Last week, to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Journey4Justice Alliance released a report, Failing Brown v. Board: A Continuous Struggle Against Inequity in Public Education.
The Journey4Justice Alliance is a founding member of the #WeChoose Campaign, a broader coalition of organizations: the Alliance for Education Justice, Advancement Project, Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, Badass Teacher’s Association, Data for Black Lives, Dignity in Schools Coalition, Institute of Democratic Education in America, Network for Public Education, NAACP, Moms Rising and Save Our Schools.
In his “Forward” to the new report, Jitu Brown, Director of the Journey4Justice Alliance, reflects on his own learnings from 20 years of providing leadership development programs in public schools across the state of Illinois: “I implemented programs in schools that served middle class and low income Black and Brown communities where there were no libraries, outdated books, over-crowded classrooms and punitive discipline policies. I also worked in schools with children from working class white families that were well-resourced, where students flourished with fully stocked libraries, science labs, history clubs, art and music. This type of inequity which runs rampant across the country is failing Brown V. Board. Our schools are not failing; as a public we have failed.”
I have never read such a pithy and accurate depiction of today’s reality across public schools in urban America as Jitu Brown presents in his “Forward” to the report. Brown condemns the false and damaging so-called reforms of recent decades: “In education, America does everything but equity. Alternative schools, charter schools, contract schools, online schools, credit recovery… schools run by private operators in the basement of churches, abandoned warehouses, storefronts; everything but ensuring that every child has a quality pre-k through 12th grade system of education within safe walking distance from their homes.”
Brown continues: “Not only have Black, Brown and immigrant students been denied access to the same educational opportunities as their white counterparts; but they have been subjected to severely racialized privatization schemes that have deepened the opportunity divide and devastated thousands of public schools throughout the country… Today, school closings and the spread of charters in Black and Brown communities across the country make up the soul of the ‘school choice movement.’ Thousands of schools have been closed… devastating Black and Brown communities and having a direct impact on the decline of the number of Black teachers nationwide. Cities across the United States… have seen the ranks of Black educators shrink as schools close and the teaching force in Black and Brown communities becomes younger, whiter and more transient.”
For the new report, members of the Journey4Justice Alliance collected information gathered by members of the coalition to compare and contrast the course offerings across two schools, one Black and the other white—either two schools in one district or a segregated Black city school and a white suburban school in the region. I urge you to scan the last half of the report where you’ll find the course offerings in the two schools listed side-by-side in columns. What leaps from the pages are the facts that those of us who have toured schools have seen, but which nobody has thought to document so clearly. Not only do children in majority-white schools have access to a far richer and more advanced curriculum than their counterparts segregated in Black- and Brown-majority schools, but the lists of arts enrichments and school activities are tragically disparate.
In this report, Journey4Justice compares course offerings and enrichments in the the following school districts and regions: in Chicago one set of comparisons is of three elementary schools and another is of three high schools. Others are two high schools in Oakland, California; and high schools in Milwaukee vs. Menomonee Falls in Wisconsin; Dallas vs. Frisco in Texas; Denver vs. Greenwood Village in Colorado; Camden vs. Cherry Hill, Newark vs. Allendale, and Paterson vs. Wayne in New Jersey; Dayton vs. Oakwood in Ohio; Jackson vs. Florence in Mississippi, and New Orleans vs. Chalmette in Louisiana.
The report’s authors also back up the observations of Journey4Justice members in these locations with material from the academic literature.
Here is some of what the report’s authors describe as their findings: “In too many of the schools we compared, Black and Latino students do not have the option of advanced or rich course offerings. In every pairing of high schools, majority white schools offered more—both in academic subject areas and in the arts—than majority Black and/or Brown schools. Most, but not all, of the majority Black schools offered calculus and/or physics to students, but generally only one course option, while the majority white schools offered several. For example, McDonough 35 High School in New Orleans offered physics. But nearby Chalmette offered a second year of advanced physics and a separate course in physical science. Most of the schools in our survey offer at least one foreign language. But the white schools offered more… In virtually every pairing that we looked at, access to art, music, dance, and drama significantly varied between majority white schools and those serving students of color.”
Please take a look at this report, for it exposes what remains separate and unequal in American public education, 64 years after Brown v. Board of Education.