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Brown at 70: Still Hazy After All These Years
AEI
2024.05.10
Seventy years after the Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education, what that decision requires remains unclear―and controversial. For advocates of the “colorblind” interpretation of Brown, the decision prohibits any categorization of students by race. For proponents of the more sweeping “racial isolation/equal educational opportunity” understanding, it requires both the elimination of predominantly minority schools and a variety of steps to improve educational opportunities for all students.
Each interpretation has an Achilles’ heel: The former is too easy to evade; the latter is too difficult for courts to achieve. The Court’s refusal to resolve this conflict left the lower courts adrift, forced to cope with volatile issues amid shifting and contradictory opinions from above.

The failure to explain what “desegregation” means not only contributed to the failure of many desegregation decrees but inhibited efforts to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why. This stubborn refusal to clarify the meaning of “desegregation” continues to haunt our efforts to improve educational opportunities for minority students.