounds familiar. Racial equality cannot exist as long as there is an educational achievement gap. We must make our schools equitable in order to make our society and culture equitable. Brown's legacy should be equality of opportunity. We must achieve this goal for the sake of all our children.
Rod Paige is the U.S. Secretary of Education.
What other people are saying about the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education
Jose Gomez in a column for The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.: "I was 10 years old in 1954. ... (My sister) Rosa and I learned there was a fifth-grade class in the (whites only) Emmett School on the other side of the tracks. On the first day of class, we got off the bus along with the white kids, went to the fifth-grade classroom and sat down. The teacher, Mrs. Schenck, said we were at the wrong school. ... She returned to inform us that Principal Ball would take us to our school. I cried some more but cheered up for a spelling bee, my favorite activity. My competitor spelled his word: 's-e-p-e-r-a-t-e.' My correct spelling of 'separate' made me the spelling champ. Years later, I understood the irony of that day's decisive word. Principal Ball did come. Mrs. Schenck went out into the hallway to talk to him. When she returned, we braced ourselves. 'This is your school! You can stay!' With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Schenck said, 'I'm glad, too!' "
Joseph Dolman in a column for Newsday, Long Island, N.Y.: "From a crisp autumn night in 1961: My friend Paul Davenport and I were out on a Thursday evening. ... We were 13 years old, and we were looking for laughs and mischief in a place we thought we knew blindfolded. Suddenly, we heard band music and saw the field lights on in the stadium that the white high school used. But why? Who would be playing football there on a Thursday? ... We had walked into the half-time show for the all-black Fred Douglass High School and its team, the Dragons. I felt as if I had wandered into my familiar old house and had found a family of strangers living there. ... A central deceit of segregation had crumbled before our eyes. For whites, the idea of segregation was to make blacks as invisible as possible. Yet here they were on that night - en masse - joyously human, surprisingly confident and acting much as we did at our games."
James Lawrence in a column in the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y.: "The approaching 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against segregated public schools has been stirring vivid memories. For me, they all seemed to crystallize last week as I sat spellbound during a talk by renowned educator Marva Collins. I kept thinking that I knew black teachers a lot like Collins in the racially segregated Orlando schools that I attended. ... They expected students to learn, do their very best. Failure was unacceptable. ... Too often that kind of deep caring doesn't exist in many of the nation's urban schools, which 50 years after Brown vs. Board of Education are as de facto segregated as those that I attended."
BROWN AT 50: STILL SEPARATE
By DAVID SALISBURY [New York Post]
May 17, 2004 -- FIFTY years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, unanimously declaring that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
The Brown decision, of course, didn't immediately put an end to segregated public schools. In efforts to circumvent Brown, several southern states set up programs for students to attend private schools. These programs were often used by whites as a way to escape integrated public schools. But since then, an interesting reversal has taken place: Today's public schools are still highly segregated, while private schools are relatively well integrated.
Consider Atlanta: In nearly 80 percent of the city's public schools, the student body is more than 90 percent minority. In contrast, only 60 percent of Atlanta's 53 private schools are so highly segregated.
The situation is similar in other major cities. In Washington, D.C., public schools are 96 percent minority. Ninety percent of students in Houston public schools are minority. In Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, public schools are respectively 90 percent, 85 percent and 91 percent minority.
According to U.S. Department of Education statistics comparing private with public schools, public-school classrooms are more likely to be almost all white or almost all minority. More than half of all public-school 12th graders are in classrooms where more than 90 percent or fewer than 10 percent of the students are minority.
In contrast, only 41 percent of private-school students are in such highly segregated classrooms. More than a third (37 percent) of private-school students are in classrooms where the racial mix of the students resembles that of the nation as a whole. Only 18 percent of public-school students are in such racially mixed classes.
Why are today's public schools so racially unbalanced? Because students are assigned to schools based on where they live. Public schools reflect the racial composition of the surrounding neighborhoods. Private schools, on the other hand, draw students from across neighborhood boundaries. Thus private schools are more likely to be racially integrated than are public schools.
Black and Hispanic students in urban centers suffer disproportionately from failing public school systems. Today, 45 percent of black and 47 percent of Hispanic students drop out of public high schools (vs. 24 percent of whites). Only 5 percent of black and 10 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders reach the proficient level on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (vs. 33 percent of whites).
"Status and Trends in the Education of Blacks," a 2003 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, showed that performance gaps between black and white students ages 13 to 17 have widened in the last decade.
If we are to ever see the day when children of all races have access to good schools, we need policies that let inner-city parents escape racially segregated and inferior public schools. The tradition of assigning students to a school based on their address must end. Instead, students should be allowed to select among public or private schools.
There are various ways to accomplish this. Some states are using vouchers. Others give tax rebates to individuals or businesses that contribute to scholarship programs that allow low-income students to attend private schools.
Where such programs exist, they have improved racial integration. In Cleveland, for example, vouchers provide inner-city families with access to private schools that, on average, are more racially integrated than the neighborhood public schools. Vouchers have also improved integration in Milwaukee, where private schools are more racially integrated than schools in the Milwaukee Public School district.
Much work still needs to be done before we can say that every child has access to a quality education. We need to give parents more options through school choice and not restrict attendance to one neighborhood public school or even to public schools only.
Policies that restrict parental choice are not in harmony with the spirit of Brown v. Board, which sought to open new opportunities for children of all races. Freedom of choice is in large part what Brown sought to achieve. After 50 years, it's time we made choice a reality.
David Salisbury, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute (cato.org), is the co-editor of the new book, "Educational Freedom in Urban America: Brown v. Board after Half a Century."