Black America and School Choice: Charting a New Course

Posted: 27 Aug 2008

Date Written: August 24, 2008


The dominant perspective among those who have examined the behavioral, academic, psychological, and cultural consequences of Brown and its progeny. Brown reinforced centralization of the education establishment and resulted in the forced integration of certain schools and districts. Dr. Doris Wilkinson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky, has compared the education of black America during the era of Jim Crow with the post-Brown developments described above.

She concludes: Public school integration and the associated demolition of the black school has had a devastating impact on African American children - their self-esteem, motivation to succeed, conceptions of heroes or role models, respect for adults, and academic performance. Racial animosities have also intensified. Unless rational alternatives are devised that take into account the uniqueness of the African American heritage, busing and compulsory school integration will become even more destructive to their health and ultimately to the nation as a whole. The teachers, administrators, and school boards of both urban and suburban school districts are overwhelmingly white, and relatively few black children attend suburban schools, representing most of the "integration" that exists in public schools. Minority children ride the bus to attend schools with strangers - children belonging to another neighborhood, racial group, and social class. With only a handful of black students in each classroom, they experience prolonged isolation in predominantly white settings, where they are often "exposed to denigrating racial imagery from the teachers, tracking, low expectations, or race hatred."

According to one writer, "the basic assumption of those endorsing the theory that a school district has overcome its history of racial discrimination is that a school district can be expected to treat minority students fairly without court supervision because there are no longer racial barriers." However, this illogical approach to equal educational opportunities has negatively impacted black students from both middle- and low-income families, the former often as much as the latter. Black America has devoted its energy and resources to fighting a losing battle.

The Court's rejection of the most viable school desegregation plans, coupled with the reality that integration policies have "not produced the hoped-for improvement of the quality of educational opportunities for African Americans" requires a reformulation of the meaning of Brown rather than more fruitless school desegregation litigation. Accordingly, I would reinterpret the constitutional imperative of Brown as requiring equal access to quality educational programs. Thus, a school district that did not purposefully assign students based on their race would fall within the zone of defensibility, if not actual compliance, with the mandate of Brown if it made concerted efforts to raise substantially the quality of educational opportunities afforded to black children in their own neighborhoods. At the very least, good faith efforts to convert litigation resources into education resources for those with the most pressing needs would help to promote equal protection.

The Detroit School Board's efforts to establish all-male academies were persuasive because officials assumed an affirmative obligation to work with parents and to involve the community in bringing about the desired changes to the troubled system. Much of the education literature supports Helaine Greenfeld's theory that what equal protection may require, in this situation, is "providing African-American and white students with what they both need, respectively, to derive an equal benefit from their schooling."

Keywords: charter schools, village academy

Suggested Citation

Barnes, Robin, Black America and School Choice: Charting a New Course (August 24, 2008). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 2375, 1997, Available at SSRN:
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