Supporters of restoring diversity to Wake County's student assignment plan have been talking about a recent article on resegregation and school choice in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools.
This Sunday article in the Winston-Salem Journal notes how the school district phased out busing for diversity starting in 1995 in favor of "choice zones," which allow parents to choose from among multiple schools. The article says that racial resegregation quickly accelerated in the schools and led to concentrated poverty in certain schools.
"Despite zoned assignment plans offering parents diverse school choices, local schools tend to reflect their neighborhoods," according to the article. "And those neighborhoods, while changing, still reflect the legacy of zoning laws that laid out where black people were allowed to live for much of the 20th century."
In 17 of the school system's 44 elementary schools, at least 89 percent of students qualified for federally subsidized free or reduced-price lunches this past school year. The article adds that the phenomenon is lessened, but still obvious, in middle and high schools, which draw students from larger areas within the county.
Now how significant this is for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools depends on who you ask.
For instance, the article says that poorer schools, with higher minority populations, tend to have the school system's lowest test scores. Richer schools, with the highest percentage of white students, tend to have the best scores.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Don Martin noted in the article that the system has lowered the gap over the last several years. In fact, the school system's gap on reading and math tests among elementary and middle school students is lower than the gap in Wake County, even though the article notes that Wake's assignment plan had been lauded as a national model.
"Wake's performance for poor kids and African-American kids is worse than ours," Martin said. "It may be that African-American kids can learn in the same building."
While that's true based on some test scores, the article notes that it's not correct across the board. Black students in Wake County test better on average in reading, for example, than their Forsyth County counterparts.
And the article adds that much of the reason Wake's achievement gap is higher than Forsyth County's is because its white students there score significantly better than white students here, based on several years worth of data from state tests given students in grades three through eight.
The article also says that economics likely plays a role as Wake County has a higher median household income than any other large county in the state, according to 2010 census figures.
The article notes how the Forysth County school system has tried to balance things with extra funding at poorer schools. Those with higher percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches become "Equity Plus" schools. Teachers there get salary bonuses, and the class sizes are smaller.
Federal Title I money also flows to poorer schools, and the now-defunct equity committee found that those schools spend more tax dollars per student than their wealthier counterparts. But Equity Plus schools still have higher teacher turnover rates and less experienced teachers on average, though that experience gap has lessened in recent years.
In terms of that district's choice plan, the article says Forsyth County allows parents to research various schools and pick one for their child. Roughly a third of families pick a school other than the one closest to their home, Martin said.
Choice information is available year round online, or by asking at a school. The system sends middle-school information home with fifth-graders, and it advertises kindergarten pre-registration by posting signs at elementary schools before the school year begins, Martin said.
But roughly 40 percent of kindergarten students don't pre-register, Martin said. They simply show up at the beginning of the school year.
Families are guaranteed one of their top three choices in elementary school, according to the system. So Kimberley Park Elementary's student body is nearly 100 percent minority because minority parents chose the school.
But those who favor forced diversity policies call this "the myth of choice." and an example of "systematic racism."
Moving back to Wake, school board chairman Kevin Hill talked about the article in an interview this week on WPTF. I'll blog about it next week.
The article was also referenced in this Monday blog post by Rob Schofield of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch. Schofield writes that the article shows "the re-segregation of Forsyth County’s schools that has occurred in recent decades and the illusion that 'school choice' can somehow provide a remedy for this situation."
"Wake County and others that have not already become fully resegregated themselves should pay attention," Schofield adds.