Integration is creative, and is therefore more profound and far-reaching than desegregation…Integration is genuine intergroup, interpersonal doing. Desegregation then rightly is only a short range goal. Integration is the ultimate goal of our national community. Thus as America pursues the important task of respecting the letter of the law, i.e., compliance with desegregation decisions, she must be equally concerned with the spirit of the law, i.e., commitment to the democratic dream of integration.
— Martin Luther King, Jr., The Ethical Demands for Integration (1962)
The strength of our nation depends on how well our education system prepares young people with the foundational skills and dispositions needed to support healthy political, social, and economic institutions. Believing democracy depended on an “educated population that could understand political and social issues and would participate in civic life, vote wisely, protect their rights and freedoms, and resist tyrants and demagogues,” founding leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams proposed establishing a system of public education to reach as many people as possible.
Because the U.S. Constitution does not give the federal government expressed power over education, however, the American education system is more decentralized and unequal than the average modern democracy. Due to our history of slavery and racial segregation, there are wide differences in how states run and fund public schools and, thus, wide gaps in outcomes for students based on their socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. This has presented a complicated challenge for desegregating schools and ensuring states continue to prioritize and invest in meaningful integration.
There are many aspects of integration, not just race and ethnicity. The U.S. has made great progress in integrating schools by sex/gender and disability, for example, as a result of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The two areas where our county struggle the most are race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. This table from a 2022 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office demonstrates the overlap between these two variables in our schools.
This data shows the extent to which Hispanic, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native groups are overrepresented in the low-income population. This link is not coincidental, it is the direct result of historical government action and inaction.
As our country becomes increasingly more diverse and the economy becomes increasingly interdependent on other regions and countries, our children—our future leaders and workforce—will need skills to be able to effectively communicate, negotiate, cooperate, share resources, serve, and understand other perspectives. According to U.S. Census Bureau National Population Projections (2017), the Non-Hispanic white population will continue to shrink due to falling birth rates and rising death rates of the greying population.
By 2045, Non-Hispanic whites are no longer projected to make up the majority of the U.S. population. By 2060, they are projected to make up only one-third of the population of children under 18 years old.
Colleges, universities, and a large number of Fortune 500 corporations have used affirmative action and DEI policies over time because they get better results working with a diverse population of students or workers. In tackling the problem of implicit bias, research is now showing that many of the strategies that have been implemented in recent decades are ineffectual or even make matters worse.
In the social psychological literature, one of the most well-established strategies for reducing prejudice and fostering positive intergroup relations involves no training and no discussion of prejudice. Intergroup contact theory and research maintain that the key to positive intergroup relations is equal-status, cooperative, and interdependent contact with outgroup members.
— Mixed signals: The unintended effects of diversity initiatives (Dover et. al., 2020)
This indicates that one of the most impactful ways to improve intergroup relations in the workplace and society is through providing diverse environments for children as early as possible during their formative years—most importantly, through diversity in peer interactions and working relationships fostered in the classroom, sports, arts, and extracurricular activities at school. Unfortunately, the other most significant socializing environments for young people, like neighborhoods and religious institutions, are the most segregated parts of American society. Ensuring diverse public schools, then, could be the most significant action we can take to improve race relations in this country long term.
Despite the clear trend of resegregation in the data, it has not been as evident to various segments of the population depending on region, community type (urban, suburban, rural), race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or school type. The change over time has been most significant in the South because desegregation plans there had such a significant impact on the racial mix of schools. After desegregation court orders went into effect, the South became more integrated than any other region in the country.
The percentage of Black students in white schools in the South peaked in 1988 and began to decrease in the early 1990s when court-ordered desegregation plans were lifted. This chart from the NY Times using UCLA Civil Rights Project data shows that by 2011, the percentage of Black students in predominantly white schools in the South had reverted back to 1970 levels before court orders were enforced and busing plans were fully implemented.
A northeastern urban area is likely to have the most significant amount of segregation currently, but because those areas were not under desegregation court oversight in the 1970s-80s, it resulted from a more gradual process compared to a southern city that would have had significant improvement during those decades and then a reversal.
