Chat Transcript: Brown v. Board of Education at 50: The Promise Fulfilled?

Brown v. Board of Education at 50: The Promise Fulfilled?

About our guests:

  • Brian Jones, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Education and co-chair of the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission.
  • Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Urban Education at the graduate center for the City University of New York.Under Professor Fine’s direction, a group of students and young people have put together a program of poetry, dance, music, and video performance called Echoes of Brown, to mark the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board. The performance draws on research on race and education conducted by Michelle Fine and student researchers in the metropolitan New York area schools.
  • Maria Torre, graduate student in Social Psychology at the City University of New York and Project Director of the Race, Ethnicity, Class and Opportunity Gap Project, a particpatory action research project with youth in New York and New Jersey.
  • Karla Scoon Reid, Education Week reporter, covers issues related to race, urban education and desegregation. Karla’s reporting on the Brown v. Board 50th anniversary includes an analysis of Education Week‘s national poll of teachers and students on race and America’s public schools.

Kathryn Doherty, Education Week (Moderator):
Welcome to Education Week‘s TalkBack Live chat. Yesterday, May 17, marked 50 years since the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal” in education. Over the past weeks, the media, educators, civil rights advocates, and public leaders have commemorated the anniversary -- and marked this as a milestone in history from which all might reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we may need to go to ensure that all children have the opportunity for a first class education in the United States.

We are pleased to have several guests this afternoon to help us reflect on the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education 50 years later. We welcome Brian Jones, general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education and co-chair of the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission. We also welcome distinguished professor Michelle Fine and graduate student Maria Torre of the City University of New York. Both have been involved in research on race and education in public schools and are responsible for a compilation of performances called Echoes of Brown. Last, but not least, we are joined by Karla Scoon Reid, the Education Week reporter who covers race and desegregation issues for the newspaper, and who wrote several installments of Education Week‘s special series commemorating the Brown v. Board decision -- including coverage of the recent national survey, commissioned by Education Week, of teachers and students about race and education.

We thank you all for joining the discussion. Let’s get right into the questions and answers...

Question from A.Smith, Educator, Grand Valley State University:
Do you feel/believe we have progressed and changed significantly since the Brown v. Board of Education case?

If yes, then how? If no, then please state your reasons.

Thank you.

Brian Jones:
I think there is no denying that we as a nation have progressed and changed immensely in the 50 years since Brown. The legally-enforced segregation endured by young African American students prior to 1954 is almost beyond the comprehension of most Americans today. It was qualitatively different even from the racially concentrated classrooms we see in many corners of the country even today. That segragation was based on a system of law designed to subjugate and demean a race of people. Our law now longer tolerates a legal caste system. And given that statecraft is so often soulcraft, we’ve also seen the court’s decision in Brown actually change the hearts and minds of Americans of good will. Today, we are a nation that struggles to do justice. We often disagree vigorously about just HOW to do it. But at bottom, every American of good will agrees that the nation is stronger because of our diversity. That consensus is in large part a legacy of Brown.

Question from Alicia Rivera, graduate history student:
Do you think that through socio-economic means we are in a process of resegregation? How do you explain places like East San Louis, Missouri or Los Angeles or border towns(Mexican border) were there such a thing as school of predominatly one race.

Maria Torre:
I agree absolutely. As white and wealthy families flee urban centers and/or send their children to private schools, public schools in these areas end up resegregated. Gary Orfield, Erika Frankenberg, Chungmei Lee and others at the Harvard Civil Rights Project have done tremendous work documenting this.

Question from A.Smiht, Educator, Grand Valley State University:
Since “race still remains a salient and difficult issue” what are we doing to address this issue? In other words, for education, what are we doing to address the issue of race? Our youth within the K-12 schools are struggling with the issue of race. How do we work together to address this issue?

Brian Jones:
A terrific question. Race does in fact remain a salient issue in our educational system. The racial achievement gap -- a nearly 28 point gap in reading proficiency separates black and white fourth graders -- continues to challenge educators and policy makers. They way to respond to that is to do the hard work of closing the gap. That will improve the “esteem” of minority children, and more importantly will improve their prospects for moving into the social and economic mainstream. How to close the achievement gap? Researchers know a lot about this, and the No Child Left Behind Act is the right place to start. By holding every school accountable for the achievement of ALL children -- recognizing that EVERY child can learn -- we begin to break the system of its willingness to practice the soft bigotry of low expectations. Add to that the notion of giving parents a seat at the table by providing them with information about how their kids’ schools are doing (NCLB requires annual “report cards” on schools), and giving them options (like public schools choice or free tutoring) when schools don’t work for their children, and you’ve got a recipe for closing the gap and lessening the role race plays in determining a kid’s future.

