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Growing Segregation in School Districts

A slowly growing trend toward resegregation of schools threatens to exacerbate the academic achievement gap.  Although resegregation was in the news most recently in Missouri, it is going on elsewhere as well ("How School Segregation Divides Ferguson - and the United States," The New York Times, Dec. 21). 

Consider the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California ("Should wealthy towns be able to secede from higher-poverty, higher-minority schools districts?" The Hechinger Report, Nov. 3).  Residents of Malibu, which is overwhelmingly white, with a median household income of $135,530, are seeking to form their own school district.  It's hard to know how much is due to a desire for more autonomy and how much is due to a desire to isolate themselves from Santa Monica, which is racially diverse, with a median household income of $72,271.

What is clear is that parents in Malibu are angry and frustrated after their efforts to establish a K-12 foreign-language program and design an International Baccalaureate track for the city's four schools were rebuffed by the school board, whose seven members all live in Santa Monica.

A similar secessionist movement is taking place in Gardendale, Alabama, a small middle-class town outside Birmingham ("How a 'New Secessionist' Movement Is Threatening to Worsen School Segregation and Widen Inequalities," The Nation, May 15). Even though it meant raising taxes on themselves to underwrite the move, residents willingly did so.

Mirroring the trend, Baton Rouge, Louisiana residents are attempting to form an entirely new city for the sole purpose of separating itself from the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, which are mostly populated by black and economically disadvantaged students.

To date, however, the most notable example was in Tennessee, where the overwhelmingly black Memphis school district in 2011 voted to dissolve itself in order to merge into the majority-white Shelby County schools.  The consolidation, the largest in American history, was upheld in March by a federal judge after the suburban towns in the county tried to secede from the merged district ("Judge's ruling means municipal schools can move forward in Shelby County," The Commercial Appeal, Mar. 10).  

I expect to see further attempts down the line, as parents view integrating schools as a threat to education quality.  If these efforts are legally blocked, parents will pull their children out of public schools and enroll them in private and religious schools.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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