In addition to court orders being lifted, there were other significant changes in American education policy during the late 1980s and early 1990s that influenced this trend. Public opinion shifted from concern about equality in schools to concern about the quality of schools as measured in standardized test results. There was also fairly universal concern about the racial achievement gap and the continued use of busing, but major disagreements about how to tackle the issues.
Current statistics reported by a 2022 GAO study show that in the South, more isolated schools have predominantly Black or Hispanic populations. This is true for traditional schools and even more so for charter schools. UCLA Civil Rights Project data on the most segregated schools reported in 2019 shows the difference between the number of white and Non-white schools since 1988.
According to this same report, “it is possible that white people could perceive an increase in interracial contact even though students of color are increasingly segregated.” Consider the racial composition of the typical student of each race/ethnicity in the 2016-2017 school year:
Based on the 2016 Census data, Non-Hispanic white students make up about 51% of the school-age population, Hispanic 25%, Black 15%, and Asian 5%. This means the typical student’s own racial/ethnic group is about 20-30 percentage points overrepresented in their school. The bulk of the imbalance appears to be with the white population of the school; for the typical Black student, the overrepresentation of Black students is mostly offset by the underrepresentation of white students, and likewise for Latino and Asian students.
All students deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and integrated schools have been shown to best advance this goal. Recent policy initiatives regarding taxes and entitlements, fair housing, and school choice have great potential to exacerbate economic and racial/ethnic segregation, making this an especially significant moment to understand the extent and costs of segregation for children:
Segregation is a demographic and spatial reality, as described above, but, more critically, it is also a device used by a dominant group for maintaining their higher status vis-à-vis others through limiting social interaction. It is natural for families to desire the best for their children, but to the extent that those with power and advantage are able to influence and perpetuate policies in order to hoard benefits and opportunity, leaving disadvantaged children in circumstances which may dramatically influence their life courses for the worse, we must question whether we are and will be “one nation, indivisible.”
— Consequences of Segregation for Children’s Opportunity and Wellbeing (Mcardle & Acevedo-Garcia, 2017)
As these trends continue, it is especially important for public school supporters and integration proponents to present ample evidence that true integration has yet to be achieved, that we can implement policies to improve it, and that investing in those policies will benefit us all.
Benefits of School Diversity
With the public’s commitment to school integration strategies low, it is important to cite specific evidence of how diverse schools benefit all students and society.
“Integration works, but only if we give it a chance—that is, if we implement collaborative policies beginning in the early childhood years and sustain quality investments from prekindergarten through high school graduation and beyond.”
— Rucker Johnson, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works (2019)
As famously stated by Chief Justice Warren in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), school segregation is “inherently unequal” because students from minority groups or underserved communities in segregated schools are made to feel inferior and given lower expectations, which impacts academic performance through the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Supreme Court has been presented with overwhelming evidence of the academic benefits of diverse colleges by social scientists from the fields of education, psychology, sociology, and economics. Justice Powell emphasized in the landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) affirmative action decision: “People do not learn very much when they are surrounded only by the likes of themselves.”
More recent scholarship has focused more on the structural mechanisms involved in school desegregation, integration, and resegregation.
School integration improves outcomes for all students by raising the average student socioeconomic status (SES) of the school and balancing out the distribution of resources for students who have been underserved or have greater needs. For example, schools with a higher average SES have more overall parental involvement as seen with PTA volunteerism and fundraising efforts.
School integration efforts in general resulted in higher levels of funding, lower teacher-student ratios, and more highly qualified teachers for all students—plus fewer school disruptions, greater social and cultural capital, and more challenging courses for Black students.
In Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works (2019), economist Rucker Johnson describes how Great Society-War on Poverty programs initiated along with the major Civil Rights legislation in the late 1960s helped improve educational outcomes along with integration by giving students more resources at home. He cites evidence that the presence of a high-quality PreK program like Head Start in a school system doubles the return on investment of additional funding put into K-12 in terms of academic outcomes like graduation rate and other social/health outcomes. However, if a child has Head Start but then goes through K-12 in underfunded schools, those skills will drop off.
These reasons help explain why more progress was made in closing the achievement gap during the peak years of desegregation than it has in the entire time since desegregation has been replaced by accountability policies.
The consensus from many social scientists and educational associations is that school integration helps students learn skills that can mitigate implicit biases that everyone holds—thus, integrated schools have less extreme “in-group” and “out-group” divisions and conflicts in general.
