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Floyd D. Weatherspoon
Permission pending: Floyd D. Weatherspoon, Racial Justice and Equity for African-American Males in the American Educational System: a Dream Forever Deferred, 29 North Carolina Central Law Journal 1 (2006). (221 Footnotes Omitted)
The plight of African-American males to achieve racial justice and equity in this country continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. The American justice system has permitted and in some cases sanctioned the marginalization of African-American males as full citizens. *2 The basis for the denial of racial justice and equity for African-American males is caused, in part, by the intersection of their race and gender (black and male).
African-American males are disproportionately represented in every aspect of the criminal justice system, from being racially profiled, stopped, arrested, prosecuted, sentenced, incarcerated, and *3 placed on death row. Indeed, the overrepresentation of African-American males in the criminal justice system negatively impacts their ability to gain meaningful employment, health care, to exercise their ability to vote, and to obtain a quality education, if any education*4 at all. At the root of many of these issues is a discriminatory criminal justice system which targets African-American males for punishment. There is a direct correlation between the failure of African-American males to obtain a quality education and their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Just as insidious as our criminal justice system, public school systems are warehousing African-American male students for future placement in the criminal justice system. In other words, public school systems indirectly supply the criminal justice system with African-American male students who have dropped out of school or have been suspended or expelled. Further, public school systems have failed to provide an effective, adequate, and non-discriminatory education system, as mandated by Brown v. Board of Education. Without a quality education, African-American males are forever relegated to the level of second class citizens in American society.
It was the hope and dream of African-Americans that the Supreme Court decision in Brown would have resulted in the end of separate and deplorable schools for African-American students. However, for many African-American students, the failure of Brown to ensure quality and equity in education can be seen in every aspect of our public educational system. In particular, African-American male students are disproportionately assigned to the sports curriculum or *5 special education classes. For example, starting in kindergarten, African-American males who have above average athletic skills are nourished and developed to play sports through high school. Often, this over-emphasis on sports is at the expense of their education. In addition, African-American males are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school, and are systematically excluded from advanced and college prep classes. Moreover, African-American males who are perceived to have educational deficiencies are assigned to special education classes or ignored and passed on through the system. African-American males consistently represent the highest dropout rates for high school students. Even though public school systems are well aware of the status of African-American male students, they are ignored, neglected, labeled, stereotyped, and written off as dysfunctional.
This article will explore how the failure of Brown to ensure quality and meaningful education for African-American male students is the major impetus for racial injustice and inequity that African-American male students endure. Part II of this article describes the initial impact that the Brown decision had on ending the segregation of public schools. Part III reveals how public schools have returned to segregated institutions. Part IV explains how the Brown decision has failed to ensure equity and quality education for African-American males. This section will also document the present deteriorating status of African-American males in public schools. Lastly, Part V, the conclusion, provides a brief discussion on remedies to enhance the status of African-American males in public educational systems.
*6 In this article, I have not attempted to set forth an exhaustive list of remedies and strategies to enhancing the status of African-American males in public schools. Instead, I only briefly cite a few possible remedies. It is hoped that this article will engender further dialogue and research on enhancing the status of African-American males in public schools.
II. Impact of Brown on the Desegregation of Public Schools
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued one of the most, if not vitally important, civil rights decisions in the history of the country. This came in the seminal decision of Brown v. Board of Education. Brown, which overruled Plessy v. Ferguson, invalidated the legal doctrine of separate but equal. For more than 50 years, the decision in Plessy upheld the legality of separate but equal educational systems. According to Plessy, it was legal to educate African-American and white students separately in different facilities. However, the court in Brown held that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
The Brown decision has had an enormous impact on the education of all students, especially minorities. The Brown decision also has had a tremendous impact on ending segregation in public transportation,*7 accommodations, and recreation and park facilities. Indeed, the legal principles set forth in the Brown decision, transcends from educational law to other substantive laws.
In many school districts, especially in the South, the Brown decision was successful in ending de jure segregation. Unfortunately though, the Brown decision failed to be a catalyst for ending institutionalized racism. Racism has plagued African-American students, especially African-American male students who were often bused into predominately white and hostile educational environments for the sake of desegregation. African-American students experienced more hostility as school districts attempted to desegregate public schools. As school districts return to segregated schools, African-American male students find themselves in school environments similar to the legal segregation scheme in Plessy. The only difference between pre-Brown and post-Brown is that the discrimination is not blatant but hidden in policies and practices that create a hostile learning environment.
