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BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION: What’s Changed in the Last 49 Years?

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"A child's educational opportunity should be based on their dreams, not zip code numbers,"

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education, unanimously ruling that separate schools are inherently unequal and, as such, violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Despite some progress in the past 49 years, huge inequalities remain in our educational system. Minorities, inner-city and rural residents, and students from low-income families face particularly daunting challenges in seeking to overcome the impediments to educational success that remain inherent in our system.

In the days leading up to the 49th anniversary of the Brown decision, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) held an event, “Countdown to Brown,” to mark the beginning of a year-long push to enact their Student Bill of Rights legislation. The Student Bill of Rights would hold states accountable for providing resources for basic rights including highly qualified teachers, challenging curricula, up-to-date textbooks and materials, small classes, and guidance counselors for all students who rely on public schools for their education.

“A child’s educational opportunity should be based on their dreams, not zip code numbers,” said Dodd. “This measure helps correct that inequality by ensuring that all children have an equal opportunity to excel on the road to success.”

Fattah drew attention to the special plight that the nation’s low-income students must overcome: “After 49 years of lawsuits, presidential commissions, research studies, and countless news stories, poor children in every state are still the least likely to receive a quality education. The Student Bill of Rights asserts that this national scandal to deprive poor children of a decent education must end now.”

In a new policy brief, The Building Blocks of Success for America’s Middle and High School Students, the Alliance for Excellent Education joined Fattah and Dodd in calling for a national movement that will demand and secure basic educational rights for all American children. “No matter who they are or where they live, all of America’s students deserve access to an education that prepares them to graduate from high school ready for college,” said Alliance executive director Susan Frost. “Without it, individuals face a lifetime of dead-end jobs punctuated by periods of unemployment; communities suffer from reduced civic participation; employers lose out on a more productive workforce; and the nation is deprived of increased tax revenues and required to foot the bill for additional costs of incarceration and other social services.”

Education Trust Reports Focus on Unfinished Business of Brown Decision

Earlier this month, the Education Trust released two reports that document an education system that is still very much separate and unequal. The first report, A New Core Curriculum for All, stresses that the best way to prepare a student for future success in college or the workplace is a rigorous course schedule. It cites research that shows that students from every background and every income level benefit when placed in higher-level classes. However, minority students are often not enrolled in these upper-level classes at nearly the rate of their white classmates.

The report found that courses traditionally thought of as “college prep” are essential in today’s workplace, where most jobs that pay a family-supporting wage demand high skills. “While a student with a high school diploma without higher-level classes such as Algebra II may get an entry-level job, he or she may end up sweeping the factory floor,” said Patte Barth, the author of the report. “Even in fields like manufacturing, students now need advanced courses in subjects like mathematics both to secure a foothold on the ladder and to gain real job security.”

Education Watch: Achievement, Attainment, and Opportunity from Elementary School Through College, the second report, is a collection of state-by-state reports that documents the continued academic segregation of low-income and minority students. The report found that, nationally and in almost every state, minority students are enrolled in lower level classes, are assigned to less-qualified teachers, and are disproportionately placed in special education.

The Education Trust reports are available on the Education Trust Web site at: http://www.edtrust.org

The Alliance policy brief is available at: https://all4ed.org/media/051503.html

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