Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of the Desegregation Process on the Education of Black Students: A Retrospective Analysis

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of the Desegregation Process on the Education of Black Students: A Retrospective Analysis

Article excerpt

This article is a retrospective analysis of a commentary we published in The Journal of Negro Education 25 years ago in which we discussed the interrelationships between and among the interpersonal, institutional, community, and African American achievement variables before and after the historic 1954 Brown decision. We discuss in this piece contemporary factors that have modified these variable, such as rising segregation in our nation's schools, decreasing numbers of African American teachers, increasing federal involvement with decreasing autonomy of African American schools, changing definitions of the African American community, and emerging conservative African American voices.

Almost 25 years ago, we published an article in The Journal of Negro Education, "The Impact of the Desegregation Process on the Education of Black Students: Key Variables," in which we argued that "assessing the effects of desegregation independent of the broader sociocultural and historic roots of [Blacks], as a people, misses a central component of how such a system is implicated in the learning process" (Irvine & Irvine, 1983, p. 12). The article discussed the interrelationships between and among the interpersonal, institutional, community, and African American achievement variables before and after the historic 1954 Brown decision. We suggested that during the pre-Brown era, these variables interacted and influenced each other in culturally compatible ways. During the post-Brown decades, however, these variables were dismantled in the process of implementing the Supreme Court decision as schools and the African American community began to operate independently and often antagonistically.

In this article, we will re-examine interpersonal, institutional, and community variables that currently influence the desegregation debate some 53 years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka (1954) decision and nearly 25 years after our 1983 work. The introduction will provide a brief comparison of the educational attainment of African American students in 1983, the year the article was released, as contrasted to the most recent achievement data. The second section will identify and discuss contemporary factors that have modified our perceptions of the interpersonal, institutional, and community variables that impact school desegregation. The final section will include questions for consideration for the improvement of African American schooling.

At the time we wrote the 1983 article, the landmark report, A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), was released. The document prompted what Chase (1998), former president of the National Education Association described as, a "miniindustry" with thousands of education reports, commissions, conferences, and summits. The government-commissioned study proclaimed emphatically:

The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur-others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. (National Commission on Excellence, 1983, p. 5)

The report was strangely silent on the lack of educational progress of African American students. In an examination of school failure and African American students, Irvine (1990) pointed out that during the time period when the A Nation at Risk report was released that:

* African American students were three times as likely to be enrolled in a class for the educable mentally retarded, as were White students, but only one-half likely to be in a class for the gifted and talented.

* National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data confirmed that although 53% of White eleventh grade students could perform complex reading tasks, only 20% of African American students performed similarly. …

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