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Brown v. Board of Education Revisited 70 Years Later

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A blockbuster panel kicked off "Establishing a National Agenda for Meeting the Promise of Brown v. Board: 70 Years Later," a three-day conference that featured a number of prominent educators. 

The convening, which is taking place in Washington, D.C. this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in public schools, was held to assess the state of Black education in 1954 and to measure the ongoing challenges to education equity over the past seven decades. 

Across the years, a mythology and narrative of the Brown v. Board of Education has developed that has not thoroughly examined the impact the ruling has had on communities of color in general, and Black communities in particular, the panelists noted.Brown V Board 70

"I am not saying that Brown was wrongly decided, but there was a cost that came with Brown," said Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Professor Emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who appeared on the opening panel titled, "Top 5 Most Pressing Challenges Facing African American Education."

Between 1954 and 1965, approximately 38,000 Black teachers and administrators in 17 Southern states lost jobs, she said, adding that in the wake of the ruling, there was a "campaign of economic reprisal and intimidation against Black educators," with Black teachers and administrators being fired with or without cause. 

Panelists noted that the enforcement of Brown, proved to be yet another challenge. 

"Ten years after Brown, 98% of Blacks were still in segregated schools," said Dr. Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, who credited the Civil Rights Movement and the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson with helping to bring about "sweeping, mandated policy." 

Still, Chase Moore, Special Assistant to the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans, said that more can and should be done to help close the widening achievement gap in the years since the landmark decision. 

"One's zip code should not determine what education one should receive, but it does," he said, adding that an investment in programs and alternatives to disciplinary and punitive policies are needed in order to help Black youngsters succeed. 

The conference is sponsored by the National Coalition on Education Equity, the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators, the Spencer Foundation, The Education Trust, College Board, the William T. Grant Foundation, Leaning Policy Institute (LPI), and the National Urban League.

Other speakers throughout the week include Dr. Pedro Noguera of UCLA, Dr. Na'ilah Nasir of the Spencer Foundation, Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, of LPI, Drs. Travis Bristol and Rucker Johnson of UC Berkeley, Lezli Baskerville of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and Dr. Tyrone Howard of UCLA. 

Ladson-Billings and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that, if the teaching profession wants to diversify, it has to increase compensation, fund teacher preparation costs, increase loan forgiveness and begin the process of recruiting Blacks to the profession much earlier. 

"We have to actually make teaching more attractive," said Weingarten, who leads the union made up of 1.7 million members. "We just have to be intentional about it." 

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