To mark the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel reflected on the impact of the decision and the challenges that public schools still face. The following commentary was published by the Huffington Post:
In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a timeless and transformative message: All students deserve a great public education; separate systems are not equal.
In marking the 60th anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court ruling, it is important to reflect upon the ongoing effect of Brown v. Board of Education on the work of America’s school boards and our nation’s public schools. Enshrining this decision as a historic relic does not serve the nine out of 10 school-age children who attend our nation’s public schools. To protect students’ rights, freedoms and ready access to a high-quality education, we must actively heed the central tenets of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is particularly concerned about the unintended consequences of privatization through vouchers, charter schools not governed by local school boards, and other means that research indicates are leading to the re-segregation of public schools, mainly in high-poverty urban areas.
In its most recent issue, NSBA’s flagship magazine, American School Board Journal, reports that the number of schools with a minority enrollment above 90 percent has climbed precipitously. Similarly, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California-Los Angeles also has reported that African-American and Hispanic students are increasingly segregated at the schools they attend.
Ironically, this comes at a time when America’s public schools are becoming much more diverse. The percentage of students who are white dropped from 61 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2010, and today stands at about 50 percent. Schools in the south and west now have a majority of minority students, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. And with more than half of babies born today falling into a minority classification, demographics will continue to diversify. At the same time, poverty and other risk factors also have increased.
Our lawmakers must continue to look at the entire public education system to ensure that we invest in our public schools and give them the support that is needed, rather than diverting scarce taxpayer dollars to voucher schemes and charter schools that lack local school district oversight. Today more than ever, it is essential that we continue to focus on ensuring that every child has access to an excellent and equitable education.
Data show public schools are educating today’s diverse student population to higher levels than ever before. We should be proud that our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high — about 80 percent of students graduate on time, and when late graduates are included, the graduation rate rises to more than 85 percent. The graduation rate of Hispanics, the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and 2012. And African-American students made significant gains during this period, improving their graduation rate from 59 percent to 68 percent.
Brown v. Board of Education honors a truth core to our nation’s democracy: to provide a strong education to each and every child who enters our nation’s public school system. We must stay focused on investing equitably in our public schools and students, ensuring that they have the resources and support they need, and we must not be diverted by programs that have the effect of re-segregating America’s public education system. We must honor Brown v. Board of Education‘s intention for every child to achieve, and we must insist that every child in America has access to a great public school where they live. No exceptions; no excuses.