Racial Inequality in Public Schools

Kimberly Jade Norwood

Note: This article is an excerpt from the book Ferguson’s Fault Lines: The Race Quake that Rocked a Nation by Kimberly Jade Norwood, ed. It is available for purchase in the ABA webstore.

Segregated and unequal schools thrive throughout the United States. Brown v. Board of Education’s vision of both integrated and quality education for all students has been lost and indeed may be impossible to fulfill in the 21st century. Under racially segregated systems pre-Brown, most Black students were not receiving quality education; most White students were. Brown envisioned that if the students were desegregated and assigned to schools without regard to the color of one’s skin, not only would the goal of integration be met—which many believe in and of itself is a form of education—but also that all students would receive a quality education. Quality education in an integrated setting was possible in the decades following Brown, but this dual goal is no longer possible. It is not simply that public schools today are more racially segregated than 40 years ago, although this is true. And it is not simply that Black, Asian, and non-White people of Latin American descent make up a majority of the students in public schools today (thus the term “majority minority”), although this is also true. But, we must consider two other key factors: (1) White student enrollment in public schools has decreased over the years and (2) White births have declined significantly over the years. All of these realities challenge any goal to integrate schools as that term was defined in Brown.

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