A California Case Study

50 Years After Brown v Board of Education: Still Separate and Unequal

Revolutionary Worker #1241, May 23, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

"Education under capitalism is a system of savage inequalities--a system that reproduces inequality. Children in poor communities go to inferior schools with overcrowded classrooms, poorly paid teachers, and lack of materials. For many kids, schools are little more than prisons where the only aim is to maintain control, and students are subjected to armed police, metal detectors, searches, and abuse. The learning process is molded by tests that discriminate against the poor and the oppressed nationalities. In the affluent schools, education is marked by the pursuit of grades and rewards, self-seeking competition, and elitism.".

-- Draft Programme of the RCP

"The only reason I got the education that I got is for two reasons: the color of my skin and the amount of money my parents made. I got second, third, fourth and fifth chances.The kids I teach don't even get a first chance. Fifty years ago it was declared unconstitutional to have separate schools because they are inherently unequal. I teach at a separate school and it is unequal.".

-- Teacher at Downer Elementary School

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against segregated schools in Brown v Board of Education . Half a century later, education under this system is still a system of savage inequalities. Schools in California are a case study in this situation.

In California, and throughout the U.S., public education as a whole has deteriorated in shocking ways--from crowded classes to poor pay for teachers, crumbling schools, and more. But it is the oppressed nationalities that get the worst of this bad situation.

This year, 46% of California's K-12 students are Latino, 33% are white, 8% are African American, 11% are Asian, Filipino or Pacific Islander, 1% are Native American, and 1% are classified "other." But most schools do not reflect this diversity. 29% of kids in California attend schools where 90 to 100% of the student body is from oppressed nationalities. 47% of all Latinos students and 38% of all Black students attend these highly segregated schools. Only 3% of white students attend the highly segregated schools.

According to a recent Harris survey, schools where over 90% of students are from oppressed nationalities are 73% more likely to have cockroaches, rats, or mice. Bathrooms in such schools are often filthy. Tenth-grader Carmen Munoz, who attends Hoover High in San Diego, told Californians for Justice , "We don't have paper towels, toilet paper or hand soap in the bathrooms. There are only two bathrooms open for the whole school."

Students in segregated schools are much more likely to have under-credentialed teachers, substitute teachers, and teachers without much experience. In 450 California schools, over one-third of all teachers lack credentials--and 85% of the students at these schools are from oppressed nationalities. Schools where white students are a majority have an average of 4% non-credentialed teachers.

There is a general shortage of textbooks in California schools. But teachers in the 20% of California schools with the highest percentage African American, Latino, and American Indian students are 77% more likely than teachers in schools with the lowest percentage of these students to report that their students do not have textbooks to take home.

A report titled "Separate and Unequal, 50 Years after Brown " from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access looked at problems in four areas: lack of credentialed teachers, lack of stable staff, lack of essential instructional materials, and lack of adequate and safe facilities. The report found that the racial composition of schools with problems in none of these areas or in only one area was about 50% white. But at schools with problems in all four areas, 93% of the students are from oppressed nationalities.

A comparison of two Bay Area high schools gives a picture of the "savage inequalities." McClymonds High School is in the poor, mainly Black area of West Oakland. Piedmont High School is just a few miles away in Piedmont, a well-off small city surrounded by Oakland. Each school has about 800 students. At McClymonds 99% of the students are from oppressed nationalities. Piedmont is 72% white and 22% Asian. About 50% of McClymonds students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Virtually none of the Piedmont students qualify for free lunches.

Less than 30% of the students who enter McClymonds in the ninth grade graduate four years later. Only 5% meet the requirements to attend the University of California or a State University. At Piedmont the graduation rate is over 95%, and 88% of the graduates meet the California college entry requirements.

The rulers of this system talk about "equality of opportunity," how "you can make it if you try." The cold truth is that many Black and Latino students are crowded into schools where the workings of the system are set up so only a few will make it to college and a "good job." The system gives them the "opportunity" of slave-wage jobs or prison.

What would a being from another planet see if they came to the USA today and observed a typical downtown? They'd see youth--mainly from oppressed nationalities--working low-paying jobs serving well-paid professionals and executives. They'd see maids from Mexico and the Philippines making beds in fancy hotels and men from Mexico and Central America busing tables and washing dishes. They would see a society divided into haves and have nots, powerful and powerless, where oppressed nationalities are forced into caste-like positions. And they'd wonder how long it would be before such a society was overthrown.