Expert say diversity means success for all students
Analyst warns of racially focused reintegration
South Charlotte Weekly will investigate student reassignment and what it could mean for Charlotte through its series “Moving students, moving targets.” Check back next week for how school board members want to involve the superintendent and elected officials in student assignment policies.
Experts say diverse schools will better prepare students for their academic and occupational goals and can be achieved in race-neutral ways – perspectives that might be relevant as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education trucks along toward student assignment plans.
Mecklenburg County’s demographics have changed over the years with the white population not growing as significantly as Hispanic, black and Asian populations. Children are sent to neighborhood schools that reflect their neighborhoods, leading to racially isolated schools. Many say this calls for a change, including CMS Board of Education (BOE) members who push for greater diversity amongst schools.
“Diversity really does matter and I’m hopeful we will make this work,” said Tom Tate, BOE member and CMS Public Policy Committee Chair.
Remembering the past to change the future
Roslyn Mickelson, a sociology professor at UNC Charlotte, who has researched school desegregation and resegregation in Charlotte, and Tate, said the public might be unaware of Charlotte’s desegregation history and its effects on the community.
“People don’t know what the history was and the gains that came from mandatory busing (in the 1970s),” Tate said.
Mickelson said the community needs to face “second-generation segregation,” and begin to see the negative effects racially isolated schools can have on all children – not just those who are economically disadvantaged.
The professor explained children learning in racially isolated classrooms aren’t exposed to new and different experiences and ways of looking at the world.
Diverse classrooms diminish racial fear and increase exposure to various lifestyles and perspectives because students come from different races and social classes, providing students the “toolkit to seeing the world,” she said. Diversity stimulates cognitive processes to explore new experiences rather than an automaticity that comes in a racially isolated environment, Mickelson added.
Mickelson said students that learn in a racially isolated environment have a limited range of experience because they don’t have exposure to other lifestyles.
“The point is diversity isn’t a one-way exchange. When done correctly, it’s a two-way exchange,” she said.
Proving diverse schools lead to success for all students
Matt Ellenwood, a policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, said the district would need to carefully select a method of reintegration through federal guidelines.
Ellenwood said the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted research that racially diverse schools benefit students through eliminating biases and prejudices and boosting achievement, but school districts must provide proof that diversity is necessary for its academic success.
“There needs to be findings and facts in your school district about why diversity is going to be important to your schools,” he said.
Ellenwood encouraged the district to try race-neutral methods of integration, as race is considered a “suspect class” in which discrimination can become an issue. He suggested using socioeconomic status as a proxy for racial diversity. Ellenwood added the school district could address racially isolated schools without impeding federal guidelines through methods, such as: placing a new school in a low-performing area; realigning feeder patterns so racially-isolated elementary schools feed into diverse middle schools; redrawing attendance zones; or increasing open enrollment to magnet schools.
Taking steps toward diversity
CMS accommodates approximately 148,000 students, with 22,000 in magnet programs, which means CMS will specifically determine where families attend school.
“It’s so important that we get this correct,” Tate said. “The vast majority of families we tell them where they attend and we have to make sure that they’re getting a good education.”
Tate said many parents don’t know their school options, such as magnet programs, or requests to attend another neighboring school.
The policy committee determines the district’s guiding principles for student reassignment and Tate said he’s always looking for feedback from the community.
“What we are looking at is how we can change and become the district we want to be – to have the best education available to all of our students,” he said. “… What we want to make sure happens is we get to a place where we can educate every student in every school.”