Telling the story of resegregation through Marietta High School

A new book charts the first generations of students who desegregated Marietta High School and follows the experiences of later generations who saw the dream of integration fall apart through a series of economic, social and demographic shifts.

Should a school district losing middle-class white families labor to lure them back or focus on the students now walking through its doors?

That’s one of the big questions in a scholarly new book that chronicles the story of resegregation of Southern schools and communities through Marietta High School.

Marietta High integrated 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal schools were inherently unequal and thus unconstitutional. Following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, from the mid-1970s into the early 1990s, Marietta High was a racially balanced high school. (Even while neighborhoods remained largely segregated.)

Today, the school is experiencing resegregation from the surge in the black and Latino residents in the area and the loss of white families to private schools or east Cobb. The school is 44 percent black, 33 percent Hispanic and 17 percent white, according to state data.

Growing up in Cobb County, Ruth Carbonette Yow watched those shifts from afar as a private school student. After earning a doctorate in in American studies and African-American studies from Yale University and coming to work at Georgia Tech, Yow began to research justice struggles and public education, focusing on her own back yard.

The product of that inquiry is her recently released book, “Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City.”

In her six years volunteering with Marietta YELLS, a nonprofit to help kids and teens become leaders in their communities, and in her more than 100 interviews for the book, Yow ran into the sentiment that, if Marietta High just did the right things, affluent white families would return. Atlanta Public Schools succeeded with that strategy in its intown communities, as evidenced by the now bursting Grady High School cluster.

“In a one high school district (like Marietta), the policies at the high school need to reflect the issues and challenges faced by the students that already compose the majority of the system. At Grady, demographics and size mean that targeting affluent parents is not pie-in-the-sky — it is reflective of actual population trends and changes,” said Yow in an interview.

“Most families who can choose private aren’t going to choose Marietta High,” Yow said. “Those families can’t be the golden ring. The conversation has to stop revolving around staunching the bleed of folks with more choice, those mostly affluent families. Because it can’t.”

Yow examines Marietta’s efforts to appeal to middle-class families, including the introduction a rigorous International Baccalaureate program. Such academic tracks or magnet programs risk turning into mini ivory towers because of subtle gate-keeping that locks out poor children, she said.

“Parents who aren’t clued in don’t realize a test their children take in third or fourth grade may decide whether they should be placed in pre-IB or the middle school IB program,” she said.

Ruth Carbonette Yow

In observing Marietta High for several years, Yow witnessed what she saw as positive changes by former principal Leigh Colburn. “She understood that the seniors who walk across the stage at graduation and the seniors who never cross that stage are all members of our community. She resisted evaluating schools based on test scores and thought about the most vulnerable students and how they could weather the storms.”

One way to arm students for the storms, said Yow, is more comprehensive support of the increasing ranks of undocumented students at Marietta High. Yow cites the example of the Cobb district’s posting of  “The Ultimate Guide for College Bound Undocumented Georgia Students,” which explains existing law and also offers resources for educators and counselors.

“Our public schools are profoundly over-burdened, but, because they do the important work of taking all comers, they must be equipping their professionals to support the most vulnerable students in our systems,” she said.

The vulnerable students in Marietta High face serious challenges, including the risk of deportation, discrimination in the justice system and low wages, said Yow. Since the Brown decision, the city of Marietta and its high school have seen seismic cultural, political and economic changes. “You can’t stop resegregation in Marietta,” said Yow, “but you can preserve educational quality and promote education equity by different means among a population that is now mainly students of color.”

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51 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

77% black/hispanic?  Put a fork in it.  Marietta is done.  As others have astutely noted below, once the demographics shift beyond a certain point, the minority dysfunction takes over and whites begin to look for ways to ensure their child receives the appropriate level of education they want for their child.  As a parent who sent one through public, wised up, and sent the other through private, I can say that most parents don't realize how bad public schools are until they move their children to a good private.

And our school was about 40% minority.  God, I hate to think how bad 77% is.

Ann Young
Ann Young

Provide the remaining students there the best quality teaching as you always have and by doing so you will continue to make our Nation proud

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

A friend shared this comment about his experience with Marietta High School:


As parents of students who went through Marietta High School, we were present at the creation of the IB program there -- one of the first in Georgia. It always struck us as a somewhat desperate attempt by the city school district to hold on to white parents and their kids. At the time the district had, if I remember correctly, three "white" elementary schools and three "black" elementary schools (not exclusively, if course, but certainly identifiable that way within the community). But when white students in the district got to middle school age their numbers dwindled, only to return to near parity with black students in the high school grades as white students came back and, unfortunately, black students dropped out.

