Racial Balance Fading
Nation’s schools becoming separate again, study finds
Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard News Service, Rocky Mountain News, Mar. 20
America’s public schools, after decades of struggle to achieve racial and ethnic balance, are tilting back toward separate institutions.
And children of color today are much more likely to be in mostly minority schools than they were a decade ago.
With little fanfare and scant publicity, federal judges and school policy-makers have abandoned hundreds of desegregation plans written in the 1960s and 1970s.
The public largely is unaware of the change, according to a recent national poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Sixty percent of Americans say it is “very important” that “students of different races attend classes together.” Most incorrectly assume that their local schools are integrated.
A study of U.S. Department of Education records conducted by Scripps Howard News Service found that racial isolation — the percentage of children of color enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more — has risen in at least 36 states between 1991 and 2001, the most recent year for which reliable data are available.
In all, 6.6 million of the nation’s 18.9 million black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian children in 2001 were enrolled in public schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That means 35 percent are racially isolated in their classrooms.
“These patterns are not the result of current illegal practices by school districts,” said Rod Paige, U.S. secretary of education. “The reasons are complex, and sociologists and demographers can help us figure it out. Some of the causes involve housing patterns and economic factors.”
But several prominent experts on race in public schools are quick to blame the nation’s political and judicial leaders for making a quiet policy change.
“We’re in a major process of re-segregation,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project, which tracks school segregation patterns by school districts. “There is a cowardice about this issue. People are afraid to talk about it because it is so sensitive. So we are slipping back into separate-but-equal schools, a policy we tried once without success.”
The Scripps Howard study found that students of color were most likely to be enrolled in one-color schools in the states of Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York and North Dakota. They were least likely to be racially isolated in Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia, all states with small minority populations.
The study looked at records from 67,577 public schools, comparing their racial enrollment reports from 1991 and 2001. Of these, 414 schools had mostly minority student populations in 1991 that became mostly white a decade later while 5,506 schools shifted from majority white student populations to mostly minorities.
Put another way, the reshuffling of student populations has been so profound in America that the racial character has entirely changed for one out of every 11 public schools during the 10-year period of the study.
“Folks should be screaming from the rooftops about this issue. We have not achieved what we set out to achieve,” said Elise Boddie, director of school desegregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York City.
The Scripps Howard study also found that 10 states experienced double-digit increases in the percentage of children of color going to overwhelmingly minority schools in the last decade. They are: Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Ohio schools have undergone the fastest statewide transformation, the study found. The numbers of black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian students enrolled in overwhelmingly minority schools in Ohio rose from 9 percent in 1991 to 31 percent a decade later.
Paige discounts the amount of re-segregation occurring, saying that “there are some examples” of declining classroom diversity.
“I’m not sure if that is the general description of the nation,” he said. “I don’t want to come off saying that diversity isn’t of value. The president has spoken on this rather clearly. Diversity is of value.
“Our goal is to make the schools better irregardless of the demographic makeup of the school.”
Magnets’ Test Scores Are Rising, Despite Lack Of Student Diversity
Michael Petrocelli, The Herald-Sun (NC), Mar. 19
DURHAM — Being a magnet school has brought Durham’s C.C. Spaulding Elementary a curriculum focused on the life sciences, a laboratory for hands-on experimentation and, its principal says, the means to spark an ongoing rise in test scores.
But magnet status has not brought what proponents originally envisioned for the South Roxboro Road school: white families.
As of last month, only one of C.C. Spaulding’s 249 students was white, and the numbers are similar at a handful of other Durham magnets. Promoted a decade ago as a way to integrate the inner-city schools without the legally and politically dicey step of forced reassignments, some of Durham’s magnet schools are now the system’s most racially segregated.
But as long as test scores keep rising, that’s just fine, school officials say.
Diversity, while still desirable, is no longer the magnet program’s primary function, said Bill Bartholomay, the school system’s director of student assignment.
“There is less focus on diversity and more focus on providing quality instruction,” Bartholomay said.
Whereas diversity was the No. 1 topic in the Durham Public Schools after the racially charged 1992 merger, in recent years, the system’s diversity goals have been superseded by a push to bring up student achievement across the board.
Durham schools officials created the system’s first magnet schools in 1994 as part of a large-scale student reassignment plan. Local leaders, who were looking for a way to mix the populations of the mostly white former county schools with the mostly black former city schools, seized on magnets as a relatively painless way to achieve diversity.
