Commentary

Teach For America Charlotte forum will hamper efforts to integrate Charlotte’s schools

According to a troubling story in yesterday’s Charlotte Observer, Teach For America Charlotte is “holding a forum on making ‘hypersegregated’ schools successful.”

On Dec. 15, two national speakers will discuss ways they’ve seen schools thrive without significant numbers of white or middle-class students. The free forum is part of its “New Reality Speaker Series,” focusing on poverty and academic success in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The first, on CMS history, was held in October.

This month’s panelists are David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and Terrell Hill, an administrator with Windsor Public Schools in Connecticut.

It is important to consider this forum in the context of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  Since the end of district integration efforts in 2002, CMS has emerged as the most segregated school district in the state.  The “dissimilarity index” is a commonly used measure of school segregation.  It tells you how many students would need to change school assignment in order to achieve racially balanced schools.  For CMS, 55% of students would need to be re-assigned in order to have racially balanced schools.  As a point of comparison, 30% of students would need to be re-assigned to achieve racial balance in Wake County Public Schools.

Racially and economically-balanced school systems have a number of academic and social benefits.  Nationally, integrated schools are associated with higher tests scores, fewer dropouts, a higher college-going rate, and smaller achievement gaps.  Integrated schools reduce bias by improving cross-racial and cross-cultural understanding.  Forthcoming, yet presently unpublished, research from the North Carolina Justice Center has found that integrated school districts in North Carolina have higher test scores, and graduation rates, and lower rates of school suspension.  Additionally, integrated districts tend to spend more local money on their schools.  These findings are consistent with past research into CMS’s patterns of segregation, which clearly found that “desegregated learning environments are superior to segregated ones.”

The impacts of segregation have been acutely visible in Charlotte.  According to a Harvard/UC Berkeley study, Charlotte ranked last the nation in terms of upward economic mobility, and the city was roiled by protests and violence in the wake of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

District leaders are currently trying to reduce the number of high-poverty schools through a new magnet lottery system.  Their efforts have been met with no small amount of controversy and push-back from parents, despite evidence that school integration doesn’t hurt the performance of white students.

Given this context, it is incredibly troubling that Teach For America is hosting this forum.  Of course, everyone wants all schools to be successful regardless of how segregated they are.  But a forum designed to show that hypersegregated schools can, on rare occasions, beat the odds to become successful will almost certainly be used to promote school segregation and make the goal of an integrated CMS more difficult.

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