54 Years Since the Civil Rights Act and Schools Still Haven’t Figured Out How to Serve Students of Color

A basic right like education can sometimes feel more like a privilege than a constitutional promise. In the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court determined that "‘separate but equal’ education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all." Yet, despite this ruling, prioritizing desegregating schools didn’t happen until the next decade with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Education is an essential key to freedom and equality and failure to defend and preserve this right is failure to serve all students in America. 54 years later, students of color and families still find themselves fighting for this basic right. More than 6 million students in public schools in California this year identified as Hispanic or Latino/a, making up about 54.2 percent of 2017-2018 school enrollment. Despite high enrollment of students of color, Black and Latino/a students continue to suffer from the highest dropout rates. During 2014-2015, 18.8 percent of Black students and 12.6 percent of Latino/a students dropped out of high school compared to 7.4 percent of their White counterparts. Diversity in public schools is praised, but often, the successes or lackthereof for our students of color are overlooked. While overall the dropout rates seem low, they are doubled for our Black and Brown students. Although students in public schools have access to same resources on campus, those resources may not be inclusive of all students. Tailored support for students can include encouraging students, especially students of color to participate in fly-in programs hosted at colleges, promoting affinity groups based on culture or hobbies and interests, and making an effort of having a racially diverse school staff. While we have recognized the importance of education, we haven’t yet adequately served our students of color to help them through their academic journeys. We are able to get them to school, but we aren’t doing a job of keeping them there. Reasons for dropping out can be attributed to low attendance, low grades, and lack of academic and emotional support. As for the Black and Latino/a students who are graduating with the rest of their peers, they are not as college-ready like their White, and even Asian counterparts. Thirty-three percent of Black and 34.6 percent of Latino/a seniors graduating from public high schools were considered college-ready, compared to 49.7 percent of White and 71.8 percent of Asian students. While all students have access to what their schools provide, the schools are not meeting our students of color halfway. Many of these students are dealing with external adversities at home, struggling in classes, dealing with developmental disabilities that go unnoticed and more. While we have come a long way as a nation since Brown vs. Board of Education, we still have a long way to go. We have to hold our schools and districts accountable for how our students of color are being served and educated. We have to play an active role in Black and Latino/a students’ education to show that we care, but also that we are making sure that they have a community they can depend throughout their academic journey. As community members, parents, counselors, mentors, and educators, we have to be willing to speak up for our students who are not able to do so or who do not have the language to advocate for the education they deserve and have been promised.
An original version of this post appeared on La Comadre as Education as a Civil Right: Are Our Students of Color Being Adequately Served?
Ashley Terry is an alumni advisor supporting college-aged students at KIPP Bay Area Schools. Through her work, she hopes to cultivate change within her students and now through her written work. Ashley was raised in the East Bay Area, graduated from The Bay School of San Francisco and received her bachelor's degree in Africana Studies from Barnard College of Columbia University in 2015.

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