Oregon Public Broadcast reports that almost half of all economically disadvantaged students do not graduate from high school. There’s a long history of racism and classism in American education. So, today, I will begin at the start of school integration and progress throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century describing various aspects of American history that either relate directly to or in some way influenced education.

In the mid-50s, Brown vs. the Board of Education, and the Supreme Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. And so they started to require schools to admit Black students that formerly admitted White students. John Bartlow Martin, a well-respected journalist in the ’50s and ’60s who focused on marginalized groups of peoples’ experiences, reported on this change in the south and in the east coast.

In Delaware, Bryant Bowles, the founder of the White nationalist group, the National Association for the Advancement of White People– which is in reference to the NAACP– successfully closed down an integrated school.

In nearby Baltimore, Maryland, White Riots ensued declaring that their integrated schools also be closed. And eventually, 70% of all Black students in White schools [in Baltimore] were absent. Eventually, the police intervened and shut down the riots.

In St. Louis, district boundaries were redrawn in order to include people of all races from residential segregation. Surprisingly, there was very little stress about this in comparison to other places. Although, before he was sentenced to prison for sodomy of a minor, John Hamilton, the editor of the White nationalist periodical the White Sentinel, tried to start a protest but failed to get any traction.

In Kentucky, there was very little effort to integrate schools– they only did it when the Supreme Court forced them to. They viewed admitting six Black students into an all-White school as a state-wide success, while other states had been admitting thousands. In Kentucky, as seen here, Black students at White schools were faced with militarized mobs of White people as they tried to enter their schools. The result was either Black students going back to their all-Black schools, or just waiting until these mobs settled down.

Racist mob outside of school

By the ’60s, integrated had been seen as an indelible fact. There were people that were protesting against it, but they didn’t really succeed in anything. And although there were drastic adminstrational changes during this time, there were very little curriculum changes. And this was reported in the Fourth Annual Conference of the Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., in May of 1962, by John Fischer.

Even though Black students and White students went to the same institutions, their learning opportunities were very different, because teachers failed to recognize the cultural differences from residential segregation. They tried to view them as culturally equal, even though their cultures were very much different. So, formerly all-White schools didn’t contain any curriculum that was designed around uplifting Black people in the same way that they did for White people. All the history that was taught about Black Americans was about oppression rather than empowerment and accomplishments. This is still present today, as Niral Shah of Michigan State University’s College of Education reported a couple years ago– that Black and Latino students, despite their actually better grades than their White peers, still believed that they were worse at math and science.

In the ’60s, there was also White Flight, which is the movement of White people to avoid Black people in their schools and neighborhoods. They typically tried to get their students into private schools that low-income minorities could not afford, or they just moved into really expensive neighborhoods. In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed, which allocated federal funding to schools– particularly those that taught disadvantaged youth, like in rural communities and indigenous reservations. It’s difficult to tell whether these were actually successful, because the documentation of graduation and drop-out rates were pretty poor.

In the ’70s, the National Center for Education Statistics began recording graduation and drop-out rates by race rather than just nationwide and gender. As we can see here, the graduation rates were fairly stable throughout the ’70s.

Graduation rates in the 70s

In the ’70s, desegregation busing began, which transported White students into Black neighborhoods and vice versa in order to avoid residential segregation. But, after 1974 in the Milliken vs. Bradley case, this was restricted to only be present where residential segregation was still forced, and not for de facto segregation. As we can see here, police were forced to escort Black students into White neighborhoods because the residents were commonly assaulting the students. Desegration busing continued into the 2000s.

Police escort Black students into White neighborhoods

As we can see, the graduation rates were fairly stable. The difference didn’t really change except for once in the ’80s. There were projects to try to improve the education for minorities, but they didn’t really get the traction that they should have.

Graduation rates by race over last 40 years

In the 2000s, the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, which brought a great burden onto disadvantaged schools. It was designed to improve funding for well-performing schools, but also to punish those that were underperforming. Like before, they used culturally biased standardized testing in order to grade the schools. But, the difference was that their funding, the teaching licenses of the staff, and the schools’ very existence was at stake. They were given warnings when they were underperforming that resulted in teachers teaching to the tests that they were being graded on, rather than trying to improve their curriculum, because they didn’t have enough time. The schools that were most commonly affected negatively by No Child Left Behind were the schools with the largest populations of underprivileged students, like ELL students and disabled students.

Racism and classism have a strong presence in the contemporary history of American education. In the ’50s, school segregation was deemed unconstitutional, which was followed by brief extreme opposition that usually failed. In the ’60s, integration was generally accepted as indelible, but that did not imply that the educational opportunities were equal for the students. In the ’70s, desegregation busing was used as a band-aid for White Flight. And by the 2000s, after flip-flopping policy-makers in the ’80s and ’90s, one of the most controversial acts in present-day education was passed, No Child Left Behind, which only had detrimental effects on students of color. In closing, I would like to stress the importance of understanding history, because in order to improve institutions we have to understand the history of them.

Works Cited

  • Bartlow Martin, John. “The Border States Relent”. The Saturday Evening Post, 13 July 1957, p. 32. Print.
  • “Elementary and Secondary Education Act”. State of Washington: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), 6 Nov 2016. Web. 10 Nov 2016.
  • Fennel “Skip”, Francis. “No Child Left Behind: Challenges for All Teachers”. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics News Bulletin, July/August 2007. Print.
  • H. Fischer, John. “Education Problems Of Public Schools: Segregation and Desegregation”. Fourth Annual Conference of the Commission on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., 3 May 1962. Web. 5 November 2016.
  • Manning, Rob. “Why Is Oregon’s Graduation Rate So Low?”. Oregon Public Broadcast, 3 September 2015. Web. 13 November 2016.
  • National Public Radio. “The Legacy of School Busing: Decades After ‘Brown,’ Desegregation Efforts Yield Mixed Results”. NPR, 13 April 2004. Web. 11 November 2016.
  • Shah, Niral. “Mixed-race Learners and the Reification of Mathematical Ability as Genetic”. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The Westin Boston Waterfront, Boston, MA. 13 April 2015. Conference Presentation.
  • United States Department of Education. Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States, 1972-2009: Compendium Report, U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National center for Education Statistics, 2011, Washington, D.C. Print.