The Brown decision established the importance of education and the responsibility of state and local governments to provide a quality *8 education to all its citizens, including minorities. Specifically, the court stated:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
Ironically, Chief Justice Warren's statement still remains the primary issue in public schools today. It is clear from the wealth of educational data that state and local school districts have failed miserably to provide equal opportunities to minority students, especially African-American males. Even more compelling today, African-American children will find it difficult to succeed in life without an adequate education. For African-American males, it is more than a doubt, but a reality, that the American education system has failed to place them on a path which leads to the fulfillment of the American dream. Instead, African-American males are disproportionately expelled, segregated in a segregated educational system, and pushed along a path of despair and failure.
III. Re-segregation of Public Schools: A Return to Plessy
It was Martin Luther King's dream that white and black students would be educated in an integrated environment. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) vigorously*9 pursued this dream through litigation. Fifty years later, minorities and the economically disadvantaged are segregated into the poorest schools in the country where school resources and funding are limited.
School districts across the country are rapidly re-segregating. The dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so eloquently spoke of has never been truly realized. Indeed, fifty years after the Brown decision, African-Americans have awakened to a nightmare of de facto segregation and isolation.
We celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown, but it is as much about its history than its present day effect on public education. As a result of the Brown decision, public schools, especially in the South, initially*10 began to desegregate schools. However, the success of Brown was short-lived. To avoid integrating their children with African-Americans, white parents moved out of school districts or sent their children to private schools. The Supreme Court's decision in Milliken v. Bradley, which restricted the use of busing to desegregate the Detroit School system by implementing an inter-district remedy, for all practical purposes, ended efforts by school districts to desegregate public school systems. In theory, separate but equal is now illegal, but in practice, public schools are largely separate and unequal.
During the past decades, federal courts have slowly but consistently dissolved the federal desegregation plans which had some initial success in desegregating public schools. Indeed, many school districts have asked federal courts to terminate their consent orders to desegregate public schools and to return control of public schools totally or partially back to local school boards. School boards have primarily *11 relied on the Supreme Court decision in Board of Education v. Dowell, which established the good faith standard to determine whether a school district has moved from de jure segregation to a unitary system. The ending of court-ordered and supervised desegregation plans, for all practical purposes, sanctions the legitimacy of segregated schools, so long as the school board is acting in good faith. In particular, states such as California, New York, Michigan, and Illinois represent the most segregated states for [African-American] students. However, many school districts in these states have asked the courts to end court ordered monitors of school districts.
This is not to suggest that control of schools should never be returned to local school boards who maintained de facto segregated school systems. The Supreme Court in Freeman v. Pitts stated that local autonomy of school districts is a vital national tradition. The concern, however, is that federal courts seem eager to return local control of schools out of frustration and defeat. Even where there may be vestiges of disparity lurking within the system, federal courts nevertheless readily relinquish control.
School districts that attempt to achieve racial integration by using racial classification must meet the strict scrutiny test. In McFarland v. Jefferson County Public Schools, the school board was partially successful in meeting this strict scrutiny test by using the Supreme Court's decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld *12 race-conscious admission policies in university admission programs. The school board was successful because their 2001 plan met the strict scrutiny test. To comply with Grutter, the school board define[d] with precision the interest being asserted in order to validate its use of race as an admission factor. The Jefferson County Public Schools stated the following interest:
To give all students the benefits of an education in a racially integrated school and to maintain community commitment to the entire school system precisely express the Board's own vision of Brown's promise. The benefits the JCPS hopes to achieve go to the heart of its education mission: (1) a better academic education for all students; (2) better appreciation of our political and cultural heritage for all students; (3) more competitive and attractive public schools; and (4) broader community support for all JCPS schools.