But all that changed in the late 90s with the growth of the Hispanic population in the city. The racial mix at the high school then, I'm guessing now, was about 40 percent white, 40 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. This is about the time the district decided to implement the IB program. While the quality of the IB program itself seemed somewhat erratic -- it was pretty obvious they targeted certain kids for inclusion and failed to seek out others who may have qualified -- the tactic had its intended impact.

White families around the city were boasting that their kids were in Marietta High "but they are in the IB program classes." Resegregation was well under way. Slowly, the district started to create "pre-IB classes" in grades 6, 7 and 8 so that it could keep white students in the middle school too, but none of this seemed to work. I can't speak to how effective, academically, the IB program was, but it seemed to me to never be as rigorous as the program I heard so much about at international schools or at IB schools in other states. (It may have gotten better after my kids left. And full disclosure: Neither of my kids participated in it. Parents of kids who did may hold much higher opinions about it.) But I am persuaded that it was put in place to allow for extreme tracking and segregation so that white parents would be comfortable keeping their kids in an increasingly minority majority school.

Moreover, in my opinion, it created a dual instruction system within the school with the best teachers assigned to IB classes and the least experienced, least effective teachers left to supervise non-IB classes that got little or no attention from the school administration. There was no question that the quality of instruction for these students was impacted negatively. I concur with the author that Leigh Colburn made a valiant attempt to re-balance the school's priorities during her tenure there as principal. But on the issue of attracting and keeping white students, the school had probably already lost that challenge.

readcritic
readcritic

@MaureenDowney Not quite right...some teachers with many advanced degrees and certifications are consistently saddled with huge classes (35+ per class and 200 students per semester) of non English speakers, special ed/inclusion students, drug users, truant and frequently incarcerated students, pregnant students, behavior disordered students, fetal alcohol syndrome students, gang members, and students with lengthy discipline records. Those same teachers are expected to produce the same results as those teachers who have few advanced degrees and are favored with self-motivated and smaller numbers of IB and AP students in every class. You are wrong about the lack of administrative attention being given to the non IB and AP classes. The administrators pay plenty of attention to the teachers who have those challenging classes. They get zapped on the TKES evaluation with low scores for not producing 200 mesmerizing and differentiated lesson plans daily with every student dutifully on task. Discipline is non existent as the administrators want to avoid the statistics that put MHS on the "dangerous" school list and the numbers are manipulated to show vast levels of achievement as all students "must" pass to ensure the graduation rate.  Students are thus given unlimited opportunities to to turn in late work, complete make up work, and retake tests. Teachers and not students are accountable for failing grades and poor educational performance. Graduation coaches get paid big bucks to pile more work on to the teachers yet never have direct contact with students. That is why parents choose to place their children in private schools. 

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

They should do both, diversity yields the best educational results.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

" a school district losing middle-class white families labor to lure them back?"

Same question restated:
"Should a school district strive to improve enough so that parents who can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars to educate their children elsewhere will instead decide to educate them in the district for free?"

readcritic
readcritic

Marietta should be incorporated into the Cobb County school system and save the taxpayers big bucks to pay for another expensive Central Office staff. That's where all the tax dollars go. Citizens unnecessarily pay for a superintendent for just one high school and a district of 8K students while the Cobb superintendent earns about the same for over 100K students in many high schools. Furthermore, discipline in the schools is almost nonexistent today. Teachers are blamed for not having dazzling differentiated lessons aimed to entertain the 35+ students per class (totaling 200 students in classes for the semester) every day. Fantasy land! The graduation coaches also suck a great deal of money out of a system and never actually teach students but do give the teachers more useless work. Education has gone as far downhill as it can go with the ridiculous! 

Brenda Moehring
Brenda Moehring

How do you bring the white students back? The Hispanics moved to this area from other counties due to more jobs available and they felt welcome. No telling why the blacks moved there. So, as in other counties in fluxed with these people, whites either move on or put their children in private schools to be sure of a better environment.

Tiffany Turner
Tiffany Turner

My goodness you're ignorant. Black people, including my family, have been in Marietta since the founding of Marietta thanks to slavery. Beyond that, why in the world would you assert that Hispanics would move to the area for jobs, but in the next sentence pretend you can't figure out why blacks might move as well?

