July 6, 2007


Education still failing minority children 53 years after Brown V the Board of Education

Last week in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, desegregation was struck down. The case revolved around voluntary desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville with the court majority stating that race can’t be used to achieve diversity in K-12 education. In reality, for Hispanic students and ethnic minorities, this ruling will have little if any impact in today’s world.

Prior to 1954, the segregation of schools was the norm; whites went to schools with whites and blacks and other minorities went to separate schools. Ostensibly, ethnic minority students received an inferior education. All this was supposed to change in 1954 when the Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling stated that segregation was inherently unequal. Despite this ruling, it would take another 20 years with the Nixon Administration, for desegregation to be fully implemented. What this ruling did do, however, was open the doors for the Civil Rights Movement.

In 2007, desegregation of schools has become a moot point in the sense that there are no separate schools for the races. Today, segregation takes place on many different fronts, most notably in economic terms. The hope of the Brown vs. Board decision was to create an equal opportunity for education, and after 53 years, this hope has been dashed as ethnic minorities are at unequal terms, with Hispanics at the bottom of the educational rung. In a 2004 report by the Educational Policy Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center, it was found that for every 1,000 eighth grade students who are of Hispanic origin, 142 earn a bachelor’s degree within 8 years of scheduled high school graduation. By comparison, 318 white students—more than double the number of Latino students—achieve the same outcome.

Across the nation, school districts have reviewed the recent court ruling and have determined that it will have little impact on their districts. Where the impact of this ruling lies is in the perception that ethnic minorities are at equal status/opportunity in education.

You couple this most recently ruling with the elimination of Affirmative Action at the college level and it wrongly sends the message that ethnic minorities are at equal levels in regards to education. Yet, when we take a look around at our low income neighborhoods, which are predominately ethnic, it is obvious that we are far from equal. The perception of equality puts the onus on the ethnic communities to “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

Ethnic communities are perceived as being too lax on educational goals, setting low expectations, not meeting the standards. We are led to believe by these changes in Affirmative Action and desegregation policies that a historically bankrupt educational system now has the tools to fix the problems, but it is incumbent on the minority communities to come up with the solutions! This would be great if we controlled policy and had adequate funding to solve the issues, but we do not.

Instead, we are asked to work within the confines of policies that leave us little room to break the chains of educational apartheid. The “No Child Left Behind” policy is a perfect example of these limitations. Districts, schools and teachers are expected to achieve certain standards, and if those standards are not reached, those educators are punished with the withdrawal of funds and constrained in the programs they are allowed to teach. California schools are impacted by ESL (English as a Second Language) student, yet, they are forced to take their standards test in English which invariably brings down the average score for those schools with a large number of ESL students. These districts either have to deal with the problem and be labeled a failure, drop out of the Federal program and lose funding, or they can try to sue the government to change this policy.

The issue of educating minority students is a complex problem that has been addressed at many different levels and through many different programs, San Diego City Schools “Blueprint for Success” headed by Alan Bersin is the most recent example of such an attempt and which did not live up to the hope that it represented.

The bottom line on the education of ethnic minorities is that it is not the sole province of these communities but is a societal wide issue that needs to be addressed from the top down and needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians who decide policy based poll numbers. In California with the Hispanic community on the verge of becoming the largest community in the State the education of this community will determine the future of the State. Without an educated community the State will suffer.

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