Before the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which declared the segregated schooling of black children unconstitutional, Mendez v. Westminster in California fought for integration of schools for Mexican-American children, writes Rebecca Klein of The Huffington Post — and the battle appears far from over.
In 1946, California's Mexican-American children had been attending substandard "Mexican schools" for years. The suit argued that separating Mexican-American students violated their right to equal protection under the Constitution. Their schools were under-resourced, and segregation was affecting children's self-esteem and achievement.
Four school districts, the defendants in the suit, argued that Mexican pupils had bad hygiene, were disease carriers, and were inferior intellectually to white students. The plaintiffs won the case, but it never reached the Supreme Court, and therefore never had an impact on a federal level.
In a short time, California became the first state to eliminate state-sponsored school segregation. But currently, the state continues to have de facto segregation based on intentional housing and schooling choices. And as far as Latino students are concerned, California is still the most segregated state in the nation, according to UCLA's Civil Rights Project.
The average Latino student in the state probably attends a school that is 84% nonwhite in an area that is poverty-stricken. The communities Latino kids live in have just 20% of students who take the SAT score at a level indicating that they are ready for college compared to 41% of students across the state.
The problems are not unique to California. Houston, Texas has a gifted program, but Hispanic students and African-American children are less likely to be identified as gifted than white or Asian young people. This biased treatment happens nationwide, writes Laura Isensee of NPR.
In spite of the fact that a district may be poor, there are still more higher-income students in that district's gifted programs than Hispanic or black, with blacks missing the opportunity the most. Donna Ford of Vanderbilt University says she sees the problem as a clear case of education for gifted children being segregated by race and income.
After Ford was asked to take a close look at enrollment in the gifted program, she said:
"Racial bias has to be operating, inequities are rampant. Discrimination does exist whether intentional or unintentional."
One problem Ford uncovered is that Houston uses a test that some educators say is culturally biased. Also, the selection process is point-based, so some families can use strategies that help get their children into the program.
In Denver, the city's public schools are the most segregated school district in the metro area, according to an analysis conducted by I-News. Busing was in place from 1974 through 1995 to get black students into good schools. But Latinos were left out in the Keyes v. School District No. 1 desegregation case in 1973.
Now Latinos are possibly more segregated than black students before the Keyes days because of the return to neighborhood schools in a city with many neighborhoods that are both racially and socioeconomically ghettoized, reports Alan Gottlieb for Rocky Mountain PBS I-News and the Summit Daily.
"We care deeply about integration, about economic integration, about racial integration in our schools and our classrooms," Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS. "Study after study has shown that all kids benefit when classrooms are integrated, that all kids learn more."