SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 1

My last post was about the exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden at the first round of Democratic primary debates earlier this summer. It’s amazing to me that this already feels so distant. Before getting to the main topic for the posts this week, here’s a quick summary of some of the major things that have happened in the last month or so: 

NYC also kept up an incredible pace of activity on school integration. The Department of Education adopted new standards on culturally relevant-sustaining education, and the School Diversity Advisory Group released a new report urging the city scale back the use of admissions “screens” and to replace test-based “gifted and talented” programs with enrichment opportunities that are crafted at the local level. The new report has already attracted a lot of controversy. I haven’t had a chance to fully dig into it, but I’ve found these sources from Chalkbeat and the Daily News to be particularly helpful. And, this edition of Voices in Urban Education has thoughtful commentary on school integration in NYC from folks actively involved on the ground. In addition to the links here, the upcoming newsletter from the National Coalition on School Diversity (sign up here) will have more on all of the above, including a list of great resources for anti-racist education. 

This post, meanwhile, focuses on local-level stories that may have been missed in the understandable frenzy caused by the other news this month. In particular, there were a lot of recent stories on potential changes to the invisible boundaries that divide students. Notably, Ed Build drew attention to the most egregiously inequitable district boundaries in the country. I’m referring, however, to boundaries on a smaller scale – the within-district decisions that can have a major positive impact on school integration, such as attendance zone changes or school mergers/pairings. (I was inspired by a recent conversation to use the term “pairing” as opposed to the less desirable “merger,” a framing that clearly favors the opponents of these sorts of school decisions.)

The cases outlined here join similar recent stories about attendance zone changes in Montgomery County, MD – where leaders recently requested a districtwide boundary analysis –  and a hopeful (though complicated) school pairing story in Chicago – where community activists helped create a rare Chicago school that doesn’t have a racial majority. Since there were so many new stories, I divided this post into two parts- Part 1 covers Austin, TX and Wake County, NC, while Part 2 includes Sausalito, Oakland, and Richmond, VA. 

Of course, changes to dividing lines inevitably inspire resistance from those who perceive that their privilege is threatened, often white parents. As illustrated in the stories below, this resistance remains common and widespread. However, as also illustrated, there are also important positive developments, especially strong support for integration from district leaders. 

Austin, TX – Attendance zone changes and school pairings

Sadly, most of the substance in the Austin story is in the reaction more so than the integration plan itself. The district recently announced the potential for attendance zone changes and school pairings in response to declining student enrollment. Though specific zones/schools won’t be identified until September, the district has said that it wants to pursue equity in its decision making process. As detailed in this KUT story, the pushback is what you would expect:

  • “KUT obtained 450 anonymous responses parents submitted to the district about potential changes. The most common themes: Don’t disrupt the vertical teams students are already on (that is, the progression of elementary, middle and high schools assigned to a specific address); don’t close or change schools that are working; and don’t jeopardize property values.”
  • On parent, for example, argued: “Changing to Crockett would be very disappointing to us, detrimental to our children, and a blow to our house value/equity that we have worked hard to build.”

The district, however, is starkly segregated along racial and socio-economic lines, due to a combination of housing segregation and district policies, such as academic screens. Another KUT piece goes into detail on the history of integration efforts in Austin, which includes elaborate government and private business efforts to isolate Black neighborhoods and schools. Referring to the city’s 1928 Master Plan, the article notes:

  • “One of the main themes of the plan was how to get communities of color out of downtown – off land white residents wanted for themselves…They created a “negro district” in an area that is now east of I-35.”
  • “The “negro district” was located on what was considered undesirable land. Fast forward to the present day, and developers see this cheap land as an easy way to make money. They’re buying property up and fueling gentrification.”

After intervention from federal courts, the district implemented a two-way busing program from 1980-1987. As in so many other cities, after Austin was released from federal oversight, its integration effort largely ended, and schools rapidly resegregated. Parent complaints like those quoted above overlook the extent to which all communities are affected by this history, with some benefiting and others being further isolated. For example, one parent urges the city to “fix the problem schools in their areas and do not force families in great neighborhood schools to sacrifice when they don’t have a problem there.” In this great article from KUT, you can actually click through a slide show of all 450 anonymous comments. It also has lots of data on segregation in Austin as well as short videos from key experts, all part of their Dividing Lines series. 

Wake County, NC – Student enrollment targets

There’s been a lot of great reporting around school integration in Wake County, which includes Raleigh. I’m not sure this short blurb can do it justice, but the links have great info. Here are the key details, as reported in the Raleigh News Observer

  • “The school board gave tentative approval Tuesday (8/20) to a goal set by staff to move schools within range of the county average socioeconomically. This calls for switching to a system where every school would be assigned a score, based on Census data of their students, to determine their economic health.”
  • The Wake County Economic Health Index would rely on “Census data such as median household income, households receiving food stamps, whether rent and household mortgages are greater than 30% of income and how many people are living within 100 to 200% of the federal poverty level.” And, it would draw from the Census block level, not from individual students. 
  • “Staff also proposed a goal of getting elementary schools within 20 percentile points of the county average. It would be 15 points for middle schools and high schools. Currently, 26% of elementary schools, 37% of middle schools and 42% of high schools don’t meet that proposed target.”
  • Some of the potential changes: “looking at which schools could become magnet schools, whether before- and after-school care can be expanded and whether transportation changes should be made. The district will also look at how it can market itself as it faces competition from charter schools and home-schools.”

A recent Ed Week article has more details on the resulting segregation from charter expansion in Wake County: 

  • “There’s a fast-growing charter school sector that has proven attractive to white and affluent families. A 2015 study by researchers at Duke found that the statewide share of white students at charter schools was 62 percent in 2012, compared to 53 percent for white students at traditional public schools that year.”
  • “The five charter schools already open in that area have a student population that is more than 80 percent white and Asian… In contrast, the enrollment of the traditional public schools in that area is about 50 percent white and Asian students.”

District leaders estimate that it may take up to five years to reach their diversity targets. It is essentially the next chapter in a district that has a long history of push and pull in school integration efforts. That history was detailed in another News Observer article: 

  • “Wake County has historically been known as a leader in school integration. In 1976, the Wake County and Raleigh City school systems merged despite opposition from many in the community. Wake now has 160,000 students and is one of the largest districts in the country.”
  • “Wake tried to keep schools racially and later socioeconomically balanced, using a combination of student assignment and magnet schools. But in 2009, complaints about student assignment led to a new Republican school board majority that dialed back the diversity efforts.”
  • “Democrats regained the board majority in 2011 but the district still buses fewer students for diversity than it did a decade ago.”

As in the other cities highlighted in the posts this week, there’s an important theme: district leaders’ strong stated commitment to integration, despite countervailing forces. Some may remember that the district used a snow day announcement last year to emphasize the importance of school integration. Notably, the school board also recently adopted the statement that “resegregation will not happen on our watch.”

I’ll continue to track updates on these stories. If you have updates/comments about any of these districts or updates on any places not featured in the posts this week, please feel free to use comments below or reach out on twitter.

One thought on “SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 1

  1. Pingback: SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 2 | School Diversity Notebook

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