Monday, April 24, 2006

Cindy Brown

I am very much looking forward to this gathering. Like many who are attending, I have spent a very long time working on educational equity issues. The first half of my career I focused on civil rights enforcement in the Office for Civil Rights and in advocacy groups. I remember well the disappointment of the Rodriquez decision. Eventually, as the courts turned sour and I became convinced that pursuing school desegregation remedies was mostly fruitless, I turned my efforts to school improvement. At CCSSO where I spent 15 years, I saw slow, but steady progress in state attention to schools serving large concentrations of students of color and from low-income families. However, state action has always been too weak to overcome the local status quo.

With the No Child Left Behind Act—just the latest iteration of ESEA of 1965—we have seen the strongest federal “intervention” in schooling since the federal lawsuits and administrative enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the 1960s and 1970s. The achievement patterns of students by subgroups are more transparent than ever before. As grim as the achievement gaps are, this new data allows the identification of high performing high poverty and/or high minority schools. The knowledge about what it takes for such schools to perform so well is increasing rapidly. The challenge is to design policy levers that lead other schools to adopt the practices used in these schools. I’m not sure if there is a role for the courts in making this happen. I’m convinced that there is a growing interest among policymakers to do this.

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