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Modern-Day Segregation in Public Schools

A U.S. Department of Education press release last month had a disorienting, retro ring to it: “Black students to be afforded equal access to advanced, higher-level learning opportunities,” the announcement proclaimed—six decades after the country’s Supreme Court determined that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark ruling known as Brown vs. Board of Education.

The press release contained news about a New Jersey school district’s decision over the controversial practice known as “tracking”—designating students for separate educational paths based on their academic performance as teens or younger.

The education department and advocates have said tracking perpetuates a modern system of segregation that favors white students and keeps students of color, many of them black, from long-term equal achievement. Now the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is trying to change the system, one school district at a time.