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Commentary: How can we make WS/FCS a grade A School Choice District?

Commentary: How can we make WS/FCS a grade A School Choice District?
November 08
00:00 2018

By Malishal Woodbury, Kris Nordstrom and Edwin Bell

School choice empowers parents to decide which school best meets their child’s needs. This movement is transforming K-12 education across the nation. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, nearly 1 out of 5 students in N.C. attend a non-traditional public school. 

Kris Nordstrom, policy analyst of the NC Justice Center, highlighted North Carolina’s history about school segregation:

The Pearsall Plan allowed districts to shutter schools that became integrated. It was declared unconstitutional in 1969 in Godwin v. Johnston County BOE. In 1971, a team of NAACP lawyers argued in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that the district had to use student assignment and busing to integrate its schools. Progress was sidetracked in 2001 when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declared Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s racial integration plan illegal.

School segregation is associated with increasing racial achievement gaps, dropout rates, and incarceration rates. On average, racially and economically isolated schools attract and retain fewer high-performing teachers and suffer from greater teacher and principal turnover. Such schools are more likely to be older, dilapidated buildings.

By contrast, there are benefits associated with school integration. A recent study found that white student performance remained similar whether they went to a school that was mainly white or one that was mostly black. The positive impacts of school integration go beyond test scores. Students attending integrated schools are less prejudiced, increase cross-racial trust and friendships, and enhance their capacity for working with others.

The Schott Foundation (2018) rated the states on these criteria for school choice:

States are rated on the extent to which they have instituted policies and practices that lead toward fewer democratic opportunities and more privatization, as well as the guardrails they have (or have not) put into place to protect the rights of students, communities and taxpayers. (p. 2)

The grade for North Carolina was F. More than half the schools in the WS/FCS have a heavy concentration of low-income students. The implementation of the choice pupil assignment plan in WS/FCS has produced a school system that produced only 52.8 percent of third graders reading at grade level (Bragg, 2018, par. 13).  WS/FCS facilitates approximately 30 failing schools, most of which are in the inner city, and all of which are Title I. A Civil Rights discrimination complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.  Forsyth County is one of the ten most racially and economically segregated school districts of the state (Nordstrom, 2018).

Cookson, Darling-Hammond, Rothman, & Shields (2018) offered four lessons on how to create a system of schools worth attending for all.

Lesson 1: Make All Schools Worthy of Being Chosen

Lesson 2: Ensure Access to High-Quality Schools for All  

Lesson 3: Promote Diversity and Inclusion 

Lesson 4: Leave No School Behind

Nordstrom (2018) specified what voters can do. A recent study of North Carolina school board elections data shows that electing at least one Democrat leads to student reassignment that is 18 percent closer to achieving racial parity for each school.  What if we had a majority of Democrats?

Dr. Edwin Bell is Professor Emeritus of Winston-Salem State University. He was the chair of the Dept. of Education at WSSU.

Malishai Woodbury is a professional educator, adjunct lecturer at NC A&T State University in History Dept., and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools District 1 WSFC School Board-Elect. 

Kris Nordstrom is policy analyst at NC Justice Center.

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