Question from Trisha Donaldson, Graduate Student:
Why is it that students who live in urban areas and attend urban schools do poorly on scholastic tests than students in suburban/ rural school districts?

Karla Scoon Reid:
Many education researchers cite students’ socio-economic status as the key indicator of their academic success. Since most urban school districts serve poor children, the test scores of their students often lag behind students attending schools in wealthier suburban communities. Examples exist, however, that contradict this theory. The Education Trust in Washington, D.C. compiled a database of high-performing districts and schools that serve large proportions of minority and poor children.

Question from Doug Clements, Dean of Students, Glenbrook Elementary School:
Does the “No Child Left Behind” act under the current mandate create segregated schools? Schools of the wealthy versus schools of the poor?

Brian Jones:
Just the opposite, Doug. The No Child Left Behind Act seeks to close the achievement gaps between minorities and whites (and, in many cases, Asian Americans); between kids with special needs and those without; between English speakers and English language learners; AND between low income kids and those of greater means. In fact, for the first time in history, the law now holds schools accountable for closing each of those gaps. Even in terms of how NCLB is funded, there is today a greater flexibility available to states and school districts to move money from a variety of special programs into the so-called Title I program, which serves the most disadvantaged kids. The reason for that is that the President and the Congress understood that the most disadvantaged kids are most in need of an extra measure of federal support to ensure we have a public schools system that responds as well to the needs of low-income and disadvantaged kids as it does to those with means and options.

Question from Evelyn Arroyo, Senior Consultant, Learning 24-7:
Do English Language Learners have access and equal educational opportunities as their monolingual couterparts as Brown vs. Board of Education has evolved to include our nation’s Ells? What are the future implications for these students?

Maria Torre:
Currently the experiences for too many ELL students are terrible. In our research we saw too many instances of English Language Learners being segregated within large schools, relegated to the “Spanish Hallway” as it was referred to in one high school. ELL programs are too often taught by unqualified teachers, students are do not have access to rigorus or challenging course material, and are social marginalized from the larger school population, unable to participate in grade field trips, clebration days, etc. ELL students, however often report that their programs and teachers are very caring and nurturing--but without access to proper educational and material resources, the outcomes for these students is not equal to their non ELL peers.

Question from Bill Harshbarger, teacher, Mattoon High School:
Certainly before 1954 race caused segregation. But current segregation in the schools seems to be caused by economic differences. Isn’t the division between the wealthy and the poor more potent than racial differences today?

Karla Scoon Reid:
Some researchers do argue that the socio-economic status of a student is the most important factor. Yet others believe that because a student’s economic background is strongly linked to his or her race, it is impossible to ignore race as a factor.

Comment from Elaine Whitlock, Co-Editor of Brown + 50 Special Issue of Equity & Excellence in Education:
I want to alert this chat group to our journal’s special issue: Brown + 50, which will be available in September. Articles examine historical and future implications of school desegregation from a social justice perspective. Institutions that subscribe to our journal have access to it both in paper and online (.pdf document). Individual copies may be obtained via

Question from Jean Robbins, Doctoral Student, Erikson Institute:
1. In the EW poll, did teachers or students get to list the benefits of diverse classrooms? If so, what were the most frequently mentioned benefits of diverse classrooms? 2. What is it teachers need to know and be able to do to deal with the increasingly diverse classroom?

Karla Scoon Reid:
Teachers and students weren’t asked to list the benefits of diverse classrooms. However, they were asked if they believed racially and ethnically integrated classrooms would affect student achievement. The majority of teachers (52 percent) and the majority of students (76 percent) responded that diverse classrooms would make “no difference” on student achievement. Educators and researchers interviewed for the EW story indicated that teachers needed to become more aware of their own possible cultural biases because often it can have an effect on how they instruct their classes. They believe that teachers need to learn more about their students’ cultural backgrounds.

Comment from Peter Clark, National Black United Front:
Are we still foolishly pondering the the theory that a African-American child must physically attend a intergrated school building in order to excel academically? Forced bussing and integreation attempts has and will continue to be un-successful, the plans has devastated the communities and lives of African=-American children and their families. While the initial reasons that parented the platform for Brown still is not being addressed fifty years later. When someone other than the victims themselves try to prescribe to the victims a remedy for their ills the results are not conducive to healing the illness nor repairing the damages.

