Stephanie McCrummen reports on the GOP push to return Raleigh, N.C., to a neighborhood-based system of school assignment:
The sprawling Wake County School District has long been a rarity. Some of its best, most diverse schools are in the poorest sections of this capital city. And its suburban schools, rather than being exclusive enclaves, include children whose parents cannot afford a house in the neighborhood.
But over the past year, a new majority-Republican school board backed by national tea party conservatives has set the district on a strikingly different course. Pledging to "say no to the social engineers!" it has abolished the policy behind one of the nation's most celebrated integration efforts.
With only slight reliance on busing, the Raleigh system has successfully integrated the diverse county -- 72 percent white, 20 percent black, 9 percent Latino -- by focusing on socioeconomic status. In 2000, McCrummen writes, the city adopted a goal that "no school should have more than 40 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the proxy for poverty.
According to Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, "four decades of research has found that in promoting academic achievement, having an economic mix is far more important than having a racial mix." Students of all backgrounds do better when they have access to a middle-class environment, where -- as he writes -- they are more likely to find peers who are academically engaged and less disruptive; parents who volunteer in the classroom, are PTA members, and hold school officials accountable; and teachers who are highly qualified and have high expectations."
But don't tell this to Tea Party conservatives on the Raleigh school board, who see this system of diversity as an infringement on "liberty":
Following his guidance, the GOP fielded the victorious bloc of school board candidates who railed against "forced busing." The nation's largest tea party organizers, Americans for Prosperity - on whose national board Pope sits - cast the old school board members as arrogant "leftists." Two libertarian think tanks, which Pope funds almost exclusively, have deployed experts on TV and radio.
"We are losing sight of the educational mission of schools to make them into some socially acceptable melting pot," said Terry Stoops, a researcher at the libertarian John Locke Foundation. "Those who support these policies are imposing their vision on everyone else."
This is ridiculous. These policies were "imposed" by democratically elected representatives over the course of a decade. When Stoops says that the school board was "imposing their vision on everyone else," what he means is that they didn't privilege his favored, economically homogenous vision for the Raleigh school system. Of course, that has changed, and the voters of Raleigh gave their support to candidates opposed to explicit efforts at socio-economic integration. Which is a shame, to put it mildly.
Simply put, high-poverty schools come with a huge host of problems. They are situated in environments which -- typically -- include high unemployment, low parental engagement, and high crime rates (as well as closer ties to criminal networks). They have a hard time recruiting good teachers and administrators, and their students score far lower than their peers in higher-income schools, from everything to reading and math to music and art. These schools have lower graduation rates and lower rates of college attendance for their graduates.
Conservative school board members might support extra funding for the schools that inevitably revert to concentrated poverty, but the fact is that additional funding does little to ameliorate the problems that come with high-poverty schools. If these conservatives really cared about poor students, they would support the consensus that has benefited Raleigh schools for more than a decade.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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