Sixty years ago, Brown v. Board of Education ended legalized racial segregation in our schools, but the significance of the case extended far beyond the classroom. It was the resounding victory of equality and multiculturalism over disenfranchisement and white hegemony that was felt across the country, from the lunch counter to the ballot box. The momentum from Brown led to the passage of critical legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today, however, the very states whose segregated schools, poll taxes, and Jim Crow laws necessitated federal intervention in Brown are once again limiting the educational opportunities for people of color. Rather than explicitly refusing to admit students of color into school, these states have found new, more clandestine ways to marginalize people of color. In this new segregated system, states disadvantage students of color by providing fewer resources to schools serving the highest concentrations of students who need them the most. By perpetuating this inequitable system and rejecting powerful and effective education reforms such as the Common Core State Standards, these states effectively reclaim their legacy of systematic racial discrimination.
Contrary to what you might expect, the American public education system provides fewer resources and more inexperienced teachers to schools serving low-income and disadvantaged students. For example, African American and Latino students are taught by a teacher with 3-years of experience or less almost twice as often as their peers. College preparatory courses are largely unavailable to students of color. In the 2009-10 school year less than a third of the schools serving high concentrations of students of color offered calculus.
These inequities have had devastating results. On the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth grade math assessment, only 14 percent of African American and 21 percent of Latino students scored proficient or advanced compared with 44 percent of White students. In the same year only 66 percent of African American and 71 percent of Latino students graduated on time, while 83 percent of White students finished high school in four years. These sobering facts threaten our core beliefs about education and fairness, while also undermining our national ability to be competitive in the global economy.
Although the Common Core will not overcome this educational inequity on its own, these more rigorous standards will hold all students to the high expectation of college and career readiness. They will change the way teachers teach and help students become critical thinkers and analytical problem solvers. These skills do more than prepare our children for college and career; they also prepare them to become active and engaged citizens.
Central to this effort are the assessments developed by two state consortia: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced. These next generation assessments, which are aligned to the new standards, require students to demonstrate complex reasoning, writing, and problem solving skills rather than a simple fill-in-the-bubble test. Despite the clear benefits to students, under achieving states with a history of systematic racial discrimination have withdrawn from the Common Core-aligned assessment consortia.
Last month, South Carolina, which according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, ranks in the bottom half of the country for African American and Latino student achievement, announced that it would withdraw from the Smarter Balanced testing consortia. Other underperforming states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma have already pulled out of the assessments. Now, it will be virtually impossible for states to determine whether or not they are truly preparing all students for college and career. Whether it is the intended outcome or not, the decision to abandon the Common Core assessments hurts students of color and low-income students more than their peers.
Brown made clear that equality under law can only be achieved by the full inclusion of all people, regardless of race, into the whole of our country’s society. Separate cannot be equal. By walking away from the clear benefits of the Common Core, these states actively choose to perpetuate a two-tiered education system that habitually provides lower-quality education to students of color. This reveals that for some states little has changed in their understanding of the moral dimensions of equality for all.
Max Marchitello is a Policy Analyst for the Pre-K-12 Education Policy team at American Progress.