Marlayna
Marlayna

One way to combat this issue is to make the school scores elevated and create a Magnet component to the school. Campbell High School has done so and it maintains somewhat of a balanced racial balance. But more important, why are white parents fleeing the school?

mhsgrad
mhsgrad

@Marlayna Marietta High has the International Baccalaureate program, the same magnet program as Campbell HS.  

Russell Smith
Russell Smith

She said parents weren't "clued in" about taking a test that could determine a students future. Does "clued in" actually mean "give a crap about their child's education"? if the parents don't care about their child's education, the student isn't going to care about their education.

Tony Simmonds
Tony Simmonds

Focus on the student's you have ,if they see us as not desirable why should we care it part of the policy any way to ensure a high percent of us with no education end up in jail! !!!!

Marlayna
Marlayna

Because the real-world is not simply Black and Latino---and students must have a real-world experience

Another comment
Another comment

Marietta also made an awful selection at Superintendent with Grant Rivera! The absolutely worse Principal ever at Campbell and South Cobb before that!

Another comment
Another comment

The black female after Grant was actually worse at Campbell. One didn’t think anyone could get worse but she was. Along with her sisters and reducing the changing time to 5 minutes from 7 minutes. Then her Sister VP blowing her whistle. Also, issuing Suspensions to the IB And AP kids for being late for Saturday on the same day as the SAT/ACT.

Of course this was after GRANT had issued sweats for dress code violations. Mostly girls get cause in this Shira law violation of Dress code.

Now one of Grants Protogee’s is the Principal at Riverwood. Guess what he is doing, handing out sweat pants for dress code violations. Catching mostly girls and the gay/ transgender kids!

Ricky Ace Jameson
Ricky Ace Jameson

The AJC never stops with their narrative. The real news here is that anyone who can afford to send their children to private school would rather spend money on their children's future than send them to the government school. I would hope that trying to raise one's children to be successful in life would have nothing to do with race.

BRV
BRV

Private school enrollment has been declining for decades. A few years ago it fell below 10% of total school enrollment the lowest it’s been since data on enrollment has been collected. Your “real news” is fake. Sad!

Rachael Beers Sirotkin
Rachael Beers Sirotkin

This is simply untrue. Private schools have their own problems. (Drugs drugs drugs) For one, they are held responsible by the parents, who only want what's best for their child. Public schools are held responsible to the community, who want what's best for as many people as possible. The problem with that is what's best for your child is making straight As in the toughest classes possible, but what if he really isn't that smart? That's fine. For just $27k a year, he can have that 4.0 or better in all honors classes. Oh, wait, he IS that smart? Sorry, that's all we can offer. We only have 100 students per grade level, but he should be able to get into a very challenging college. The second thing is that the people he sees in school aren't necessarily the people he sees in his neighborhood or church or the grocery store, leaving much of the social arrangement up to the parents, since his school friends aren't within walking or biking distance. This stifles independence. Then there's this. Your kid goes to school C, because he couldn't get into to school A or B. Now he's one of the top students in a school of other kids who couldn't get into school A or B. Public schools are full of highly competitive students who could get into schools A and B, but for various reasons, didn't apply. There are many reasons that affluent parents may choose public schools, including a desire to have the chance to interact with other students who aren't just like him.

mhsgrad
mhsgrad

This is far from the truth.  I am an MHS alumni.  My class had several students leave their private schools (some costing $15k per year) to come to Marietta because of the rigor and success of the IB program.  The free public school was the better choice.

BRV
BRV

From your own source total private school enrollment is nearing its second full decade of decline and is projected to continue declining for the foreseeable future. Private school enrollment as a percentage of total school enrollment (which I should have stated more clearly) has been declining for a much longer period of time. The bottom line is that contrary to what was claimed people aren’t flocking to private schools. The long-term trend is precisely the opposite.

Another comment
Another comment

Catholic Schools used to be affordable $2,600 to $5,200 year now Catholic High schools are $16-18k

Frederick Wigley
Frederick Wigley

Should a school district losing middle-class white families labor to lure them back or focus on the students now walking through its doors? What????

Rob Fine
Rob Fine

The students always come first.

otherview
otherview

Why not talk about why white families and affluent minorities left the public schools? 


Whites aren't fleeing the public schools because they're racists.  They're fleeing only after seeing the facts on the ground.  As the Kansas City debacle, where the federal court ordered massive spending on schools, no amount of money is going to make a difference.

.

My kids graduated from a roughly 50-50 integrated school and valued the experience and believe it helped prepare them for the world. On the other hand, if one was not in the advanced classes, the discipline issues made it nearly impossible to teach.