Let’s be truefull with ourselves, Brown was a failure. Rightfully so. If it was not, then why are you having this discussion today in 2004?

Question from Rita Kittrell, concerned parent/student advocate, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
Why are schools in predominantly African American neighborhoods in cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin failing to teach those students how to read, write, use critical thinking skills, and perform basic math?

Why are the students from predominantly African American neighborhoods in cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin not prepared to achieve at the next level (elementary to middle school to high school to college)?

Why are public elementary schools in predominantly African American in cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin allowed to get away with unequal facilities as predominantly white suburban schools?

Brian Jones:
This is a critically important question, Rita. It’s a question that led me to want to come to the Department of Education in the firtst place. I am myself an African American, and a product of public schools. It pains me to see so many African American children being left behind by a public school system that has failed to provide them with a sound education, which we know provides the key to real, meaningful freedom. The bottom line is that for too long, too many public schools in the country have practiced the soft bigotry of low expectation, believing that some kids could not be expected to achieve at the highest levels because of a range of “social background” issues. And those schools were never held accountable for failing to serve the kids in their charge. The No Child Left Behind Act has taken an important step toward moving us away from that kind of neglect. Schools like those in Milwaukee will now be held accountable for moving all kids toward proficiency, and if they don’t, parents will have options that free their children from academic captivity by schools that don’t work for them. That’s way more than 100 African American school superintendents sent a letter to Secretary of Education Rod Paige and leaders of Congress last year, urging them to stand firm on NCLB. They understood that closing the achievement gap demands the kind of accountability that NCLB puts in place.

Question from Cynthia White, Director of Guidance, Pinellas County Schools, FL:
With our American teaching staff predominantly White and our urban schools predominantly children of color, how do we convince districts, schools, and teachers that traditional methods of instruction are not always effective and to utilize strategies proven for these children?

Maria Torre:
We have seen that all students, regardless of race and ethnicity benefit from access to credentialed teachers, a rigorous curriculum, engaging pedagogy and a school climate of support and respect. While it is extremely important that we work towards creating faculties and administrations that reflect the student bodies, racially/culturally, we must simultaneously work to end the current trend of high stakes tests and classroom practices which are effectively dulling urban classrooms, and have been shown to reduce graduation rates. point teachers, administrators and parents to the research done on the small schools movement—schools across the country that have demonstrated great success in engaging (often predominately) urban youth of color as critical thinkers.

Comment from Alfred Cooke, Dean Education Division, Marygrove College, Detroit, Michigan:
I’m delighetd that we celebrating this important event. We here at Marygrove, however, believe that in celebrating we have to go the next step--deciding what we need to do for the next decade to improve the plight of better educating children because of the fact that the lofty goals of Brown for the most part have not been realized. I wonder what others are doing from this perspective?

Question from Charles Powell, Program Director, University of Texas at Austin:
Given the de facto school resegregation in cities around the country after the removal of federal court orders, what barriers to access have re-emerged and who is taking a role to address these barriers?

Karla Scoon Reid:
I’m not sure that any barriers to access have “re-emerged” as you say since school segregation is illegal. But some people who are advocating that poor and minority students have greater access to a “quality education” are pushing for more flexibility in school transfer policies especially district-to-district transfer policies. Some desegregation advocates had hoped that the school transfer option under No Child Left Behind would give poor and minority children attending struggling urban schools access to better performing suburban schools. The law, however, never went that far. Meanwhile, private school voucher and school choice advocates often argue that poor children deserve equal access to quality schools.

Comment from Gail Petri, Education Resource Specialist, Library of Congress:
I’m a retired educator currently working with the Library of Congress creating online activities for teachers and students highlighting our online primary resources. I’m wondering what kind of materials and strategies that teachers find to be most effective in teaching about Brown v. BOE (the laws, media coverage, photographs, narratives, etc.)Here is the url to the recently opened exhibit:

I am currently developing an activity that would focus on learning how to analyze political cartoons from the period. Any suggestions??

Question from Sharon Roddy, vice-principal, Kirby M.S.:
Does the research indicate how much of the achievement gap is the result of teachers’ preconceived notions about minority students’ abilities?

Maria Torre:
Indeed teacher’s and adults in schools communicate very powerfully what they expect of different students in their schools in The Opportunity Gap survey that we gave to nearly 10,000 students in New York, New Jersey and Delaware we found that 68% of asian/pacific islander youth and 67% of white youth agreed that their teachers thought they should be in AP/Honors classes while only 42% of African American students agreed. Similar splits were seen in responses to “teachers care about students like me”, and “a student’s race/ethnicity affects how some teachers treat them” where students of color report disproportionately worse treatment.

