UNIVERSITY PARK — Sixty years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision barred segregation in public schools and 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, schools are once again approaching levels of racial and economic segregation not seen since the late 1960s.
With that backdrop, the Penn State College of Education will host a conference on “Education and Civil Rights, Historical Legacies, Contemporary Strategies and Promise for the Future” on June 6-7 in the Lewis Katz Building on the University Park campus. Conference speakers, who include attorneys and a U.S. district judge as well as academics, will examine the country’s legacy of segregation and inequality, and how to ensure equity in public education in the future.
“Education, as many reformers have proclaimed, is the civil rights issue of our time,” said conference organizer Erica Frankenberg, an assistant professor of education at Penn State.
Lani Guinier, the Bennett Boskey professor of law at Harvard Law School, will be the keynote speaker on June 6.
“In some respects we’re turning back the clock on equity.”
— Roslyn Mickelson, sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Researchers know more than ever about the benefits of diverse schools and the harms of segregation, Frankenberg said. In addition, technological advances such as geographic information systems (GIS) mapping enable policymakers to project the effects of redrawing school district boundary lines, for example. “How can we use those advances to improve diversity and integration?” said Frankenberg.
Roslyn Mickelson, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will take part in a panel discussion about student experiences and outcomes. Hundreds of studies show that students from all backgrounds and grade levels do better when they attend diverse schools, even as schools in many communities become less diverse, she said.
“We’ve turned away from looking at school desegregation and diversity as a policy tool — and it works. In some respects we’re turning back the clock on equity,” Mickelson said.
The conference ends on a hopeful note, with a panel on possible solutions and a session on “What Have We Learned and Where Do We Go From Here?”
“We believe that education is still a valuable means of transformation in society,” said Frankenberg. “This conference is designed to help us think about how to structure schools in ways that are equitable and provide opportunity to students from all backgrounds.”
More information and the conference agenda are online.