More than 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared — in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision — that state laws allowing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The ruling — which was unanimous — stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Yet American schools are more segregated this fall that at any time since 1968. To illustrate the point, the nation’s top five populous cities — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia — all have white populations of more than 40 percent. None of their public school systems, though, have white student bodies of more than 14 percent.
And in spite of the emerging trend of cities increasing its white population for the first time in years, Nikole Hannah-Jones — who writes investigative pieces for The New York Times Magazine — reports that “gentrification, it turns out, usually stops at the schoolhouse door.”
There are indications that this growing chasm is about to come under government scrutiny. Dr. John King — who has been picked to become the U.S. Secretary of Education after Arne Duncan’s recent departure — recently told attendees at a conference of the National Coalition on School Diversity, “I remain hopeful that there are opportunities in the reauthorization [of revised No Child Left Behind provisions] to specifically incentivize socioeconomic integration, to take steps that will improve the racial integration of our schools.”
“President Obama has been taking on issues toward the end of his term that he wouldn’t touch in earlier years. So to me, the moment is ripe for the administration to take some important steps on integration,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “You have a new secretary of education who is deeply committed to the issue. You have a president who appears willing to expend some political capital toward the end of his term to address issues that are important to him. And you have the backdrop of unrest in a number of segregated urban areas. There’s more focus on this issue than there has been in a long time.”
And all the metrics indicate that the time is just right.
Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise