As we remember the 60th anniversary of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, we should ponder the long-term impact of this landmark Supreme Court decision; one which sought to dismantle the legal framework of segregation. The plaintiff, Oliver L. Brown, was an African American who was a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad; an assistant pastor at his local church; and a parent who sought equal educational opportunities for his children. In considering his vision of equal access to education, we should ask if America has reached this educational goal.
Today we continue to experience uneven access to quality education as attempts are made to privatize schools and school districts often receive inconsistent and disparate funding. We know all children are entitled to a rich, diverse, and high quality education. And just as when Brown was first heard, an outstanding education makes a substantial difference in whether children will have the training required to thrive in our increasingly complex workforce.
In the 1950’s, in Topeka, Kansas, the schools were segregated by race. Today, too many schools are segregated by economics. We often hear of “poor” schools and “rich” schools or “poor” students and “rich” students. Equality of access to education in 2014 is as vital an issue as it was in the 1950s. While we continue to work on solutions to providing all students with equal access to a first-rate education, we already know of one solution that can make a significant difference for students: equity in access to quality after school academic support.
Where there is a school building, we can institute a program that begins when the last school bell rings and ends at 6:00 p.m. In schools where after school programs are available, children can get the help they need to thrive. “Outside-the-school-day” programs that focus on tutoring, mentoring, and providing equitable access to resources and technology, will ensure that youth are better prepared for high school graduation, the workforce, or college.
Expanded learning opportunities that are community-based and volunteer driven are portable and can be instituted almost anywhere. These systems can connect students to role models, inspire students to excel, become accountable, and set goals for themselves. By implementing these strategic solutions we can make the educational gap so small that no student will fall through. Brown v. The Board of Education was a monumental first step in our shared goal to provide equal access to education. There is still much work to do. As parents, communities, a state, and a nation we can act with unity of purpose to make a quality education available to every child.
Jan Link is President of Academic Link Outreach in Mukilteo.