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Today, there are several adults and children in the legislative building wearing T-shirts with the logo of Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina and the words “Lift the Cap on Opportunity Scholarships.” It is great when students get to see how government works.

Rather than the excitement of floor debates (although, they would have heard a stirring but constitutionally incorrect speech about vouchers by a legislator last week) or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filibusters, all students will see are the offices of a part-time citizens’ legislature that does more meeting in caucus than meting out constitutional law.

It just goes to show that like government in operation, the vouchers are not quite what they seem.

For example:

  •  The voucher program violates the state constitution by taking money that is for the exclusive us of public schools to unaccountable private schools. (This would be a great lesson in government that students should learn).
  •  Vouchers are said to help students who are struggling in public schools. Private schools, however, have barriers to admission like entrance exams that can keep a student with academic trouble out of the private school even with a voucher.
  •  Vouchers are supposed to be given to low-income students but the $4,200 voucher is unlikely to provide enough money to attend a quality private school. The parents that are in the legislature today should not have to dig in their pockets to get the free public education that the General Assembly is constitutionally required to provide. (Another lesson in government the students should learn).
  •  Some promoters of vouchers in the General Assembly see the students as if they are commodities. They say that it is cheaper to give them a voucher than it is to educate them in public schools. The students should be offended that the government that is responsible for educating them is trying to do so “on the cheap.”

One can hope that when the students received their T-shirts that they also received a copy of Article IX of the North Carolina Constitution.

Their government should be more concerned with ensuring they will be wearing a gown and cap at graduation rather than lifting the cap on an unconstitutional program.

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May 17, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education. There will be and should be much said about whether the United States is fulfilling Brown’s promise of desegregation in public schools and in other areas of society. Many are likely to answer “no” and there is not a lot of opportunity to disagree. Starting with public education, we can see that North Carolina’s recent history is disturbing when the following matters are considered:

  • Halifax County has three school districts, Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, which are racially segregated. According the UNC Center for Civil Rights from a report published in 2011, although only “39 percent of the county is White”, Weldon City Schools and Halifax County Public Schools are “both almost 100 percent Non-White” Roanoke Rapids Graded School District “is over 70 percent White.”
  • In 2009, the NAACP filed a Title VI Complaint with the Department of Justice because in the Wayne County Schools Central Attendance District all but four students out of 2,100 were people of color. Students were living in poverty as 94 percent receive free or reduced price lunch.
  • In 2010, a Title VI Complaint was filed with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights was filed against Wake County Public School System because a new school board jettisoned a socioeconomic diversity plan.

What we know is that the decision in Brown was right. Integration matters. Research tells us the following:

  • Given the segregated housing patterns in Wake County, the socioeconomic achievement gap would have wider but for the diversity policy.
  • A Century Foundation report found that the socioeconomic achievement gap was narrowed because of integrated housing through inclusionary zoning.
  • According a report by the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD), minority students that attend integrated schools are more likely to graduate from college and less likely to have involvement in the criminal justice system.
  • Another report from the NCSD found that White students benefit from thought-provoking discussions in class and strengthen their “critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” This leads to higher results in their academic achievement.

There is much more to be said about our state and our country 60 years after, perhaps, the most important decision ever rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States. If the answer to the question if the United States and North Carolina is fulfilling the promise of Brown is “no”, we do know that we have solutions. In public education, one of the clear answers to our problems is diversity.

This post is the first in a periodic series about the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

 

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PlaceMatters

This blog post is part of a series called Place Matters. The other posts can be accessed here, here, here and here.

North Carolina’s education system is entering a new environment. The Common Core State Standards are in full effect providing for new curriculum. The Excellent Public Schools Act’s Read to Achieve section which ends social promotion in the third grade threatens to hold back many students. Proven measures like early childhood education programs that improve End of Grade test results have been cut.

Unfortunately, students who find themselves in environments of racial segregation and high poverty will feel the effects of the changes in education policy in this state worse than their more affluent peers. According to a 2013 report published by the UNC Center for Civil Rights called “The State of Exclusion”, North Carolina is rife with racially identifiable schools. In the report, these are schools where “the racial composition of the school was more than 10% different than the county average.” Their composition can reflect either a higher population of white students than the county average or more students of color than the county average. Using the methodology explained in the report, the research found that throughout the entire state, 63.44% of the population lives near an elementary school that is racially identifiable.

