Vernon Billy

Vernon Billy

As the first African-American to serve as the CEO and Executive Director of the California School Boards Association (CSBA), one of the nation’s oldest (at 83 years) and largest school board associations, I find special meaning in the 60th anniversary today of the historic Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. My educational and professional achievements stand, in part, on the foundation and sacrifices made by the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and because of this ruling that outlawed “separate but equal” facilities for students in public schools and reaffirmed the important role of education in our society.

The 1954 Brown decision, which celebrates its 60th anniversary on May 17th, is arguably one of the most important Supreme Court rulings of the 20th century. It struck a fatal blow to legal segregation in America, and simultaneously elevated the notion that education could be the “great equalizer” for our nation’s students regardless of their race or socioeconomic background. The Brown decision declared that public education is the foundation of good citizenship and the principal instrument that prepares children for success in life – making access to good schools “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

This proclamation still rings true today.

Since Brown, many things have changed in our educational system and society, but unfortunately some things are still the same. Many of our schools and communities remain segregated, albeit for a multiplicity of reasons. A recent report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found that nationwide, black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.

Students of color are disproportionately suspended from schools and significant achievement gaps persist between African American and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts. In addition, some in our society continue to struggle with the issue of race, and the idea of investing in students of color to provide them with an equal opportunity to learn. As such, the equity dreams manifested in the Brown decision are still just that – dreams – and require much more effort from us all if they are to be realized.

We commemorate the Brown decision at a time when there is a resurgence in discussions about equity, opportunity and accountability as school districts throughout California implement the first year of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). All students deserve a chance to succeed, and LCFF presents a renewed opportunity to focus on improving student outcomes and increasing communication between our schools and community.

Today, as we continue to create a better educational system that truly embraces the promise of opportunity for all students, it is critical that educators and policymakers (including school board members) understand how the actions of our predecessors – as well as their lack of action – impacted a generation of students 60 years ago, so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

I believe that one of the truths embedded in the Brown decision is that if we believe every child can learn, then we must act “with all deliberate speed” to give them an equal opportunity to learn. Together we must work to understand the challenges facing students so we can identify and invest in the programs and resources necessary to meet their needs and close the achievement gap.

When this occurs, we produce great Americans and expand our intellectual, political, entrepreneurial, scientific and cultural net worth in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

The next Dr. Charles Drew, U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez, astronaut Mae Jemison, Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Steven Chu, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, or President Barack Obama is sitting in a California classroom. It is up to us to ensure that the decisions we make create opportunities for all of these students to succeed and to live up to their potential.

Without question, we are a stronger, better educated, and I would argue more tolerant nation 60 years after the Brown decision, yet our work is not done. So, let’s honor the struggles and contributions of our Civil Rights heroes like Justice Marshall, and by remembering this important anniversary and committing ourselves to ensuring all students have an equal opportunity to learn in a resource-rich school environment that does not discriminate, but uplifts students to be the future leaders we know they can become.

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Vernon M. Billy is CEO and Executive Director of the California School Boards Association.

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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Mr. Billy, achievement gaps exist not because of lack of integrated schools. Significant achievement gaps have been demonstrated to persist in integrated schools. Integration or the lack there of is important, but it is not to be confused with failure to achieve. The idea that somehow lack of diversity drives underachievement is a problem for it fails to shed light on the real causes of underachievement and is, therefore, likely a false cure and a setback.

  2. Paul Muench 2 years ago2 years ago

    With LCFF California has redefined equality to be based on a childs needs and not on the equalities that orignally inspired Brown: textbooks, building conditions, equal pay for teachers, access to transportation, etc.. Eight years may not be with all deliberate speed, but the public is in a fiscal conservative mood after 2008, rightly or wrongly. The next big debate will liekly be if LCFF is even meaningful at its current funding levels. … Read More

    With LCFF California has redefined equality to be based on a childs needs and not on the equalities that orignally inspired Brown: textbooks, building conditions, equal pay for teachers, access to transportation, etc.. Eight years may not be with all deliberate speed, but the public is in a fiscal conservative mood after 2008, rightly or wrongly. The next big debate will liekly be if LCFF is even meaningful at its current funding levels. In dollar terms only I’m already guessing it is not sufficient. What i don’t know how to judges is its motivational impact. Will communities that once fealt deprived become envigorated beyond what simple money can buy because now they know that money is needs based and skewed in their direction? The current bickering over spending at the district vs. the school level is not promising. We can never spend enough to close achievement gaps just by what money can buy, that’s the nature of learning. But how much do we need to spend to turn the corner on motivation? That hasn’t been an easy question to answer so far.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby 2 years ago2 years ago

      I have found there are a lot of charities focused on sports, after school arts, etc. What we need is one on one tutoring and we need to change the fact that the average African American kid studies under 5 hours a week, which isn't much worse than whites, but is worse than Asians at 13.8. Ghanan and Nigerian immigrants study over 15 and do well. We need flashcards at age 4, … Read More

      I have found there are a lot of charities focused on sports, after school arts, etc. What we need is one on one tutoring and we need to change the fact that the average African American kid studies under 5 hours a week, which isn’t much worse than whites, but is worse than Asians at 13.8. Ghanan and Nigerian immigrants study over 15 and do well. We need flashcards at age 4, not TV shows or movies to babysit the kids. We need Saturdays focused on libraries and studying and reading. We need sacrifice. All the money in the world cannot raise African American Achievement without the motivation, as Washington DC proves, they spent 3 x what San Francisco spends on Asian Students who do far better, and Asian students in Korea get less than half that and thrive. Education can’t just be important, it has to be life’s focus, a parent’s entire focus, above all else.

      The integration issue is a thorny one. I’ve been very critical of most middle class whites for basically undermining Brown v. Topeka by opting out, sending their kids to private schools or moving when they live near schools where their kids will go to school with Latinos or African Americans, as you can see private schools become popular near minorities and are scarcely used in places like Los Gatos, Orinda, etc. In fact, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona and Utah have more integrated schools than self-proclaimed “liberal” San Francisco, so whites are wrong here and whites in Pacific Heights should send their kids to Cobb, half black, half white, have skin in the game and work towards a solution.

      However, the point of integration is to learn how to succeed. Whites don’t have much to teach AA/L kids, they study a little more based on income but most of their achievement is based on privilege, as compared to AA/L kids, not effort.

      However, where Latino and African American kids and parents have truly failed is to learn from the example of Asian Americans, 3.5 times as likely as whites to get into a UC.

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