Question from Margaret Randolph, Parent, Chicago Public Schools:
Do you foresee the continued use of race-conscious admissions policies in selective enrollment public elementary schools?

Karla Scoon Reid:
While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that diversity is a “compelling” interest in the University of Michigan case, some legal experts believe that the strategies used to achieve that level of integration are narrowly tailored which could make it challenging for school districts to follow suit. In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit struck down the race-conscious admission policy used by Boston Latin for about half of its students.

Comment from Dr. Charles K. Jenkins, Assistant Principal, La Follette High School:
The Brown decision opened the possibility that African American Students could have access to better facilities, texts, and perhaps teachers. Why are some individuals claiming that Brown was for intergration? Actually, the reason Brown is a landmark decision is because it made available to students of color facilities,texts, and teachers that were not available to them. It provided better opportunities to learn. There is nothing particularly academically adventagous sitting next to a white student.

Question from Lynn Ricke, teacher, Lena Dunn Elementary:
Although Brown v. Board of Ed. has improved the schooling situation for many minority children, still a large gap remains concerning resources between the poor neighborhoods and the wealthy neighborhoods. Can anything be done?

Brian Jones:
The question about equitable resources is a difficult one, Lynn. At the U.S. Department of Education, we have been very focused on demanding, through the No Child Left Behind Act, accountability for the federal tax dollars spent on education. Last year, this country spent $501 billion (that billion with a “b”!) on education, considering local, state and federal sources of funding combined. That’s MORE than we as a country spent on our national defense. But the federal share of that spending is relatively small -- only about 9 percent (though the federal share has grown, as President Bush has increased federal education spending by nearly 40 percent since taking office). The largest share of federal K-12 education spending flows to the most disadvantaged children, through the so-called “Title I” program. The kinds of disparities you site flow from how different states have decided to fund education. Many states have historically used property taxes to fund education which, for obvious reasons, often resulted in wealthier communities having a lot more to spend on schools than poorer ones. But in a great many states, state court challenges (usually citing provisions of state constitutions) have invalidated those property tax funding models. As a result state legislatures around the country are grapling with how best to adequately and fairly fund their public schools. It’s a big challenge, but ultimately it’s a challenge that each state and its voters will have to work out for itself. What can be done? Let your state legislature hear your voice and those of voters who care as much as you do!

Question from :
Brown vs Board of education was a plea for justice funding for equal educaional opportunities for all children regardless of who is sitting next to who. How do we in commnities make this point when those school districts that have, get more and those that have less is allocated less?

Maria Torre:
This is a crucial struggle--we in New York State have been fighting for finance equity, and it has been an issue that many of our youth researchers feel passionatlely about. An important note is that many of the more privileged youth that attend well-resourced schools are also outraged by fiscal inequities between school districts. They have become powerful allies in convincing parents (sometimes even their own) and communities that opening up equal access to educational resources for all students, benefits ALL students, and should not be seen as a threat or potential loss to those who “have”.

Comment from Sharon Burton, Teacher: elementary, now working as Social Worker:
Given that many students of color report comfort in a ethnocentric setting, and given that the reason cited is usually cultural affirmation, including such affirmation in the person of the teacher--is there any data to show that the style of teaching can effect the success of a multicultural setting or a unicultural setting? Perhaps a classroom with teacher lecture (albeit with motivational hooks) can work in a unicultural class, while an environmentally-manipulated room, managed with cooperative dynamics, can work with multicultural learning.

Question from Joe McMillian:
When talking about the achievement gap the comparison is always between whites and blacks. Why are there no comparisons between whites and asians?

Maria Torre:
In our research we had very small numbers of Asians and Asian Pacific Islanders, and by and large these students were more comprable than different which is true of most mational samples. This is not the case for youth coming from economically stressed countries like cambodia, for exacmple. You point to an important need to break apart large categories like “Asian” to get to the very different experiences of students that are coming from backgrounds that include living in war, refugee camps, relocation, etc.

Comment from mary e almodovar student robert morris college:
The promise has been fulfilled however there are many more that need to be address for example now how to we address each student as an individual with a shortage of teachers.

Comment from Carla Leone, attorney and special education advocate, Arlington, MA:
Diversity is part of life, and if humans are going to ever evolve beyond the current caveman/tribal mentality that generates wars, conflicts and disagreements, we need to start with the children, and teach them about accepting differences. So my question is: how can we do this without diversity in the classroom? It needs to be learning based on actual experience, not theory, in my opinion.

