May 17, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education. There will be and should be much said about whether the United States is fulfilling Brown’s promise of desegregation in public schools and in other areas of society. Many are likely to answer “no” and there is not a lot of opportunity to disagree. Starting with public education, we can see that North Carolina’s recent history is disturbing when the following matters are considered:
- Halifax County has three school districts, Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, which are racially segregated. According the UNC Center for Civil Rights from a report published in 2011, although only “39 percent of the county is White”, Weldon City Schools and Halifax County Public Schools are “both almost 100 percent Non-White” Roanoke Rapids Graded School District “is over 70 percent White.”
- In 2009, the NAACP filed a Title VI Complaint with the Department of Justice because in the Wayne County Schools Central Attendance District all but four students out of 2,100 were people of color. Students were living in poverty as 94 percent receive free or reduced price lunch.
- In 2010, a Title VI Complaint was filed with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights was filed against Wake County Public School System because a new school board jettisoned a socioeconomic diversity plan.
- In 2013, the first law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly was a bill that created three endorsements for high school diplomas. Students can receive a career, college or career and college endorsements. Some advocates fear that low-income and minority students will be tracked to the career endorsement. The University of Georgia Systems Task Force on Enhancing Access for Black Males found that African American males were underrepresented in the College Preparatory endorsement.
What we know is that the decision in Brown was right. Integration matters. Research tells us the following:
- Given the segregated housing patterns in Wake County, the socioeconomic achievement gap would have wider but for the diversity policy.
- A Century Foundation report found that the socioeconomic achievement gap was narrowed because of integrated housing through inclusionary zoning.
- According a report by the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD), minority students that attend integrated schools are more likely to graduate from college and less likely to have involvement in the criminal justice system.
- Another report from the NCSD found that White students benefit from thought-provoking discussions in class and strengthen their “critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” This leads to higher results in their academic achievement.
There is much more to be said about our state and our country 60 years after, perhaps, the most important decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States. If the answer to the question if the United States and North Carolina is fulfilling the promise of Brown is “no”, we do know that we have solutions. In public education, one of the clear answers to our problems is diversity.
This post is the first in a periodic series about the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.