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Wake schools could imitate history of Charlotte schools

Posted October 15, 2009

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— Newly elected members of the Wake County Board of Education have vowed to make changes to socioeconomic policies and busing practices – changes like those already experienced Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

There, a 1999 court ruling ended nearly three decades of busing to desegregate schools. Today, classes have "a few African-Americans, a few Anglo-Americans, a few of everybody," parent Tina Marshal said.

"The city has gotten past the racial divide," parent Martha Wittek said.

Civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers was involved in the lawsuits that desegregated Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and the later lawsuit that ended racially based student assignment.

In 1965, Chambers sued on behalf of a family whose son wasn't allowed to attend a nearby, integrated elementary school and was, instead, sent farther away to an all-black school. At the time, 14,000 of 24,000 black students attended all- or heavily-black schools.

Wake schools could imitate Charlotte history Wake schools could imitate Charlotte history

It took four years to get a court order to desegregate the school system by any means, including busing.

We were "trying to achieve the kind of equal opportunities for poor and minority children," but gaining that was tough, Chambers said.

"It was very rough. I can remember a riot that took place in 1972," said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake, who was a teacher then.

"It was very emotional," recalled school board member Joe White, a former coach and teacher. "You had people who thought it was great, and you had people who said, 'My kids aren't going to school with those kids.'"

Through the decades of forced integration, race relations in Charlotte greatly improved. However, a vast academic gap persisted.

In the 1998-1999 school year, 30.5 percent of black students scored at or above grade level on end-of-course tests. By contrast, 70.9 percent of white students met that mark.

That same year, Chambers returned to court to defend the policies he believed were still necessary to keep Charlotte schools integrated.

A family had sued the school system, saying their daughter was denied admission to a charter school because she wasn't black. As a result of the lawsuit, the school system adopted a new assignment policy to put more students in nearby schools and increase family choice.

"Just as we get to a point where we think we should be, we backslide," Chambers said.

Ten years later, schools such as West Charlotte High are nearly 89 percent black, with many students from low-income families. In a more affluent part of town, Myers Park High is 62 percent white.

"Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are becoming re-segregated," Leake said.

Since racially based student assignment was ended, the racial gap in academic achievement has shrunk some but remains large.

In end-of-course tests for the 2008-2009 school year, nearly 65 percent of black students scored at or above grade level, compared to 89 percent of white students.

"The desegregation of public schools is much less important to this community. It is also much less important for the advancement of African-Americans," said David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Charlotte Mecklenberg adopted some policies to replace busing. For example, low-performing schools are placed in an achievement zone and given special attention to improve performance.

Leake said that while money for low-performing schools has been increased over the years, the playing field still isn't even for minority schools.

"The funds may be there, but the quality of the principal, the quality of the staff is still lagging," she said. Minority schools can lose out, she said, simply because good teachers like to go to good schools.

Only 3 percent of teachers at West Charlotte High are board certified. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods have several times as many board-certified teachers.

Parents said the divisions in schools largely aren't racial any more.

"Now it is more of an economic division," Wittek said.

34 Comments

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  • swfsm Oct 16, 2009

    fatchanceimwrong - Have you ever heard of this type problem between lower & middle class members of the same race?

    Yes, actually. I know someone who teaches in a middle class community in another state, where 60% of the population is black. Recently, a number of lower income black students have entered the school system there from a nearby city and a number of the middle class black families are now leaving because (as they tell the teacher), they do not want their children around the ghetto attitude.

    There have been times and places where middle class and poor whites have had conflicts as well. It is not about race. It is about socioeconomic cultural differences and peoples' attitudes about those differences.

  • fatchanceimwrong Oct 16, 2009

    caniacfan: That's a good point. The schools in black communities are battlegrounds because the kids are raised to be that way. That's their parents' responsibility to make sure the kids go to school, show respect, and learn. It's not the responsibility of the teachers at the school in the next town over. Perhaps when things get bad enough in the black community, they'll work to change their culture from one of running the streets and being thugs to one of responsibility and accountibility. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child...but those villages need to start doing some raising. Shipping them off to a school somewhere else does nothing to improve things in their own communities.