While bias is implicit and automatic, it is not immutable. Dr. Gordon Allport‘s revolutionary, though intuitive, finding was that bias can be overcome, and prejudice reduced, when meaningful interracial contact occurs. People are capable of being de-biased by contact with minorities on equal terms.
— The White Interest in School Integration (Garda, 2011)
Improved intergroup relations and decreased conflict at integrated schools also contribute to the reduced risk of incarceration for Black students.
A study of secondary schools by Jeremy Adam Smith (2017) found that students in more racially balanced classrooms throughout the school day reported more positive feelings and experiences about safety, bullying, loneliness, and teacher fairness, such that they sought out rather than avoided cross-race interactions compared to students in less diverse classrooms.
According to Johnson (2019), being in integrated schools throughout your school-aged years is so positive for health outcomes, it is like adding 7 years to your life. One reason is that greater emphasis on equity in early childhood education has led to better detection of risk factors like missing vaccinations and issues with eyesight, hearing, and teeth. There are exceptions where Black students have been harmed by improperly integrated schools, but that is not the norm.
Students who experience integrated schooling are more likely to get higher degrees and work in diverse environments after they graduate. Studies of companies and employers have found that educational integration is correlated with greater creativity, collaboration, and leadership readiness in the workplace.
These benefits are also true for white students. There is broad support for school integration in the business world—including Fortune 500 companies—because it is important for developing cross-cultural communication skills and confidence in the global workplace.
Such cross-cultural competence affects a company‘s performance in virtually all of its major tasks: (a) identifying and satisfying the needs of diverse customers; (b) recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, and inspiring that workforce to work together to develop and implement innovative ideas, and (c) forming and fostering productive working relationships with business partners and subsidiaries around the globe.
Amicus Brief submitted by General Motors in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) affirmative action case
Integrated schooling helps students and future workers be better prepared to serve heterogeneous populations, in health care or legal services for example, and respond to the increasing purchasing power of minority groups.
North Carolina’s History of Segregation
Even though de jure segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a “massive resistance” movement against federal intervention was led by segregationists in Southern states for decades. During the 1950s and 1960s, Southern state legislatures enacted hundreds of laws and resolutions preventing or undermining public school desegregation. The Court’s “with all deliberate speed” ruling in Brown II (1955) was deliberately vague because of concern over states’ rights, which allowed states to purposely delay and prevent integration.
North Carolina was a leader in circumventing Brown by immediately passing a Pupil Assignment Act that shifted student assignment decisions to local authorities and removed all overtly racial language from laws. Black students were then systematically denied access to white schools based on vague criteria that were difficult to appeal or challenge as racial.
North Carolina’s strategy to resist school desegregation, later nicknamed “the North Carolina way,” did not rely on overt racist demagoguery or direct defiance of federal authority—tactics practiced unsuccessfully in other states such as Virginia, Arkansas, and Alabama. Instead, it used a legalistic defense of racial segregation that proved to be far more formidable.
— Karl E. Campbell, 2006 – NCpedia
Top-ranking state leaders were appointed to a committee that passed the Pearsall Plan, which approved the use of even more extreme measures like shutting down public schools and giving white students vouchers to attend segregated private schools. However, the state’s districts had so successfully prevented integration through the Pupil Assignment Act and “freedom of choice” plans that simply allowed families to request a transfer for their student to a white school, that these measures were not needed.
Some southern states, including North Carolina, allowed “token integration” in urban areas during this period. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent National Guard to protect the Little Rock Nine for the entire school year. Yet Dorothy Counts, the first Black student to attend a white school in N.C. that same year, only lasted four days in a Charlotte high school due to threats and harassment organized by the local white citizen’s council—without any intervention by the school or government officials. Even in Little Rock, public schools were closed the following school year and former Black teachers volunteered to teach Black students who could not afford private education. Progress was slow and subject to major setbacks for the next decade.
The U.S. Supreme Court was hesitant to tell states when and how to integrate their schools, but with Green v. County School Board of New Kent (1968) the “Green factors” were established to measure a school system’s compliance by analyzing data about its schools, classes, faculty, extracurriculars, and other resources. In Alexander v. Holmes (1969), the “all deliberate speed” standard was overturned and court orders for specific desegregation plans could be issued with actual compliance benchmarks. North Carolina was not fully desegregated until after the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971) decision that led to court-ordered busing.
