Although racial segregation in public schools has been illegal for 67 years, racial integration of schools continues to be a barrier to equal education. In general, little progress in math and reading achievement has been made in the past decade, and students from low-income families have seen even less progress (Dorn). Less than one in three white students attend a school with a very high poverty rate, compared to more than seven out of ten Black students. Black children are far more likely than white children to attend high-poverty schools. Data shows that only one in eight white students go to a school where they are not the majority. On the other hand, seven in ten Black students attend a school where they are the minority. (García). On a local level, the issue of school segregation is as present as ever. Communities around the Bay Area struggle to integrate their schools, as well as provide the necessary means for a basic level of education. Oakland has “118 public schools, but 65 schools (55%) served over 80% low-income students in the 2019-2020 school year. Moreover, these high-poverty schools served 61% of all Black and Latino students in the district, but only 8% of all White families” (Gormely). Segregation in schools should never have been an issue in America. Sadly, segregation – whether intentional or unintentional still exists.
Within the first weeks of attending Head Royce for middle school, I noticed I was learning at a much higher level than I did while attending public school. One question that I thought about a lot was: If I am learning more at a private school than I would have learned at a good public school, were kids who lived in different areas who attended lower-performing public schools learning enough? Were they learning as much as I was? Since I grew up with siblings, I have always been interested in fairness so this thought of kids having unfair learning disadvantages stuck with me.
My eighth-grade class helped teach students at an Oakland elementary school every other month where students of color were the vast majority. It was surprising that a school less than 15 miles away from mine had so many fewer resources. Not only was their playground shared with two other schools, but also, on multiple occasions, stories were told of the class being interrupted due to an emergency lockdown because of nearby danger. I know experiences like the lockdowns took focus away from their learning, and I felt bad because I could see how much joy learning brought them. Those thoughts have stayed with me ever since, truly inspiring me to choose my topic. Through this project, I wanted to discover the truth about how some schools have become racially homogeneous. I wanted to find out more about the impacts segregated schools have had on education, and what their lasting effects might be.
A teacher is trying to teacher her students during the pandemic but due to lack of resources not all can attend in person. A few students online do not have reliable and consistent internet at home making learning challenging
HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM
In 1619, slavery was born in America, and so began the racial gap in education. More than 200 years after the first white public school was founded, in 1837, the Institute for Colored Youth was founded, marking the first major step toward education of Black students (ED). Black children saw education as a path towards freedom and equality (Houston).
In 1896, when white supremacy and Black inferiority were constitutionally upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow laws became the norm in all areas of public life (Orfield). However, the “separate but equal” doctrine was not equal. “Black schools were underfunded, lacked adequate facilities and equipment, had low-paid teachers, and sometimes had no textbooks.” (McNeese). During the 1920s, a study done by the NAACP displayed that, “Georgia School spending per student was an average of $4.59 for Black students, but $36.29 [on average] per white student” (Startz). The almost $30 difference between students was a demonstration that the schools were separate, but definitely not at all equal.
On May 17, 1954, The case of Brown v. The Board of Education outlawed “separate but equal”, causing a seismic shift in the American education system (Duignan). Unfortunately, the ruling of Brown v. The Board of Education was not an immediate order and never specified a specific timeline, so school districts employed violent tactics and avoidance to halt integrating their schools until the court created an immediate order (Hasday). On November 14, 1960 – three years after the first group of successful Black High school students integrated their school, six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African American to integrate an elementary school in the South. Regardless of daily protests and the need for federal marshals to keep her safe daily, she never missed a day of school . Ruby Bridges became a symbol of perseverance and the importance of receiving an equal education (Michals). In spite of the ruling of Brown V The Board of Education, 67 years later, de facto segregation continues to be a barrier for Black Americans’ right for equal access to quality educational opportunities.
The U.S. has the opportunity to make a crucial impact with the signing of the recent American Rescue Plan, which provides nearly $123 billion for K-12 schools, allotting more federal emergency aid for education than ever before (Magee). The bulk of this $123 billion should be prioritized for under-resourced schools. For example, the money could be used to identify and attract high performing teachers to underperforming schools by paying them competitive wages for their regions. The government could also allocate its resources towards proven successful organizations whose mission is to combat the systemic issues leading to continued disparities in education (Chiefs for Change).
The Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP, which provides free open-enrollment to college preparatory schools in lower income communities throughout the entire United States has been very successful in their educational work (KIPP). As of 2014: “93% of KIPP students who completed eighth grade at a KIPP school have graduated from high school, and 82% have gone on to college. And, KIPP students’ college completion rate of 44% is more than four times the college completion rate for low-income students nationwide” (Porterfield). However, KIPP serves only 110,000 students. With more time and resources aimed towards the organization, more students could receive a great education. Closing the achievement gap for all requires a massive investment in education. Organizations with persistence and motivation like KIPP are key to combating school segregation, one reason why the government should be their biggest supporter.
A KIPP Classroom activity in progress
On a smaller scale, it will be important for individual citizens to hold state, local, and nationally elected officials, as well as education leaders, accountable. This accountability could be in the form of a scorecard: Every elected official at all levels of government is graded on their support for education reform and initiatives to close the achievement gap. The scorecard would be public and keep people accountable for their work, or lack thereof. Additionally, part of the problem is that children are not old enough to vote, so voters need to hold elected officials accountable for the children’s benefit. Voting for an education board member who values children’s opinions and equality, and who will also consider the lottery system or improved public transportation, would also help speed the process of integrating schools. Even though creating new ways to attract better teachers and education leaders is important, the schools that perform poorly need to be fixed and turned into better schools, giving everyone a fair chance. Without focus on all local public schools, children who attend lower performing schools are caught in a perpetual cycle of underperformance (Adely). Perseverance as well as patience is needed to fully integrate schools.
Teachers and students taking action and demanding better pay and funding for Oakland public schools.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Along with Macro and Micro solutions the possibilities for individuals to help eliminate school disparities are endless. I will personally strive towards solving this pressing issue of unjust access to education, and I hope you will too. Meeting with your school administrators and asking if you can connect with kids who could benefit from free tutoring is a great way to start. In addition, writing articles or blogs in hopes of reaching a wide variety of people and sharing the issue on social media are great ways to get even more people involved in this systemic issue. I believe that one’s education can go further if students educate others along with themselves. Change is achieved from the top down and the bottom up. A national strategy is important but people also need to be willing to work together at a local level until access to education is truly equal. Change will take time, but integration of schools will result in beneficial outcomes that will be worth every ounce of effort.
COMMENTS OR FEEDBACK
Feel free to leave comments about questions you had throughout my page. Question specifically about ways my solutions could improve, or solution ideas of your own are highly encouraged. I would love to hear your thoughts.