Welcome to the battle royale. Today is the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, an annual heavyweight match where race and public education claim the center ring. In one corner are Brown’s defenders, bemoaning the country’s failure to carry out the order to educate every child regardless of race. In the opposing corner are the persecutors of public schools, claiming that the system’s failures stem from its very acknowledgement of race, rather than from the racial disparities themselves. Taking hits from all sides are millions of children of color.
So was Brown v. Board a failed attempt at social engineering? Or was its solution poisoned in its infancy by political maneuvering? With every passing anniversary, researchers, lawyers, policymakers and education advocates come out swinging with their views on the aftermath. But there are only two questions that really matter: Is race still a factor in whether a child receives a quality education? And if so, what should we do about it?
Let’s deal with what’s real. Race matters. A 2009 Education Department report bears this out:
- Between 1972 and 2007, the percentage of public school students who were White decreased from 78 to 56 percent. During this period, the percentage of students from other racial/ethnic groups increased from 22 to 44 percent.
- In 2008, the high school completion rates for Blacks and Latinos remained significantly below those of Whites (88 and 68 vs. 94).
- The national average reading score of 4th graders was higher in 2007 than in 1992, by 4 points. In 2007, at the 4th-grade level Blacks scored, on average, 27 points lower than Whites and Latinos scored, on average, 26 points lower.