Absent a constitutional violation, there would be no basis for judicially ordering assignment of students on a racial basis. All things being equal, with no history of discrimination, it might well be desirable to assign pupils to schools nearest their homes. But all things are not equal in a system that has been deliberately constructed and maintained to enforce racial segregation.
— Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)
The resulting anti-busing movement and the Court’s self-imposed limits on its continued intervention put an end to most court-ordered desegregation plans within 15-20 years. The peak of integrated schools occurred in the 1980s. At that time, the gap between Black and white students’ test scores narrowed and schools became more equitable. Between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment decreased.
North Carolina districts used a variety of other tactics like eliminating Black educators, school district gerrymandering, and deeply biased tracking systems and discipline policies that limited the positive impact of integration efforts. As schools were consolidated, Black students were bused to white schools, white teachers were put in charge of integrated classrooms, and Black teachers were demoted to substitute status or fired—often on the basis of newly-instituted, often biased, testing and accreditation requirements.
By the end of the 1980s, public attention turned to the grim outlook of America’s public education system reported in A Nation at Risk and a push for greater accountability testing. Swann was overturned in 2000 and by Parents Involved (2007), the Court ended the use of race in school assignment plans to correct racial imbalances in K-12 schools (except for the few instances where a district has not yet been deemed unitary or desegregated).
After the Parents Involved decision, focus shifted from racial balance to socioeconomic (SES) balance as measured by eligibility for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. Because research has shown inequalities between Black and white students cannot be fully explained by SES, it cannot be relied on solely as a proxy for race but is strongly related.
Addressing the SES imbalance and inequality in North Carolina schools has been a challenging task. In 2010, successful SES-conscious busing programs like those used in Wake County Public Schools met political backlash and were scaled back in favor of controlled choice plans. Despite this, academic studies of the 2000-2010 WCPSS program reveal potential diversity strategies for the future.
We believe the story of Wake County’s socioeconomic reassignments should embolden equity-oriented policymakers in Wake County and across America. By building on the WCPSS model, policymakers can realize the profound benefits of educational diversity, even in an era when courts subject racially sensitive desegregation efforts to sharp scrutiny and school-choice plans provide new opportunities for students to avoid socioeconomically diverse schools.
— Student reassignments achieve diversity without academic adversity (Domina et al., 2021)
Persistent de facto segregation related to housing and school choice policies has been exacerbated by drastic cuts to public education funding by the North Carolina General Assembly. As of 2022, funding for the Leandro Remedial Plan to address gaps in educational opportunity for low-wealth schools has yet to be fully secured.
Recent Data on NC’s School Diversity
Kris Nordstrom of the NC Justice Center’s Education & Law Project reported detailed statistics from 2006-2007 and 2016-2017 in Stymied by Segregation: How Integration Can Transform North Carolina Schools and the Lives of Its Students (2018).
This report looks specifically at trends in school segregation in North Carolina over the past 10 years. The analysis shows that during this time:
- The number of racially and economically isolated schools has increased
- Districts’ racial distribution is mixed, but economic segregation is on the rise
- Large school districts could be doing much more to integrate their schools
- School district boundaries are still used to maintain segregated school systems
- Charter schools tend to exacerbate segregation
These trends carry important implications for state and local policymakers, particularly as the North Carolina General Assembly increasingly considers bills that would further exacerbate school segregation.
— Kris Nordstrom, Stymied by Segregation (2018)
The most current statistics have been compiled by BEST NC’s Facts & Figures: Education in North Carolina 2022. These graphs from that report are most relevant to the issue of segregation:
Source: Go to BEST NC for the full report
The Center for Racial Equity in Education also released a report in 2019 by Nicholas Triplett and James Ford, E(race)ing inequities: The state of racial equity in North Carolina public schools to measure comparative advantage and disadvantage for students based on racial/ethnic characteristics for a number of academic indicators.
The pattern of results for Black students suggests that persistent prejudice and racism is still a key constraint on their educational success, especially in the areas of school discipline, exclusionary and judgmental exceptional children designations, and academically/intellectually gifted designations. It is important to reiterate the implied role that racial subjectivities (beliefs, opinions, biases, ideologies, etc.) of school authorities presumably play in these areas.
