February is Black History Month. In the education world, it brings with it an opportunity to remember and celebrate a triumph of African-American activism: the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. This landmark Supreme Court decision, which ruled it unconstitutional to legally separate white children from black children in American schools, was a pivotal moment of the Civil Rights era. And it took years of hard work by parents, children, educators, and activists to get the case to the Supreme Court.
In 2012, Black History Month represents a chance for today’s parents, students, and all the people who care about education to remember that victory, recommit themselves to continuing the struggle for equity, and to recognize that we still have a long way to go. Our schools are no longer legally segregated, as they were in the early 1950s, but the educational experience of kids of color and low-income kids in this country is still far from equal to that of their white and wealthier peers.
Take school funding, for example. Current federal law does not require states and districts to report financing data publicly. However, those schools and districts that serve the poorest children are often also those with the least resources. Case in point: A recent report by The Education Trust-West reveals that California’s highest poverty districts (in many instances the districts where most African-American and Latino children go to school) receive $600+ less per student from state and local sources than the state’s wealthiest districts.
Or take college-going opportunities. In many schools, students of color are still exposed to the low expectations of the adults around them and pushed towards “career” tracks that do not prepare them to aspire and succeed in college. And although many colleges do right by their African-American and Hispanic students, others don’t, showing huge gaps between the graduation rates of whites vs. those of blacks and Latinos.
More than five decades after Brown v. Board of Education, many of our low-income children and children of color still receive a second-rate education. Every child in America deserves a solid, high-quality educational experience. We have a lot of work left to do.
Rima Brusi is the author of Ed Trust’s bilingual blog, “Cerrando Brechas/Closing Gaps.”