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During the past half-century, education has experienced
a broad expansion of civil rights. Where no rights
previously existed, students now have the right to be free
from discrimination based on race, language status,
disability, wealth, gender, and homelessness. The full
development of these rights, along with substantive
educational improvements for disadvantaged students,
however, has recently stalled. For instance, mandatory
school desegregation, which laid the political and
theoretical foundation for other movements, is nearly non-
existent today. Other movements fare better than
desegregation, but nonetheless face serious limitations.
The overall trend of these various movements raises
serious questions about the prospects for systematically
improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged
students through rights-based education reform. Viewed
in the short-term, education reform may appear to have
plateaued and begun what will become an increasingly
steep decline. But an historical approach to educational
rights suggests this is not the case.
Brown v. Board of Education and the half-century of
education reform that followed collectively represent, not
the whole of educational rights, but only one part of what
can be conceptualized as a multi-act play. Brown was
preceded by at least two crucially important periods,
Reconstruction and "Separate But Equal" and will be
followed by another. A broader historical view suggests
that we are in the midst of a transitional period between
Brown and next major saga of educational rights and
reform. This next saga, however, is not yet clear because
-advocates and progressive policymakers are still
struggling to formulate a realistic animating theme for