One female student had a kid grab her in a manner described by our president.  Back in classroom a few days later.

Much more recently, a teacher I know was aghast that a kid who punched a 3rd grade girl in the solar plexus, knocking her to the floor gasping for breath, was back in the classroom the next day.

And, a school makes an attempt at discipline, its accused of racism.


Its certainly not the majority of the minority students who are responsible for these issues, but its certainly the minority community that objects to any efforts to improve the situation, whether it be protesting the firing of an incompetent minority teacher or administrator or viewing the disciplined violent student as a victim.


Many families are or should be  embittered by the fact they're paying school tax when the schools (admittedly hamstrung by federal regulations aimed at keeping those destroying the education process in class than on the well being those who wish to learn) refuse to or are unable to provide a safe learning environment.


We need to start pouring more money into the programs that recognize that not all students have the same goals or interests.

The academic track for those so inclined, a vocational tract for those not so academically oriented but have a desire to learn. For those who have no interest in learning and prefer disruption, stop wasting the time and the money and focus on limiting the damage they do the rest of the students.


Starik
Starik

@otherview Resegregation of the schools is no accident. DeKalb, IMO, forced it. 

otherview
otherview

How is that?

You had a school system that was considered a jewell and it flipped almost over night. Blame those like Roger Mills that ignored common sense in their litigious zeal. Bus kids all over, rather than a common sense approach of pumping money into neighborhood schools and disproportionately so in favor of underperforming minority schools .

DeKalb schools are re-segregated solely because many whites have abandoned the system,leaving all but a relative few with nearly all large majority of minority students

Is there anything more racist than a claim that minority kids can only learn if sitting next to a white kid?

Starik
Starik

@otherview When they built a new Tucker High School they built it with a huge area for buses, expanded athletic fields, built a parking deck for staff and left very little space for student parking. A new Principal "Coach," of course. and a happily integrated school collapsed.  

BRV
BRV

Race matters. No matter how many times white people lie to themselves on this topic, race Is an enormous factor in where we send our kids to school. White children are more than two times more segregated in public schools than whites are segregated residentially. It’s even worse if you include white children in private schools as white children are a much larger portion of private school enrollment than they are of public school enrollment.

There are well documented tipping points for white families. When black or Latino enrollment exceeds 30% white families start leaving. But the big tell on how much race matters is Asian students.

The elementary school my kids attended is a Blue Ribbon School and consistently has a CCRPI score in the top 10 among elementary schools statewide. Asian enrollment grew rapidly while my kids were enrolled. And sure enough once Asian enrollment reached about 40% white families started looking for other options. The school is now 80% Asian in part because white families are opting for private schools, or using the in-district choice option to send their kids to a nearby majority white school, or are moving.

The effective definition of acceptable diversity for most white parents is nothing less than 55 - 60% white enrollment. School segregation is an incredibly challenging issue to address, but the first step has to be white people acknowledging our plainly obvious preference for majority white schools.

bu22
bu22

@BRV  And Blacks and Hispanics and Asians have exactly the same preferences, just at lower %s.  A school that is 40% white, 30% Asian and 25% Hispanic would not be considered "diverse" enough by a lot of Black families.  People want to feel comfortable.

BRV
BRV

History and the massive amount of research on school segregation, especially where black families are concerned, inidicate otherwise.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

@BRV Whites leave Asian dominated schools because they cannot compete with Asian kids academically. Bill Cosby once had a famous and true comic line about this  . . . . Why do you think they call them "A"sians? Honors Society, Valedictorian, etc. first in the class  . . . . 10th in the class . . . whatever, it is no longer available to them. 


Why? Asian families (underscore families) strongly stress education. Two parents manage, control, discipline, and make demands on their children in ways that are  shocking to white parents, and essentially incomprehensible and out of reach for blacks and Hispanics. Ever hear of Asian Tiger Moms?  They're real, their intimidating, even scary, and relentlessly pushing demanding, and they get excellent results. Of course, many years ago, that was true of most white families/students - but not so much any more.


I certainly understand all of the racial implications of  these kinds discussions and the racial sensitivities of fleeing white families. They cannot be denied or covered up. Nor should  they be. Let's at least be honest about it.  But liberal guilt and political correctness are not going shame mobile, well educated white parents into allowing their children to become martyrs for "racial equality" desegregation, and political correctness. 


