Broken system of separate but unequal schools: Should districts zone for economic diversity?

The resegregation of schools has been happening across metro Atlanta for the last 40 years. Researchers blame suburban residential housing patterns, but even urban schools in Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton lack diversity. This residential segregation and a parental preference for neighborhood schools have led to far fewer integrated classrooms in metro Atlanta.

No hedSome argue it’s not a racial divide that creates inequities in our schools, but an income divide. White parents have higher education attainment and higher incomes, so they’re better able to get involved in their schools and insist on excellence.

Research shows middle-class schools provide better learning environments for all kids. The realities of poverty  — lack of health care, poor nutrition, housing evictions, job losses, drug and alcohol struggles — can overwhelm schools. Attendance zones designed to achieve socioeconomic diversity assure that poverty is not concentrated in any one school.

But others argue middle-class parents don’t want poor kids in their schools and build all sorts of walls to lock them out. Rather than attempt to storm those walls, why not fix the schools in the poor communities? Why not direct resources into these high-poverty schools and make them excellent?

Here is another swipe at the problem by Bee Nguyen, founder of Athena’s Warehouse, a nonprofit that empowers and educates under-served teen girls in Atlanta. Nguyen’s experiences include work with Boat People SOS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and, most recently, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. She graduated from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies with public administration master’s degree in 2012.

Co-author Ernest Brown Jr. is a healthcare financial consultant in Atlanta. His prior experiences include internships at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office. He holds a political science degree from Emory University and was salutatorian of his graduating class at Southwest DeKalb High School.

By Ernest Brown Jr. and Bee Nguyen

In 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education legally ended the segregation of public schools, an event that should have ensured educational equity for African-American students, especially those living in the South. What followed this Supreme Court decision was the busing of black students to better, higher-achieving white schools; these pioneers and their heroic narratives represent for us painful victories from the civil rights era, their steps paving the way for what should have evolved into an equitable public education system.

Yet when we fast-forward 60 years to today, public education in the Atlanta region shows a familiar blueprint: a highly segregated system with isolated pockets of poverty and underperforming schools, serving predominantly minority residents and communities in crisis due to lack of access to quality education, food, health care and transportation.

This summer, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its report, “2015 Changing the Odds: The Race for Results in Atlanta.” Maps in the report present startling visual context, forcing us to contend with the ugly reality that when it comes to public education in Atlanta, race matters. In fact, it matters a lot, with black high school graduation rates nearly 27 percent lower than white graduation rates in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Our public education is a broken system of separate but unequal schools, as shown by gross inequities across the metro area, with race being a dividing factor. Access to affordable housing, patterns of white flight, zoning, housing policies and redistricting have restricted access to quality schools for poor black families who live in areas of concentrated poverty. Meanwhile, the predominantly white northern sections of Atlanta maintain a level of affluence that provides access to high-performing schools.

We must reintegrate our schools and create an education system that reflects the diversity of the broader community. Wake County in North Carolina demonstrated its commitment to eliminating high-poverty schools by creating education policies that provide economic equity. No more than 40 percent of students at any school come from low-income households, ensuring no high-poverty schools. Only 12 percent of schools in Atlanta meet this benchmark.

Louisville also adopted policies that bus students into urban areas and out to the suburbs, eliminating struggling inner-city schools. Integrated schools have fostered collaboration between racial and economic groups.

Our obligation to provide quality education should not stop at the border of our catchment zone, school district or any other political boundary. Desegregation has a proven track record of tackling educational inequalities for low-performing students while enabling high-performing students to become better prepared for working with people from different racial and/or ethnic backgrounds. The achievement gap between black students and their white peers fell by half in conjunction with school integration initiatives across the country.

And yet, great schools are now more congruous with private clubs instead of engines of social and economic mobility — and the price to get in is attached to where students live.

The powerful reality is that when low-performing students attend the same schools as affluent and often white-majority students, the entire student population gains access to better-qualified teachers, richer resources and more personal support.

 

Reader Comments 0

78 comments
insideview
insideview

Reading these blog posts just proves the point that racism is alive and well in America, and particularly Georgia. Some of you want to make everything about race. Yet unless you are black, you can't understand or explain the effects of it on the lives of African Americans. If you have never been followed in a department store, stopped by the police for no reason, told there is available position,house, etc... on the phone , only to be told it was filled or already rented when you arrive in person, you don't know what it is to be black in America. Oh, and by the wayI am  an upper middle class black eduator with a doctrorate degree , and I have experienced all of the above. 


Please understand that it is not always about work effort, If the President of the United States can be call a liar on the senate floor by a red neck congressman , what do you think happens to the everyday black man? Please don't try to blame politics for that type of virulent hatred and racism. Name one president who has been publicly called a liar in the senate  by a member of congress, and I will agree with you. 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"Some of you want to make everything about race. Yet unless you are black, you can't understand ..."

Ironic.

Starik
Starik

@insideview I understand and sympathize with what you are saying.  The problem is that whenever we watch or read the news we see the face of black crime.  Even when there's no photo of the perp, the names are identifiers in many cases. The black underclass commits crime with a frequency that invites suspicion from retailers, the police and the public and reinforces the beliefs of the racists.Too often, when blacks control institutions like schools and local governments they perform poorly.


All this is the fault of slavery and the tortured history that followed.  It won't be fixed in one or two generations.

anothercomment
anothercomment

The only solution is independent single high school with feeder school size districts. Do a simple google search of the top twenty school districts in the US. Every single one is a single high school size independent school district. In order to have buyin and the diversity of the local community the school districts need to be local so all economic strata attend. Schools should only encompass the size of a town and perhaps one or two villages. A community is not a 70-90 mile difference that our counties are. 70 miles or 90 miles simply don't even meet the IRS definition of local commuting distance. If you had to move from North Fulton to South Fulton for your Job you would be able to write off the moving expenses on your taxes. We need to get over the absurdity of these Countywide districts. They lack a community of interest that a great school districts needs to thrive.

My cousin teaches in Wade County and it sucks. She is in a mixed marriage and has biracial children. Some one is drinking the koolaide with this article.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Sixty years ago, the excuse makers ignored the biological realities and proposed that if only the blacks could sit beside the whites, the blacks would become scholars by osmosis.The resulting social experimentation precipitated destruction of large swaths of every metropolitan area in America.Vibrant white neighborhoods grew dark, became dysfunctional, the schools went to hell, crime rates soared, and the quality of life factors decreased for everyone.Lather, rinse, repeat.Over and over and over again.

Fast forward to 2015 and the authors of this article are merely proposing the newest version of the same song and dance that has been played many times before.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Lee_CPA2 Vibrant black communities have suffered in recent years also- Blacks become scholars like all scholars do- hard work and a great support system.  Please leave the genetic discussion behind- I have seen people from all races who were dumb as a bag of rocks, and some who were brilliant.  The former just had better connections- that's all. Peter principle at its best.

hssped
hssped

".... serving predominantly minority residents and communities in crisis due to lack of access to quality education, food, health care and transportation."


Really???  APS teachers are the highest paid in the state, why do the authors state a "lack of access to quality education?"  Aren't the APS teachers of good quality? Healthcare....I thought it was against the law to not have healthcare.  Food?  Free breakfast and lunch.  Transportation....I don't know about that but aren't there buses and marta trains that are fairly cheap? Whatever. 

gactzn2
gactzn2

@hssped APS teachers were some of the best teachers in the state.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog Au contraire- with creativity, innovation, and instruction.  Did not have to cheat- had great communities and students with parental (and extended family) support.  They did amazing things for their students.

class80olddog
class80olddog

You really believe that? I have a bridge I can sell you!

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog I know- I experienced it. Have done extremely well in the mean time- as have my counter parts- but those were different times.

Cere
Cere

Yep. This is what I've been saying for a decade. Thanks Ernest and Bee. Well said.
 

In fact, you can safely also say that high-income black families manage to access quality educations for their children as well. It is a class issue, not a race issue for the most part.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @Cere Not sure I understand, but you are so full of bigotry and racism- I am sure you cannot see straight- much less make sense with much of what you post. What would YOU know about slave culture? What is that? You explain. Let your ignorance shine through for everyone to see- again....

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Cere Middle class blacks also. It is in the value system- not the race (or class for that matter).

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @Cere How do people adapt to slavery?  As best they can. When they can avoid work, they do. When they can steal, they do. The hero is the "bad [African American] who violates the rules.  To me, the negative aspects of black American culture are due to slavery and Jim Crow. They are not genetic. Even if they are, it would not negate the large numbers of perfectly capable black achievers. 

If you don't recognize that the underclass is in terrible shape, and that its problems affect all of us, especially the schools, you yourself are a problem.  





gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @Cere In response:

1. People do not adapt to slavery- what does that have to do with work?  Are white people also a part of this so called slave culture you describe- after all they are the bulk of welfare recipients.


2.The negative effects of ANY culture stem from poverty's effects- not just "Black culture"  which you cannot codify by one label.  Poverty's effects cause meth heads to steal and rob to.


3.  The underclass is in terrible shape- all of it- and some of the middle class to.  Stop limiting your discussion to just Blacks- lots of Whites struggling just the same.

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @Cere True, but locally it's primarily a black problem. Visit a felony arraignment sometime. Of course blacks had to adapt to slavery, to live. Most of the West African culture they started with was wiped out, and they have, over centuries, adapted.  The culture I'm talking about is how people "get paid." Not by working at a regular job.  I'm talking about the warped culture that fills the prisons with young black man.  It's hard to get a decent job with facial tattoos, even if you want one.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"Maps in the report present startling visual context, forcing us to contend with the ugly reality that when it comes to public education in Atlanta, race matters. In fact, it matters a lot, with black high school graduation rates nearly 27 percent lower than white graduation rates in the Atlanta Public Schools."


Unspoken, but surely implied, is that the right way to end this racial disparity is for black high schools to RAISE their graduation rates (as opposed to the white students lowering theirs).


I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if more black students go to class every day and make an honest attempt to complete their assigned homework every night, the black high school graduation rate will show steady and impressive increases.


Not as much fun as blaming economic segregation, but more effective.


class80olddog
class80olddog

No the idea is to hide black graduation rates amongst the white graduation rates.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog You continue to insist that this has everything to do with "Black" graduation rates.  We can spin this different ways by region- just stop. Plenty of whites drop out also- but you just look over all of that of course- sheesh

gactzn2
gactzn2

@AlreadySheared Urban areas should be compared to one another- not to other more affluent schools.  It is not unspoken- poverty exists in every race- just look at the regions through out our state.  Poverty is more centralized in most urban areas.  It is not a "black" thing.  It is important to think more broadly than you are.  It is truly like comparing apples and oranges.  In more affluent districts, graduation rates, aptitude, etc are commiserate with those of white counter parts (2- parent house-holds with values for education- homogeneous value systems). 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Unequal? Yes - the bad schools spend $12000 per student and the good schools spend $8000

Raja44
Raja44

Grady High School in APS is actually one great example of diversity.  The latest figures I can find, which are from a couple of years ago, indicate Grady is 29% white, and about 65% black.  But it is trending more white the last couple years, and I would estimate that it is more like 40% white, or maybe even a little higher now.  There are cultural differences between the black and white students, and some self segregation within the school to be sure, but there isn't any racial conflict and everyone seems to get along ok.  I attended a music concert at Grady recently, and all of the performing chorus groups and orchestra groups were pretty close to 50-50 black-white, as were the parents in attendance, and it was a wonderful concert, very vibrant and enjoyable.  And I would say, overall, and this is just my gut observation, that there might be some slight positive influence by the growing number of higher SES students rubbing off on the lower SES students.  So it can be done and work.  I just don't know exactly how you can replicate it in other places in the city that are pretty self segregated housing-wise both racially and economically.

brandonmom
brandonmom

@Raja44 I always enjoy your posts, Raja44, because I feel like we are having similar experiences. I am a NAHS parent and what you wrote about Grady could also be written about our high school. My child is white and has friends of all races from school. The kids seem to segregate themselves based on their commitment to their education. The ones with similar goals and interests hang out together and race doesn't have much to do with it.


Raja44
Raja44

@brandonmom @Raja44 Yeah, I've noticed and enjoyed your posts too, brandonmom, and I do think we're experiencing similar things and share similar perspectives.  And I agree kids tend to segregate themselves more based on commitment to school work and education, rather than race.  One of my white daughter's best friends is black and is also a dedicated student.   

liberal4life
liberal4life

Move the teachers around the schools in the system every 5-6 years.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@class80olddog Good luck with the revolving door of teachers in the alternative- here today- gone tomorrow- let me know how that works out.

DekalbInsideOut
DekalbInsideOut

I don't buy that minorities have to sit next to an affluent white student to learn.  Also, Title I schools get more money, things and services.


If, for the sake of argument, we need more affluent families in poor areas, then we should subsidize that.  We should subsidize mansions in poor areas and means test the families that move into them.  You must make over $300K to move there.

bu2
bu2

@DekalbInsideOut With a certain % of low SES, schools get extra federal money.  Some of the "segregated" redistricting is done specifically to get more federal money.  I imagine that is what was done in Sandy Springs.  But it doesn't explain Cross Keys.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@DekalbInsideOut We need more families who value education in an area- SES is the safe word for saying black areas- however- Blacks have always been economically challenged as a group- yet many still value education as a stepping stone.  SES is only an indicator of probable issues- never definitive.

CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

With due respect, this is just more do-gooderism dredged up from the 1960s and 1970s.  It didn't work then,  It won't work now.


The lack of diversity in neighborhoods today is not systemic segregation.  It's by choice.


There seems to be an attempt by many in America now to roll the clock back to the "good old days" where systemic discrimination and racism were clearly cancers afflicting our society. It was necessary and proper back then to blame the system.  It's convenient now and largely misses the point.  


It's an easy out for "leaders" to deflect responsibility  to someone or something else. The alternative would be for their communities to take ownership for much of the generational dysfunction that's the root cause of the failed public education model in poor and minority neighborhoods.


As everyone knows, Washington, DC spends more money, per student, than any public school system in America, yet it is one of the worst public school systems in America.  When folks are willing to honestly answer the question "Why?" then we can be about the business of fixing the problem.  It starts at home.  Money alone, and blaming everyone else won't work.  


We're not living in 1965 anymore.  The problems are the same, but the causes are different now.  And ownership for solving them lies largely with those who unwittingly victimize themselves.


gactzn2
gactzn2

@CardiganBoy Correction: These resources are not being utilized with the "Community" like they used to be.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@CardiganBoy Before Atlanta was coigned a metropolis- poverty was around.  Blacks still did well and schools were extremely segregated. Point: It is not the money or SES- it is the value system.  "Big Data" is making fools out of everyone.  There are community elements that are no longer in place to bridge the gaps as they did long ago (churches, etc.).

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared


"Wake County in North Carolina demonstrated its commitment ... by creating education policies that provide economic equity."


Bingo!  Any time I read "equity", "justice", "fairness", "fair Share" or the like, I reflexively and defensively hold on tightly to my wallet - words like that are a tip-off that someone is trying to get some of my money out of it.


Darn straight the "price to get [into]" "great schools" "is attached to where students live".  There is no point in having my hard-working, home-work-doing, respectful kids lose instructional time to a bunch of (as we have recently seen in this blog) student-beating, teacher-beating, teacher-bullying, unprepared, disrespectful, off-task and disobedient "low-performing students" [this euphemism for said students provided by your local department of political correctness].


Any attempt to provide some sort of intra-district "justice" will, over time, only be met by loving, concerned parents pulling up stakes and moving to a better district.


class80olddog
class80olddog

Segregation is good - segregating the students who care from the students who don't care. This can also be done within a school.

Busing poor student to better schools will just end in the destruction of the better schools. It isn't white flight anymore, it is rich (and middle-class) flight.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

How would a Wake County type solution work in APS, where such a high percentage of students are poor?  Have a rule that no school can have more than 15% of its students NOT on free lunch?  You would end up with an ALL poor APS if that happened.  And are you going to revive busing to achieve this?

brandonmom
brandonmom

@Raja44 @Wascatlady Raja44, do you see tons of Dekalb plates at Grady? There are SO many in the carpool line at NAHS this year. I know Grady is more crowded than we are, but our numbers are growing quickly. 


bu2
bu2

@Wascatlady And of course, people would simply move out of the district as has happened again and again and again when these types of things are forced down people's throats.