— Nicholas Triplett and James Ford, E(racing) Inequities (2019)
The areas of school discipline, exceptional children designations, and AIG designations all impact the amount of integration that exists within a school and its classrooms and can lead families with students of color to see other options like charters and private schools. In comparison to white students, Black students are more likely to be given ISS or OSS for subjective disciplinary issues than white students, more likely to be put in a separate setting for special education services, or less likely to be recommended or encouraged to take Honors and AP courses.
Factors Contributing to Segregated Schools
The School Choice movement
A 2018 Washington Post article shows the destructive transition from defining education as a public good, created for the purpose of strengthening our democracy, to a private good where the concerns of the individual outweigh the good of all. This often informs the decisions of upper and middle-class parents who advocate for school choice.
Affluent white parents can pay for test prep to get their kids into better charter schools. They can move to the suburbs to get into wealthier districts. They can advocate getting their kids into honors classes. You don’t have to stand at the schoolyard door or attack buses anymore. You can just quietly use your money and education to leverage structural inequality in your favor.
— Valerie Strauss, “Back to the future: A new school district secession movement is gaining steam” (Washington Post, 2018)
In The New White Flight, UNC School of Law Professor Erika Wilson notes that when given the choice, white parents tend to choose mostly white schools “even when school quality is controlled for, meaning that whites tend to choose predominately white schools even when presented with the choice of a more integrated school that is of good academic quality.” School choice becomes a vehicle for white flight from integrated schools at the expense of the taxpayer.
One of the most significant forces in the school choice movement is the system the state uses to evaluate schools, which is used by families to decide where to live and enroll their children. Statistically speaking, test achievement scores are more strongly correlated with the demographic make-up of the school (family resources, parental level of education, etc.) than with the quality of the education being provided in its classrooms. North Carolina’s A-F School Performance Grades formula is 80% achievement and 20% growth, one of the worst in the country.
In addition, North Carolina is one of a dozen states that does not include the performance of subgroups such as Black or Hispanic students in the grade. In School Performance Grades: A Legislative Tool for Stigmatizing Non-White Schools, Kris Nordstrom and Luke Tillitski explain that this means North Carolina “provides schools with no incentive to address opportunity gaps, and the SPGs fail to provide stakeholders with useful information on the equitability of outcomes.” This graph from their report demonstrates the strength of the correlation between school letter grade and racial segregation.
In fact, as Noliwe Rooks proposes in Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education (2017), the school choice movement is not just about private entitlement, it is also about private interests exploiting the education marketplace for profit. Even well-intentioned enterprises, Rooks notes, are misguided and miss the mark for our students from underserved communities.
Government, philanthropy, business, and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a ‘finders’ fee’; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for—not just a supplement to-the brick and mortar education experience. The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests…Charter schools, charter management organizations, vouchers, virtual schools, and an alternatively certified, non-unionized teaching force represent the bulk of the contemporary solutions offered as cures for what ails communities that are upward of 80 percent Black or Latino.
— Noliwe Rooks, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education (2017)
Recommendations for promoting education as a public good:
- Focus on controlled choice plans that include traditional and year-round base schools and other magnet options to attract diverse student populations across districts
- Enact stricter regulations and accountability measures to prevent private interests from causing harm in the pursuit of profit
- Replace the A-F School Performance Grade system with one that deemphasizes test score achievement and includes a variety of data on school quality and equity
- Establish minimum and maximum percentages of Economically Disadvantaged students assigned to each school when drawing school assignment zones
- Fully fund the Leandro Plan based on WestEd Report recommendations for underserved student populations so families do not feel the need to find other options that may cost money or require transportation/meals
According to Stymied by Segregation, North Carolina charter schools tend to be more racially and economically imbalanced than the school districts in which they are located. A 2017 study by UCLA showed that nationwide charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools and the share of minority charter students has declined over time. In addition, the burgeoning numbers of charters drive increasing amounts of segregation in traditional public schools, as more middle-class white students leave their district schools.
