Hogan's Alley

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Raleigh N.C. County Schools Report Big Jumps in Test Results, Credit Economic Integration

The Times reports that the Wake County School District, which is a county-wide district that includes the city of Raleigh, attributes significant improvements in the test scores of Black and Hispanic kids to their ongoing policy of busing and magnet schools to achieve integration based on family income. They have sought to have no more than 40% low income children in any school.

The results have been quite impressive.

"In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. Last spring, 80 percent did. Hispanic students have made similar strides. Overall, 91 percent of students in those grades scored at grade level in the spring, up from 79 percent 10 years ago."

The logic of this approach is persuasive:

"Low-income students who have an opportunity to go to middle-class schools are surrounded by peers who have bigger dreams and who are more academically engaged," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has written about economic integration in schools. "They are surrounded by parents who are more likely to be active in the school. And they are taught by teachers who more likely are highly qualified than the teachers in low-income schools."

The approach may not have universal application, since many, if not most, school districts are city or town specific. In such districts often the cities have large volumes of poor kids and better off kids predominate in suburbs. A lawsuit in Connecticut, known as the Sheff case, sought to address this problem, but has so far not invalidated the local control of the schools, a necessary step to promote statewide or regionwide integration. Sheff, in any event, deals only with racial integration and would not necessarily achieve economic integration.

My only question relates to an important statistic missing from the Times story. While the performance of Black children, Hispanic children and all children improved, what happened to the performance of white children? Did they also improve, stay the same or decline? This is an essential piece of information to allow readers to evaluate the full issue but is curiously missing in the Times.