Officials had hoped that the magnet schools’ focused programs would appeal to white families, who then would volunteer to integrate the mostly black city schools, where the specialized programs would be housed.
At a few schools, that vision has come true.
The Durham School of the Arts, which serves grades 6-12 and is located near downtown, and Morehead Montessori Magnet Elementary School, which is located in the West End neighborhood, are nearly evenly split between black and white students. And the student population at Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School, a humanities magnet, is just more than a quarter white. All three programs attract a wide pool of applicants each year, having to turn away many disappointed families.
But other magnet schools, mostly those in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, have proved to be far less of a draw for white families.
Out of the 76 students whose parents submitted applications for spots at C.C. Spaulding this school year, only three were white. And at Y.E. Smith Elementary School, a science and technology magnet, three out of 111 applications were for white students, while at R.N. Harris Elementary School, an integrated arts and core knowledge magnet, four out of 74 applications were for white students.
Children from the mostly black — and partly Hispanic — neighborhoods surrounding some of the magnet schools fill the remaining spots. At last count, five of Y.E. Smith’s 334 students and 12 of R.N. Harris’ 289 students were white.
Those numbers are not ideal, but they do not mean the magnet programs have failed, Bartholomay said. Administrators consider a school to be successful if it is providing its students with a good education, he said, “even if it may not be in a diverse setting.”
In most cases, those magnets were marginally more racially diverse in the years immediately following the launch of their magnet programs, but not dramatically so. At the start of the 1996-97 school year, four of C.C. Spaulding’s 274 students were white, 25 of Y.E. Smith’s 334 students were white and 18 of R.N. Harris’ 317 students were white.
One thing that has changed is the schools’ performance on state math and reading exams. For the most part, even the least diverse magnet schools have seen their test scores rise along with the rest of the system’s schools. At C.C. Spaulding, 79 percent of students in grades three, four and five tested at grade level last year, up from 48 percent in 1996-97. Similarly, at R.N. Harris, the portion of students testing at grade level rose from 40 percent to 81 percent in six years, and at Y.E. Smith, the portion testing at grade level rose from 42 percent to 77 percent.
C.C. Spaulding Principal Therman Flowers said more diversity would bring its own educational benefits, but all he can really control is the is the education given to the students who show up.
“The focus has been on high student achievement for those families who choose to have their children at our school,” he said.
Diversity is still an important goal — and one the schools need to do better at reaching — but it is not more important than bringing up student achievement, said school board Vice Chairwoman Gail Heath.
“I’m never willing to give up on a goal of achieving diversity, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle,” Heath said.
One inner-city school that has managed to hold on to a small contingent of white families is the Burton Magnet Elementary School, a “geo-world” program. According to monthly attendance reports, 36 of the school’s 356 students, or 10 percent, are white, but each fall, school officials are uncertain how many will return, said City Councilwoman Diane Catotti, who is a former PTA president.
The school’s location off South Alston Avenue near the McDougald Terrace housing community makes it a tough sell even to parents who like its focus on geography and foreign languages, she said. And while Burton has consistently managed to keep a handful of white families on hand, it has never built the sort of large, stable group that would attract others.
“We don’t have the critical mass so people are flooding toward us, but there is a core group of parents who are committed to the school,” she said.
Catotti said she sent her children to Burton partly because she likes the school’s curriculum, but also because she wants to do her part to promote integration. However, few parents are willing to follow her lead, she said.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there are enough other people out there that value racial integration and all that that brings with it,” she said.
Even so, she said, the school system should not concede defeat. If its leaders are serious about making the magnet schools an engine for racial integration, they should pour more resources into the schools to entice wary parents, Catotti said.
“You can make it so very attractive that they wouldn’t think of going anywhere else,” she said.
But Flowers, the Spaulding principal, said the lack of white children at his school is not because of any shortage of funding.
A bigger reason may be that elementary schools around the county have made big gains over the last decade, so parents see little reason to leave their neighborhood schools for a magnet program across town, he said. And although he understands the value of diversity, Flowers also noted that Spaulding’s magnet status has improved its socioeconomic diversity by bringing in middle-class black families from outside the school’s largely low-income walking zone.
That said, however, he thinks there is still a chunk of parents out there who see the value of an elementary program with a strong science focus but are not yet convinced that Spaulding is a place of high academic expectations.
As Spaulding’s reputation continues to improve, Flowers said he expects more white parents to take a serious look at the school.
“I predict that we’re going to see more diversity, because we have kids who are doing well academically,” he said. “The interest is definitely there.”