Category Archives: Redistricting

Concerns Over Socioeconomic and Racial Resegregation in North Carolina Schools

School districts across North Carolina are on the verge of eliminating busing policies aimed at achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. Without those policies in place, those districts would become systems of primarily neighborhood schools which will undoubtedly be as socioeconomically and racially segregated as the neighborhoods where they stand. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has said of recent initiatives across the state to move toward neighborhood schools, “It’s the most troubling thing I think that’s happened.” Governor Perdue has been vocal about her position on increasing and maintaining diversity in North Carolina’s public schools, saying “Whether it’s racially done or economically done, there has to be some kind of momentum to continue to have diversity in our schools.”

Critics of Wake County’s (Raleigh and surrounding suburbs) current policy which uses busing to maintain racial balance in schools argue that the practice does not result in traditionally under-served students receiving a higher quality education. Instead, they argue that these students are merely spread out across the school district so that their test scores don’t adversely affect any one school. According to Wake County School Board member John Tedesco, “If we have 5 or 10 percent of the children shuffled out among resources in other parts of the county, where they’re not getting the appropriate attention they need but we’re meeting some arbitrary goals, then we’re not serving those children well.” 
This can be a pretty sensitive subject, and both sides articulate and support their arguments very well. But here are some facts. A retreat from reassignment policies will result in a considerably higher degree of racial and socioeconomic segregation in North Carolina’s public schools. There’s no getting around that. Because neighborhoods are largely racially and socioeconomically segregated, the assignment of students to neighborhood schools will result in each school’s demographics mirroring the demographics of the neighborhood(s) that it serves. This scenario is not foreign to us because it is the reality in most places across the US. Most of our children today attend neighborhood schools, and there are many benefits of neighborhood schools, including sense of community, ease of parental involvement, and schools’ geographic placements making them ideal for serving as community hubs. 
But there are drawbacks to neighborhood schools as well. Neighborhood schools that serve middle and upper middle class neighborhoods typically are well-supported financially, stocked with resources, and staffed by highly qualified teachers. Schools that serve poor neighborhoods, however, typically do not have high levels of support, adequate resources, or sufficient numbers of highly qualified staff. This happens for a number of interrelated reasons. Because public education funding is dependent at least in part based on local property taxes, and the tax bases of lower income communities are smaller, the schools that serve poor communities typically operate with less funding. Lower funding results in fewer resources and lower local salary supplements for teachers. Also, some of the most qualified teachers have been less likely to apply for and stay in schools with lower pay and that serve lower income students and/or students of color. Any combination of these factors are reasons why some school boards have believed it necessary to maintain policies that racially and/or socioeconomically desegregate public schools, giving students from lower income neighborhoods opportunities to attend the same schools that children from higher income neighborhoods attend.
Maintaining diverse schools, however, has come at a cost to some families. Such policies have resulted in some children having to transfer schools, and significant numbers of children being bused to schools that are considerable distances away from their homes. There is no easy fix here. For the fundamental question that underlies this debate is what  is the purpose of public schools? This is the same question that I believe underlies the current school choice debate. It’s a tough question. Regardless of how its answered, new questions arise. Do the goals of maintaining diversity in public schools and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend high quality schools trump my individual desire to have my child attend my neighborhood school? Does my child have a right to a sound, basic education at the school of my choosing, or just at “a” school? These are questions that we must come to some consensus on. I highly suggest that we start to deal with these questions in a meaningful way, because it is important that we have at least similar ideas of what public schools are here for. I argue that that consensus is necessary for moving forward with education policy in a truly meaningful way.

Redistricting and Socioeconomic Diversity

Large numbers of parents attended the New Hanover County (Wilmington, NC) School Board meeting last night to protest the board’s proposed redistricting plans. The board has proposed a plan that would arrange students so that students receiving free and reduced-price lunch would not make up any more than 50% of a school’s student body. To do this, however, some students would have to be bused across the county. Some New Hanover County parents have been very vocal opponents of this plan, organizing events and even launching a website

Battles between parents and local school boards over busing are not uncommon to North Carolina. Both Wake County (Raleigh, NC) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg deal with similar issues. At issue in each debate is the question of whether school boards should play an active role in ensuring diversity, whether racial or socioeconomic. Few people today openly disparage the goal of diversity in schools, but upon realizing that diversity does not magically appear without some degree of inconvenience to some person or group, diversity’s fans tend to fall by the wayside. Because neighborhoods are not typically socioeconomically diverse, districting plans where school attendance boundaries are drawn with proximity to the school as the only consideration do not result in socioeconomically diverse schools. 
Why is socioeconomic diversity important? Well, the research is clear that students with low SES backgrounds perform at higher levels in schools with more heterogeneous socioeconomic student bodies. Additionally, it is my contention that all students benefit from experiencing diversity in schools; diversity that is a reflection of our communities and our world. 
In communities across America, we are finding that the broader collective goals of public education (achievement for all children, diversity, etc.) may at times conflict with our individual goals (best education for my child, at the greatest convenience for my family). We will continue to fight battles like the one brewing in New Hanover County until we come to some consensus on the purpose of our public schools. Are they here to serve us collectively or individually? We are seeing that we may not be able to have both all the time.
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