The year is 1955. The Supreme Court has unanimously been decided that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

All states are ordered to desegregate public schools "with all deliberate speed".

Fast-forward to 60 years later and many public schools across the nation have still yet to comply with court orders to desegregate.

  • 1950s
  • 1960s
  • Present

The first court-ordered desegregation of schools followed after the Brown decision in 1955.

Most court-ordered desegregation of schools, ~ 85 %, following the decision were in Southern states like Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Following the era of Jim Crow, there was intense resistance to desegregation of schools. The most infamous instance of resistance occurred at Little Rock Central High School where the “Little Rock Nine” were prevented from entering the previously all-white high school by the Arkansas National Guard who had been deployed by order of the Arkansas State Governor. The standoff was only resolved after President Eisenhower’s direct intervention.

By the 1960’s we saw an increase of more than 1700% in the number of school districts with a court order.

The 1960’s was the height of the civil rights movement, which was marked by a surge in grassroots activism in all sectors of African-American life including education. In 1968 the Supreme Court ordered every state to desegregate their school systems. In order to comply with the law, under the mandate of Brown, the schools were judged on desegregation using 5 factors: facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities, and transportation. To this day, these factors are still used to evaluate whether a school can legally be considered desegregated.

Flash forward to the present day…

As of 2018 there have been 306 number of total mandates to desegregate made in the 60+ years since the first Brown decision.

43% are still active, with at least 70% dating back to 1970’s.

Court-ordered desegregation of schools doesn’t happen without reason. When a state’s Department of Education receives numerous complaints from parents, teachers, and superintendents about failed desegregation in a school, the bureau launches an investigation into whether the school is complying with the 5 desegregation factors mandated by Brown. In some cases, schools have received multiple court orders since the 1950s because of de facto re-segregation occurring, leading to increased complaints.

Each year a number of parents, teachers, and school officials are affected by segregation, and end up making complaints. These complaints often lead to investigations by the Department of Education, but until 2006 the number of investigations and complaints remained under 10 per year.

After 2006, however, we see a large spike in the number of complaints up until 2012 where approximately 65 complaints are made per year.

There are a variety of reasons why complaints spiked after 2006. Several historical events and trends have played particularly important roles in increasing community awareness around school desegregation.

2002 -

In 2002 “No Child Left Behind” was enacted. The policy stated that all school districts must bring every student up to a “proficient” level as judged by state-issued standardized tests given annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

2007 -

In 2007 the Supreme Court finds “voluntary school integration plans unconstitutional” in Parents Involved, paving the way for contemporary school segregation to escalate.”

2013 - 2014 -

As stated in “No Child Left Behind”, every school district had to educate all of their students up to at least a “proficient” level by state standards in both math and reading by the 2013 and 2014 school year. This is likely why we see a spike the year prior, and a slight dip there after, once the pressure to bring all students up to some standardized measure of success has subsided.

- 2006

By 2006 most schools should have updated their policies and curriculum to adapt to NCLB. In the same year, social networks Facebook and Twitter are released to the public. Social media quickly becomes a popular platform for all Americans to voice their concerns locally and nationally.

- 2008

In 2008 the Great Recession hits the United States. As thousands of families lost their main sources of income, parents became increasingly conscious of the need for a quality education that can withstand economic downturns and secure strong financial futures for their children. Parents became increasingly involved with their children’s education. One path many parents saw to improving their children’s education was through desegregation.

After 60+ years of desegregation orders, what has been the outcome for students? Not much. Our research, and others who have researched this subject have found, not only does desegregation have little to no effect on students academic performance, it also does not increase the equitable funding per student and can even lead to a reduction, if ever so slightly, in the amount of funding per student for Black and Hispanic students.

So, what does help students succeed?


Outstanding teachers can make a world of difference in school districts that may otherwise struggle. For instance, compare Emerson-Taylor-Bradley School District in Arkansas with Smackover School District. Black students at ETB are 11x less likely to be in talented / gifted classes compared to 1.7x more likely at Smackover. The difference: teachers are nearly 7x less likely to be chronically absent at Smackover.


Having support is necessary for students that may have stressful home lives, neighborhoods stricken by poverty, or areas consumed with violence. Looking at Atkinson County and Clinch County School Districts in Georgia, we see nearly identical districts based on socioeconomic status and diversity. However, Black students at Atkinson are 1.7x more likely to be in talented / gifted classes compared to 6.1x less likely at Clinch. The major difference is that Atkinson has nearly double the amount of counselors and three times the security officers per 1000 students as Clinch.


According to extensive research done by Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard, where you are born and grow up matters tremendously in your future success and socioeconomic mobility. More often than not, a city or neighborhood’s ability to produce children that are socioeconomically mobile, comes down to how segregated that area is, as opposed to the segregation of their particular school districts.

Although desegregation of schools doesn't seem to benefit the students it effects, it doesn't mean it is a bad thing. The United States will forever be embroiled in the effects of slavery and segregation, but it can always make reparations. However, it seems that time, effort, and money is better spent in other programs like food stamps, section 8 housing, or jobs programs, that can help desegregate entire communities, although further research needs to be done. There are many obstacles to the American dream, but understanding what works and doesn't work, especially when it comes to education and student outcome is a good step in the right direction. Advocating for smart programs that help all Americans in an equitable fashion can go a long way to our future success as a country.