  • fatchanceimwrong Oct 16, 2009

    districtcadvocate: I may have misinterpreted your comment then. But, I hear where you're going with your reference to race vs poor people. I'm not so inclined with political correctness. The issue is about black and white school children, with many raceophobes not willing to call it what it is. You, like many others, can refer to it as a socioeconomoic issue if you like, but I see that's it's a racial issue and am not scared to address it as such. Have you ever heard of this type problem between lower & middle class members of the same race?

  • caniacfan Oct 16, 2009

    Has anyone considered the teachers in this whole thing? What will happen to some of your better teachers if schools in less desirable parts of the county go back to neighborhood schools, take on the potential negative personality of that neighboorhood and then your teachers want to flee. You won't even be able to draw good teachers to those schools even if you offer extra 'battle pay'. Look at what happened in Charlotte where the minute percent of teachers in that school were board certified. Think that won't happen here, just think again. Glad my child has graduated and we don't have to worry about this mess anymore.

  • mep Oct 16, 2009

    If funding and facilities are the same regardless of location... why not re-assign teachers and bus them to where the need is! Make every teacher part of a lottery system, so a portion of teachers are "bussed" each year to different schools.
    Academic problem solved!

  • DrJ Oct 16, 2009

    What is more important, ACHIEVEMENT or SOCIAL ENGINEERING?

    **** BEFORE "SEGREGATION"

    In the 1998-1999 school year, 30.5 percent of black students scored at or above grade level on end-of-course tests. By contrast, 70.9 percent of white students met that mark.

    AFTER "RE-SEGREGATION"

    In end-of-course tests for the 2008-2009 school year, nearly 65 percent of black students scored at or above grade level, compared to 89 percent of white students.

    The ACHIEVEMENT of black students over DOUBLED in just a decade. How could that be a bad thing? Do the civil "rights" people want to go back to 30 percent?!?!

  • districtcadvocate Oct 16, 2009

    Hold up wait a minute fatchanceimwrong, I did not mention race in my comments and Ronnie Williams is my friend and we converse often about a range of issues. He helps me and I help him and if you comprehended my comments you would know the descriminating issue is economic segregation not racial.

    Finally and you are somewhat right, the Mayor of Garner was defending Garner while the Mayor of Raleigh said nothing yet "diversity" was the suppose to be the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel especially for low wealth populations in SE Raleigh.

    You need to retool your conversation and replace race with poor people then we can correspond about where we go from here friend.

    By the way Dell closed in Winston Salem and sent those jobs to Mexico. This offshoring thing, if left unchecked, might put you and your family in the ranks of families on Free and Reduces Lunches, what are you going to do about that friend?

  • A_Patriot Oct 16, 2009

    "Since racially based student assignment was ended, the racial gap in academic achievement has shrunk some but remains large."

    So what happened after equilibrium was achieved? Did the "poor kids" from the "rich school" raise the "poor school's" average? Did the "rich kids" from the "poor school" lower the "rich school's" average?

    Silly me: I always thought achievement was based on determination, desire to succeed, etc, and not the ability to propagate a entitlement mentality to the next generation. I grew up more "poor" than "rich", and I think I turned out fine.

    I am sick and tired of race being a factor in issues like this. I wish those whose livelihood depends on it would find a new line of work.

  • mewubbau Oct 16, 2009

    I think the biggest problem is the parents--if a parent is involved with their child's education, they have so much more ability to do well. I am a single mom, but I make sure I am communicating with her teachers, even if just by e-mail because I can't get to the school(I work full-time). I check up on my daughter's homework and study for tests with her and sit down with her and figure out homework she doesn't understand. I make sure I am aware of what she is learning--I can go on-line and check her homework assignments and what notes/lessons they are working on. I live in Cary and probably make 1/5 the income from the other kids households my daughter goes to school with--she has always gotten A's on her report card. The bussing won't help--it's the parents/kids that need a fire lit under their "hineys".

  • time4real Oct 16, 2009

    "You'll never change the busing practices and re-districting."

    wrong! we changed it all 2 weeks ago, when we elected real people with a soul, heart and spine to represent our children and our families on the school board!

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