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16 Northwestern Journal of Human Rights 92 (2018)
First published by Northwestern Journal of Human Rights, Volume 16, Issue 1


More than ten years have passed since the United States Supreme Court last addressed school desegregation. In its abbreviated tenure in the decades following Brown v. Board of Education, school desegregation was successful in many respects. Longstanding policies of state-sponsored educational apartheid eventually ended. A great many school buildings became more diverse. Countless students of color gained access to improved academic opportunities and better life outcomes. A consensus formed around the positive impacts that desegregation could have on both students of color and white students. When courts retreated from upholding desegregation policies, many communities developed their own voluntary plans, some of which even continue today.

Yet by any measure, the original goals of Brown remain unfulfilled. Desegregation has nearly disappeared from the lexicon of educational reform, and America’s schools are becoming dramatically more segregated. While the courts are certainly to blame, the design and implementation of desegregation itself contributed to its own downfall. Desegregation has almost exclusively focused on balancing the number of students of different races in public schools, and nothing more. School district plans for addressing segregation often passed constitutional muster by merely moving students of color into previously all-white schools.

As a result, schools became desegregated but were never fully integrated. Integration, as compared to desegregation, naturally requires the removal of the structures of segregation, but it also seeks to address more than just diversity in terms of numbers. Actual integration requires going beyond demographics, to include reforming the classroom and curriculum, and diversifying the teaching ranks. It breaks through school district boundaries to forge metropolitan-wide solutions. It requires changes beyond education, connecting housing and education policy. And because of the most recent Supreme Court decision, it requires using other metrics, in addition to race, to promote broad diversity in the public schools.

After providing a brief overview of desegregation’s main achievements and its largest setbacks, this article examines successful desegregation programs from around the country and describes what has made these efforts worthwhile and legally sound. It then makes policy recommendations as to how to strengthen desegregation, such as avoiding the legal pitfalls of recent Supreme Court cases through geographic based-solutions, increasing diversity of our teaching ranks, and linking housing and education policy.


First published by Northwestern Journal of Human Rights, Volume 16, Issue 1