The school board's plan supports the principles in Brown; however, most school districts have given up on using race as a factor to integrate public schools. Consequently, public schools are more segregated now than in the 1970s and 1980s. Often segregated schools lack funding and educational resources, have poor facilities, offer less advanced courses and employ teachers with less skill and teaching experience. Even where minorities are attending desegregated schools, they are often humiliated by being placed in segregated classes designated for low academic achievers. Minorities and African-American males in particular, in desegregated schools, are also isolated and invisible to their white peers and teachers. It is now time for school districts and state education officials to take meaningful steps to effectuate*13 the decision in Brown, or at least renew efforts to enhance the quality of education for minorities, especially African-American males.
IV. The Failure of Brown to Ensure Equity and Quality Education for African-American Males
Fifty years after Brown, the status of African-American males in public schools has only improved marginally; indeed, in some cases it has deteriorated. African-American male students are stereotyped as deviant, hostile, and oppositional. African-American male students are disproportionately labeled hyperactive and as special needs students. By the fourth grade, African-American males are on dysfunctional tracks to fail in public schools. In elementary schools, African-American male students are systematically isolated and segregated within the school. The isolation and marginalization of African-American males may be a motivating factor for the large numbers of African-American males who drop out of school and even commit suicide.
There is evidence that African-American male students may have different learning styles, motivators, and cultural differences which may conflict with the traditional method of teaching and educational models. Clearly, there is a major need in reforming our educational *14 system to meet the needs of all students, specifically the various sub-groups, which include African-American males.
In addition, economic disparity may further frustrate and isolate black male students who are not only placed in predominately white middle-class environments, but even predominately black educational environments which rely totally on a European model of teaching. It is not to suggest that African-American males have not made a significant accomplishment in education since Brown, but just the opposite. What is clear is that their accomplishments lag substantially behind the educational accomplishments of other groups. Indeed, African-American males' academic progression in public schools has leveled off, if not remained stagnate. Statistical educational data supports the fact that the graduation rates for African-American males are in crisis. African-American male students are missing in the statistical data that represents success and academic achievements. African-American males are normally listed among the most negative educational statistical data collected and reported. The following troubling educational statistics on African-American male graduation rates, dropout rates, suspension and expulsion rates, placement in special education classes, low test scores, and lack of placement in advance placement classes illustrate their underclass status in public schools.
A. Graduation Rates
The overall graduation rate of African-American students is deplorable. For example, the national graduation rate in 1998 for white students was 78%, whereas African-American students' graduation rate was 56%. In 2001, the national graduation rate for African-American males was 56.2%, which is a minimal increase from the percentage three years prior. In some school districts, the graduation rate for African-American males is substantially less than the national rate.
In virtually every state, regardless of which part of the country, African-American males' graduation rate is disproportionately lower than whites. Interestingly, the graduation rate of African-American males is lower in the Northeast than in the South. With the long history of racial segregation in the South, the thought would be that their graduation rate would be lower than in any other region of the country.
Recent reports by The Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Urban Institute's Education Policy Center, vividly reveal the disparity between the graduation rates of African-American males and white students. Similar to other studies, both studies report that on a national level African-American males graduated at a rate of 45%, while the graduation rate for white males was 70%. When one reviews the graduation rates of African-American males in each state, the disparity is startling. For example, African-American males in *16 states such as Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New York have a graduation rate of less than 55%.
*17 African-American males are in lower grades than white students based on their age. In addition, African-American males are more likely to repeat grades than white males. These factors may impact African-American male student desire to remain in school and graduate. Moreover, African-American males rarely graduate valedictorians of their high school class; nor are they recognized for scholastic achievements.
The failure of public schools to educate African-American males, starting in elementary school, may ultimately impact their high school graduation rate. Their negative educational experience in turn affects their employment abilities. Surprisingly, many school districts do not collect statistical data on various sub-groups, e.g. African-American males, thus making it difficult to track and verify racial and gender graduation disparities in the school system. Consequently, the graduation rates and progress of African-American males in public schools may be worse than what is presently reported.
B. Dropout Rates
The dropout rate has marginally decreased for African-American males during the past 20 years; however, dropout rates of African-American males still remain high in comparison with white students. The dropout rate of African-American male students in high school is disproportionately higher than other groups of students. In some school districts the dropout rate for African-American males is higher than 50% and has reached an endemic problem facing African-American*18 male students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 the dropout rate for African-Americans aged 14-24 years was 15.3% whereas the dropout rate for whites the same age was 12.2%. Practically every state reports that African-American students, particularly African-American males, disproportionately drop out of school.
