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Guest editorial: The resegregation of NC schools must be reversed

The Winston-Salem Journal

A recent report from a progressive advocacy and research group that says North Carolina’s traditional public schools are becoming more segregated by race and income should concern everyone interested in education and a functioning society, as is the claim that the segregation is partly because of charter schools. This is a statewide trend that hurts students and families financially and morally, according to a policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center, as reported recently by Raleigh’s News & Observer.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg has become North Carolina’s most racially segregated district while also being one of the most economically segregated districts over the past 10 years, according to the report. The Wake County school system has become more racially and economically segregated as well, as has the Guilford County system.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has improved its racial integration somewhat, but its income-based segregation has grown, the report says.

“Every one of North Carolina’s 10 largest school districts has become more segregated by income over the past decade — substantially so in many cases. These changes indicate that students from low-income families are becoming increasingly segregated from their higher-income peers within North Carolina’s largest school districts,” according to the report.

This is a trend that must be reversed.

According to the Century Foundation, students in integrated schools have higher average test scores; are more likely to enroll in college; and are less likely to drop out. Integrated schools help reduce racial achievement gaps and encourage critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. They also help reduce racial bias and counter stereotypes.

But either advertently or inadvertently, the gains of the 1960s have become diminished.

Charter schools have contributed to the problem by becoming increasingly segregated, with some schools serving primarily students of color and others serving primarily white students, according to the report.

When charter schools were first introduced to the state, they were required to “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” of the population in the district where they were located. But in 2013, legislation dropped the diversity mandate and diluted the language so charters must “make efforts” to reflect the local school district’s demographics, according to the News & Observer. This has allowed charter schools to drift from this part of their mission.

The report makes recommendations for turning the trend around, including creating more integrated neighborhoods, requiring charter schools to provide transportation and school lunch, and closing charter schools whose demographics significantly differ from the district in which they’re located.

But changing the picture will require extensive time and effort from all levels of government — which means legislators will require urging from citizens — school professionals and parents.

“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,” according the report. “In the end, failure to integrate schools is the much more expensive proposition — financially and morally.”

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