I sometimes ponder whether or not Brown v. Board of Education was the worst thing that ever happened to African-American student achievement. With the death of Linda Brown Thompson in March, the child in the eye of the public schools “integration hurricane” in 1954, I believe it’s appropriate to ask the question today: “Did this experiment in educational social justice really work?”
As a graduate of the Atlanta Public Schools, with a mother who taught in the same system for 20 years, I’m a firm believer that student achievement happens with support from both “inside” and “outside” the school. The ability to have parents, local community members, business leaders and clergy, all focused on the educational outcome of a public school, was paramount in the success of African-American children prior to 1954.
As we take a look 64 years later, I make the case that integrating our children into majority White schools did not create better outcomes for our kids. Instead of being supported inside and outside the classroom, students were being dropped off into schools where they were not welcomed.
There were no African-American children in majority White schools in 1958. However, at peak (during 1970-1990), 40 percent of black Southern students attended a formerly all-White school, while less than a third of all Black students attended Black schools.
While some will say this was a monumental achievement in integration, I see it as contributing to the decline in African-American engagement in our public schools. The movement for better school options was born in order to allow communities to take ownership of the outcomes of their neighborhood schools.
Before Brown v. Board of Education, in order to give our children a great public school experience, the African-American community had to be trailblazers in innovation, flexibility, accountability and community engagement. If you believe this notion, then you’ll know that the African-American community is really the founder of the public charter schools concept.
While I’m not anti-integration, I do think we, as a community, have to question whether or not integration is really producing the best outcomes for our kids.