There is no one reason why African-American males drop out of high school. Clearly, among the reasons has to be a curriculum that fails to motivate and stimulate African-American males in a way that they appreciate the immediate benefits of an education.
The strict enforcement of school policies on zero tolerance for various infractions has a direct correlation to African-American male students being expelled and/or suspended, which may encourage them to drop out of school permanently. Even more disheartening is that *19 some studies have suggested that the dropout rates of students have a correlation to incarceration rates.
The absence of African-American male teachers to inspire, motivate, and encourage African-American male students to remain in school may also have a negative impact on their desire to stay in school and graduate. Too often, the one or two African-American male teachers also serve as coaches and are primarily focused on the upcoming sport season, not the academic success of African-American males. Other African-American male teachers have simulated into the white culture, thus there is a disconnect between them and young urban African-American male students. With no support from home, school, or community, African-American male students may drop out and seek acceptance among other African-American male dropouts. The long term effect will be lower wages, longer periods of unemployment, underemployment, and positions without benefits or pensions.
C. Disproportionate Suspensions and Expulsions
Numerous educational studies and school district records support the conclusion that minority students in public schools throughout the country are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school. Even long before high school, African-American males are *20 disproportionately suspended from pre-school and kindergarten. This trend continues throughout the African-American males' educational experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that [i]n 1999, 35 percent of Black students in grades 7 through 12 had been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers, higher than the 20 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of Whites.
Not only are African-American males disproportionately suspended, often their suspensions are more severe than those of other students. The Brown decision eliminated de jure segregation and forced schools to desegregate, but Brown failed to protect African-American males from disproportionate suspension in predominantly white schools.
When school districts report suspension and expulsion by sub-groups, African-American males will be among the highest group suspended and expelled. For example, African-American males represent more than 20% of students expelled and 23% suspended, even though they represent less than 9% of students in high school. Even more telling is a review of specific cities and states. In the school year 1997-1998, African-American males made up 45% of the long-term suspensions in North Carolina schools even though they only represented 16% of state enrollment. Moreover, the expulsion rate of African-American males in North Carolina was 52%.
*21 Whether the school district is located in the South, North, or West, African-American male students will be at the top of the statistical data for school suspensions and expulsions. The disproportionate rate of suspensions and expulsions of African-American males may violate state constitutional provisions, which often require a fundamental right to an education. Such practices may also violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no definitive study which explains why African-American males are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school; however, in Hawkins v. Coleman, the court determined that African-American students were disproportionately suspended because of institutional racism. Although, in Hoots v. Pennsylvania, the federal court released the school district from judicial supervision in the area of discipline, even though African-American students were disproportionately disciplined.
Unfortunately, school districts still intentionally or unintentionally rely on discriminatory factors in administrating disciplinary actions. There are a number of indicators that have been identified as having a *22 negative impact on African-American males. For example, the disproportionate number of African-American males suspended or expelled may be the result of race, plus gender, stereotyping. The issue of stereotyping was alleged in Fuller v. Decatur Public School Board of Education. In Fuller, six high school age African-American male students were expelled for fighting at a football game. The students alleged that they were expelled because they were stereotyped as gang members and racially profiled by the actions of the School Board. Similarly, in Lee v. Butler County Board of Education, testimony was presented that African-American males were being disproportionately disciplined. Nevertheless, the court granted the school board's motion to declare the school system a unitary status, thus ending the school desegregation litigation. The court accepted the superintendent's testimony that the school was primarily African-American, but failed to explore the race plus sex theory. The courts failed to determine whether African-American males were disproportionately receiving more disciplinary actions, as well as more severe disciplinary actions, than any other group. For example, African-American males received more disciplinary actions than African-American female students for the same infractions. School districts should be mandated by the United States Department of Education to analyze suspensions and expulsion data according to race plus gender. This would determine whether African-American males are disproportionately receiving disciplinary actions in schools.
The disproportionate numbers of African-American males suspended and expelled from school also has a direct impact on the disproportionate numbers of African-American males in the juvenile court system, low graduation rates, low grades, and their motivation to remain in school. School districts have a moral and legal obligation to develop alternatives to reduce the suspension and expulsion rate of African-American males from schools.
