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News from EPI Sixty Years After Brown v. Board, Schools Are Still Segregated

Low-Income Black Children Are More Racially and Socioeconomically Isolated than at Any Time Since the 1980s

The Brown v. Board of Education decision ending legal segregation of public schools never achieved its core mission of school integration, a new Economic Policy Institute report finds.  In Brown v. Board at 60: Why Have We Been So Disappointed? What Have We Learned?, Richard Rothstein, EPI research associate, explains that school segregation remains a central feature of American public education sixty years later. Initial school integration gains following Brown stalled and low-income black children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time since 1980. Further, though black student academic achievement has improved dramatically in recent decades, nationwide and in every state, racial achievement gaps remain huge.

Rothstein argues that substantially raising achievement of low-income black children requires residential integration, from which school integration can follow.

“Education policy is housing policy and vice versa,” said Rothstein. “Schools remain segregated because neighborhoods where they are located are segregated. We will never substantially improve black student achievement, without economic equality and integration.”

While per-pupil spending on black and white students is now roughly equal, resource equality is not enough. Disadvantaged students require much greater resources to prepare them for school. These include high-quality early childhood programs, from birth to school entry; high-quality after-school and summer programs; full-service school health clinics; more skilled teachers; and smaller classes.

Today, the typical black student now attends a school where only 29 percent of his or her fellow students are white, down from a high of 36 percent in 1980. Despite growing racial isolation, black student achievement has steadily improved. Black fourth-graders now have average math scores that are better than average white math scores only a generation ago, according to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Yet because average white achievement has also improved, the gap between black and white achievement remains. The average black student now performs better than only about 25 percent of white students, preventing equal labor market prospects.

“The Brown v. Board ruling was one of the country’s most important civil rights milestones, primarily because it stimulated a movement leading to the end of Jim Crow in public and private accommodations and to an effective right to vote for African Americans. Yet it accomplished less regarding its purported goal, to end school segregation. School segregation continues to mar American public education and it’s getting worse,” said Rothstein.