60 Years After Brown, School Segregation on the Rise

By Julianne Hing May 15, 2014

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, which forever changed the U.S. education system. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that ‘separate but equal’ had no place in public education. And yet, more than a half century on from that pivotal ruling, significant numbers of black and Latino children attend racially isolated schools and, according to a report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project released today, school segregation is on the rise. There is much to commemorate, but actually not as much to celebrate.

"Brown was a major accomplishment and we should rightfully be proud," Gary Orfield, a co-director of the Civil Rights Project, said in a statement. "But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools."

Many of the biggest gains in school desegregation happened in the decades immediately following Brown, but in the subsequent years, courts have played a large role in dismantling desegregation plans around the country. Thost shifts, together with increasing residential segregation and inequity and demographic changes, have created a landscape that’s at once brand new and also all too familiar. Today, black children are attending attending racially isolated schools at their highest rates in decades, while more than half of Latino children attend schools that are majority Latino. According to the report, in New York, California and Texas, the majority of Latino students go to schools that are 90 percent students of color–or more. And perhaps most striking, in the Northeast, more than 51 percent of black students attend schools that are at least 90 percent students of color. Those contemporary figures are only somewhat improved from 1968, when 42.7 percent of black students in the Northeast went to schools that were over 90 percent students of color. Segregation is most concentrated in large metropolitan areas, but it’s also prevalent in the suburbs of large metro areas. 

And, the report authors argue, while it’s not feasible in some situations, segregation is still vitally important to addressing enduring racial, economic and educational inequities. "Desegregation properly implemented can make a very real contribution to equalizing educational opportunities and preparing young Americans for the extremely diverse society in which they will live and work and govern together," the report authors write. "It is the only major tool our society has for this goal."

Read the report in full here (PDF).