Question from Deanna Slamans, M,Ed. Student, Temple University:
There is speculation that if Brown v. Board of Education had not occurred that our minority students may have stronger role models in the schools due to minority educators presiding over students. What are your thoughts about this opinion?

Brian Jones:
A great question, Deanna. As an African American myself, I have wrestled with this question too. To be sure, there were some extraordinary educational institutions that rose in response to segregation. As an example, Dunbar High School here in Washington was one of those amazing instiutions that churned out African American doctors, lawyers, judges, generals and diplomats -- strong young men and women forged in the fires of segregation. But, in spite of that, those institutions flourished in the absence of freedom for the students (and teachers) in their charge. Enticing as it might be to say, “maybe things were better then,” I am someone who believes that in the long arc of history, freedom is ultimately the surest path to justice and humanity. What our children need most for their esteem today is not strong role models with wings clipped by racial caste, but rather examples of achievement without limit. That’s an important legacy of Brown. And picking up where Brown left off, by holding schools accountable for high expectations and the academic achievement of African American kids (as well as all others), the No Child Left Behind model of accountability will bring a new dawn of achievement for African American kids -- and this time the opportunities that follow will know vastly fewer limitations than those before our pre-Brown African American achievers.

Question from Jessica Sellers, Program Associate, Edvance:
What are your thoughts on the impact Magnet School Programs have had on desegregation in public school systems?

Karla Scoon Reid:
From my reporting, researchers felt magnet schools held much promise for integrating schools. And in some districts, magnet schools were among the most integrated and successful in their school systems. However, it appears that in some instances, researchers found that these magnet school programs were never fully implemented or were never supported financially or academically to make them successful. Now, it appears that many magnet schools (that were often opened in urban districts) are as racially isolated as traditional schools.

Question from Deborah G. McNair, Sp. Ed. Director, Cook County Schools:
Do you really think it’s worth the efffort to desegragate schools that eventaully end up resegregated due to population shift? Even schools that have equal racial populations somehow end up segregated by classes within the school. What do you see as the solution?

Michelle Fine:
There are wonderful examples of schools that have organized themselves so that all classes are integrated, that is, detracked. These are unusual but critically important as examplars of full integration. It is the case that in most desegregated high schools tracks, levels, etc. and special education placements resegregate -- but these are policies against which we should be working. (see Renaissance School in Montclair NJ; many of the small, performance assessment schools in New York City, e.g. Urban Academy)

Question from Kathryn Doherty, Education Week:
One of our audience members submitted this question to another guests and I thought it would be worth having each guest weigh in on it. Do you feel/believe we have progressed and changed significantly since the Brown v. Board of Education case? If yes, then how? If no, then please state your reasons. Do you feel/believe we have progressed and changed significantly since the Brown v. Board of Education case? If yes, then how? If no, then please state your reasons.

Maria Torre:
While there is overwhelming documentation of how little has changed since Brown, I can’t let go of the feeling that yes, we have progressed and changed since 1954. What I hold on to are the wonderful successes of the Small Schools movement, the unsung stories of progressive teachers, administrators and programs that have created integrated spaces of critical inquiry, that simply did not exist 50 years ago. And perhaps more importantly is that students today overwhelming believe that integration is important, that it is part of what being and learning in America is all about. Obviously we as a nation have been shameful in our lack of implimentation of these beliefs, but we have succeeded in creating higher expectations of educational equality and justice for all.

Question from Dr. Karen Palasek, Policy Analyst, John Locke Foundation:
How does the effect of Brown mesh with the view of some black parents that public school choice is causing segregation of blacks and whites, and that racial or socioeconomic proxies should be used to forcibly mix students?

Michelle Fine:
many school districts implement ‘controlled choice’ programs so that schools are not resegregated. In Cambridge, Mass., or Montclair New Jersey, public school choice is available to everyone -- and the schools are self consciously racially balanced. Schools are beginning to recognize that they might also be sensitive to balances by racial, ethnic, gender and social class integration.

Question from Tony Henning -5th grade teacher at Ross Elementary Memphi, TN:
Do you think that segregtion still exist in some of our public schools? If so,why?

Karla Scoon Reid:
Many educators have emphasized to me that legally sanctioned school segregation has been eliminated. However, many studies, most notably those written by researchers at Harvard’s Civil Rights Project, point out that the nation’s schools are more racially isolated today. Also, if you are referring to racial discrimination, our survey points out that students believe that black and Hispanic students are more likely to be singled out for harsher discipline. The student respondents also believe that teachers have lower expectations of black and Hispanic students. Other studies also suggest that ability “tracking” of students (those directed to honors and AP courses) can be linked to a student’s race.

