American society tilted on its axis when the Supreme Court heard Brown vs. Board of Education in 1953. In perhaps the seminal civil rights case of the century, America's greatest legal minds debated whether to allow black children an equal opportunity at education. In his final decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren seared the following words into the nation's consciousness:
To separate [black children] from others of similar age and Qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of Inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone...We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
With these weighty words, all of America's children were equipped with a seat in public classrooms. 50 years later, we have not yet gotten around to securing that these students actually receive an equal education.
As things stand, some students are taught well while the rest - mostly poor and mostly minority - flounder or drop out. The statistics on the "achievement gap" measuring the difference in academic achievement between white and black American students are grim. According to the recent national data by the Department of Education, by the time black American students reach 8th grade, only 12 percent can read proficiently and only 7 percent are proficient in math. Similarly, by the time Hispanic students reach 8th grade, only 15 percent are proficient in reading and only 12 percent are proficient in math.
The major implication: 50 years after Brown V Board of Education, public schooling in this country remains separate and unequal. Or, as Professor Lawrence Stedman observed during a 1997 Brookings Institution conference, "Twelfth grade black students are performing at the level of middle school white students. These students are about to graduate, yet they lag four or more years behind in every area [including] reading, math, science, writing, history, and geography. Latino seniors?are also four years behind white twelfth graders?the conclusion is distressing but unavoidable?[A] generation has passed and the achievement of educational equality remains an elusive dream."