A bill passed in June 2018 by the NC General Assembly gave four Mecklenburg County towns the authority to start and run their own charter schools. Further, HB514 allows the cities to levy taxes for charter schools, a change in how taxes raised by cities have been used. In April 2020, a lawsuit brought by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law along with several other parties including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP challenged the constitutionality of HB514. The lawsuit claims that the legislation violates the state’s constitutional guarantees of a uniform system of free public education and equal protection under the law. Because the communities named in HB514 have not yet actively pursued creating municipal charter schools, this lawsuit has not moved forward.
Recommendations for reforming charter schools:
- Use weighted lotteries with a diversity plan to ensure the racial and socioeconomic makeup of charter schools “reasonably reflect racial and ethnic composition” of the areas in which they are located
- Require public charter schools to offer resources needed to ensure equitable access to the school: free and reduced lunch, safe and reliable transportation, full special education services, and English language support
- Create more robust systems of transparency and accountability for charter schools to prevent corruption, mismanagement, and discrimination
The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship program provides vouchers, which are upfront dollars that families can use toward paying the tuition of a private school. One of the shortcomings of school vouchers is that they increase segregation in private schools along racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines. Research by Halley Potter from the Century Foundation shows that white families tend to use vouchers to move their children to predominantly white private and faith-based schools.
Private and religious schools are not required to serve free/reduced lunch, offer transportation, or provide special education services—and they can select the students they admit and remove students who do not meet their obligations and expectations. Almost 90% of voucher students in North Carolina attend religious schools, which are allowed to contradict state curriculum and have wide latitude to discriminate against students who do not align with their beliefs. Based on NCSEAA data from 2014-2021, the number of Black students using vouchers has leveled out while the number of white and Hispanic students using vouchers has grown.
Recommendations for reforming the “Opportunity Scholarship” voucher program:
- Restore limits on voucher eligibility, expenditures, and marketing so private interests do not drive demand
- Require schools that receive voucher money to report more specific accountability data for voucher students to show they provide a “sound, basic education”
- Require schools that receive voucher money to meet basic state curriculum and nondiscrimination guidelines
Segregation within school walls and “Black flight”
Research shows that Black and Hispanic students face greater rates of suspension, expulsion, and arrest than their white classmates. The majority of teaching staff is white and research shows that white teachers of Black students punish these students for misbehavior two to four times as frequently as teachers who were the same race as their students.
Recent debate over the prevalence of School Resource Officers and the school-to-prison pipeline is relevant to the issue of segregation, as students of color are more likely to removed from the classroom than their white peers. Proponents of positive school discipline and restorative practices that focus on building relationships and facilitating communication prioritize keeping students in school and in the classroom as much as possible. Principal James Duran explains, “Our approach is to keep the kids in, to do some kind of restorative approach, and maintain the attitude that ‘you’re going to school and you’re going to learn.'”
In light of these realities, families of color in some districts seek schools with teaching staff and a student body that is representative of their children. ‘Black flight’ is a term used to define the phenomenon in certain districts where families of color are constantly relocating or changing schools, “searching for a place where their child would not be subjected to excessive school discipline.”
Recommendations for reforming discipline practices:
- Revise school policies or punishments that result in racially or socioeconomically imbalanced outcomes (especially those that separate students from their peers)
- Invest in programs to establish positive and restorative practices
- Reduce the role of zero-tolerance policies and School Resource Officers to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline
- Create systems and procedures to help mitigate the implicit biases of teachers and administrators such as disciplinary panels made up of a diverse group of educators, parents, students, and administrators to discuss issues and review policies, complaints, and appeals
Placing students in classes/tracks based on whether or not they are identified as gifted or having special needs can segregate populations within a school and give an inaccurate representation of diversity. Because teachers continue to be overwhelmingly white, students of color can be underestimated in terms of ability or misperceived in terms of disability.
There is substantial research suggesting shortcomings with the traditional methods of identifying students for gifted programs and advanced courses. A study from Vanderbilt looking at the significant lack of Black students in the gifted programs found: “When high-achieving black children were taught by a Black teacher, they were just as likely to get assigned to a gifted program as similar high-achieving white children.” To reduce the underrepresentation of diverse learners, educators should ensure equitable identification procedures that take teacher biases out of the equation and are inclusive of a variety of “gifts and talents.”