D. Exclusion from Honor and College Preparatory Classes
African-American students are systematically excluded from honors classes, college prep courses, and gifted programs. They are more often placed on a special education track and excluded from educational tracks designed for advanced placement and gifted programs. For example, in NAACP v. City of Thomasville School District, the court determined that the practice of ability group[ing] or tracking, resulted in a disproportionate number of African-American students being placed in the lower ability group, thus not being placed in the academically advanced classes. The court stated, Tragically, it appears that for many of these children, the die is cast as early as kindergarten. These children do not appear to be reevaluated (and thus potentially re-tracked) during their progressions through the system.
The court, nevertheless, held that there was no evidence that the school district intentionally used the tracking system to exclude African-American students from certain classes. In essence, the court sanctioned a system which maintains the segregation of students on the basis of race. The white students are assigned to advanced courses and minorities are assigned to low ability classes. Approximately thirty years before the decision in City of Thomasville School Dist., the District of Columbia Circuit Court in Hobson v. Hansen, held that African-American students were discriminately tracked into lower level, less challenging schools. This practice of segregating African-American students into general education courses continues to be practiced by many school districts.
*24 The exclusion of African-American students from advanced courses is not always blatant, but often subtle. This subtlety was obvious in People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education, where the plaintiffs, African-American and Hispanic, argued that while the school may be desegregated, classrooms within the school were still segregated. The plaintiffs argued that minority students were underrepresented in advance courses. In dismissing this claim, the court reasoned that minorities had an opportunity to enroll in such cases. Specifically, the court stated, It is provincial and naive to suppose that because [the school district] once engaged in de facto segregation of its public schools, the choices of its minority students regarding voluntary enrollment in advanced classes open to all are a legacy of that segregation.
This reasoning on the part of the court clearly indicates a lack of understanding of the long term negative impact segregation and isolation can have on minority students. The mere fact that a school board announces that they are no longer excluding minorities from advanced classes, where in the past white students were nourished, mentored, and encouraged to take such courses, will not, without more, eradicate the present effect of past discrimination. The inference that only white students are capable of taking such courses may linger until school districts take positive actions to ensure that minorities, especially African-American males, feel welcome in such classes. Moreover, the use of tracking maintains segregation within a school system.
African-American males are systematically excluded from taking advanced courses in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. These courses are considered college preparatory courses that may lead to acceptance in college, scholarships, and advanced placement in college courses. These exclusions may be intentional on the part of teachers as part of a stereotypical bias that African-American males lack the intelligence, motivation, and support from their parents to be successful. Teachers may reinforce their stereotypical biases by *25 projecting low expectations for achievement toward African-American male students. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy becomes a reality. African-American males are more likely to be placed in lower, less challenging educational tracks. Likewise, African-American males are more likely to be taking remedial mathematics and general English. In addition to being excluded from honor classes, they are absent from honor and academic related organizations. From elementary school to college, African-American males are intensely recruited to play school sports but are not recruited or encouraged to join or participate in academic school clubs and organizations.
African-American males are less likely than whites to be identified as gifted and to participate in gifted educational programs. Often, these programs are not well publicized and are secretly shared with a select group of parents. Students are selected based on a teacher's recommendation. These programs permit students to participate*26 in a variety of enrichment programs, as well as placement in advanced courses. Unlike in sports, African-American males are not groomed and actively recruited for these programs. School systems that intentionally exclude African-American students from gifted and college prep programs may be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Civil rights complaints may be filed with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education
The systematic exclusion and isolation of African-American males from gifted school programs perpetuates the stereotypical biases that African-American males are only interested in sports. It also further perpetuates their perceived academic inferiority. In Strauder v. West Virginia, Justice Strong expressed the concern that the exclusion of African-American men from serving as jurors was like permanently placing a brand of inferiority on them in violation of the law. Similarly, the over-placement of African-American males in special education programs, and the practice of systematically excluding them from advance courses, forever brands them as inferior among other students and teachers.
