Race continues to be the primary determinant of K-12 public education. Nikole Hannah-Jones, an award-winning New York Times Magazine reporter and former reporter for the News & Observer of Raleigh, spoke recently at Duke University in front of a large gathering to kick off the Color of Education Initiative.
Hannah-Jones asserts that integration has been the most effective strategy for closing the achievement gap between white and Black students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted the research to support Hannah-Jones’ position.
The NAEP analysis says: “White students attended schools that were 9 percent Black, while Black students attended schools that were 48 percent Black, indicating a large difference in average Black student density nationally.” The analysis showed schools in the highest density category (60 to 100 percent Black students) were mostly located in the South. Prior research by NAEP indicates six reasons why Black student density is related to achievement and the Black-White achievement gap in schools that serve large percentages of Black students:
- More likely to employ less experienced teachers.
- More likely to have low-socioeconomic-status and have one parent/guardian.
- Oppositional culture – the burden of “acting white’’. (Fordham and Ogbu 1986)
- Lower expectations from teachers for student performance.
- Tracking of Black students tends to differ by the density of Black students.
- The number of school disciplinary reports increases as the percentage of black students in a school increases; and Black students are more likely than White students to face discipline.
A result of this analysis trend back towards segregation and the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision, a landmark 1954 Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision established that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not equal.
In North Carolina, House Bill 514 was ratified in June 2018 and is now the law in North Carolina. For those of you who may have missed this new law, HB 514 allows municipalities to grant enrollment priority to their residents should they open charter schools. Kris Nordstrom of the North Carolina Justice Center, commented: “Authorizing the creation of racially separate and unequal charter schools is not only immoral, it’s educationally harmful, and almost certainly unconstitutional, to boot.”
Make no mistake about it, North Carolina, by passing this law, has positioned the state for resegregation, and has federal funding to support the continued growth of charter schools, having been awarded $23.6 million over five years from the Department of Education’s Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program to help the state’s 185 charter schools meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students and to promote the continued growth of charter schools in North Carolina and perpetrate resegregation of schools.
As highlighted by Hannah-Jones and the NAEP study, we are creating a separate and unequal outcome for our students in North Carolina. The NC Department of Public Instruction reports charter school membership has increased to a high of 97,111. The number of private schools has almost doubled since 1991-92, according to the Division of Non-Public Education and Home Schools; and the number of students has increased by 48,386 over the past ten years to a high of 135,749. The top five North Carolina counties with the highest number of home-schooled students in 2017-18 are Wake with 7,834; Mecklenburg, 6,417; Guilford, 3,233; Buncombe, 2,962; and Forsyth with 2,857. Fifty-eight percent are listed as religious and 42 percent are listed as independent. Funding for school choice has also increased with the Personal Education Savings Accounts (PESAs), a voucher program for private schools that is projected to reach over $1 billion dollars in ten years.
So why the growth of charter schools and private schools? Parents wanting what they consider the best education for their children, reprioritization of state funding, housing segregation and as Hannah-Jones cited, the increase of charter schools in mostly white suburban communities and the fact that white parents often choose schools based on the percentage of Black students that attend, making integration more difficult. We believe Hannah-Jones is correct in her assertion that the seeds for undoing public education are in place. Her message rings true, “We lost the moral message of public schools; that they are about the common, not an individual, good.”
Segregated schools take us back as a nation to a time and period where racial strife, fear and discrimination were prevalent and not forward to the needed atmosphere of racial harmony necessary for a nation that will become more diverse for years to come.
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