The literature is clear on the impacts of racially identifiable schools on students learning. In a research brief, UNC Charlotte Professor Roslyn Michelson, states that “[s]egregated schools are highly effective delivery systems for unequal educational opportunities.” This point is illustrated by research from the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities which states that “[i]n North Carolina, segregated high-poverty schools have less experienced teachers, fewer fully-qualified teachers, and fewer teachers with advanced degrees…” Racial segregation in schools creates a system for student underachievement.

Racial segregation was not the only consideration in the UNC report. Research also addressed high-poverty schools. It comes as no surprise that, according to the report, high-poverty schools are also likely to be racially identifiable. The most impoverished counties in North Carolina also have higher rates of their populations living near failing schools.

These findings are highly correlated with other findings of the report around segregated housing patterns. Again, Michelson finds that assignment policies for schools necessarily are linked to housing policies.

Fortunately, there are solutions. Research shows that racial and socioeconomic integration is beneficial to all students and society.  Prof. Michelson’s research brief shows that where there is diversity, students of color are more likely to have higher grades, graduate high school and continue their education in college than students attending schools with a population of mostly disadvantaged students of color and students living in poverty.

A Century Foundation report called “Housing Policy is School Policy” studied Montgomery County, Maryland, which has one of the first inclusionary zoning programs in the United States. The policy allows low-income students to attend school with their more affluent peers. Low-income students with access to schools where there are students with more wealth outperformed poor students in the schools where there was not socioeconomic integration.

In places like Wake County, where housing is segregated but an “aggressive district-wide socioeconomic integration policies” has been used, there was less of an achievement gap than there would have been without the integration policy.

Of course, there are many places in the state where there is no racial or socioeconomic diversity. If inclusionary zoning or strong diversity policies are not available, there are still other solutions. The state can ensure that qualified, experienced teachers are in every classroom by making and paying teachers like the professionals they are. North Carolina could also restore the Teaching Fellows Program so that only people who know that they want to teach will enter the profession. There should also be restoration of funding for professional development programs. A joint publication between the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project and Budget and Tax Center called “Smart Money: Investing in Student Achievement” highlight solutions where adequate and equitable funding can improve student outcomes.

Until North Carolina becomes serious about ensuring that students’ learning environments are not tied to their living environments, place will always matter.

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This week should not pass without acknowledging that it is “National School Choice Week.” This is the week described by its proponents as a way to shine a “positive spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children.” By this, these folks usually mean charter schools and vouchers.

The truth, however, is that evidence shows that these are not effective options at all. Nationally, the majority of charters either perform about the same as or worse than traditional public schools. The news is no better with vouchers. In places that have had vouchers the longest, public school students actually outperform students who receive private school vouchers on proficiency exams.

Even more fascinating than the illusion of choice that is being celebrated is the fact that there are people without choices when it comes to public education. The North Carolina General Assembly is constitutionally mandated, meaning they have no choice but to support the traditional public schools.

Article I, Section 15 of the North Carolina Constitution states that Read More

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First published on PolicyMic.com

A recent Gallup poll showed that the U.S. is losing its taste for capital punishment. Make no mistake: A majority of Americans are still in favor of state-sponsored homicide, but the 60% of people who claimed that they approve of capital punishment is an all-time low. Year after year, the death penalty is falling out of favor in this country. One segment of the population that is growing in opposition of the death penalty are those who have conservative values.

The poll stated that 81% of Republicans support capital punishment, but even that number was lower than it has been in the past. An important part of the change in the conservative and libertarian response to the death penalty is young people. The Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), an organization started by the youth coordinator of the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman from Texas, is a partner of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCATDP). In addition to the partnership with YAL, CCATDP attended the Young Republican National Federation’s Convention in Alabama.

Just last week, Kansas Republican Chase Blasi published an editorial explaining why capital punishment is counter to conservative positions. Read More