06/18/2014 01:34 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2014

The Promise of Brown v. Board of Education for All Americans

When the parents of 20 Topeka children in 1954 -- including 8-year-old Linda Brown -- filed a class action lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, an ugly truth was laid bare for the nation and the world: that schools for African Americans were separate and never equal to those for whites.

To honor the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown, outlawing the shameful practice of "separate but equal," we must continue our nation's long march toward greater equality for all students, particularly students of color, Native students, English language learners, and low-income students. And sadly, that march is not done; 60 years after Brown, many students of color and Native students are still segregated in low-performing schools.

The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of civil rights groups representing students of color and Native students is dedicated to promoting reforms that ensure every student has the right to a high-quality education, regardless of their race, income level or ZIP code. We support the Common Core State Standards as an important means to ensuring equitable education.

In addition to Brown v. Board, the ugly realities of education inequity were also revealed and confronted through other landmark legal cases, including the 1946 Mendez v. Westminster lawsuit, filed on behalf of 5,000 Mexican families opposed to segregating of students based on national origin. The Mendez decision overturned all of California's "separate but equal" statutes and forbade school segregation in the state. And the decision in Lau v. Nichols -- a 1974 case filed to ensure learning opportunities for Asian Americans with limited English proficiency -- led to a mandate that schools provide equal education to students with limited English proficiency.

In part because of the legacy of Brown, Mendez and Lau, today we can celebrate a national high school graduation rate that has reached a record high of more than 80 percent. But graduation rates for Native students and students of color continue to lag behind those of white students. The litany of low on-time graduation rates in various states -- 45 percent for Native Americans, 48 percent for African Americans, 53 percent for Hispanics and 23 percent for English language learners -- remains disheartening in its persistence. These uneven graduation rates and similarly uneven test scores reflect that the fundamental promise of an equal education for all remains unfulfilled.

In a competitive and demanding 21st century, it is essential that every student receive an education that is not only equal, but also rigorous enough to prepare them for college and career. That requires higher standards for teaching and learning and requires that schools be held accountable for preparing students to succeed -- especially students of color, Native students, ELLs, and low-income students.

Brown v. Board of Education mandated equality in education, and through subsequent executive and judicial actions, made it much more accessible. It is time for the beneficiaries of Brown -- which are all communities of color, today's school leaders, and all Americans -- to stretch even further and make excellence into a reality for all students.