New study: In Wake County, moms more likely to back diverse schools than dads

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bIt’s been roughly six years since a GOP takeover on the Wake County Board of Education prompted a massive overhaul of the district’s diversity assignment policy. And, as Policy Watch reported in March, the district has become racially segmented in the years since.

Now, a new N.C. State University study probes the public’s perception of diversity and neighborhood school assignments, finding mostly that, apparently, mothers put more thought into their children’s schooling than fathers, according to a News & Observer report Friday.

From the N&O:

Mothers are more likely than fathers to favor both school diversity and neighborhood schools, according to a new study on gender and school assignment conducted by N.C. State University.

The study also found that mothers are more likely to be concerned about challenges, danger and uncertainties of school assignments. And they were more fearful that a school reassignment would negatively affect their child’s learning or friendships.

“Mothers invest more emotional energy in children’s public school assignments and reassignments than fathers,” said Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at NCSU and lead researcher of the study. “We think that’s because they conceptualize this as part of their total responsibility of being good mothers and promoting their children’s well-being.”

For the study, researchers interviewed opinion leaders in Wake County, including current and former school board members and school activists, from 2010 to 2012. This group included individuals who favored diversity and those who favored neighborhood schools. The researchers also conducted two focus groups.

Survey participants were split nearly evenly between men and women. The researchers found that mothers favored diversity and neighborhood schools more than fathers, regardless of race, education, income or political affiliation.

It’s an interesting study for many reasons, but it’s worth noting that school assignment plans remain a hot topic in large, urban districts such as Wake and Mecklenburg counties.

Advocates say school officials should prize diversity when drawing up assignment plans, pointing to myriad studies reflecting the educational benefits for most children. But critics say the transportation burden makes reform an unrealistic goal in sprawling districts like Wake today.

Indeed, Wake Board of Education Chairman Tom Benton told Policy Watch this year that diversity-friendly assignments would yield hour-long bus trips for some children in the county.

Interestingly, the N.C. State study finds that parents would seem to support both neighborhood and diversity assignment plans, even though the two would seem to conflict.

From the N&O:

“A lot of people are conflicted and understand the value of both,” (N.C. State political science professor and report co-author Andy) Taylor said. “Even people who identify as liberal or conservative understand the benefits of both.”

Translating both positions into policy is difficult, Taylor said.

“It’s hard to know, in a policy sense, how to mix them,” he said. “If we can find good policies of favoring both goals, it’s likely that there will be support from both political sides.”

“We were interested in the political and sociological consequences of this change,” Taylor said.

The study is a spinoff of (N.C. State sociology professor Toby) Parcel and Taylor’s deeper look into the ways diversity and neighborhood schools affect school assignment policy in “The End of Consensus,” a book published by UNC Press in 2015.

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