The impacts of Brown v. Board of Education
Equity Corner by Tracie Noriega
February 12, 2024
The 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark decision in education, is upon us. In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state-sanctioned segregation of public schools violated the 14th Amendment. When I reflect on this significant event in educational history, I consider both the intended and unintended consequences, especially those that continue to affect us today.
1954 — at this point in our nation’s educational history, the practice of segregating schools by race was in place in most states. Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas, had been denied admission to an all-white school just five blocks from home and was forced to have a long commute to school every day. The case, named for her father, Oliver Brown, was consolidated from a five-state class action lawsuit once it reached the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, was one of the lead attorneys with the NAACP for this case. Influenced by the words, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the legalized segregation of schools. This case was considered a win in the Civil Rights Movement, yet many states did not comply willingly. The case of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas is but one example where students had to be escorted by federal troops as protection from angry and threatening mobs. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” and segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”
Fast forward 70 years later, schools are still segregated. According to a report released in May 2023 by the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment of students of color in public schools continues to grow while white students decline. Between 1991 and 2000, segregation between white and Black students increased and continues to remain unchanged. The report also states that students don’t share the same backgrounds with their teachers. For example, African-American teachers make up only 6 percent of the profession in public schools. Yet, African-American people comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of the K-12 public school student population. According to the latest data set from 2018-19 in California, 4 percent of credentialed teachers are African-American, compared to approximately 5 percent of African-American students. While there seems to be parity in that example, overall, approximately 80 percent of California students are BIPOC, while 40 percent of teachers are from BIPOC communities. While the Brown v. Board of Education ruling intended to provide equal protection according to the 14th Amendment, it did not protect the ways of learning and teaching inherent to Black communities and other communities of color. It did not protect Black teachers in keeping their jobs, providing representation for Black students and ways of learning that educators have been so desperately trying to bring back, a.k.a. “culturally relevant pedagogy.” It is not a surprise that nationwide, we see a more considerable disparity between the number of Black teachers and Black students. It is not a surprise that in an educator shortage, we continue to see fewer teachers of color.
It is timely that the California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators’ (CAAASA) annual conference is entitled, “Brown vs. Board of Education: 70 Years Later … addressing our history, successes, and where we go from here.” Educators around the state will gather to teach and learn from one another. I am looking forward to hearing about recent research, as well as tried and true pedagogical strategies. Together, we can work to remedy what some call the unintended consequences of the case that set a precedent for so many others, thus paying down what Gloria Ladson Billings calls the “educational debt” to our students who have traditionally been farthest from justice.
Tracie Noriega is ACSA senior director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and Professional Learning Services.
Fast forward 70 years later, schools are still segregated.
Additional Reading
Historical Timeline of Public Education in the U.S.: www.raceforward.org/reports/education/historical-timeline-public-education-us
Brown v. Board of Education (PBS): www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-brown-v-board-education/
Brown v. Board of Education (History.com): www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka