Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Greensboro's little white school houses

The charter school movement in North Carolina is intended to provide educators with flexibility to innovate and to open doors for all children to learn. However, many charter schools use this flexibility to subtly keep some children from finding those doors.

In Greensboro, this has led to one publicly-funded charter school--Greensboro Academy--being the whitest public school in all of Greensboro. Figures from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction indicate that in the 2012-13 school year, 81.7 percent of Greensboro Academy's students were white. By way of contrast, just under 38 percent of public school students in Guilford County are white. Greensboro Academy's current composition represents progress of a sort; a few years ago just over 90 percent of its students were white.

Another publicly-funded charter school--Cornerstone Academy--isn't far behind with 74.0 percent of its students being white, essentially double the proportion of white students in Guilford County's public schools.

How do these publicly-funded schools achieve these remarkable numbers? The biggest factor is location. Public schools, including both charter and district schools, draw largely from their surrounding neighborhoods. Patterns of racial segregation in housing are reflected in racial segregation in school composition.

Greensboro Academy and Cornerstone Academy are both located near the northwest fringes of Greensboro (they're less than four miles driving distance apart), a section of the city that is predominantly white. For example, the district elementary school for children who live very near Greensboro Academy is Claxton Elementary, which is 59.7 percent white, and the district middle school is Kernodle, which is 64.5 percent white.

However, these locational choices are compounded by another factor--the lack of general school bus transportation to the schools. Parents at these schools are responsible for transporting or arranging transportation for their children. This makes it much harder for low-income parents, especially those who lack cars. The schools assist parents who want to locate car-pool partners, but this would still be a substantial barrier for those without cars in the first place. Additionally, neither school is especially walkable.

Charter schools are allocated a share of the state and local transportation funds, but part of their academic "flexibility" includes being able to use those funds for other purposes.

Put the schools' location and transportation barriers together and you have a dandy recipe for racial exclusion--all on the public dime.

Another publicly-funded charter school--Summerfield Charter Academy, the Howard Coble Campus--has just opened a few miles further out in this "underserved" area. Look for it to generate even more skewed demographics.