Largely based on the research that supported the NAACP’s landmark Brown v. Board case, our conventional wisdom says “segregated” schools harm children of color and deny them access to the vast resources that put other students on track for productive lives.
Yet, in the years since Brown, scholars like Derrick Bell, Frank Kirkland, Tommy Curry, and Vanessa Siddle-Walker (among others) have approached the issue of public school integration with a deft nuance gained through historical review, new scholarship, and assessing the public experience with school integration schemes that resulted in unintended consequences.
On the positive side, Brown spurred a moment in time in the 1970s where school started to integrated, and for a time there were improved outcomes for black students. According to Harvard’s Martha Minow, there were also the following educational advancements for a broader set of students:
1) the advocacy for gender equality in public school that first took the form of seeking co-education but over time has taken the shape of policies supporting single-sex public education;
2) the push to “mainstream” students with disabilities–including students with mental disabilities so that they may attend part or all of the school day with other students;
3) the emergence of school choice, first as a device for avoiding court-ordered desegregation, then as a technique for encouraging racial desegregation, and then as a technique intended to promote competition and school improvement;
4) the ultimately successful effort to secure constitutional approval for the use of public funds in support of private religious education.
Those positive achievements considered, still, the conclusion of most scholarly inquiries is simple: the push for public school integration by itself wasn’t enough to improve schooling for black children, and, in some notable ways, it set us back.
Chief among those setbacks was the decimation of black leadership in the education of black children, including a seeming irreparable decline in the black teaching force.
In 1955 the NAACP anticipated there would be a loss of black teachers, but marshaled forward with the thought it would be for the higher good of black students. At the time an attorney with the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare quipped “In a war, there must be some casualties, and perhaps the black teachers will be the casualties in the fight for equal education of black students.”
According to Dr. Siddle-Walker’s research, the “casualties” may have been the students themselves who were suddenly deprived of the successful pedagogical and community leadership practices of black educators in formerly segregated schools. Their “African American pedagogical model,” built on years of practice and interstate fellowship among black teachers, was positively impacting student achievement before Brown v. Board interrupted their progress.
Among the things we lost to history when post-integration black teachers were either fired or integrated into white teachers associations were the highly functional black educator networks at the state, regional, and school levels, across the South where most black students lived, that created an exchange for professional development and communal responsibility for educating black children.
What blacks lost after Brown:
- 1954: 82,000 black teachers taught 2 million black children.
- 11 years immediately following Brown, more than 38,000 black teachers and administrators in 17 Southern and border states lost their jobs.
- 90% black principals lost their jobs in 11 Southern states.
- NEA data: 85% of minority teachers had college degrees, compared with 75% of white teachers.
- Black students majoring in education dropped by 66% between 1975 and 1985
- We never recovered. (Source)
We lost more than bodies and jobs in schools. We lost critical institutional knowledge that was…
- Increasing the literacy rate
- Decreasing the dropout rate
- Increasing the college going rate
- Increasing test scores
Dr. Siddle-Walker says pre-Brown teachers in black schools were making these gains with black students “without having the things all these other [white] schools had.”
Watch this full video to see Dr. Siddle-Walker’s masterful presentation.
Also, read Dr. Siddle-Walker’s paper “Organized Resistance and Black Educators’ Quest for School Equality.”