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School segregation on the rise 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education

65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

School segregation is on the rise 65 years after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, according to the co-author of a new report. At the time of the ruling in1954, schools were legally segregated under the "separate but equal" doctrine, and the court ordered schools to start integrating.

Gary Orfield, a professor at UCLA and the co-founder of The Civil Rights Project, joined CBSN's Kenneth Craig to explain how Supreme Court decisions made in the 1990s caused schools to start becoming resegregated. Orfield co-authored a report on the issue for The Civil Rights Project, which is noted for being the nation's leading research center on issues of civil rights and racial inequality.

"In 1991, the Supreme Court, in a case from Oklahoma City, said that desegregation was a temporary punishment, not a long-term requirement," he said. "And a lot of school districts returned to segregated neighborhood schools and put pressure on court judges to end desegregation. Ever since that time, segregation has been increasing."

White students are becoming a minority in the public school system, but they are also seeing increasingly fewer students of color in their classrooms, according to the report.

The report found that the average white student attends schools that are 69 percent white. The average Hispanic student attends schools that are 55 percent Hispanic or that have a 66 percent mix of black and Hispanic. And similarly, the average black student attends schools that are 47 percent black or that have a 67 percent mix of black and Hispanic. Asian American students, on average, attend schools that are 24 percent Asian American.

In Brown v. Board, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were "inherently unequal" and students being forced to attend these schools were being denied equal rights under the 14th Amendment. A year later, the Supreme Court clarified that schools must be desegregated with "all deliberate speed." 

But now, Orfield said schools with majority brown students often lack resources and opportunities provided at predominantly white schools.

"African Americans and Latinos are in schools that are overwhelmingly poor," he said. "On the other hand, whites and Asians are at schools that are middle class."

More integrated schools would help combat racial inequity, giving all students an equal opportunity to achieve academic, career and overall life success.   

Elementary school education "makes a difference in how well you do," Orfield said. "Not only how well you do in college but when you finish, what type of job you get, what kind of income you have, and what your health conditions are as adults ...  that relates to being in a school that is competitive and where there are experienced teachers and administrators who get you into college. Most of our impoverished schools don't do that and it's a tragic loss of talent, a real dangerous loss."

The report includes recommendations for ending school segregation: regional desegregation, implementing fair housing policies, educating the school community and staff on the importance of desegregation, training school staff in handling diversity and accountability in serving all students when executing school choice programs.

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