May 17, 2024 - News

The legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education in Cleveland

B+W photo of Black children and their parents on a school bus in Cleveland in the 70s.

Black children and their moms in the early days of Cleveland busing. Photo: Bettman via Getty Images

Racial segregation in schools has increased dramatically nationwide over the last three decades, according to two new reports and an Axios review of federal data.

Why it matters: As the U.S. marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling today, American public schools — including those in Cleveland — are growing more separate and unequal even though the country is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.

State of play: Schools on average have become less white and more Latino, Asian American and multiracial.

  • But students of color are going to schools with fewer white students and fewer resources, a UCLA Civil Rights Project report found.
  • Though 45% of all U.S. students were white, the typical Black student attended a school that was 76% nonwhite in 2021.
  • The average Latino student went to a school that was 75% nonwhite.
Choropleth map of U.S. counties showing the estimated level of segregation between Black and white students in K-12 public schools. Schools in counties in the southern U.S., southern California and Northeast tend to be more segregated than counties in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.
Data: Stanford Education Data Archive; Note: Index ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 implies no segregation (all schools have identical proportions of Black and white students) while 1 implies complete segregation (no Black student attends a school with any white students, and vice versa); Map: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: Segregation levels in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District more than quintupled from 1991 to 2022, according to data from The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford.

By the numbers: CMSD is now only 14% white. Across swaths of the northeast and southeast sides, many Cleveland schools have fewer than 2% white students.

Flashback: A federal judge in Cleveland enjoined the school district to desegregate in 1978, setting in motion a contentious busing plan to achieve racial balance.

  • Through the 1980s, white families fled to the suburbs, creating a majority nonwhite school district and exacerbating racial divides.
  • In 1998, a federal judge declared that "the purposes of [Cleveland's] desegregation litigation have been fully achieved."

The bottom line: Twenty-five years after that declaration, local schools have moved in the wrong direction.

Go deeper: National desegregation trends.

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