Part two of the blog on the UGA desegregation anniversary: In that blog, I noted the national retreat from the notion that classrooms need to be a rainbow hue, that the focus now is not whether black, white and brown children go to the same schools, but whether they go to good schools.
But the problem is how to create good schools when schools that are high minority are also often high poverty. And kids from poor families bring far more challenges to the classroom — homelessness, job losses, evictions, nutrition deficits, lack of space for the students to do their homework, parents unable to help kid with school work because they hold two jobs.
A classroom with three or four such children can cope; a classroom with 12 may crumble under the weight of so many kids in crisis.
Speaking to that exact situation, here is a New York Times story on how Wake County, N.C., once considered a role model in school integration, is evolving. (Take a look at the entire story if you have time.)
In 2000, after courts ruled against using race-based criteria, Wake became one of the first districts in the nation to adopt a system of socioeconomic integration. The idea was that every school in the county (163 at present) would have a mix of children from poor to rich. The target for schools was a 60-40 mix — 60 percent of students who did not require subsidized lunches and 40 percent who did.
Then in 2009, a new conservative majority was elected to the Wake school board, and last spring it voted to dismantle the integration plan. Instead, families would be assigned to a school nearer their neighborhood. This meant a child who lived in a poor, black section of Raleigh would be more likely to go to a school full of poor black children, and a child living in a white, upper-middle-class suburb would be more likely go to a school full of upper-middle-class white children.
In most places that would have been it. Not here. This is a well-educated labor force (50 percent of employees are college graduates) that works in the high-tech Research Triangle and is predisposed to finding new ways to solve complex problems.
And that’s just what they set out to do. Two weeks ago, civic leaders here unveiled their proposal for a third generation of integration: integration by achievement. Under this plan, no school would have an overwhelming number of failing students. Instead a school might have a 70-30 mix — 70 percent of students who have scored proficient on state tests and 30 percent who are below grade level.
The plan — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — was developed by community leaders who sound nothing like the civil rights leaders of the 1960s. They sound more like members of the Chamber of Commerce — which they are. “We believe our proposal is consumer friendly,” said Harvey A. Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber. “We believe it will sell well in a market of high expectations.”
Advocates of the plan believe that schools balanced by achievement won’t look too different from schools balanced by socioeconomics. That’s because there is a strong statistical correlation between wealth and test scores; generally the wealthier a child’s family, the higher the child’s test scores.
Mr. Schmitt thinks that both racial and socioeconomic integration have been proxies for academic integration; that what a parent — white, black, Hispanic, Asian — wants most for a child is to attend an academically successful school; and that race and wealth have been roundabout ways to accomplish that.
He says integration by achievement will be good for business because no matter where a family lives in the county, their children can attend a high achieving school. “Companies can come into this market and not have to pay extra for employees to send their children to private schools,” he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog