Brown v. Board After 60 Years – Examining Equal Educational Opportunity

Community, Federal & National Policy, Leadership, Learning, Online & Blended, PreK-12

As a mission-driven organization we are passionate about accelerating innovations especially when they increase access and equity. Susan Patrick, President and CEO of iNACOL just returned from American Enterprise Institute’s gathering on the progress since Brown v. Board, where she shared the potential of online learning, competency-based models, and personalized instruction in expanding access and equity. In this blog that first appeared on

Susan Patrick

American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) recently hosted ‘With all deliberate speed: Brown v. Board of Education | 60 years later‘ where leaders gathered to examine equal educational opportunity.

Gerard Robinson, AEI Resident Fellow, facilitated an incredible discussion to examine the developments over the 60 years since Brown v. Board—and the ongoing need to transform our system to improve educational equity.

Gerard’s driving question—What can we do to live up to the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education?—(in the video below) set the tone for the engaging and important conversation that followed.


Here are some key quotes and take-aways from a set of first-rate speakers:

  • “The most important function of local and state government is education.” – Mildred Robinson, University of Virginia School of Law.
  • “Education is the linchpin of the American democracy” – M. Robinson.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, “Segregation was society’s preferred social system . . . public schools in Farmville, Virginia [during de-segregation] closed for five years [rather than integrate].” – M. Robinson.
  • We have to understand the historic roots of the term “freedom of choice” in the 1960s meant that publicly-funded all-white private academies were created in the 1960s to avoid de-segregation.
  • Racial de-segregation – where did we end up today? We still have educational opportunity gaps and achievement gaps.
  • A deeper examination is needed on how Brown impacted communities.
  • Even before Brown v. Board, there was a case brought to courts, Mendez v. Westminster. “In the 1920s, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found schools assigning English language learners to schools, not based on language fluency, but assigned on appearance, etc. There are parallels to how ELL students are treated today.” – Tom Saenz, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
  • Gene Wade presented on “innovation and the path forward to achieving Brown’s goals.” Wade’s presentation was superb for shifting to the global perspective including higher education.
  • Virginia-based Lawrence Wilder, Jr.’s work with Communities In Schools and on performance-based models is ground-breaking and important.
  • Kara Bobroff from the Native American Community Academy in New Mexico’s work is inspirational and offers a stronger perspective on how engaged communities are helping to create breakthrough models through social entrepreneurship.

In K-12 American education: educational opportunity gaps persist.

According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, many students do not have access to all the courses that will prepare them for college and careers.

  • Only 50% of U.S. high schools offer calculus; only 63% offer physics.
  • Between 10% and 25% of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education—such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology and chemistry.
  • Students of color are disproportionately affected: a quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II, and a third of these schools do not offer chemistry.

The learning opportunities a student has in grades K–12 provide a vital foundation for success in college and career, and these early competencies particularly matter in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. According to CODE2040 and the Level Playing Field Institute, the proportions of high-level black and Latino Silicon Valley tech workers are only 3.4% and 2.4% respectively. This is related to the disproportionately low access that black and Latino students have to the very STEM courses in high school they need as prerequisites to succeed in STEM majors in college.

Innovations in online learning could help level the playing field

My presentation on education innovations using online learning provided an overview of the Office of Civil Rights data on opportunity gap statistics for course access above and asked, “How do we ensure all students have access to a world-class education?” As part of the session I shared the importance to acknowledge that  in the State of California, only 40% of high schools offer the full range of advanced courses required on a high school transcript (seven courses make up the A-G requirements) needed to even apply to the University of California system’s colleges.

Do all students have equal educational opportunity?

We have the ability to level the playing field by increasing access to the best teachers online and courses students need for success. There are Course Access programs in six states that provide increased opportunities and choices at the course level. There are 26 states with state online learning programs offering student access to courses.

Are we designing schools based on how students learn best?

New learning models that are competency-based help ensure that students build skills and knowledge and advance when they demonstrate mastery. This ensures that students are successful and don’t have gaps as they move through the education system. We need to ensure our students are building the knowledge and skills to be prepared for future success in college, careers and lead meaningful lives. We need to design new models for equity and close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

Data-rich environments can drive personalized instruction and equity

These new models have much more data to help empower teachers to personalize instruction for each student’s needs. If a student is not yet proficient, what resources and supports are provided in real-time to bring them up to speed and keep them on track to graduating? Today, even with the current federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to ensure excellence and equity, our K-12 education system operates in a “state” of data poverty relying on once-a-year summative (“autopsy”) tests. We are actually masking the true size of the achievement gap from day to day. With new personalized learning models, we could have better data to help students fill in gaps and accelerate toward success. We must ask and design systems to ensure success.

Let’s change the conversation

Ask – can all students learn? Yes. Can all students “catch up?” Yes. What are the conditions and resources needed for student success? What does success look like? These are the questions we need to address to move the conversation forward for transforming education so all students have the knowledge, skills and dispositions they need for a world-class education.

Please leave your thoughts by commenting or tweeting @nacol.

Many thanks to Gerard Robinson at AEI for hosting a robust dialog on the historical perspective of Brown v. Board and incenting the innovations and systems change needed for moving forward in 2015 and beyond.

For more, check out:

Susan Patrick is President and CEO of iNACOL. Follow Susan on Twitter, @susandpatrick

iNACOL is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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