In 1990, after months of interviews with Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had been the lead lawyer for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund on the Brown case, I sat in his Supreme Court chambers with a final question. Almost 40 years later, was he satisfied with the outcome of the decision? Outside the courthouse, the failing Washington school system was hypersegregated, with more than 90 percent of its students black and Latino. Schools in the surrounding suburbs, meanwhile, were mostly white and producing some of the top students in the nation.Brown v. Board was about resources, not diversity. In segregated schools, black children received a pittance in resources compared to white students. The fact that integration would end racial discrminiation was a side effect of what Marshall and the NAACP was seeking at that time.
Had Mr. Marshall, the lawyer, made a mistake by insisting on racial integration instead of improvement in the quality of schools for black children?
His response was that seating black children next to white children in school had never been the point. It had been necessary only because all-white school boards were generously financing schools for white children while leaving black students in overcrowded, decrepit buildings with hand-me-down books and underpaid teachers. He had wanted black children to have the right to attend white schools as a point of leverage over the biased spending patterns of the segregationists who ran schools — both in the 17 states where racially separate schools were required by law and in other states where they were a matter of culture.
If black children had the right to be in schools with white children, Justice Marshall reasoned, then school board officials would have no choice but to equalize spending to protect the interests of their white children.
Today however, the school districts with the largest black and Hispanic populations also tend to have the highest per pupil expenditures in the nation. Look at Newark and Washington, DC as two examples. Newark is spending in excess of $17,000 per student and DC is just over $15,000 or twice the national average per student. No one can legitimately argue that the goal of Brown as stated by Justice Thurgood Marshall, equalized spending, has not been achieved--in fact it has been surpassed. Additionally, as Williams pointed out:
Racial malice is no longer the primary motive in shaping inferior schools for minority children. Many failing big city schools today are operated by black superintendents and mostly black school boards.The issue now is not a question of resources or leadership, but of quality. If money bought quality, the Newark and Washington DC schools would be leading the country.
So it is time for the United States to begin looking beyond Brown? Absolutely. Racial problems will not be sovled by talking about race, but only when we stop talking about race. Schools are inequitable now for a whole host of reasons, none of them related to racial policies. De facto segregation, as a result of community and economic conditions is the cause of schools being overwhelmingly one race or another in many cases. But what most liberals are failing to grasp is that the adherence to the Brown ruling is actually ruining public education. We have focused so long on achieving "diversity" that we have failed to address quality. A quality education is not found in a diverse classroom alone, but it is found in a classroom with clear standards, high quality teachers, caring parents and a dedicated community. If it happens to be diverse, great, if not, we should not lose sleep because some kids' classroom is 70 percent black or 25 percent black.