May 17th Marks the Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision

17 May May 17th Marks the Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision

 “… There are literally two Americas. One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality. That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture, and education for their minds … In this other America, thousands, yea, even millions, of young people are forced to attend inadequate, substandard, inferior, quality-less schools, and year after year thousands of young people in this other America finish our high schools reading at an eighth and a ninth-grade level sometimes. Not because they are dumb, not because they don’t have innate intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so overcrowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated, if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out.”

 —Dr. Martin Luther King, The Other America Speech (March 10, 1968)

Topeka, Kansas: Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The exterior eastern facade of the main entrance.

Sadly, Dr. King’s quote still rings true today. Parents and education advocates have fought to guarantee children of color access to quality education for decades. Brown v. Board of Education was the landmark case in the United States Supreme Court that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The case was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and helped to pave the way for greater equality and justice for all Americans.

History of Brown v. Board of Education 

The landmark case, Mendez v. Westminster, was settled in 1947, successfully desegregating public schools in California. The case was the first ruling in the U.S. to implement desegregation, becoming an example for future cases like Brown v. Board of Education. Brown v. Board began in 1951 when a group of African American parents in Topeka, Kansas, filed a lawsuit against the local school board. The parents argued that the segregation of public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law. 

The case was eventually heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1954. In a unanimous decision, the Court declared that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional and violated the Fourteenth Amendment on May 17, 1954. The Court’s decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had allowed for segregation in public facilities as long as they were considered equal. The decision forced schools to desegregate and allowed African American students to attend previously all-white schools. 

Impact of Brown v. Board of Education 

The decision helped to improve the quality of education for African American students and provided them with greater opportunities for success. But despite the progress that has been made since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students have access to equal opportunities and educational justice. The decision remains relevant today as we continue to grapple with issues of racism, inequality, and injustice. 

While the Brown v. Board of Education decision helped to desegregate schools, many schools today remain segregated by race and socioeconomic status. This has led to persistent achievement gaps and unequal opportunities for students of color.  Despite efforts to close the gap, black students continue to lag behind their white peers in academic achievement. 

What is the Black Student Achievement Gap? 

The black student achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between black students and their white peers. This gap is evident in standardized test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, black students consistently score lower than white students in reading and math The gap has remained relatively unchanged over the past decade.

Causes of the Black Student Achievement Gap 

There are many factors that contribute to the black student achievement gap. Some of the key factors include: 

1. Poverty: Black students are more likely to live in poverty than white students. Poverty can significantly impact academic achievement, as students living in poverty may lack access to resources such as books, technology, and quality teachers. 

2. Discrimination: Black students may face discrimination and bias in the classroom, which can impact their academic performance. Teachers may have lower expectations for black students, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy where students perform poorly because they are not expected to do well. 

3. Cultural differences: Black students may come from different cultural backgrounds that are not always reflected in the curriculum or teaching methods. This can lead to a disconnect between the student and the material, making it more difficult for them to learn. 

4. Lack of access to quality education: Black students are likelier to attend underfunded schools with fewer resources and less experienced teachers. This can lead to a lower quality of education and fewer opportunities for academic success.

Impact of the Black Student Achievement Gap 

The black student achievement gap significantly affects society as a whole. Students who fall behind academically are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and secure well-paying jobs. This can lead to a cycle of poverty and limited opportunities for future generations. The achievement gap also has broader societal implications. A lack of diversity in higher education and the workforce can limit innovation and creativity, leading to a less competitive and less prosperous society. Additionally, the achievement gap perpetuates racial inequality and reinforces stereotypes and biases. 

Solutions to Address the Black Student Achievement Gap 

Closing the black student achievement gap requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the issue’s root causes. Some potential solutions include: 

1. Investing in early childhood education: Research has shown that early childhood education can significantly impact academic achievement. Investing in high-quality early childhood education programs can help to level the playing field for black students and provide them with a strong foundation for future academic success. 

2. Providing more resources to underfunded schools: Schools that serve predominantly black and low-income students often lack the resources necessary to provide quality education. Providing more funding and resources to these schools can help address the achievement gap and give students the tools they need to succeed. 

3. Addressing bias and discrimination in the classroom: Teachers and administrators must be trained to recognize and address bias and discrimination in the classroom. This can include providing professional development on cultural competency and implicit bias. 

4. Increasing diversity in the teaching workforce: Black students are more likely to succeed when they have teachers who look like them and understand their experiences. Increasing the teaching workforce’s diversity can help address the achievement gap and provide students with positive role models.

While the Brown v. Board of Education decision helped to challenge the notion of “separate but equal,” there are still many areas where inequality persists. In coalition with InnerCity Struggle (ICS) and the Advancement Project CA (APCA), Community Coalition students, parents, and residents led the Equity is Justice Campaign that resulted in the creation of the Student Equity Need Index (SENI) in 2014. The SENI created a data-driven, community-led, and community-centered formula that identifies schools by need, prioritizes high-need schools in the district, and allocates LCFF dollars equitably. In 2020, SENI included a comprehensive set of indicators and $700 million in funding, which was allocated to schools benefiting the high- and highest-need schools in LAUSD—uplifting areas like South LA, the Eastside, and the East San Fernando Valley. As a result, South LA schools have received millions in additional dollars, significantly benefitting the district’s Black and highest-need Latinx students. In 2021, the school board adopted COVID indicators which hit these three communities the hardest. 

Fighting for the School Climate Bill of Rights Resolution-On May 9, 2023, Community Coalition’s youth members shared their personal stories, identified how systems of punishment disproportionately impact Black and Brown youth, and demanded the district develop a culture of discipline based on positive behavior interventions and away from punitive approaches. Here are the links to watch Ana, Ezekiel, and Divine’s comments. 

Additionally, for the last two years, Community Coalition has worked with community partners, students, and parents to transform Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) approach to addressing the learning gap and low literacy and math proficiency for Black students. We helped create and continue to support the implementation of the Black Student Achievement Plan (BSAP), which provides a concentration of resources and supports that foster high academic performance, build solid social-emotional awareness and management, and create a positive cultural identity.  With the current annual investments of close to $120M, the majority of BSAP funds have been allocated to schools with the highest concentrations of Black students, like those in South LA:

  • $14,546,402–Curriculum & Instruction
  • $15,655,015–Community Partnerships
  • $941,514– African American Studies Course
  • $49,092,555– School Climate & Wellness Personnel
    • Academic Counselors, Pupil Services & Attendance Counselors, Psychiatric Social Workers, Counselors, School Climate Advocates, Restorative Justice Teachers
  • $23,980,000–Community-Based Safety Pilot Programs
  • $20,000,000– Innovation Funds
  • BSU Grants, HBCU College tours, Spotify Math Literacy Partnership, In/externships, Parent & Family Engagement
  • Source: Supplement to the Annual Update to the 2021–22 Local Control and Accountability Plan

Undoubtedly, the Brown v. Board of Education decision had a seismic impact on the education landscape and was a qualitative leap forward for students of color. However, we must remain committed to this fight to ensure that those students do not continue to experience separate and unequal educational environments. 

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