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Monday, March 19, 2018

Charter Schools and the Resegregation of North Carolina Schools

Posted by on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 9:29 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

According to a new report from the NC Justice Center’s Kris Nordstrom, North Carolina over the last decade has seen an increase in the number of racially and economically isolated schools, an increase in economic segregation, school district boundaries that are used to maintain segregated systems, and exacerbated segregation stemming from the rise of charter schools.
  • From the report: “Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of schools isolated by race and income in North Carolina’s traditional, inclusive school districts. In 2006-07, there were 295 schools where more than 75 percent of the students were persons of color and from low-income families. By 2016-17, there were 476 such schools. In 2006-07, 13 percent of North Carolina’s traditional schools were isolated by both race and income, compared to 19 percent in 2016-17. The growing share of racially and economically isolated schools should be a warning sign that our school system is becoming more unequal, not less.”
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  • “It is unclear how much of the increase in racially and economically isolated schools is due to education policy decisions (i.e. school choice, school assignment plans, school district borders, etc.), and how much is attributable to demographics and other policies outside of the control of school leadership. North Carolina’s public schools have experienced substantial demographic changes over the past 10 years, with the share of students of color increasing from 44 percent of all traditional public school students to over 51 percent. Over the same period, the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch has risen from 48 percent to 60 percent.”
  • “Given the demographic changes, one might expect a commensurate increase in the number of racially and economically isolated schools. On the other hand, one might expect policymakers to enact measures to counteract the demographic shift’s impact on school segregation. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s growing share of racially and economically isolated schools has outpaced the demographic increase in the share of low-income students and students of color. From 2006-07 to 2016-17, North Carolina’s share of minority students rose 16 percent, yet the share of racially isolated schools increased 25 percent. Over the same period, North Carolina’s share of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch increased 23 percent, while the share of economically isolated schools increased 74 percent.”
  • North Carolina’s largest districts have a mixed record with both economic and racial segregation. “As measured by racial dissimilarity index, Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the most racially segregated district in the state. Guilford and Forsyth also are among the 10 most segregated districts, as measured by racial dissimilarity. Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford are the two districts most segregated by income, as measured by the income-based dissimilarity index. Forsyth and Union are also among the 10-most economically segregated districts in the state, as measured by the income-based dissimilarity index. … Students in the three largest districts (Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and Guilford) all became slightly more unequally distributed by race over the past 10 years, as measured by the district racial dissimilarity index. The remaining seven districts (Forsyth, Cumberland, Union, Johnston, Durham, Cabarrus, and Gaston) all slightly improved their racial distribution of students.
  • On charters, Nordstrom writes: “In an examination of charter school trends from 1999 to 2012, researchers from Duke University found that charter schools transitioned from serving a disproportionate share of students of color to serving an increasingly white population. At the same time, charter schools have become increasingly segregated, with some schools serving primarily students of color, and others serving primarily white students. … In 72 percent of the counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district, as measured by the racial dissimilarity index. … It is important to note that when charter schools were first introduced in North Carolina, the schools were required to ‘reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition’ of the population of the district in which the charter school is located. This requirement was watered down in 2013. Under current law, North Carolina charter schools must only ‘make efforts’ to achieve demographic parity with the local school district. Despite the law, most North Carolina charter schools have more white students than the county in which they are located.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Here’s what we know: North Carolina schools are more racially and especially economically segregated than they were a decade ago. Some of this is due to the rise of charters and vouchers, which—let’s be honest—allow white parents to pull their kids from diverse school and place them in “safer,” more homogenous environs. But some of it is also due to demographic shifts. In the former case, the legislature’s actions are making the problem worse. In the latter, the legislature isn’t doing anything to make it better, such as addressing historic racial segregation in housing, which in turn gives rise to school segregation, or forcing the mergers of city and county school districts.
  • In the N&O, John Locke Foundation vice president of research John Stoops said “the changes proposed by Nordstrom would give the state enormous power in deciding where children go to school. Stoops said parents ‘don’t want Raleigh intimately involved in the assignment of their children’s school based on some demographic factors that might not fit the needs of the students or the needs of the parents.’”
  • To my mind, it’s not hard to read between the lines: “demographic factors” that “might not fit the needs.” I’m reading a book right now, Democracy in Chains, by Duke prof Nancy MacLean, that traces the rise of the Koch Brothers-style libertarian right from the founding of an economics school at the University of Virginia in the 1950s. And so much of it, she argues, stemmed from the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. White parents did not want their kids going to school with black kids. They wanted vouchers so parents could receive taxpayer money to send their kids to all-white schools beyond the reach of Brown and the federal government’s desegregationists. This was explicit then, whereas now it’s more implicit. But either way, the result is the same.

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