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.


Billy Jones said...

And whose children go to Greensboro's little white schoolhouses? The same elites that brought us the Tanger Performing Arts Center you so love.

Brian Clarey said...

My kids go to Cornerstone, and I live in a black neighborhood, around the corner from Billy.
Interestingly enough, they were at the Bluford magnet before then. They were the only white kids there, besides one kid in special ed. So Bluford is not nearly as diverse as Cornerstone.
Either way. my neighborhood school sucks, we never seem to win the the "lotteries" at the good magnet schools, and I don't have time to wait for things to get better. My kids are in school right now. And Cornerstone is really awesome — but not because of all the white people.

Dave Ribar said...


I'm very glad that you and the other parents at Cornerstone have found a good school for your children.

Unfortunately, Cornerstone, Greensboro Academy, and Summerfield Charter Academy are each set up in ways that limit enrollment by other children from your neighborhood.

Location and transportation are the two primary issues, but there are others. For example, the limited lunch offerings and the lack of a federally-funded School Breakfast Program at Cornerstone are also barriers to economically disadvantaged children.

The schools offer good reasons for operating the way that they do (e.g., transportation is expensive and would likely require cooperation from the GCS; the lack of capital funding puts a premium on building space and leads to no cafeteria). I don't completely accept those reasons, because other charter schools that WANT to be inclusive find ways to offer these things. Regardless of the reasons, however, these subtle (or maybe not too subtle) barriers do lead to exclusion.