May 17, 2024 - Education

Inequities remain across Michigan long after Brown v. Board

Illustration of a classroom full of desks with half of them in black and white and half in color

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Students of color in Michigan are more likely than white students to have access to fewer opportunities because many are growing up in districts with fewer resources, a new report found.

Why it matters: As the U.S. marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling Friday, American public schools remain separate and unequal, despite the country being more racially and ethnically diverse.

The latest: The Education Trust-Midwest report released Wednesday, alongside a new statewide education campaign, calls for more equity in Michigan school funding, Chalkbeat Detroit reports.

  • Looking at the intersection of history, class and race, the campaign seeks to address "decades of neglect" for Black, Latino and low-income students whose public schools "need and deserve" more resources, per a news release from the research organization.

The report found the following:

  • Nearly half of all students of color and two-thirds of Black students went to public schools in districts with high poverty, where 73% or more of them are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. That compares with 13% of white students in the same districts.
  • Michigan students in high-poverty districts are less likely to have experienced, effective teachers.
  • School funding disparities make it difficult for districts with more poverty to support students as they recover from the pandemic's impacts.

Zoom in: In and around Detroit, a legacy of redlining, systemic racism, population loss and the 1970s Milliken v. Bradley ruling — which made desegregation between districts difficult — are among factors that have perpetuated inequitable school districts.

By the numbers: The Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area's students in 2022 were 55% white, 27.4% Black and 7.3% Hispanic. 48% of students were eligible for free lunch, per the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University.

  • The same project found that Detroit public schools were 80% Black as of 2022 — similar to the city's 77% Black population — and 13% Hispanic, 4% white and 87% free-lunch eligible.
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

What they're saying: "We really have to understand the connection between housing and education," Aja Denise Reynolds, an assistant professor of urban education and critical race studies at Wayne State, tells Axios.

  • "If we're talking about schools being segregated, that means we're talking about neighborhoods still being segregated. And that is very much reflective of what we talk about how much schools are getting in terms of funding, and how that's linked to success."
  • "We're still seeing the remnants of that … [Brown v. Board] was unable to respond to the educational debt that was created from the legacy of slavery. It never addressed those deep-rooted needs that happened through that time."

Context: When talking about the legacy of Brown v. Board in present day, "we can get lost in the conversation around schools not being diverse," Reynolds says — compared with necessary conversations around whether students and teachers can get what they need at schools of any demographics.

  • "I think that's a better place that we put our energy, versus 'schools aren't diverse,'" she adds.
  • "Segregation" conversations speak to why people choose to live where they do, but don't address the quality or equity of education the way assessing resource levels in each school district does.

Follow the money: Last year, Education Trust-Midwest was among those urging state lawmakers to adopt an "opportunity index" providing more funding to districts in areas with more poverty, per Chalkbeat.

  • This year's budget adopted the proposal, which gave $1 billion more to districts to serve at-risk students.
  • But the opportunity index that was used doesn't provide as much additional funding as advocates sought.

The bottom line: The work of Silver Moore, humanities instructional coach for University Prep Art & Design High School in Detroit, addresses a particular longtime gap in education equity — one around DEI strategies, and what kind of narratives Black youth learn in school. She founded a business called Classroom Clapback to offer custom lesson planning that is culturally relevant and affirming to Black students.

  • "How do we make sure we are creating spaces where they are viewed as inherently genius and their stories are viewed as inherently valuable?" she tells Axios.
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