Last week, the News & Observer’s Linda Darnell Williams contextualized the prospect of resegregation in Wake County Schools—which, as media reports have recently noted, is an increasingly real proposition not only in Wake County but around the country as deliberate efforts to diversify student populations in the wake of Brown v. Board of Ed begin to wane.
The news that Wake County is backing away from its diversity policy is “very sad,” [New York Times magazine reporter Nicole] Hannah-Jones said in a recent conversation. She noted that Wake’s economic diversity policy was held up as a national model.
Any move toward resegregation is distressing, she said, because “the record is very clear that when districts resegregate, education plummets without exception.”
All Wake has to do, she said, is look at Charlotte, which rapidly saw more racial segregation in schools after it was released from court-ordered busing.
The N&O’s Keung Hui recently reported that Wake County has seen a doubling in the number of racially-isolated and high poverty schools, which have increased by more than 150 percent in the last seven years.
In 2010 and 2011, a Republican-dominated Wake school board made changes that undid parts of a decade-old busing system intended to make Wake’s schools more diverse. Previously the county assigned students to schools sometimes far away from home in an effort to limit high concentrations of low-income student populations inside one school building. Citing parental frustration over children attending schools far from home, the board dropped the socioeconomic diversity requirement from the county’s school assignment policy and adopted a ‘choice model’ that continued to cause confusion and controversy.
Today, Wake’s school board is now dominated by Democrats — but its members appear to be unwilling to reverse the previous board’s decisions. Citing the tumult parents parents and students endured from the old school assignment policies, the board seems to favor pouring more money into low-performing schools—which, as Keung reports, typically have high numbers of students from low-income families.
Darnell Williams says she’s worried that efforts to redirect extra resources to these newly resegregated schools won’t ultimately be a promise that’s kept.
Instead of taking action to foster integration, lawmakers and many school leaders promise additional resources to schools with concentrations of poor and minority students. The evidence is not convincing that sufficient resources are forthcoming. Talk of volunteers reading to low-income students is laudable, but it won’t have the impact of smaller classes and highly qualified teachers – resources that cost money.
Within the context of resegregation, it’s important to highlight the fact that North Carolina has entered into a new phase of school accountability. Schools are now awarded letter grades ranging from A-F based largely on students’ performance on standardized tests. Schools that perform poorly don’t get extra resources in this new system; they just get a slap on the wrist by way of requiring them to send a letter to parents informing them of their failing grades.
There’s a distinct correlation between racially isolated, high poverty schools and the likelihood they’ll receive a D or F from the state. Countless studies document the fact that poorer students perform worse than their richer counterparts on standardized tests. As such, schools with greater concentrations of low-income students will have a hard time getting As or Bs, unless lawmakers decide to change the metric to favor how students grow over time, rather than their performance on a test on only one day.
And when talking resegregation, also worth flagging is this: while North Carolina sees more and more predominantly high poverty schools reenter the picture, Rep. Rob Bryan is working behind the scenes on a proposal to allow for-profit charter school operators to take over failing public schools. While some say new approaches are necessary to interrupt the cycle of schools failing poor kids, others are concerned that allowing charter operators with fewer accountability requirements could do more harm than good.
Could a lack of willingness to keep schools diverse give way to to the privatization of North Carolina’s worst-performing schools?