Education Reformers Say It's Time for a New Civil Rights Era

Some say there's a new kind of segregation in schools, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

Students protest in support of affirmative action, outside the Supreme Court during the hearing of "Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action" on Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
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According to Orfield's research, two out of five African-American and Latino students attend schools with about twice the poverty concentration of the schools of white and Asian students.

But Roger Clegg, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, which favors colorblind educational policies, says it's wrong to "conflate racial issues with economic issues."

"I'm prepared to believe that schools with poor students may have fewer resources than schools in wealthier areas, but I don't think that you can equate that to what we had prior to Brown v. Board of Education," Clegg says.

Clegg says more focus should be placed on the quality of school curriculum, rather than racial makeup, and that school choice and voucher systems make sense, because they help students get out of lower achieving schools.

"Educational decisions, whether it's admissions in higher education or school assignments at the K-12 level, should be without regard to race. I think that's what Brown was about," Clegg says. "School choice and voucher systems, and charter schools all make sense and are much more likely to improve the quality of education than obsessing about the racial makeup of the schools."

[OPINION: Economic Opportunity, Not Government, Will Solve Racial Inequality]

But Orfield says these programs will be ineffective without implementing additional civil rights provisions, such as greater access to affordable housing, or providing transportation to low-income students who choose to take advantage of school choice and voucher programs. Otherwise, Orfield says families will self-segregate through school choice and voucher programs, and that teacher evaluation systems, which reward or sanction teachers based on how well their students perform, will push effective teachers out of the schools that need them the most.

"The basic need is to keep in mind who our students are, what obstacles they are facing, how their lives will be ruined if they do not finish school, and that it is our moral responsibility not to impose popular-sounding reforms that will predictably make a very bad situation even worse," Orfield said.

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