No longer black and white

 In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts can no longer use race as a basis for school assignments.

The decision in cases affecting schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle could imperil similar plans in hundreds of districts nationwide, and it further restricts how public school systems may attain racial diversity.  (Washington Post )

How will this decision affect schools in North Carolina? Well, the state’s 2 largest school districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County changed to ‘race neutral’ assignment schemes during 1999-2001.

Popular forms of race-neutral assignment plans include lotteries, socioeconomic status based, geographic proximity and pure choice. These methods have had mixed results.

Since 2002 when Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools implemented a neighborhood-based, limited-choice student assignment plan:

  • The number of hypersegregated schools (schools with more than 90% minority enrollment) more than doubled.
  • The number of segregated schools jumped from 47 to 87 in 2004-2005
  • African-American students effectively lost access to oversubscribed predominantly white schools.
  • There has been no overall progress in black student achievement between 2002 and 2004. 60% of African American high school students failed state accountability tests as compared to 23% of white students.

Wake County schools, which used a socioeconomic status based plan, have not resegregated at the same rate as some districts. However, racial diversity has declined since the adoption of the socioeconomic plan in 2000.

  • In 2003, 39% of African-American students attended a school that had 50% or more minority enrollment, compared to 21% of African-American students in 1999.

The unique demographics of Wake County account for the relative success of the race-neutral assignment plan:

  • Wake County is one of only six counties (out of 100) in North Carolina that have a family poverty rate less than 10%, coupled with a significant racial disparity between poor and non-poor families.
  • African American and Latino students are 10 times more likely to be eligible for free/reduced lunch than white students.

Counties that are not as socioeconomically polarized will have a difficult time replicating Wake County’s diversification success.

Today’s Supreme Court decision certainly throws an interesting twist into the state’s efforts to provide educational equality. School assignment decisions are no longer black and white, but rather rich and poor.

2 Comments

  1. Dallas Woodhouse

    June 28, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    I am not sure but the Town of Garner may now sue the Wake County School Board over their hidden use of race. They were watching this case.

  2. pwintern

    June 28, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in this case, compared the diversity plans employed by the school districts to the segregation at issue in Brown, writing:

    “The parties and their amici debate which side is more faithful to the heritage of Brown, but the position of the plaintiffs in Brown was spelled out in their brief and could not have been clearer: [T]he Fourteenth Amendment prevents states from according differential treatment to American children on the basis of their color or race. [citations omitted] What do the racial classifications at issue here do, if not accord differential treatment on the basis of race? What do the racial classifications do in these cases, if not determine admission to a public school on a racial basis?”

    The diversity plan in Jefferson County was put into place after federal oversight ended, and was to ensure that segregation in schools prior to Brown did not occur again. The plan only required that minority enrollment in a school be between 15 and 50 percent. The comparison of the school board’s efforts to prevent segregation to the forced segregation prior to Brown is quite a stretch.