05/21/2012 03:35 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2012

Making Schools Work

That's the title of David Kirp's opinion piece in this Sunday's New York Times. I'll begin with his punchline: School desegregation has been proven to be an effective strategy to close the achievement gap in our public schools, yet we have abandoned the one tool we know works. May 17 was the anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board Of Education where the majority ruled that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal. This May 17, 2012, Kirp writes, desgregation is effectively dead.

African-American children can succeed in school in a racially segregated environment. In Atlanta, we have schools like Drew Charter, the New Schools at Carver, PATH Academy and KIPP. Despite such examples, though, I believe, and Kirp does as well, that public education will never be equal unless it is integrated. Kirp cites lots of data that show that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared far better than those left behind in segregated schools (and he notes that the performance of white students in those schools did not drop). And, not surprisingly, the black youths in these integrated schools also went on to do better in life, both in terms of earnings and physical health. The details of that latter fact are mind-boggling. By the age of 40, there is already a seven year health gap, meaning they are the equivalent of seven years younger/healthier than those who attended segregated schools.

Certainly one question is why. The answer is clearly complex, but also, in my mind, quite simple. When the fate of "their" children and "our" children is intertwined, all of a sudden, we care a whole lot more. Many of the poor black children who attended schools integrated after Brown escaped from poverty and their offspring have maintained that advantage. Since the 1990's, when the courts with judges appointed by conservative political leaders took over and began to roll back our country's first experiments in integration, the achievement gap which had just begun to narrow, widened again. The hostile majority now sitting on the Supreme Court makes integration a near impossibility.. This is a tragedy of unbelievable scale for all Americans, white and black. It's also a tragedy that has been intentionally engineered.