Resegregation now

May 17 will be the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down “separate but equal” public education, notes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.  Another milestone will be reached in June: The end of the last school year in which a majority of K-12 public school students are white.

 That demographic transformation is both reinvigorating and reframing Brown’s fundamental goal of ensuring educational opportunity for all Americans. . . . the ruling provided irresistible moral authority to the drive for legal equality that culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts a decade later.

Yet many complain the decision didn’t really end school segregation, writes Brownstein. Inequality remains a problem.

Segregation Now looks at the resegregation of Tuscaloosa, Alabama schools after a court order was lifted.

The citywide integrated high school is gone, replaced by three smaller schools. Central retains the name of the old powerhouse, but nothing more. A struggling school serving the city’s poorest part of town, it is 99 percent black. . . .  Predominantly white neighborhoods adjacent to Central have been gerrymandered into the attendance zones of other, whiter schools.

No all-white schools exist anymore—the city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students.  . . . (But)  nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

When all the city’s public students attended Central, the school racked up academic and athletic honors, writes Nikole Hannah-Jones for ProPublica. The dropout rate was less than half the state’s average.

The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes. . . . the white flight that had begun when the courts first ordered the district to desegregate continued, slowly, after the formation of the mega-school. But despite these challenges, large numbers of black students studied the same robust curriculum as white students, and students of both races mixed peacefully and thrived.

Many whites moved to county schools which are predominantly white or to private schools: only 22 percent of Tuscaloosa’s public students are white. Surveys showed whites would leave if a school’s black enrollment hit 70 percent. So school officials — with some black support — concentrated a third of black students in all-black schools in hopes of keeping other schools integrated.

Hannah-Jones makes the case that Central offers less to its top students than the city’s integrated high schools. She focuses on an honor student — also a star athlete and student body president — whose low ACT scores put any selective college out of reach.

D’Leisha’s grandfather went through segregated schools, served in the Air Force, then worked a blue-collar job. Her mother went to Central High at the peak of integration, went to college, dropped out to have a baby but returned to earn a degree from the University of Alabama. She worked as a teacher’s aide, but now earns more on an auto factory assembly line. She’s supporting four children as a single parent.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Black writers have occasionally complained about the implication that black kids can’t learn unless they’re sitting next to a white kid.
    One of the original issues was that forcing integration meant that the school districts couldn’t screw the black schools in terms of resources.
    Less explicit was the presumption that white parents were more engaged, more interested in making the schools work for their kids. Or perhaps that schools listened to white parents.
    Thus, spreading white kids–with their parents–around the district(s) meant more effective parental input in each school.
    Only the differential resource issue is without racial stereotyping. And now we have resource equality,except for many of the schools in the far ‘burbs and rural areas which get less.
    So what’s the complaint?

  2. momof4 says:

    In the linked article, the middle-generation family member who attended the desegregated HS (described as outstanding in both academics and extracurriculars), graduated from college and is working on an auto assembly line is also the never-married mother of 4, the first of whom caused her to drop out of college. The latter is likely to have limited her options. Her daughter will graduate this year, with honors, from the same HS, which is described as “re-segregated” (99% black) and lacking in honors and AP classes. However, her highest ACT score, of 4, is 16 (21st pctile) – indicates her unreadiness for AP-level work. Left unmentioned in the “re-sgregation”, after mandatory-integration decrees were lifted, discussion is the explosion of family breakdown and the associated community dysfunctionv between the Brown decision and the lifting of the decrees – and which undoubtedly contributes to flight of both whites and middle/upper-middle class blacks (the “whtie” school does have significant black presence).

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ray. I get the idea by looking at the per-pupil expenditures of various systems. DC, Camden, Detroit, LA, all spend huge amounts, much more than many in the ‘burbs. I’ll tell you something you know so you’ll know everybody knows it and you’ll get another schtick. In every debate like this, somebody finds a suburban system spending more than the core city. Usually it’s not very big and it does spend a lot. And then they/you pretend every system in three counties spends that much.
    Which, of course, they/you know is false.
    Anyway, now you know everybody knows.
    I was referring to public schools.
    Preteding we’re talking about something else is lame.