WASHINGTON – Today marks 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” has no place in American public education. On May 17, 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education decision addressed the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools – unanimously, the Court ruled that separate school systems for black and white students were inherently unequal and unconstitutional. More than half a century later, the date carries with it the celebration of its significance but also equality unfulfilled, as an equal education for all students still goes unrealized throughout the nation.
“Equality in education has evolved from an issue of social justice for one demographic group to what must become a national priority for all Americans,” said former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (@ExcelinEd). “The achievement gap is far too wide while we try to bridge it with baby steps. This is not a reflection of the ability of students, but the consequence of a system that considers their achievement a secondary priority. Making kids the priority produces entirely different results.”
Read more from Governor Bush in today’s Miami Herald.
Today, African American and Hispanic fourth graders are reading two and a half grade levels below their white counterparts, a gap that is not closing in later school years. Such disparities, which largely reflect socio-economic status, are unsustainable, Bush says. At the time of Brown v. Board, roughly 80 percent of American students were white. Five years from now, minorities will make up half the under-18 U.S. population. The success of minority children in the 21st century will play a central role in determining the success of the country.
“Students are capable of accomplishing great things when their learning is a priority,” said Dr. Condoleezza Rice, 66th Secretary of State – the second woman and first African American woman to hold the post – and a member of the ExcelinEd Board of Directors. “The achievement gap is still far too wide, because too often students are not challenged to learn and succeed. To realize the full intent of Brown v. Board, we must empower all families with high-quality education choices for their kids and ensure we have high expectations for all students.”
“We should challenge everyone – in classrooms, in communities, in the Capitol – to unite and view education equality as the civil rights issue of our time,” said Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and a member of the ExcelinEd Board of Directors. “Only by confronting disparities head-on can we bring true equality to our country.”
“We have to ensure all students have access to a high-quality education,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd. “That takes commitment to raising education standards, offering school choice options and holding schools and teachers accountable. More states throughout the nation are embracing these student-centered policies, but there is more work to do. We have to get it right, because we are confronting a crisis of opportunity in this nation.”