Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

60 years after Brown, integration is falling apart

By Donna Brazile
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Sat May 17, 2014
Linda Brown, 9, walks past Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas, in 1953. Her enrollment in the all-white school was blocked, leading her family to bring a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with the Brown complaint and presented to the U.S. Supreme Court as <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/04/us/brown-v-board-of-education/index.html'>Brown v. Board of Education</a>. The court's landmark ruling on the case on May 17, 1954, led to the desegregation of the U.S. education system. Linda Brown, 9, walks past Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas, in 1953. Her enrollment in the all-white school was blocked, leading her family to bring a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with the Brown complaint and presented to the U.S. Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education. The court's landmark ruling on the case on May 17, 1954, led to the desegregation of the U.S. education system.
HIDE CAPTION
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
Desegregating U.S. schools
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Students of color increasingly attend schools that don't reflect nation's diversity
  • Public schools in many cities outperform those supported by vouchers, she says
  • School privatization, she says, results in more segregation, not improved education

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- On Saturday, we will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed school segregation. Across the country, people are reflecting on the current state of educational opportunities for children of color.

In Milwaukee, parents, educators, students and community members are coming together to support educational opportunities for young people, and to challenge the increasing segregation and lack of resources facing young people of color today. I will join them in that celebration.

But Milwaukee is among the most racially and economically segregated major metropolitan regions in the country. It registers the largest discrepancy in employment rates between African-Americans and whites. Wisconsin has the widest gap in test scores between black and white students.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

The problems in Milwaukee and Wisconsin are not unique. In cities across the country, students of color increasingly attend schools that do not reflect the diversity of our national community. The biggest metro areas in the Northeast and Midwest have been epicenters of re-segregation. In the 1990s and 2000s, school districts across the South, after being released from Brown-era, court-enforced integration, began gerrymandering school attendance zones, effectively separating black and white students.

Today, black students in the South attend majority-black schools at levels not observed for 40 years. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for example, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks like Brown never even happened.

The result is that the achievement gap, which steadily decreased during integration, is widening as re-segregation occurs.

Integrated schools help students achieve academic success in the present and personal success in the future. Students of color who attended integrated schools in the decades immediately following Brown were more likely to graduate high school, go to college, earn higher wages, live healthier lifestyles and not have a criminal record than their peers in segregated schools. (Diverse schools can also decrease prejudice and teach all students how to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.)

First Lady: Some schools 'aren't equal'
Arguably the most critical school desegregation battle in American history took place in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, when nine African-American students -- known ever after as the Little Rock Nine -- integrated Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School. On September 4, 1957 -- the first day of school -- a crush of reporters and photographers chronicled the scene as Arkansas National Guardsmen blocked 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, the first of the nine to arrive, from entering school grounds. See more of LIFE's coverage of the Little Rock Nine. Arguably the most critical school desegregation battle in American history took place in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, when nine African-American students -- known ever after as the Little Rock Nine -- integrated Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School. On September 4, 1957 -- the first day of school -- a crush of reporters and photographers chronicled the scene as Arkansas National Guardsmen blocked 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, the first of the nine to arrive, from entering school grounds. See more of LIFE's coverage of the Little Rock Nine.
LIFE looks back at the Little Rock Nine
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
Photos: LIFE looks back at the Little Rock Nine Photos: LIFE looks back at the Little Rock Nine
'GPS': Are U.S. students falling behind?
'GPS': How to improve U.S. schools
Analyzing affirmative-action ruling

Unfortunately, many localities are embracing vouchers and charter schools as silver bullets for addressing persistent achievement gaps. Milwaukee has the largest and oldest voucher school program in the country, which funnels public dollars to private, often sectarian, schools. In 2011, Indiana created the nation's first statewide voucher program, and Louisiana followed suit in 2012. Charter schools have increased dramatically in the past decade; from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2010-2011 one, public charter school enrollment increased from 300,000 to 1.8 million.

Vouchers and charter schools just don't live up to the hype. In New Orleans, students using vouchers to attend private schools have not advanced to grade-level work any faster during the first two years of the program than public school students. A recent study found students in voucher schools are performing worse on academic benchmarks than students in Milwaukee Public Schools. And a national study comparing charter and normal public schools of similar demographics found that 29% of charter schools reported academic improvements significantly higher than public schools. Forty percent of charter schools reported no difference in academic performance, and 31% reported a performance worse than their public school counterparts.

Sixty years later, "separate and unequal" is still alive.

To fix the problem, we must recognize the problem. First, privatizing our school systems results in increased segregation, not improved opportunities. Whether in New Orleans or Philadelphia or Detroit or New York, legislative schemes perpetuate separate and unequal by privatizing large swaths of public school districts -- and in some cases, entire districts.

Second, education doesn't take place in a vacuum. Students and their families need access to health care, decent wages and affordable housing in integrated neighborhoods. Thus, Brown's legacy includes economic improvements for children and families.

Third, neither high-quality public schools nor economic improvements can occur when voters are disenfranchised. Only the right to vote protects access to education and movement toward economic improvement. Yet 34 states -- most under Republican control -- have passed laws to make it harder for minorities, the elderly, and young people to vote, including so-called voter ID laws and regulations that limit early voting.

The economic and racial inequities that existed 60 years ago persist in our communities today. They must be addressed. In the spirit of Brown, students, parents and educators are demanding solutions that go beyond the dysfunctional "education reforms" and address a wide range of community concerns, from stopping school privatization to providing universal early childhood education to raising the minimum wage.

School integration did not come to be the day after the Brown ruling was issued. Progress took years, and it took passion, strength and courage from a large group of committed individuals.

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, it's time for us to take a hard look at the separate and unequal conditions that still exist in our schools and our communities, and rededicate ourselves to fulfilling the promise of equal opportunity for all.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT