When Brown v. Board of Education, the 9-0 Warren Court ruling came down 60 years ago, desegregating America’s public schools, this writer was a sophomore at Gonzaga in Washington, D.C.
In the shadow of the Capitol, Gonzaga was deep inside the city. And hitchhiking to school every day, one could see the “for sale” signs marching block by block out to Montgomery County, Maryland.
Democratic and liberal Washington was not resisting integration, just exercising its right to flee its blessings by getting out of town. The white flight to the Washington suburbs was on.
When this writer graduated in 1956, all-white high schools of 1954 like McKinley Tech, Roosevelt, Coolidge and Anacostia had been desegregated, but were on their way to becoming all black.
Across the South, there was “massive resistance” to Brown, marked by the “Dixie Manifesto” of 1956, Gov. Orval Faubus’ effort to keep black students out of Little Rock Central High in 1957, and the defiance of U.S. court orders to desegregate the universities of Mississippi and Alabama by Govs. Ross Barnett and George Wallace.
While he has received little credit, it was Richard Nixon who desegregated Southern schools. When he took office, not one in 10 black children was going to school with whites in the Old Confederacy.
When Nixon left, the figure was close to 70 percent.
For nearly half a century, no black child has been denied entry to his or her neighborhood school because of race. Ought we not then, with Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in the Wall Street Journal, celebrate Brown “as a truly heartening American success story”?
Certainly, by striking down state laws segregating school children, Brown advanced the cause of freedom. But as for realizing the hopes of black parents, that their children’s educational progress would now proceed alongside that of their new white classmates, it is not so easy to celebrate.
For despite half a century of desegregation, three in four black and Hispanic children are in schools that are largely black and Hispanic. And the old racial gap in test scores has never been closed.
A May story in the Washington Post reports that not only has there been no gain in U.S. high school test scores in reading and math â€” the USA has been steadily sinking in rank in international competition â€” the disparity between black and white students has deepened.
The quadrennial test given in 2013 to 92,000 12th-graders by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s report card, found that the test scores of Latino students are today as far behind those of whites’ as in 1999.
The gap between white and black high school seniors in reading and math has widened.
Speaking in Topeka on the anniversary of Brown, Michelle Obama bemoaned the fact that, “Today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech.
“Many districts have actually pared back on efforts to integrate their schools and many communities have become less diverse.”
Ms. Obama is undeniably correct. Yet, there are other realities that folks need to stop denying.
First, as the Thernstroms write, where white children were 80 percent of pubic school students in 1970, today they are 50 percent and falling. In California and Texas, whites make up 27 and 31 percent respectively of the pubic school enrollment.
If 74 percent of black kids and 80 percent of Hispanics are in minority-majority schools today, those numbers are inexorably going to rise, as white students become a new national minority.
Second, there is no conclusive research that black kids learn more when sitting beside white kids, just as there is no evidence that Head Start has any positive enduring impact on pupil achievement.
Third, after trillions dumped into education at all levels since the Great Society, with the educational gap persisting between whites and Asians and blacks and Hispanics, it is apparent the education industry has not only failed the nation. It has no idea how to close that gap.
Fourth, while Michelle Obama may cherish diversity, the wealthy white liberals who dominate the D.C. metropolitan area appear to prefer living in predominately white neighborhoods and sending their children to predominantly white schools, be they public or private.
The 60 years since Brown in D.C. have demonstrated another truth. There is no correlation between dollars invested in education and student achievement in schools where the money is spent.
Per capita expenditures for students in D.C.’s schools invariably rank among the nation’s highest, while the test scores those tax dollars produce invariably rank among the nation’s lowest.
And whom should be held accountable?
Since D.C. got the right to vote, no GOP candidate has ever carried its electoral votes. Obama won the city with 93 percent in 2008. And since home rule half a century ago, we have had only black Democratic mayors and liberal Democratic city councils.
This social debacle belongs to liberalism alone.