Is Brown Holding Us Back? Moving Forward, Sixty Years Later
Palma Joy Strand
Creighton University School of Law
August 17, 2013
Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy (Forthcoming)
Brown v. Board of Education brought the democratic value of equality to U.S. democracy, which had previously centered primarily on popular control. Brown has not, however, resulted in actual educational equality — or universal educational quality.
Developments since Brown have changed the educational landscape. While the social salience of race has evolved, economic inequality has risen dramatically. Legislative and other developments have institutionalized distrust of those who do the day-to-day work of education: public schools and the teachers within them. Demographic and economic shifts have made comprehensive preschool through post-secondary education a 21st-century imperative, while Common Core Standards represent a significant step toward defining quality K-12 education nationwide.
Though we do not live in a post-racial era, we do live in a very different world than the world of Brown. For this transformed situation, we need a new vision — and new legal paradigms to support realization of that vision. The Finnish school system — ranked #1 internationally — offers insights for systemic reform. The U.S. challenge, however, is to adapt those insights to our institutional structure. We must maintain a balance between the national interest in successful education across the country, the constitutional assignment of responsibility for education to the States, and the fact that education happens locally in individual classrooms and between individual teachers and students.
A national educational vision of civic innovation that embraces all students and trusts public schools and teachers points to a three-pronged strategy for moving forward. First, States define the vision and instigate negotiations with the national government for support of that vision. Second, local school districts adapt to their communities and students to fulfill the States’ vision. Third, public schools and teachers undertake the day-to-day work of building the relational trust that enables real reform; the federal government provides the additional support necessary for this work. New legal paradigms support these shifts.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 67
Keywords: education, civil rights, constitutional law, equal protection, state and local government, guarantee clause
JEL Classification: J11, L32Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 18, 2013 ; Last revised: September 19, 2013
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