Question from Dr. Fred A. Schwartz, School District Counselor, Compton U S D:
The underlying principle in the Brown decision was that black children are no different than white children, and the black child should be educated no differently than the white child. Why then, fifty years later does the black child bear most of the educational horrors we read about in such books as Johathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities?

Michelle Fine:
Institutional, and national racism, persists, and it bleeds into and beyond our schools. White and Black children, in teh aggregate, do not receive the same education; Black and Latino children are far more likely to attend under resourced schools, with under credentialed educators -- and these days they are more likely to be tested with high stakes exams for material they have never learned. That is why we are witnessing spiking drop out rates in communities with high stakes testing.

Question from Joyce King Bolds, Teacher, Liberty Point Elementary School:
As a teacher, I see racism in our schools through various educational programs such as the SST process, Special Education programs, etc. What can we do to stop erroneously placing children in these programs because of the color of their skin?

Maria Torre:
We need intensive teacher development work on questions of race and varied strategies for assessment; the kinds of racism that work into schools via tracking, testing, differential suspension policies must be addressed. Making these data public, and then having groups of youth, educators and parents working together would be a rich form of democratic accountability.

Question from Ron Anderson, School Psychologist, Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV:
Would you address the issue of parent level and quality of education vs racial differences in the performance of school age children on tests? e.g. Parent Education = 40%, racial bias = 20%, Economic =10%, etc.

Michelle Fine:
We have evidence that reveals that even if parents are college educated, Black and Latino youth are FAR less likely to enjoy access to rigorous coursework that enables them to perform well -- while “within group” parental education matters, unfortunately there are still major disparities between the kinds of educational experiences Black, Latino, White and Asian American youth receive.

Comment from Alfred L. Cooke, Dean, Education Division, Marygrove College, Detroit, Michigan:
The question of what to do in the future is one we at the College have taken on with some degree of intensity. On October 1-3 we will conven a conference of some 700 educators from around the Nation who will come together to celebrate Brown. But more importantly we will begin discussions leading to setting an agenda for revitalizing the purpose and spirit of education for the next few decades. I wonder if there are not some of you out there who would not have a tremendous amount to add to such an activity? If so, contact us at to register or to submit a paper for presentation at the conference. You may also access this information at the college

Question from Ms. Kathy Brown Parent, Houston County Ga.:
If the community does not embrace equity, how in the world can we expect those who are in power to make decisions without any bias? We still have folks believing white people are smarter than black people! Why don’t we mandate anthropology in our schools? Folks can learn we are different due to adaptation!

Michelle Fine:
Sometimes people change their attitudes and THEN their behaviors, but if we wait for that... we’ll die waiting. On other occasions, a change in attitude follows a change in behavior. We have seen people improve their attitudes after they have been involved in desegregated experiences (e.g. in the military, at work, in schools) -- and yes, we need to introduce issues of culture, racism, bias and broadened conceptions of assessment in teacher development programs (pre service, and in service)

Question from Mary E Almodovar, student, Robert Morris College:
Why are minorities still behind in scores taken on ACT and many math tests completed?

Michelle Fine:
Because, overall, they have had significantly less access to qualified math educators -- significantly!!!

see the distributions of quality teachers by race/ethnicity and track (Ingersoll)

Question from Joseph, Virginia Public Schools:
Dear Panelists, I taught in D.C. Schools for 2 years, where most schools are in a horrible condition. Majority of the students attending these schools are african american. My question is that do you think this is a racial issue or more an economic issue?

Maria Torre:
Certainly issues of material resources which are sorely lacking, school facilities, which are in terrible disrepair in cities and towns across the nation can be fixed with budgets that prioitize students and public education. However it is impossible to overlook that the school districts in the worse condition are disproportionately filled with poor students, with black and latino students. One cannot help but ask, would these schools remain like this if the children of the powerful, the white, the wealthy attended them? It seems that we as a nation have decided that children of color and poor children do not matter. Until we reassign our budget dollars, I cannot imagine this feeling lifting.

Question from Kathleen Donnison, American Studies Teacher, Mamroneck HS, NY:
So many families send their children to private schools, or move to “whiter” areas,in order avoid integrated, diverse schools. Would it be fair to say that this is one strong motivation behind the school voucher movement? And,if so, wouldn’t vouchers then raise constitutional concerns beyond the usual discussions?

