The Trump administration’s move to rescind previous guidelines on how school districts can account for race when drawing school district lines or assigning students to schools means young people of color will continue to face harmful inequities in their education and will set back critical recent efforts by districts to desegregate their schools.
The U.S. school system is as, if not more segregated than it was 50 years ago when the Kerner Commission determined that we needed to invest in education to reduce inequality and racial injustice. And we know that separate is not equal, as the U.S. Supreme Court wisely ruled in Brown v. Board of Ed in 1954. Students of color are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students, which means they have less access to resources critical for learning, such as high-quality teachers, and in turn are statistically less likely than white students to excel in school and graduate in four years.
By proposing that school districts revert back to taking a colorblind approach to all policies and practices, the U.S. Department of Education is steepening the uphill battle our children of color face to combat educational inequities.
Colorblind policies have not worked. We as a country must take a close, hard look at our racial biases and how they affect the learning experiences, and in turn the future, of our young people of color. State and district education leaders can and in some cases have been doing this by examining racial and economic disparities and segregation patterns in their schools and devising strategies for addressing them. They are aware of how school integration benefits all children: Integrated schools have smaller achievement gaps between students of color and their white classmates compared to similar more segregated schools. And there are documented social and academic benefits for children of all backgrounds attending integrated schools.
It has been heartening to watch recent efforts to desegregate schools by changing how students are assigned to schools, such as in New York City and San Antonio, TX. Educational leaders in these districts have been able to do this thanks to guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 2011 that advised districts on how, for the sake of diversifying schools, they can account for race when making non-individualized decisions like school site selection, how they draw attendance zones, and targeted recruitment of students and teachers. These guidelines relied on a Supreme Court argument made by Anthony Kennedy and other justices in 2007. These guidelines must be retained.
We can’t turn back the clock on these efforts now. Courageous district leaders are just getting started, and our young people deserve for the momentum to continue. Their future, and our country’s, depends on it.