The State of Schools: Economic Injustices in Public Schools

By: Bailey Hart

In 2013, a census published by WCPSS showcased generally impressive racial diversity amongst high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. As Wake County populations were predominantly white (61.6%) in 2012, most schools showed a slightly larger white population than other races. However, a few specific schools stood out, showing data that was particularly skewed. Mary E Philips High School, Longview High School, and Southeast Raleigh High School’s populations were primarily black, at 78.3%, 75% and 74%, respectively. Similar examples were found amongst Wake County elementary schools, as Brassfield, Holly Grove, and Pleasant Union Elementary Schools’ populations proved to be chiefly white at 72.5%, 77.4%, and 81% respectively. The largest outlier, however, was Walnut Creek Elementary School, with a population that was 64.7% black, 31.2% Hispanic or Latino, and 2% white. So, why the dissonance between race distribution in these schools in contrast to Wake County as a whole, and what affect does this have on academic performance?   

According to schooldigger.com, Walnut Creek Elementary School scored worse than 76.4% of elementary schools on state testing in North Carolina, ranking 100th amongst 106 schools in Wake County.  So, does this mean that families in poorer neighborhoods have more limited access to quality education? As it stands now, 73.8% of students at Walnut Creek are receiving free or discounted lunches, a large deviation from the average percentage (35.8%) of free and reduced lunch participants in elementary schools across Wake County.

How is this allowed to happen? In 2010, the Republican school board in North Carolina relatively abolished the previously established integration policy, which had been heralded by many as one of the most effective integration efforts in the country. Very soon after, the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint against the school board, arguing that the new policy was discriminatory against students from poor, minority neighborhoods. Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post argued against the new policy as well, stating that “because neighborhoods are still mostly defined by race and socioeconomic status, poor and minority kids wind up in high-poverty schools that struggle with problems such as retaining the best teachers.” One might argue that such claims are not necessarily representative of a wider issue, but the mere fact that there is any consistent variance in academic performance between schools in neighborhoods of different economic classes indicates a biased and unfair system.

The “economic integration” attempts of 2001, in which every North Carolina school was only allowed to have 40% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches, has since fallen to the wayside. The current state of affairs in the NC education program indicate very obviously that the education reforms of the past are nearly essential to return to if equal opportunity is

desired for all students, regardless of class or location. The relatively poor performance of Walnut Creek Elementary School serves as direct evidence that the 2010 integration policy established by the Wake County school board simply doesn’t work; we must either reform our current integration policy to ensure equal quality education across the state, or revert to the original policy established in 2001.

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