Placement in special education is also influenced by race and ethnicity due to the subjective nature of some evaluation criteria. This is particularly relevant for segregation inside the school since it impacts the amount of time these students spend inside a regular classroom with their peers. It is also strongly linked to discipline disparities, as explained in the previous section. These national trends are also seen in North Carolina, according to data from the Department of Education’s OSEP Fast Facts website.
Recommendations for reforming gifted and special education placement:
- Include more categories of abilities to reflect a broader set of cultural values
- Screen all students, not just those recommended by a staff member or parent
- Evaluate assessments for racial, ethnic, or social class biases
- Analyze data on subgroups and reassess procedures to ensure progress toward greater equity
When schools began to desegregate, Black educators were forced out of the profession. Either they were not brought on as teachers of white students or they were subject to unfair treatment that caused them to leave. Black students stopped seeing Black educators in their schools and did not envision themselves in those roles in the future. There are very few educators of color in general, but especially Hispanic or Latino, compared to the overall population for a number of historical, social, and economic reasons.
In January 2021, the Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education (DRIVE) Task Force presented its report and recommendations to Governor Roy Cooper based on Executive Order 113. White teachers are overrepresented by over 20%, while Black and Hispanic/Latino teachers are underrepresented by 10% and 15% respectively.
Though the greatest imbalance is for teachers, there are also not nearly enough people of color working with students in classroom, administrative, and support roles.
The DRIVE report also summarized research that has shown numerous benefits of having a diverse educator workforce: higher test scores, smaller achievement gaps, more consistent attendance, fewer exclusionary disciplinary measures, greater diversity of students recommended for advanced coursework, and more positive student perceptions of school.
Extensive research has found that a diverse educator workforce is beneficial to all students, but especially students of color. Multiple studies have indicated that test scores improve in both math and reading in early grades when students are taught by an educator who reflects their racial identity; this is especially true for Black students who are considered low-performing…Having one Black educator in third, fourth, or fifth grade leads to a decrease in dropout rates among Black males and an increase in likelihood that they will aspire to attend a four-year college.
— DRIVE Final Report and Recommendations: The Imperative: Why Having a Diverse Educator Workforce Matters (2021)
- Invest in educator prep programs at HBCUs and community colleges
- Provide substantial mentoring and support networks for educators of color to increase their retention and longevity rates
- Implement anti-racist and culturally responsive practices in every aspect of curriculum and resource development, teacher training and evaluation, administrative and disciplinary methods, hiring and human resources management, etc.
Neighborhoods and property values
One of the main factors causing parents to transfer their children to a new school is the lack of school resources needed to meet their child’s specific needs—from academic enrichment, special education services, and counseling support, to smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction.
Additional state funding is needed for low-wealth, often rural counties in North Carolina to meet students’ constitutional right to a “sound, basic education.” If proper support was provided by the state, fewer families in these areas would feel the need to pull their children from traditional public schools into charters, private schools, or homeschooling.
Because of the historical, geographical, and economic ties between poverty and race/ethnicity in North Carolina, This is why the ongoing Leandro case (1997-present) is of such significant importance for public education and civil rights. Every Child NC has summarized the student populations that will benefit the most from the full implementation of the Leandro Plan.
Following recommendations such as these from the WestEd Report commissioned during the ongoing Leandro v State case would fortify public schools across North Carolina and slow the exodus of their underserved student populations.
Recommendations from the Leandro Plan to serve students in low-wealth areas:
- Adjust the funding model to compensate for the smaller tax base of lower-wealth counties as well as declining enrollment
- Prepare and adequately fund programs and incentives to attract, prepare, and retain highly qualified, diverse teachers and leaders in high-poverty schools
- Provide comprehensive supports, including academic specialists, nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers
- Provide universal breakfast and lunch programs
- Expand access to high-quality Pre-K for all four-year-olds with academic risk factors, including children with disabilities
- Fully fund teaching assistants in K-3 classes
- Eliminate caps on English Learner (EL) and Special Education (SpEd) funding for schools whose student population needs exceed the average
In many areas, years of policies such as redlining have resulted in concentrations of minority residents. Richard Rothstein, author of the book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, points out:
Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, racially explicit policies of federal, state and local governments defined where whites and African Americans should live. Today’s residential segregation in the North, South, Midwest, and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States.
— Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017)
Kris Nordstrom suggests that policies at the state level need to be implemented to put affordable housing in areas where “good schools” exist. In 2019, Michael Hobbes details the difficulty of rapidly growing cities to accommodate, or even meaningfully debate, affordable housing: “Most of the existing density restrictions contributing to the housing crisis in cities were in fact put in place as a result of lobbying efforts by homeowners seeking to preserve their home values.”
Data from the Child Opportunity Index (COI) reveals the lasting inequality of living conditions for children of different races and ethnicities in U.S. cities. Children living in Low or Very Low Opportunity Neighborhoods are negatively impacted across a number of educational, health, environmental, social, and economic variables.
For cities experiencing heavy gentrification, the ability to opt out of the neighborhood school increased the likelihood that a mostly Black or Hispanic neighborhood would see an influx of wealthier residents. Research by Helen Ladd at Duke University found that white parents in North Carolina were most likely to transfer out of their assigned public school if the Black population of the school was greater than 20 percent. Other studies have found that:
As school choice expands, the likelihood that low-income communities of color experience gentrification increases. The effects were substantial: a predominantly non-white neighborhood’s chance of gentrification more than doubles, jumping from 18 percent to 40 percent when magnet and charter schools are available.
— Matt Barnum, School choice is pushing wealthy families to gentrify neighborhoods but avoid local schools (2018)
A study of Charlotte schools in 2018 showed that housing prices increased in neighborhoods when parents were given the choice to opt out of Title I schools with charters and vouchers. While the same school choice programs that contribute to segregation can encourage residential integration, it still leaves a community disconnected and disinvested from its schools.
Recommendations for urban housing policies and gentrification:
- Make affordable housing a priority in all areas of the school district, especially when building or renovating new schools
- Build more magnet schools near population centers that have easy access to buses
- Use realtor outreach initiatives to help improve the perception of public schools in gentrified areas
- Invest in continued research on the impact of gentrification on school diversity and displaced students
Property values do not just impact where families can live, since a significant amount of local school funding comes from property taxes. Wealthier schools attract the best teachers because they can offer higher local supplements, better resources, higher achieving students, and parents with greater resources to invest in the school. In areas with a significant urban-suburban-rural divide, there is often a debate over how to distribute resources by either consolidating or segmenting local school districts.
Authors Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Erica Frankenberg, and Sarah Diem have studied school resegregation and secession and note that the secession of whiter, wealthier districts from larger, more diverse districts, has been gaining popularity again since 2000. By 2019, 73 districts had successfully succeeded nationwide. Researchers from UNC School of Education found that districts that secede are less diverse and have more resources than the districts they leave behind.
This ability to literally game the system for fiscal and demographic advantage shows that the court in Brown was able to articulate a vision, but unable to define the mechanisms by which that vision would be realized, nor able to anticipate the myriad pathways school leaders would take to resist or defy accepting the burden of that vision.
— Eric Houck and Brittany Murray, Left Behind: District Secession and the Re-segregation of American Schools (2019)
One of the driving factors of school district and school attendance zone gerrymandering is the perceived quality of schools in a real estate market. According to Philip Tegeler and Michael Hilton from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, “Ranking of systems based on overall test scores deters higher-income families from purchasing in ‘lower-ranked’ school zones, depressing housing values and tax base and exacerbating racial transition and neighborhood segregation.” Given that these report card letter grades are featured prominently in real estate listings and directly impact property values, the system amounts to modern-day redlining.
On a positive note, however, when it comes to school district and attendance zones gerrymandering is not always a negative practice. It was used widely by districts under desegregation orders to increase racial balance in the 1970s-1990s and can be used now to increase socioeconomic balance. Given the historical tendency for this practice to be used segregatively rather than affirmatively, it is essential to collect data and implement accountability measures indefinitely.
Recommendations for school districts and attendance zones:
- Establish mechanisms for collaboration between boards, departments, and agencies that make decisions about education, housing, zoning, and transportation
- Promote alternatives to School Report Card Grades to be used in real estate and community marketing
- Push back against the secession of predominantly white and wealthy communities from their school districts
- Design strategic school assignment options that provide transportation for economically disadvantaged students
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Last updated 9/22/2022