America's schools are more segregated today than they were three decades ago. After initial progress in the wake of the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education—further bolstered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as by several other rulings by the court—the nation's schools began a process of resegregation in the early 1990s. White resistance, reversals by the court, and growing residential segregation have ensured that many young people attend school with classmates from similar racial and class backgrounds. As a recent report from the UCLA's Civil Rights Project found, the average White student attends a school in which 69 percent of students are White, the average Latinx student attends a school in which 55 percent of students are Latinx, and the average Black student attends a school in which 47 percent of students are Black. Segregation is a fact of life in both the North and the South, in urban and rural communities, in red states and in blue states.
For this Policy Dialogue, HEQ's editors asked Cara McClellan and Matthew Delmont to discuss the segregation of K-12 schools by race. How, we wanted to know, has the past shaped the present and constrained the future? How are present-day efforts responding to that past and challenging the structures and cultures that reinforce racial segregation? What might the future hold? Cara McClellan is director of the Advocacy for Racial and Civil Justice Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania's Carey Law School, where she is also an associate professor of practice. Prior to this role, she served as assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she represented students and families in cases such as Sheff v. O'Neill. Matthew Delmont is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History at Dartmouth College. His work focuses on African American history and the history of civil rights, and he is the author of several books including Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and, most recently, Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad.
HEQ Policy Dialogues are, by design, intended to promote an informal, free exchange of ideas between scholars. At the end of the exchange, we offer a list of references for readers who wish to follow up on sources relevant to the discussion.