Raja44
Raja44

@bu2 @brandonmom @Raja44 @Wascatlady Yes, some of Grady's attendance zone is in DeKalb.  But I also see some license plates from all over metro Atlanta.  There is probably still an out of zone attendance problem at Grady, but I think they may be policing that a little better these days.  That's interesting to hear NAHS is also growing and getting close to full capacity -- I figured that must be happening.  More parents are opting for public school over private in the Grady and NAHS areas, which I think is great, and hopefully APS does too and will continue to nurture.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Raja44 

Another way to help this unfortunate situation with lower SES students and their caretakers is for federal and state legislators to "dive in" and make a concentrated commitment to the poor, over and beyond schools, but including schools in these areas.  That would help tremendously, but that would probably involve a tax increase which most seem to abhor even considering in our self-oriented society.

Raja44
Raja44


@Wascatlady  Yeah, there's no way that would work in APS.  The only high schools with some significant higher SES populations are North Atlanta and Grady, and both of those are already majority black, and likely majority lower SES.  Plus Grady, at least, is already full.  So there's no place to send lower SES students in south Atlanta APS.  The only way to do it would be to send lower SES south Atlanta APS students outside of APS to other, suburban, school districts -- and that will happen when pigs fly.

Fulton30350
Fulton30350

I'm glad there is some discussion about this issue. Segregation is a big problem throughout this city. In Sandy Springs, the Fulton County District carved out a Title 1 school zone made up of poor apartment-dwelling Hispanic students in the middle of an affluent community. They send them all to one school so that the rich White families don't have to be bothered. There are homes that are literally across the street from the Hispanic school that are zoned for the White school farther away, and when Hispanics zoned for the White school go there, they are told to go to the Hispanic school. It's very blatant when you look at the zone lines on their website. Fulton is opening another school in West Roswell that is doing the same thing! When does this end?

Fulton30350
Fulton30350

@ErnestB @Fulton30350 I've heard about that as well. I saw a video recently of families and employees approaching the Dekalb School Board about this issue and I was really impressed. I wish that Fulton employees and families could do the same. The School Board ultimately perpetuates this injustice. I wish the AJC would call them out and launch an investigation they way they did the APS "cheating" scandal. This systematic cheating is worse than what those teachers were pressured into doing.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Fulton30350


Something similar was done in DeKalb with the Cross Keys attendance zone.  It was gerrymandered years ago in a way to primarily include Hispanic students, even though other high schools could be closer to some of these students or other schools closer to Cross Keys were excluded from this zone.  The Cross Keys cluster is facing an overcrowding problem now that must be addressed with redistricting being part of the solution.

anothercomment
anothercomment

I live in Sandy Springs and those of us who own Homes that Fulton County has arbitrarily decided that your land value is a minimum of $300,000 if you are in 30342, 303328 or 30327 zip codes no matter how small or how unrenovated your house is it will automatically will be taxed at $500,000 or $550,000. That is a $7,000 minimum property tax bill for Fulton County. Now that is the absolute low end of an owner occupied house. Now the apartments that the illegals going to the brand new school on Lake Forest ( who have the absolute great Hispanic male Principal ( he was the bright spot as an AP at Ridgeview Middle School) . The 66 unit apartment complex closest to Lakeforest Elementary was purchased in a Foreclosure auction in 2011 for 2.4 million dollars, by some owner that used to own a trailer park in gwinett ( that is still the name of their LLC). somehow the Fulton County tax accessor has decided that this complex has lost $300k in value in 4 years and in 2015 only has it valued at $2,100,000. Which equates to about $37,000 per apartment. Try getting behind a bus on this road. These class C apartments contribute approx 3 children per unit. ( Fulton county estimated that their were 1000 students registered in K-12 in the two apartment complexes with approx 300 units that were torn down for the Gateway project at Weica and Roswell RD. A $37,000 tax value maybe gives Fulton county schools $300 in tax money for schools, for 3 kids.

While a few of my neighbors can still send their kids to Lake Hearn Elementary due to the Construction of Lake Forrest. Not a single person in my Sandy Springs neighborhood is able to send their child to Sandy Springs Middle or High Schools anymore. Believe me I tried. My oldest went one semester to Riverwood and begged to go back her old school. My youngest was was bullied to death at Ridgeview. It is war of black and Hispanic gangs. White middle school boys can not use the restroom.

We want no more apartments! We want what we were promised and the Class C apartment torn down and those areas cleaned up. So far only two have fallen!

Homeowners are sick of paying very high taxes for those who have very different values. We are sick of unkept properties and the crime they bring