Schools unite us

Published 8:22 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

From a column by Steve Ford of the N.C. Council of Churches, on the idea of breaking up large school districts:

To sketch North Carolina’s school district architecture, consider that it has 115 districts in 100 counties (down from 174 districts in 1957). New Jersey, by contrast, according to one recent count had 590 districts in 21 counties. North Carolina’s population is slightly larger; New Jersey’s population is far denser.

The New Jersey pattern is typical of the highly urbanized Northeast, and newcomers from that region to North Carolina sometimes pine for schools that serve just their community. The urge is understandable for parents who want their kids to go to school close to home in the company of friends and neighbors.

But a county, or a metropolitan area, can pay a high price if it allows its inner-city schools to become economically and racially segregated — a frequent outcome in places such as New Jersey. A larger, unified school system that functions organically, deploying its resources on behalf of all students no matter where they live, can go a long ways toward countering the ills of poverty while helping knit communities in a quest to excel.

There are holdouts in North Carolina — places where old habits and preferences die hard, where counties are still divided into two or more separate school districts. What usually happens is that there are conspicuous winners and losers as districts are sorted by race and class.

… Rather than seeing our legislators and other education policy-makers spend more time and effort drilling into the dry hole of school district division, it’s fair to say the Council would rather have them make a serious push to eliminate these lingering, unfair disparities.

Let them work to combine districts that remain separate rather than to tear apart districts that wisely have pulled together for the noble purpose of helping every child succeed.