Nation’s schools remain largely separate and unequal

May 24, 1995

ANN ARBOR—Nearly half a century after the U.S.Supreme Court ordered public schools to be desegregated ” with all deliberate speed,” many of the nation’s schools are more segregated than ever, according to a University of Michigan researcher.

” Illinois schools are the most segregated in the nation, and Michigan schools are next in line,” says John Rogers, an assistant professor at the U-M School of Education. ” In Michigan in 1991-92, 58.5 percent of all Black children attended schools in which minorities made up at least 90 percent of the student body, compared to an average of 34 percent of Black children nationally. ” The comparable figure for Illinois is 59.6 percent.

Rogers, who taught a course on the historical antecedents and impact of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, is participating in a conference at the U-M speed. ”

“Most people assume that widespread desegregation had happened by 1957 when President Eisenhower sent in the troops to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock,” says Rogers. ” But in point of fact, by 1962, only 1 percent of Black children in the South attended schools with even one white child, and in South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama, not a single Black child from kindergarten through college attended school with a single white child. ”

Not until 1968 to 1972 did a significant amount of school desegregation occur, Rogers notes. Now, Southern schools are more integrated than those in other regions of the country, partly because court desegregation orders were more explicit in the South but mainly because white flight and housing patterns in the North, East and West have drawn sharp dividing lines between predominantly Black and minority cities and white suburbs.

“In a 1974 decision, Milliken v. Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a lower court decision to desegregate Detroit schools, then 70 percent Black, by combining Detroit schools with the mainly white suburban schools,” Rogers says.

Still, rather than viewing Brown v. Board as a failure, Rogers and other scholars see the decision as the catalyst to succeeding generations of social changes, none of which has been fully achieved.

“The first generation of changes involved the issue of access, of simply getting Black children into previously all-white schools,” he says. “The second generation of changes addressed equal access to opportunity within the schools.Once integration was established, then systems such as tracking and special education emerged, creating an achievement gap between minority and white students.

“Now the third generation of changes is raising questions about whose culture should be taught in the schools, and how the contributions of various cultures will be respected. Society is also questioning how the race of teachers affects the education of students. We now have a lower percentage of Black teachers in the national teaching force than we did in 1950, and as the proportion of non- white students approaches 33 percent nationally, the proportion of white teachers is expected to reach 90 percent by the year 2000. “