On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that segregating schools based on race violates the US Constitution. Now, more than 60 years later, Jim Crow laws have been repealed, but has the United States lived up to the Supreme Court’s call for integration?
Unfortunately, by many measures, school segregation is on the rise in the United States. More than half of students are in districts considered “racially concentrated,” which is defined as a district that either has more than 75% white students or non-white students. School segregation is no longer enforced by the explicit prohibition of students of color and white students from attending the same schools, but it is caused by intentional government policies, including discriminatory housing policies, school district mapping, and school funding allocations.
School segregation is a problem. According to The Atlantic article Why Are American Schools Still Segregated?:
. . . today as in the Brown era, separate schools are unequal. "Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes," wrote the authors of a 2012 report by the University of California–Los Angeles's Civil Rights Project. "These include less experienced and less qualified teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, less successful peer groups and inadequate facilities and learning materials."
To make it concrete, racially concentrated non-white school districts receive, on average, $2,226 less in funding per student per year than predominantly white school districts, which represents a $23 billion funding gap per year throughout the United States.
Yet closing the funding gap is not enough. We will truly achieve integration when all resources in the educational system are distributed equitably and when school policies, curriculum, and pedagogy are designed with the most vulnerable students in mind. True integration benefits all students, from every racial and economic background.
This Teaching Idea provides two core activities, which give students an overview of school segregation in the United States today and open a discussion about possible responses to school segregation, as well as four extension activities, each of which explores a more specific topic relating to school segregation. Use the activities most relevant to your students or school.