Economic integration push-back
October 05, 2005
Thank you for the "schooled on class" piece, which ran in last week's Gadfly. I have lived in Wake County for the past 12 years, and my eldest child is in the county's public school system. Your piece was a welcome balance to the New York Times article, "As Test Scores Jump, Raleigh Credits Integration by Income," which loudly applauded the district.
The Times piece states that 80 percent of Wake County black students are proficient on state assessments - a broad reporting stroke that fails to capture the real picture. The percentage the reporter was citing was of proficiency in either reading or math (but not necessarily both). Proficiency for black students in both categories was 70.9 percent (statewide, the figure was 66.1 percent, which doesn't give Wake County much of a lead). As for Wake's poor children, 68.8 percent of those eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, a commonly used poverty indicator, were proficient in both. Statewide the number is 68.3 percent, so there's no real difference. The state hosts an excellent database that provides the disaggregated data, and users can see that while scores have risen in Wake, scores also have risen in all districts across the state.
So while my district's black and poor students may be doing as well as other black and poor students from around the state, they really aren't doing much better.
The notion of integrating children by economics sounds wonderful, and I would be joining in the applause if that strategy were actually producing big achievement gains. But the realities of pushing parents to send their children to schools far and wide to achieve income integration are far from ideal. I have the luxury of walking my child two blocks to school, but I know of folks, mostly minority families, whose children spend an hour on the bus each way. I really like the idea of my children being in a school that is economically and racially diverse. I want them to know and learn from people from many different backgrounds, because that is important to me. But in light of the above-mentioned achievement figures, I am forced to ask some hard questions. What is the real educational benefit here for minority and impoverished children? Will they have the opportunities for increased educational achievement merely from the effort of integrating schools economically? Would the resources expended on the income integration program be better spent on proven methods for helping poor and minority children achieve? While there may be no easy solution, I do know that the data show that the sole strategy of income integration is not the answer to what ails public education in North Carolina.