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New report: School segregation is on the rise in NC and it’s harming our kids

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Image: NC Justice Center

A new and important report by veteran education policy analyst Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project provides a sobering, in-depth look at racial segregation in the North Carolina’s public schools. In Stymied by Segregation: How Integration Can Transform North Carolina Schools and the Lives of Its Students,” [2] Nordstrom reviews the history of school integration, what the science shows about its benefits, how North Carolina has been reversing past progress in recent years, and how better policies can put the state back on the right track.

This is from the introduction:

The Supreme Court’s 1954 unanimous ruling on Brown v. Board of Education famously concluded that segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities. The case established that school segregation is unjust and morally wrong. Just over 10 years later, the Coleman Report revealed that socioeconomic diversity is the key to removing racial inequalities in education and established that racial and economic segregation is also counterproductive to having schools that help all children reach their potential.

Despite half a century of law, policy, and growing understanding of the moral and pragmatic justifications for eliminating segregated schools, achieving a fully-integrated public school system remains an unfinished act. In the six decades following Brown, demographic shifts, residential segregation patterns, and changing political attitudes have all affected the extent to which schools have been integrated.

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.”

On the current situation:

The new millennium has brought forth a swelling body of research supporting the benefits of school integration. Yet state leaders are increasingly sponsoring bills that would only exacerbate segregation. While most of these bills failed to pass in 2017, the General Assembly has created the Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units, which many advocates fear is an attempt to begin the process of re-segregating urban school districts.”

On the impact of segregation:

Research on school segregation and integration has reached general consensus on three points:

  1. School segregation has negative impacts on low-income students and students of color.
  2. School integration has positive impacts on low-income students and students of color.
  3. School integration does not have negative impacts on high-income white students.”

On the benefits of integration:

By contrast, there are considerable benefits associated with school integration. For instance, a study in Maryland found that students from low-income families that were randomly assigned to low-poverty schools experienced large, persistent test score gains compared to similar students assigned to high-poverty schools. Another study estimates that desegregation efforts of the 1970s decreased the dropout rates for Black students by two to three percentage points. The benefits of school integration can be quite substantial over the long-term, with one study finding that attending a desegregated school increased annual earnings by 30 percent for Black men.

None of these studies find any negative impacts for white students. In fact, a recent federal study found that white student performance remained similar whether they went to a school that was overwhelmingly white or one that was overwhelmingly Black.

The positive impacts of school integration extend beyond test scores. Students attending integrated schools become less prejudiced, increase cross-racial trust and friendships, and enhance their capacity for working with others. Given this body of research, one would expect policymakers to have accelerated school integration in recent years. Yet while racial segregation has remained relatively constant, several studies have observed a marked increase in student segregation by income.”

The report concludes with a series of highly practical recommendations for federal and state education leaders, school district leaders, charter and public school leaders and parents and community leaders. The bottom line message:

The data in this report clearly demonstrate that leaders at all levels of society can do more to create an inclusive, integrated system of public schools. The state’s public schools are becoming increasingly segregated by income, and while the trends in racial school segregation in North Carolina are mixed, the overall level of racial segregation remains far too high.

The good news is that integrating our schools is an incredibly low-cost proposition. North Carolina could create a much fairer, inclusive, and integrated system of schools by spending just slightly more on student transportation and demonstrating a modicum of political will. In the end, failure to integrate schools is the much more expensive proposition—financially and morally.”

In addition to plentiful data and lots of spot-on analysis, the report includes several vignettes in which North Carolina teachers express their views on the subject. All in all, the report is a true “must read” for anyone who professes to care about North Carolina and its future.  Click here to explore the full report. [2]