Keeping the Promises of Brown Vs. Board of Education Amidst New Age of Inequality & Separation

cover3HOUSTON-It was wise King Solomon who said “There is nothing new under the sun”. That is true when it comes to a review of schools 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education.

History reveals the struggle after the decision. Even during the time directly following the court decision, all states and localities did not follow the precedent set by the ruling. This played out in national news across the country and was clearly seen at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas when a group of black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, was blocked by the National Guard from entering the school, under orders from then Governor Orval Faubus.

History does repeats itself and a look at schools today demonstrate that despite legislation and legal protection, schools are even more separated and segregated than ever before. Inequality is rampant and schools are being targeted and closed in major cities including Houston, Topeka, Kansas, Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Newark, N.J., St. Louis and Washington, D.C. to name a few.

According to a New York Times 2012 report, though progress has been made, schools continue to grow more segregated. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are among the top 10 largest U.S. cities with the highest percentage of students attending segregated schools.

Some 60 years later, schools are still very much unequal and very clearly separated.

THE PROBLEM

“In 60 years since the ruling we have made great strides, but we have also failed many Black, Latino and poor students that are attending failing schools with inadequate supplies and unprepared teachers,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network. “… We have simply not lived up to the spirit of Brown V. Board…”

Sone of  the information supporting that disparity is revealed in information from the Center for American Progress that shows students of color and low income are more likely to be taught by inexperienced or unqualified teachers, High poverty schools have 27-percent of classes taught by out-of-field teachers compared to 14-percent in low poverty schools, according to the report.

Sharpton said that quality education in the greatest country on earth should never be a  lottery.

“We must eradicate inequality in our schools,” he said. “We owe it to our leaders who fought tirelessly for an end to “separate by equal”. We owe it to great educators who serve our children in many school across this country and we owe it to the youth of AMerica and to future generations that will come after us.”

The Value of Education

State Sen. Rodney Ellis  said the anniversary of he landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision should cause all to be reminded of the value of education.

“I experienced that progress firsthand. Growing up in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, it was education that allowed me the opportunity to eventually serve my community in public office,” he said. “Countless other children have benefited as well, as school doors that were once closed to children of color were opened up, allowing generations access to education that was previously reserved for others.”

According to Ellis, even with the progress that has been made since 1954, there is no question that the fight continues. He noted that with Texas’ public school finance system recently declared unconstitutional due to inadequate and inequitable funding, the dividing line of today often seems to be income as opposed to race – although the two are still sadly intertwined.

“For too long, Texas has operated as a government by lawsuit: the biggest, most difficult issues facing our state are only addressed when mandated by a court,” he said.

“As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown, let’s rally around public education and urge our leaders to get it right: a sustainable, equitable, and adequate funding system that treats all Texas children and taxpayers fairly. We owe our children nothing less.”

Ellis added that money does matter, after all. Effective teachers, small class sizes, and intensive interventions for struggling students all cost money and deliver results. He said properly funding public education is not an extravagance – it is an obligation we must meet to ensure the future success of our state.

“Let us heed the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who so ably argued the case against segregation, none of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody…bent down and helped us pick up our boots,” Ellis said.

The Challenges Ahead

The Brown vs. Board of Education decision was a major step toward education equality in the United States, and launched a Civil Rights movement that was a turning point for our country, according to California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

“I am reminded of heroes like Justice Thurgood Marshall, James Meredith, the Little Rock Nine, the lawyers who fought in the courtroom, and the many civil rights activists who risked their lives to fight for equality. But while the decision changed the law of the land, it didn’t immediately change the reality of education inequality in America.,” said respected Congresswoman Waters said. “Sixty years later, we are still fighting for access to affordable early childhood education and higher education and for the reduction of dropout rates. Additionally, the school-to-prison pipeline is not merely a theory, but is a reality for many of our students across the country and is hindering them from access to educational opportunities.”

Waters said the focus must be on adequately preparing students for entering the workforce and helping students compete in a global economy with individuals from around the world.

On the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, State Sen and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis paid tribute to the anniversary with a challenge to make education fair and equitable for every child starting at very early ages.

“Over half a century later, on this anniversary, it is our responsibility to honor that promise by continuing to build on it and create opportunity for all – regardless of race, income or gender,” Davis said.

According to Davis, the majority of the students in Texas’s public schools today are minorities, with 51% Hispanic and nearly 13% African American, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“Existing disparities in income and housing often present less advantaged students with additional obstacles to success,” she said. “Experts, including former Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock, predict dramatic negative implications for the Texas economy in future years if we don’t remove those obstacles.”

Dr. Murdock points to state investment in education – particularly early childhood education – as the key to Texas’s future economic success. Even more specifically, one of the most effective investments Texas can ever make would be to institute full-day Pre-K for our children.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) recently reported that Pre-K education boosts math and science scores and leads to higher earnings and less spending on prisons and health care. And Murdock concludes that if children from just a few months old up to age five get even just one year of full-day. Right now, nearly 7 in 10 of Texas’s low-income students are enrolled in Pre-K, and our state funds only three hours of Pre-K a day. However, every dollar we invest in high-quality, full-day Pre-K can return up to $16. Furthermore, for African-American and Hispanic students, Pre-K is shown to be especially promising for closing the achievement gap.

Davis wants to ensure that every Texas child has a shot at a 21st century education. “My Great Schools”: Great Texas program ensures full-day Pre-K education for all children, creates a path to college for more students, recruits the next generation of excellent teachers, and reduces the negative impacts of standardized testing in the classroom.

“Make no mistake: If we don’t choose to close the achievement gap and alleviate disparity now, we won’t only dishonor the promise and potential of our kids, but we’ll also dishonor the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education and of our Texas founding fathers – that education is the great equalizer; that no matter your income or race or gender, if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams,” she said.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa rounded out statement about the plight of Texas students some 60 years since the decision: “The landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to put an end to separate and unequal public schools, but justice is rarely granted on any one given day. Today, Texas students are still being denied the equal resources they need and deserve,” Hinojosa said. “We honor the legacy of those that fought for justice and keep our promise to all Texans by fighting every day so that our children are first and we all invest in a fair and equal education system. No matter the color of your skin, gender, whom you love, or where you come from, every Texan deserves a fair shot at their dream, that’s the Texas promise.”

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