Your child/children have one chance at a good formal education. No one who can move away is going to send their child to a school where distracted teachers are constantly under siege, good and respect is a fantasy, and fair and just discipline cannot be dispensed because of "racial" sensitivities because gosh, most of the perps tend to be black. (You noticed that? I didn't know you are a racist.) The little third grader punched to the ground and the perp back in school the next day? . . . we are definitely outta here! 


And no one who can  relocate  is going let their children stay around and  attend schools where the teachers spend half of their time and efforts being the de facto parents of the largely undisciplined kids in their class rooms, in which pandemonium rules more often as not. Is it the undisciplined kids' fault?  No. But it exists - and it is too big to fight and change, and you cannot discuss it openly or solutions without being labeled a racist. 


And it is not about money for education. It has nothing to do with public funding.The print version of the AJC had a Kyle Wingfeld column that pointed that out this morning. Atlanta schools out spend every other school system in GA  - by a lot -  a whole lot. And they bring up the rear in every category of scholastic performance. 


Why? No real discipline due to racial sensitivities, and parents are (let's be kind) not heavily involved in their children's schools educational progress, if at all, and teachers not only have to teach but they also have to be the parents. And one other reason, the Eduacracy really likes all of the extra money. 


Hard stuff I realize. But, reality bites. Life is hard. Progress is hard. Learning is hard. Studying and preparation is hard. Parental guidance is absolutely necessary. Advancing up through the grade levels is hard. Punishment for breaking the rules, and the lack of personal discipline is hard - or at least it should be. 


Racist, insensitive, politically incorrect . . . I don't care. Tell me something that promotes hard facts, reality, and difficult solutions that isn't "racist" these days. 


And Political correctness be "darned" - when it comes to children and their one chance for a good formal education, do not expect mobile parents with means to hang around and be told to "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." 


BRV
BRV

My wife worked at a Forsyth elementary school as it transitioned from majority white to majority black and Latino. The school continued to have good test scores, dedicated staff and a safe environment. White familes fled anyway. One subdivision went from having four families sending kids to my wife’s school to seventy familes sending kids to a majority white school after they were rezoned to another school. No amount of rationalization changes the fact that school demographics trump everything in school selection all other school quality factors being equal.

The screeds spewing from your keyboard are a textbook example of why school integration is so difficult to achieve.

Mack68
Mack68

School choice has led to resegregation. 

While it's evident here in Marietta, it's also evident in the Jackson cluster of APS. 

"Choice" schools overwhelmingly enroll the relatively more affluent kids, and those without more significant disabilities.Their parents can drive them to school (because choice schools don't provide transportation). 

As per data available last year, ANCS had a lesser percentage of free and reduced lunch students than did even Mary Lin. East Atlanta is going to have to grapple with that. 

Magyymae
Magyymae

Choice very much resegregated the Clarke County schools. No one talks about it very much, though.

feedback1
feedback1

God help liberal privileged white women who stubbornly refuse to open their eyes.

Magyymae
Magyymae

What is it you have done to try to improve education for young people?

feedback1
feedback1

@Magyymae 

We've seen what a half-century of liberalism has done to public K-12 education. 

Let's learn from that.

PaulClinton
PaulClinton

We have learned that most whites will stop at almost nothing to segregate.

otherview
otherview

And minorities want to live in denial and claim it’s racism that caused whites to leave a failing system

Starik
Starik

Back in the civil rights era nobody would have imagined we'd have resegregation of schools after only 50 years, with the enthusiastic support of many black folks. Schools where underclass kids are "comfortable," where the teachers speak and write like their parents and everybody graduates if they want to. Meanwhile, upwardly mobile black folks move to mixed and mostly white schools and their kids prosper. I feel sorry for the Hispanics stuck in schools designed and staffed for the black underclass.

KenSprague
KenSprague

Thank you for your coverage of this important topic---Ms. Yow has done a wonderful service through this publication. Marietta has long obfuscated the negative impact of racialized decisions through misleading PR. On-point per the implementation of the exclusionary IB Program: Across the high school setting---IB and regular ed---the white-black SAT-gap increased 70% over the first 20 years of IB (1996-2016). Why? Serving a small slice of IB students required reducing instructional time and scheduling for everyone---and, as expected, many non-IB classes became (and continue to be) severely segregated and arenas of low expectations. It's all in the data.


readcritic
readcritic

@KenSprague And the very classes that need to have fewer students are jam packed with 35+ and Special inclusion students. Marietta looks good on paper, but it's all smoke and mirrors. No wonder those who can afford it go somewhere else. The administrators are very good at making the numbers say what they want them to.