Brian Jones:
Fair question, Kathleen. But, I have to respectfully disgree. I tend to think that people do not abandon schools because of their diversity, they abandon them when they don’t serve children well. The problem in our system is that people of means -- no matter their race -- have options. They can elect private schools or, as you suggest, they can move to places with preferable schools. It’s people without means who are too often captives of a public school system that doesn’t serve their children well. THAT, in my view, is what motivates most choice advocates with whom I’ve worked. Many people, including most notably my boss, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, wholeheartedly embrace both public schooling AND public/private school choice. The reason for that is to level the playing field for people without option and to inject competition as a motivation for public schools to improve. As captives of a system that doesn’t serve their children well, low-income parents are too often voiceless at the table of reform. That must end. That’s why the No Child Left Behind Act incorporates PUBLIC school choice as an option for parents with kids in schools that are designated “in need of improvement.” And it’s why the Secretary has supported a demonstration project in Washington, DC, to provide low income parents with scholarships to send their children to schools that better serve their kids, even if those schools happen to be private or religiously affiliated. The Mayor of DC and the president of the school board agree with the Secretary, the President and the Congress, that it is time to give low income parents the same options enjoyed by parents of means. As for the constitutional concern, the U.S. Supreme Court answered that question a couple of summers ago, in a case involving a similar scholarship program in Cleveland, OH. It held such programs to be constitutional.

Question from anonymous:
Based on my own experience, I wonder about the sacrifice of learning for students involved in the process of change. Years ago, I was in high school when desegregation strategies were implemented. Many teachers and students left the public school system, classes were majorly disrupted to the point that no learning occured in many of them, and neighborhood investment in schools diminished. I had to struggle mightily in my first year of college due to many gaps in my education during a time of great turmoil. How does learning stay on track during times of change? Thanks, Anonymous

Michelle Fine:
it is true that we have underestimated the toil/trauma/pain and loss of opportunity incurred during the process of change... and yet other lessons are learned during these times, about endurance, persistance, the power of the collective. just because new ‘bodies’ are brought into a school building doesn’t mean that the schools have changed. Unfortunately we have focused on access, rather than transformation so that all students enjoy engagement with rigorous, culturally engaging curriculum and rich, inquiry-based student assessments.

Question from Jessica Sullivan Technology Integrator, NYU Masters Candidate ECT:
When training elementary and high school teachers across the United States, is there a unified mandate to train teachers in the Multi Cultural strands of American social, political and cultural History? And, how does the education community support teachers in teaching this content area-when perhaps they were never taught themselves.

Michelle Fine:
Important question -- there is no uniform standard, and i’m not sure i would love one if it existed. But there may be exemplary ‘cases’ or illustrations or ‘non-negotiables’ that we might want to consider, such as a review of whose literature is read; how do assessments encourage inquiry, diversity of learning styles, revision; to what extent are cultures/languages/differences valued and seen as a source of knowledge that students bring into the classroom; where are students’ questions, voices, biographies??? See the work of Glorida Ladsen-Billings, Michele Foster, Stan Karp, Bill Bigelow, Jim Banks, Sonia Nieto, ...

Question from Cybele Werts, Information Specialist, Northeast Regional Resource Center, Vermont:
In addition to the Brown anniversary, another milestone occurred yesterday in Massachusetts which is that gay and lesbian people are now allowed to legally marry. I find a corollary to our racism and integration history in the sense that in many ways homosexual people do not have the assumed rights of heterosexual people. It is a kind of racism that is as endemic and deeply rooted in our history as that of racism against African Americans. Today we couldn’t imagine segregating children based on the color of their skin, or even condoning openly racist policies of any type. Do you think that in fifty years we will not be able to imagine not allowing people to marry based solely on the basis of their sexuality?

Maria Torre:
You raise a connection that provides us all with a spot of hope in a very dark political time... in the move for legalizing gay marriage, individuals have stood up to government and courts to say no we will not abide by discrimination and injustice. Let’s hope that this moment of action and activism will inspire others to do the same in communities, school board meetings, faculty meetings, PTAs, and student groups--that folks will stand up and say these unequal educational practices must end! no more high stakes testing, tracking, finance inequity, segregated ELL and ‘Special Ed’!

Question from Deborah Taub, Research Specialist, Center for Artistry in Teaching:
One of the common concerns I have heard from adults who went to segregated schools, is that current schools do not instill in students the same sense of pride in identity. How can we address this issue, with its multitude of reprucussions? And not just for African American students, but for all minority students.