E. Overrepresentation in Special Education Classes
Far too many African-American males are assigned to special education classes and graduate with special education diplomas. It was never the intention of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown that African-American students, especially African-American males, would be segregated by race in schools and further segregated by race plus gender in special education classes. The segregation of African-American*27 males into special education classes and tracking programs negatively impacts their self-esteem, progress in school, and ultimately their rates of dropout and graduation. The disproportionate placement of African-American males in special education programs further subordinates their status in public schools. Moreover, the disproportionate assignment of African-American males in special education classes further perpetuates stereotypical biases that African-American male students who have behavioral issues are automatically labeled as being mentally challenged and academically deficient.
Numerous studies and reports by leading researchers have determined that minority students are overrepresented in special education school programs. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, which is the agency that investigates discrimination in school systems receiving federal funds, has determined that school systems disproportionately assign African-American students to special education curriculum. For example, in some states, 25% of African-American males are in special education programs. Even more disturbing is that in some school districts, African-American*28 males represent more than 40% of students placed in special education programs. African-American students comprise 20% of the population of students receiving special education services.
There are numerous reasons for the disproportionate number of minorities placed in special education, such factors include the misidentified and misuse of tests, the failure of the general education system, and insufficient resources. There are also concerns that teachers may place African-American male students in special education programs as a disciplinary action. Assigning African-American males to special education classes may also discourage them from completing school. For example, New York City Schools reported that for the 2001-2002 school year 61% of New York City's special education students of graduation age had dropped out of school.
In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to ensure that students with disabilities would have free appropriate public school education which emphasizes social education and related services designed to meet their unique needs. Prior to the passage of the IDEA, many school districts failed to provide disabled individuals with an adequate public education, if any at all. For example, in Mills v. Board of Education, six of the seven minority plaintiffs were African-American male students who challenged the school board's practice of excluding them and other disabled students from adequate public schools and facilities. The court held in Mills *29 that disabled children have a constitutional right to a free and appropriate education.
Unfortunately, the IDEA has been at times a double-edged sword. In other words it has been overly used to label and disproportionately place African-American males in special education programs and out of mainstream educational instruction. At the same time, African-American males with mental disabilities have been suspended and expelled from school in lieu of receiving services required by the IDEA. Even though it was quite obvious to educators and researchers that minorities were disproportionately placed in special education programs, the federal government did not respond in any meaningful manner until 1997, when they passed the amendments to IDEA. The amendments state that [g]reater efforts are needed to prevent the intensification of problems connected with mislabeling and high dropout rates among minority children with disabilities. Notwithstanding the amendment, minorities, particularly African-American males, are still often mislabeled and disproportionately drop out of school.
Standardized intelligence tests, otherwise known as IQ tests, are used to determine the placement of students in special education classes. The use of IQ tests was challenged in Larry P. v. Riles. In Riles, African-American elementary school children challenged the use of the State of California's IQ test, which resulted in a disproportionate number of African-American students placed in special education classes. The District Court held that the State had used tests which were racially and culturally biased, and had a discriminatory impact against black children in violation of Title VI of the Civil *30 Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The Court expressed concern with permanently placing African-American students into educationally dead-end isolated, and stigmatizing classes. . . . More than twenty-years later, African-American students, especially African-American males, are disproportionately placed in such classes.
Similarly, in Parents in Action on Special Education v. Hannon, African-American parents challenged the use of standardized intelligence tests administered by the Chicago Board of Education as being culturally biased toward African-American students. The parents presented evidence that African-American students were disproportionately placed in the educable mentally handicapped classes. As a result of the test, 80% of the students in the educable mentally handicapped classes were African-American students. Even though the Judge recognized that there were a few questions on the intelligence tests that were culturally biased against black children, or at least sufficiently suspect, nevertheless, the court held that these few questions would not invalidate the test. Unfortunately, a negative impact of the Brown decision was that African-American students, especially African-American males who were assigned to desegregated schools, were disproportionately labeled with having a mental disability and dumped into special education classes. Ostensibly, they were assigned to such classes to receive specialized educational assistance, in reality they were warehoused and passed on through the system. Similarly, African-American males who attend *31 segregated schools are warehoused and segregated in special education classes.
