A Study In Black And White

May 17 marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared "separate but equal" schooling was not acceptable. The 1954 case was a ringing affirmation that the U.S. is an equal-opportunity society wherein everyone deserves the chance to move up the ladder of success. Neither the government nor the private sector has the right to set up barriers to education, housing, or any other activity.

In the ensuing half-century, the U.S. has made significant progress toward putting these values into practice. The number of segregated schools has dropped sharply. The share of blacks aged 25 to 29 holding a college degree has increased more than sixfold, to 18%. Home-ownership rates for blacks and other minorities -- a mark of wealth acquisition -- have increased as well.

Yet we're still far from fully realizing Brown's dream of a truly integrated society. Indeed, in recent years, we've been moving backward in the schools: The percentage of minority children attending segregated schools (over 50% minority) has increased across the U.S. Moreover, minority kids are often trapped in schools dominated by poor children, where they are more likely to fall behind. The result is that poor and minority children lag their more affluent white counterparts.

Because America is much more diverse today than it was in 1954, the goals of Brown have never been more relevant. Building a more integrated society will no doubt be difficult. But there are few more important tasks if we want to achieve a healthier democracy and a stronger economy.

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