For students like Diamond McCullough, 17, a senior at Walter H. Dyett High School on Chicago's South Side, the disparities are real. Her school is made up almost entirely of African-American students. She said her school doesn't offer physical education classes or art, and Advanced Placement classes are only available online.
McCullough noted the school is named after a famous musician, Walter H. Dyett, and the school no longer has a band class. "We don't have a music chorus class," she said. "We barely have the basic classes we need."
Aquila Griffin, 18, said she transferred from Dyett to another high school 20 blocks away because she needed biology and world studies to graduate. The two traveled to Washington this week for a labor-sponsored rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in support of public education.
"Many blame the schools for failing, or teachers, but they never blame the bad policies put in place in schools," Griffin said. "A teacher can only teach to a certain extent with the resources. It's the policies put in place that's failing the students."
While racial discrimination has been a factor, other forces are in play, said John Rury, an education professor at the University of Kansas. Educated parents with the means to move have flocked to districts and schools with the best reputations for decades, said Rury, who has studied the phenomenon in the Kansas City region.
In the South, many school districts encompass both a city and the surrounding area, he said. That has led to better-integrated schools.
Still, around the country, only 23 percent of black students attended white-majority schools in 2011. That's the lowest number since 1968.
At the same time, there's been a demographic change in public schools. Between 1968 and 2011, the number of Hispanic students in the public school system rose 495 percent, while the number of black students increased by 19 percent and the number of white students dropped 28 percent, according to the Education Department.