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Decades After Brown v. Board, Unequal Class Offerings Remain a Problem

journey for justice.jpg

By guest blogger Sasha Jones

Statistically speaking, it's no secret that students of color often have less access to high-level academic courses than do their peers in majority-white schools. But the full extent of some of those disparities is vividly sketched out in a new report by the Journey for Justice Alliance.

The report, released this week to mark the 64th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, compares course offerings in high schools serving a majority of black or brown students with the curricular choices in schools enrolling majority-white students within the same district or in nearby suburbs. The analysis found that in each of the 12 school pairings, the majority-white schools offered more academic and cultural enrichment opportunities.

"Don't rationalize, don't explain it away, don't make excuses for inequity," Journey for Justice Alliance Director Jitu Brown said. "Don't make excuses for one child having opportunity, and another child being denied that opportunity." 

In one comparison, at Manual High School in Denver, a school where students of color account for 96 percent of enrollment, students were offered seven AP courses, Spanish as a foreign language, and five arts classes. At nearby Cherry Creek High School, a majority-white school in Greenwood Village, students were offered 27 AP courses; five foreign languages, including Chinese, Latin, and German; and over 20 arts classes.

Of those arts classes, many involved expensive equipment and studios, such as ceramics, jewelry/metal working, and video production.

The study also found that while most schools included in the study offer some sort of visual art and music classes, 92 percent of the affluent schools included also offer drama or theater, while only 53 percent of under-resourced schools do the same.

"In Newark, we suffer from kids committing suicide. We don't have social and emotional support for our students. We don't have resources in our classrooms," said Yolanda Johnson, a founder of Parents Educating Parents, Inc. and a parent in Newark, N.J., "We deserve classes where we can compete on an international level. We deserve the resources like our peers have. As parents, we deserve a seat at the table."

While the report, "Failing Brown v. Board," focuses on selected pairs of schools, newly updated data released in recent weeks shows that such inequities go far beyond the schools profiled in the Justice Alliance report.

The data from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights showed that while black students made up 16 percent of high school enrollment in 2015-16, they accounted for only 12 percent of physics enrollment and 8 percent of calculus enrollment. Similarly, Latino students made up 24 percent of high school enrollment, but 19 percent of students in advanced mathematics. The civil rights data collection includes 50.6 million students in 99 percent of public K-12 schools.

Similarly, separate research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 65 percent of wealthy students have access to theater instruction compared to 41 percent of impoverished students. The  2008-2009 statistics show that visual arts instruction is offered by 96 percent of schools with low poverty levels, compared to 80 percent of high poverty schools.

"This is about institutional racism," National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said. "The way you fund those schools, what you give those schools, the expectations you have for those students. The only way to fight institutional racism is with intentional justice."

As part of their #WeChoose Campaign, Journey for Justice has conducted 34 town hall meetings nationwide. In partnership with other educational advocacy organizations, Journey for Justice plans to continue holding meetings, working with legislators on the state and local level, and conduct a follow-up study examining 30 more cities, disparities that may exist, and how student discipline is administered. 

Photo above: Journey for Justice Alliance National Director Jitu Brown, center, and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, left, promote findings from the new report in Washington on Monday. 

Photo by Sasha Jones.

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