Michelle Fine:
Really important site for assessment; we have asked thousands of students “to what extent is your culture respected in school?” and as you imply, there are vast differences, with African American and Latino students feeling most alienated. Teachers need help thinking through how to move toward multi-cultural classrooms that dare to investigate not just differences in culture, but power, histories of racism, and social movements of resistance; read broadly across literatures, deeply involve families and communities in curriculum building... Couldn’t agree more...

Question from Kathryn Doherty, Education Week:
One of our audience members submitted this question to another guest and I thought it would be worth having each guest weigh in on it. Do you feel/believe we have progressed and changed significantly since the Brown v. Board of Education case? If yes, then how? If no, then please state your reasons.

Karla Scoon Reid:
Yes. If we look at every level of society we see the positive reverberations of Brown. I think Brown can be linked to the increased representation of minorities on our college and university campuses. More minorities can be found in the boardroom and as elected officials in statehouses across the country. The promise of Brown--that people of all races and ethnicities could live, work, and learn together--still faces immense challenges, however. Racism and intolerance have not been eliminated in our country. Only the collective will of all Americans can help this nation reach the full potential of Brown.

Question from Carole D. Moyer, Early Childhood Coordinator, Columbus, Ohio:
Is there research about an inbalance concerning the discipline of black students vs. those of other races. i.e., are more black children being expelled, suspended, given detention, etc? If so, what is being done to rememdy this situation?

Michelle Fine:
Yes there is substantial researc h in this area, see the book edited by Bill Ayers on Zero Tolerance; Ann Arnett Ferguson’s book, Bad Boys, and see our forthcoming piece, Dear Zora... on Brown v. Board of Education 50 years later -- where we conducted a national survey on youth and learned that African Americani and Latino boys were about twice as likely as White American boys to be suspended in a year; and AFrican American girls about 4 times more likely to be suspended than White girls.... This has to change!!! (see Educational Law Center, in Phila. and the Juvenile Justice Center, also in Phila)

Question from Roberto Ceja, Principal, East Los Angeles Occupational Center:
The “achievement gap” in reality describes the results of an access gap to quality education. Do you think our remedies should be aimed at motivating students to do well or at restructuring our delivery system?

Brian Jones:
Good to hear from a fellow Californian! I’d suggest both goals are important, Robert. Motivating students is a critical element of teaching. Millions of teachers roll up their sleeves every day and do just that. My own experience is filled with public school teachers who inspired, challenged and motivated me. But our delivery system is in need of work too. For too long we have failed to give teachers the tools they need to know which students are in need of help and exactly what kind of help they might need. And we’ve also for too long failed to hold schools accountable when they don’t adequately respond to the academic needs of all kids. By ensuring a regular diagnosis of kids’ academic performance, by requiring the dissemination of information about the performance of kids in every school, by giving parents options and a seat at the table, and by holding school leaders accountable for results, the No Child Left Behind Act seeks to address the problems in delivery system. It seeks to do that by placing less emphasis on the demands of “the system” and more on the needs of the children.

Question from Kathryn M. Benson, Assistant Professor of Education, Southern Arkansas University:
Are Colleges of Education reluctant to problematize issues of race, social equality, class structure,etc? Do programs that fail to prepare teachers to address social, economic, and racial issues and problem solve within their schools and districts add to the overall effects of institutional racism and other social and economic problems?

Karla Scoon Reid:
I’m not sure that colleges of education are reluctant to “problematize” these issues as much as some of these programs are ill-equipped to address race, social equality, and class fully with their students. Also, the way teacher preparation programs are structured, I wonder if there’s little time to carve out to discuss these weighty issues in depth. Still, there are more urban teacher preparation programs emerging in colleges of education across the country.

Brian Jones:
Thanks to all of you for the many terrific questions. That so many care so much about public education in this country only validates the Supreme Court’s opinion in Brown v. Board, where it noted that no child can be expected to be a fully productive citizen without benefit of a sound education. Most Americans appreciate the truth of that today, and your great interest is testament to that. It was an honor to respond to your questions today. Thank you.

Kathryn Doherty, Education Week (Moderator):
We are going to have to end there. Thank you to our guests for your time this afternoon. And thanks to our audience for your provocative and thoughtful questions. I am sorry our guests were not able to answer all of your questions. I’d like to take this opportunity to direct you to two resources related to our discussion today. First, read Education Week’s special coverage in more than a dozen articles dating back to January 2004 at: Also, see a presentation of parts of the program Echoes of Brown at:

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