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The Price of Retreat: Paying More for a Divided and Less Well-Educated Community in Wake County, North Carolina

Authors: researchers working in civil rights and education
Date Published: March 29, 2010

After four months of debate, a newly configured school board voted on March 23, 2010 to end Wake County’s long-standing commitment to promoting racially and socioeconomically diverse schools. This statement, by various signatories working in civil rights research including the Civil Rights Project co-directors, is a brief glimpse into the past—or a look at school systems around the South no longer working towards the goal of integration— and suggests that serious, negative consequences await North Carolina’s largest district.
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Decades of social science research, the experiences of countless educators in school districts across the nation, and subsequent legal decisions have all confirmed a core proposition of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision: separate is not equal in the realm of public schools. Inequality of opportunity persists in schools that enroll high concentrations of students of color, which are nearly always schools that also have high concentrations of poverty. Such schools are also, as a rule, less likely to attract and retain high quality, experienced teachers. They are less likely to offer advanced courses to students and less likely to provide contact with middle-class peers. All of these important factors are strongly associated with academic success and the exposure to networks that increase post-graduation opportunities. Further, U.S. public schools should prepare their students for citizenship in a country that will soon have a majority of nonwhite residents while also shaping future employees for a global economy. Racially and economically segregated schools are not environments that allow for students from different backgrounds to become more comfortable with each other and counteract stereotypes or prejudice. Wake County has decided to put its students at a disadvantage in all these areas.

Wake County had long been a leader in understanding the importance of diverse schools. For more than thirty years, the district devised and implemented policies to achieve diversity amid demographic and legal changes. The county began comprehensively desegregating its schools in 1976, the same year a controversial merger plan won approval. After the North Carolina state legislature passed a bill making it easier for school districts to consolidate, strong and decisive leadership pushed a city-suburban merger forward. Since then, the Wake County Public School System has drawn students from the City of Raleigh and its surrounding suburbs. This arrangement originally promoted a racial desegregation strategy that included a system of magnet schools and a 15-45% balancing mechanism stipulating that African American enrollment at the school level should not fall below 15 percent or above 45 percent.

In 2000, Wake County officials voted to voluntarily begin using a “race-neutral” plan that relied heavily on socioeconomic and student achievement factors...

To read the entire statement, please read the full text .PDF format.


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