A coalition called on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools on Wednesday night to put “race on the table” and end a decades-old achievement gap.
Among other measures, the Campaign for Racial Equity in our Schools wants the district to end tracking, develop a race-conscious curriculum, and implement mandatory racial and cultural competency training for staff.
The CHCCS system is considered one of the best in North Carolina, the coalition said, but its high overall test scores reflect lots of wealthy, white students.
“What is masked in the numbers is a tale of two school districts: one that serves its white students very well, while black and brown students have a very different set of educational experiences,” the coalition said in its report, “Excellence with Equity: The Schools Our Children Deserve.”
The group held a press conference outside Lincoln Center, the school system headquarters, Wednesday night. Superintendent Tom Forcella has scheduled a briefing Thursday morning in response.
Among other concerns, the coalition said:
▪ 42 percent of black students and 47 percent of Latino students passed end-of-grade and end-of-course tests in 2014-15, versus 90 percent of white students.
▪ Black and Latino students equaled 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of total enrollment in 2012-13, but only 5 percent each group was enrolled in gifted programing, getting more tailored, challenging instruction to meet their needs.
▪ Black students were sent to the office three times as often and suspended eight times as often as white students in 2013-14.
“That which we tolerate, we cannot change,” the group said in its report. “We believe the lack of change has to with our inherent belief systems around race and that only through becoming aware of these belief systems and developing a race-conscious approach to schooling can we make real change.”
Judy Jones, a retired science teacher, said high schools have become resegregated through the practice of tracking students into honors and standard courses and limited Advanced Placement enrollment.
“When you walk into classrooms you can identify the level based on the ethnic percentages represented,” she said. “Standard classes have an abundance of students of color, while honors and Advanced Placement classes will often have only one student of color, if that.”
In an email Wednesday Sheldon Lanier, director of Equity Leadership for the school system, said the district shares the coalition’s overall goal and has many strategies aimed at eliminating the achievement gap.
The CHCCS is one of only three school districts of the 115 in North Carolina with a full-time director of equity, Lanier said. He also leads an equity task force made up of school-district employees and community members.
Some progress has been made, he noted.
In 2013, only 19.4 percent of black students were reading on grade level. In 2015, that number is 43.9 percent.
“While still far below acceptable, it has more than doubled in the past two years, outpacing Wake, Orange and Durham counties as well as the state,” Lanier said.
On end-of-course composite scores, black students went from 26.9 percent proficient in 2013 to 44.3 percent in 2015, again outscoring Wake, Orange, Durham and North Carolina as a whole, he said.
Black and Latino students face additional challenges outside school, according to a September report to the school board.
The district’s proportion of economically disadvantaged students – those qualifying for free and reduced lunch prices – has nearly doubled in the last 10 years from 12.5 to 24 percent.
As the overall percentage of black students in the CHCCS has decreased, the percentage of poorer black students as gone up – from 42 percent a decade ago to 70 percent today. The percentage of poorer Latino students has increased from 49 percent to nearly 63 percent.
By comparison, the number of white students qualifying for free and reduced lunch has increased from 2 percent to 5 percent, and the number of Asian students from about 5 percent to 24 percent, the report said.
But Stephanie Perry, cofounder of the coalition with Wanda Hunter, said poverty is no excuse.
“We love to think poverty is an explanation for not being able to learn,” she said. “We know that is not true.”
After Reconstruction in the segregated South, black children learned in dilapidated schools with hand-me-down books, she said.
“We have a race problem in our school system that we have to address,” she said.