Wake Ed

Wake County’s school diversity efforts questioned in case study

Rev. William Barber, center, president of the N.C. NAACP, rallies the audience at a Wake County school board meeting in 2010. Barber expressed then fears that new policies would re-segregate schools. Six years later, Wake buses fewer students for diversity than in the past.
Rev. William Barber, center, president of the N.C. NAACP, rallies the audience at a Wake County school board meeting in 2010. Barber expressed then fears that new policies would re-segregate schools. Six years later, Wake buses fewer students for diversity than in the past. News & Observer file photo

A new Brookings Institution blog post questions the effectiveness of Wake County’s socioeconomic diversity efforts to help argue that the benefits outweigh the costs of busing to achieve integrated schools.

Monday’s Brookings Institution Brown Center on Education Policy blog post by David Armor includes a case study using 2004 and 2005 data to compare black and white achievement in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and Wake County schools. Armor compared the two districts because Charlotte-Mecklenburg had returned to largely neighborhood schools while Wake was still actively assigning students then to keep school populations socioeconomically diverse.

“Most CMS black students were in majority black schools, while most Wake County black students were in majority white schools,” writes Armor, a critic of busing for diversity. “The chart below shows very clearly that Wake County black students did not have higher test scores than CMS students, after adjusting for a student’s socioeconomic background.

“Moreover, the black-white gap was virtually identical in the two school districts.”

In contrast to Armor’s post, a 2015 Duke University study found that Wake County’s efforts to balance schools by income kept it more diverse than other large North Carolina school systems. The Duke study also found that Wake’s efforts helped to reduce the achievement gap between white and black students.

Armor notes how most urban school systems have substantial de facto segregation. But Armor asserts that civil rights advocates “have not made a sufficient case that more desegregation (either racial or economic) is the best way to improve black or Hispanic achievement, and also that large-scale desegregation is a realistic goal and can be accomplished without the same controversy and resistance that occurred in the 1970s.”

Armor is professor emeritus of public policy in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He has consulted on and testified as an expert witness in more than 40 school desegregation and educational adequacy cases.

Armor’s blog post comes at a time when Wake County has cut back on busing for diversity. But there’s a possibility that more efforts could be made to balance schools when the first draft of the 2017-18 student assignment plan is presented to the school board in September.

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