EDITORIAL: Brown v. Board of Education was good, but more needs to be done
Our View: On the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, we need more legislation reform to truly end "separate but equal."
Fifty-eight years ago Thursday, legislation was passed that has been central to the U.S. education system. On May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruled that racial segregation in public educational facilities was unconstitutional. It overturned the precedent, Plessy v. Ferguson from 1896, which ruled that all are “separate but equal.”
While Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was not only appropriate but entirely necessary almost 60 years ago, it doesn’t measure up to contemporary standards because segregation today is feasible only within an economically ideal system.
American public schools today are in a similar situation as they were almost a century ago. Although public schools are free and welcoming to all students, the politics and social conditions within the community often perpetuate a “separate but equal” clause.
First, one must consider the average annual wage of various demographics since social conditions and property taxes in an area greatly influence a school’s demographics. According to a Pew Research Center analysis from 2009, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.
Additionally, Pew statistics show that the bursting housing market bubble of 2006 and the recession that followed from 2007 to 2009 greatly impacted the white majority, but it impacted the minorities to a greater degree. After median wealth plunged by 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among black households, the median wealth fell only by 16 percent among white households.
As a result, the average black household in 2009 had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debt) and the average Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth, while the average white household had $113,149 in wealth.
These statistics perpetuate the idea that minorities are more likely to inhabit lower-income communities. Undoubtedly, the white majority appears to be more equipped to access the wealthiest communities, which, in effect, boast of the wealthiest schools.
Zoning and gerrymandering, a political strategy used to divide an area into units to attribute advantages to one group, create severe disadvantages. Many times public schools, which retain a large percentage of minority students, lack the funding wealthy communities receive. Though all public schools maintain the same principles and espouse the “no child left behind” mantra, schools with less funding are more likely to yield lower test scores, according to more than 60 statistical analyses reviewed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Schools with higher funding assumedly retain teachers with not only higher salaries, but with a higher incentive to perform their job. Such schools also have more resources and class materials at their disposal.
Many students at OU are products of the public school system, which elevates some and disadvantages others. Black students represented less than 8 percent of the OU student population in 2009 and Hispanic students represented only 6 percent, according to the OU Factbook.
The system the government operates within is counterproductive and fails to serve Oklahoma’s minority students. Though Brown v. Board Education of Topeka was relevant when it was instituted, fair and self-sufficient school systems demand more than education reform. They require a reform of economics, housing and wage disparities.
We should not remain comfortable within this historical context but should reform institutions that cloud the legislation’s true mission.