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Researchers Speak Out On Controversial Diversity Vote In Wake County

 The Price of Retreat:

Paying More for a Divided and Less Well-Educated Community
in Wake County, North Carolina
After four months of debate, a newly configured school board voted on March 23, 2010 to end
Wake County’s long-standing commitment to promoting racially and socioeconomically diverse
schools. A brief glimpse into the past—or a look at school systems around the South no longer
working towards the goal of integration—suggests that serious, negative consequences await
North Carolina’s largest district.
Decades of social science research, the experiences of countless educators in school districts
across the nation, and subsequent legal decisions have all confirmed a core proposition of the
U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision: separate is not equal in
the realm of public schools. Inequality of opportunity persists in schools that enroll high
concentrations of students of color, which are nearly always schools that also have high
concentrations of poverty. Such schools are also, as a rule, less likely to attract and retain highquality,
experienced teachers. They are less likely to offer advanced courses to students and less
likely to provide contact with middle-class peers. All of these important factors are strongly
associated with academic success and the exposure to networks that increase post-graduation
opportunities. Further, U.S. public schools should prepare their students for citizenship in a
country that will soon have a majority of nonwhite residents while also shaping future employees
for a global economy. Racially and economically segregated schools are not environments that
allow for students from different backgrounds to become more comfortable with each other and
counteract stereotypes or prejudice. Wake County has decided to put its students at a
disadvantage in all these areas.
Wake County had long been a leader in understanding the importance of diverse schools. For
more than thirty years, the district devised and implemented policies to achieve diversity amid
demographic and legal changes. The county began comprehensively desegregating its schools in
1976, the same year a controversial merger plan won approval. After the North Carolina state
legislature passed a bill making it easier for school districts to consolidate, strong and decisive
leadership pushed a city-suburban merger forward. Since then, the Wake County Public School
System has drawn students from the City of Raleigh and its surrounding suburbs. This
arrangement originally promoted a racial desegregation strategy that included a system of
magnet schools and a 15-45% balancing mechanism stipulating that African American
enrollment at the school level should not fall below 15 percent or above 45 percent.
In 2000, Wake County officials voted to voluntarily begin using a “race-neutral” plan that relied
heavily on socioeconomic and student achievement factors. Based on research linking integrated
student enrollment and healthy, good schools, Wake County school officials implemented a
policy stipulating that no more than 40 percent of students at a given school should be eligible
for free and reduced lunch prices and no more than 25 percent of students at any given school in
the district should have scored below grade level on statewide reading tests. When assigning
students to schools, district officials balanced this commitment to diversity in student
composition with other factors, such as the capacity of a building, whether a student has siblings
at a school and how close a student lives to a school (e.g., a majority of students attended a
school within five miles of their home).
The history of Wake County and other southern districts is particularly instructive to the current
situation facing Wake County. Prior to Brown, southern states operated separate schools for
black and white students. In the hopes of maintaining the pretense of “separate but equal” as the
Supreme Court began taking the requirement more seriously in the cases leading up to Brown,
districts tried to ameliorate funding inequities between black schools and white schools. Yet,
despite those increased expenditures, separate did not produce equal educational opportunities.
Although the post-Brown period of reform witnessed temporary but distinct success, with the
South boasting the most integrated schools for decades, this accomplishment is rapidly coming
We, the undersigned researchers, hope for a future in which neighborhoods and their schools will
be integrated, making it unnecessary for children to travel to achieve diverse, good schools. The
current reality is, however, that high levels of segregation still exist in many of our communities.
Thus, when students are assigned to schools based on where they live, such assignments tend to
create segregated schools. This recent decision by the Wake County School Board will only
further the trend of resegregation seen in other districts that have also returned to neighborhoodbased
student assignments.
At a time when school systems around the country are coping with dramatic funding cuts, Wake
County’s decision regarding the district’s diversity plan will increase the school system’s
expenses in the short-term and will, more than likely, add greatly to the costs per successful
graduate over the long term. Ending the commitment to school integration may also make the
system ineligible for federal funding specifically tied to diverse schools. Ultimately, the
experience of other districts that have returned to neighborhood schools suggests that the costs of
segregation will linger. Neighborhood-based assignment plans tend to facilitate a situation where
white children access affluent schools with multiple assets, while black and Latino students
enroll in high-poverty, low-performing and unstable schools with few community resources.
Furthermore, since many metropolitan areas do not have enough schools in the center of urban
cores, and districts making decisions like Wake County may incur the expense of constructing
new, segregated schools that often are subjected to achievement sanctions almost as soon as they
open—requiring even more district resources.
We urge reconsideration of the decision to end Wake County’s diversity policy. We stand with
the many parents, students, teachers, civil rights activists, faith leaders, and members of the
business community in Wake County who oppose the school board's decision. In the coming
months, we offer our support and expertise to the district as it considers how to pursue highquality,
diverse schools that will prepare all of its students to be productive members of what we
hope will be a more integrated Wake County and nation.
(affiliations listed for identification purposes only)
Kevin Welner
Director, Education and the Public Interest Center
Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
Richard D. Kahlenberg,
Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation
Gary Orfield
Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning
University of California, Los Angeles
Patricia Gándara
Professor of Education
University of California, Los Angeles
Erica Frankenberg
Research & Policy Director, Initiative on School Integration
Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles
University of California, Los Angeles
Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Research Associate, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles
University of California, Los Angeles
John powell
Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
Professor, The Ohio State University
Andrew Grant-Thomas
Deputy Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
Director, Transforming Race Conference
The Ohio State University
Susan Eaton
Researcher Director
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Harvard Law School
Gina J. Chirichigno
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Harvard Law School
Tom Munk
Senior Education Analyst
Kirsten Kainz
Statistician/Research Assistant Professor
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Beth Kurtz-Costes
Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Department of Psychology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson
Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, Information Technology, and Women's Studies
Fatimah L.C. Jackson
Professor of Biological Anthropology
Director, Institute of African American Research
Amy Hawn Nelson
College of Education
Natasha K. Bowen
Associate Professor
School of Social Work
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
M. Monique McMillian-Robinson
Walden University/The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Rebecca High
Staff Attorney
Racial Justice Act Study
Heather A. Davis
Educational Psychology, Teacher Education
Dept. of Curriculum, Instruction, and Counselor Education
North Carolina State University
Matt Militello
Assistant Professor
College of Education: Leadership Policy, and Adult and Higher Education
North Carolina State University
Tamara Nimkoff
Research Analyst
Fay Cobb Payton
American Council on Education Fellow 2009-2010
Associate Professor of Information Systems, College of Management
North Carolina State University
Lori Krzeszewski
Curriculum & Instruction-Urban Education
Candy M Beal
Curriculum, Instruction & Counselor Education
Associate Professor
North Carolina State University

STORY TAGS: research, researchers, diversity, vote, wake, county, controversy, controversial, racial equality, social justice, civil rights, north carolina, schools, schooling, education, black, african, american, minority news, black radio network, race neutrality, policy


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