F. Proficiency and Achievement Tests
African-American males trail whites and African-American female students in every aspect of education achievement tests. Specifically, African-American girls out-perform African-American boys. There is also evidence of a significant difference in the educational achievement of African-American boys and girls in lower socio-economic status. Once again, our educational system has failed to identify and address the causes for the differential between white and African-American students, and within the subgroups of African-American boys and girls. African-American male students as a subgroup lag behind in academic achievement of all other students.
African-American students' test scores tend to be lower than white students' scores on proficiency tests from kindergarten through high school. Since Brown, the gap between African-American students and whites has narrowed, but the differential between the gaps is still very prevalent.
As public schools re-segregated, African-American students and other minorities remained in poorly funded, dilapidated school buildings, and were taught with outdated books and by uncertified teachers. Such conditions were similar to the pre-Brown period. The failure on the part of school districts to provide adequate resources and a positive learning environment may negatively impact minority students' academic achievement. Since Brown, states have been sued to adequately fund public school systems and to provide at least a minimally adequate education.
There is a growing gap in the grade point averages of white and black high school graduates. This will negatively impact their ability to obtain admission to college and/or employment.
The use of standardized assessment and proficiency tests by school systems negatively impacts minority students' graduation rate, promotions, and placement. Where standardized tests have been challenged in court, courts have given deference to states' educational policies. Despite this deference, courts recognize that state school systems have had a long history of discriminating against minority students. It is ironic that states which have historically discriminated against African-American students, by intentionally providing inferior educational opportunities, can now legally design standardized tests based on a system which has not corrected its past discriminatory acts.
The over-emphasis of sports in the African-American community lessens the motivation of African-American males to strive for excellence in academia. A disproportionate number of young African-American males believe that playing sports will lead them to a professional sports contract. Consequently, their focus is not on making the honor roll or the debate team but the varsity basketball or football teams. Sadly, African-American males cling to the hope of playing professional sports after high school, but the odds of playing professional sports are extremely remote. Supporters of sport programs in school will often point to success stories of African-American males who were inspired to stay in school because of their participation in sports. However, far too many African-American males who fail to maintain their star status are at the bottom of the academic scale. *33 In addition, African-American male students who are not athletes also succumb to strive for mediocre grades. The preferential treatment that athletes receive lessens their motivation to achieve academically. Unfortunately, those few who go on to play collegiate sports maintain their star status until the season is over or until they can no longer play because of academic troubles or physical inability. A disproportionate number of African-American males who play collegiate sports never graduate, especially at the Big Ten schools.
African-American male athletes who are highly skilled are intensely worshipped, idolized, and praised by teachers, alumni, the press, and other students. African-American male students, who are not super-jocks, are ignored, invisible, and stereotyped.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Brown mandating equal and quality education for students regardless of their race has long been forgotten or ignored by state legislators who refuse to provide adequate funding for public schools. Since the Brown decision, all States have ended the legal mandate to educate African-American and white students separately. Nevertheless, a majority of schools remain severely under-funded and segregated, with African-American males further segregated within these schools. George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama's infamous statement, segregation now, segregation forever, correctly describes the current status of public schools in America. Thus, African-American students, African-American males in particular, are systematically denied educational opportunities.
There is no one solution to enhancing educational opportunities for African-American males. There must be holistic solutions developed at the national, state and local levels of government. As the *34 Brown decision has taught us, there must not be total reliance on the legal system to cure this problem. The African-American community should explore how to change and expand the culture of African-American males by partnering with school administrators to develop plans which devalue sports among African-American males and develop programs which emphasize academics.
States should pass laws which mandate parental accountability in the education of their children. School systems should develop alternatives to suspension and expulsion of students, develop alternative programs to reduce the number of African-American males in special education classes, and increase the number of African-American male teachers in secondary schools. Colleges and universities should develop affirmative action programs that are designed specifically to recruit, admit and retain African-American males. Every school district should conduct an extensive study of the status of African-American male students at all stages of education.
Unless public school systems take an aggressive role in planning, developing, and implementing educational systems that meet the needs of all students, especially African-American males, the dream that Martin Luther King spoke of and the decision in Brown is forever deferred.
. Professor of Law, Capital University Law School (Columbus, Ohio). B.S., North Carolina A&T State University, 1974; J.D., Howard University Law School, 1977.