At every step of the civil rights movement, there were specific goals. Usually something high leverage that would have a huge impact. At first it was voting and the repeal of some Jim-crow laws but then the focused shifted to segregation. The theory being that if they could just integrate the schools, educational outcomes would improve. Spoiler alert: They were successful in getting integration legislation through, but almost 65 years after Brown vs Board of Education, educational inequity remains a problem… even in the schools that are integrated.
Integration was a landmark win for the civil rights movement, and a much-needed reform for education, but it was not the silver bullet people hoped it would be nor the silver bullet some people still pretend that it is.
Within diverse schools across America, black and brown students are falling behind. In many of these schools, when you look at a composite of the student body or a yearbook, the school looks like the vision that civil rights activist fought for. However, when you dig into the data you see that black and white students may be sharing the same buildings, but not the same educational outcomes. Ironically, we have traded segregation between schools for segregation within schools.
One study of an affluent but diverse school district found that white students were 3.9 grades ahead of the national average and black students were 0.6 grades below. These findings were corroborated by the school’s own data.
But you don’t have to find some academic study to see the difference in achievement between white students and students of color. The data is publicly available and typically tracked by most of the major school school-rating websites. For example, www.greatschools.org rated the high school in my district an 8/10 overall which is pretty good. But it was rated a 2/10 in the equity portion of the rating due mainly to the achievement of low-income, Black and Hispanic students. If you explore that site long enough you will see that trend continue across many “diverse” and “high achieving” schools all over the country.
This isn’t to say that integration is bad or didn’t improve outcomes, but it wasn’t the panacea that people thought it would be and we need to address the actual issues facing students of color instead of moving heaven and earth just to sit them next to someone white as if proximity alone closes the achievement gap. You couldn’t make every school diverse even if you wanted to, and we have to believe as a country that black and Hispanic children can still learn even if they aren’t in the presence of affluent white students.