Schools remain a powerful tool for shoring up individual opportunity and attaining a thriving, multiracial democratic society.
Decades of experience, along with an ever-growing body of research, continue to show that separate is still not equal. Segregated minority schools are almost always segregated by poverty as well as race, and sometimes by language as well; they typically have less experienced teachers, less educated and less powerful parents, more untreated student health problems, and many other forms of inequality (Orfield, 2009). Yet more than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state-sanctioned segregation, we are abandoning the goal established in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
(1954). The last major federal initiative for desegregating schools came almost 40 years ago, and three Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s undid many successful desegregation plans (see Orfield & Eaton, 1996).
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
There are more recent setbacks, however. In a 2007 decision, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the voluntary continuation of a court-ordered student assignment plan crafted to remedy segregation. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights—historically active in implementing desegregation plans in recalcitrant southern districts—advised school districts to end long-standing court desegregation plans and use only race-neutral methods, which usually fail to integrate students. More currently, the Obama administration has provided no significant support for pursuing integration thus far.