10/25/06 — THE CHARGE — Resegregation is a battle cry; let’s talk cause and solutions

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THE CHARGE — Resegregation is a battle cry; let’s talk cause and solutions

Sometimes when officials really don’t want to deal with an issue they throw around words meant to startle, cajole or otherwise shame a public body into taking some action — any action — whether it is the right one or not.

And sometimes that same rhetoric is meant to divert public attention from the reality and to focus attention on symptoms rather than the true underlying cause of a problem.

Dropping a word like “resegregation” accomplishes that task. It makes you think — even for a minute — that hey, after all, some city schools are heavily populated with black students, and their test scores are lower, so the problem must be too many whites aren’t going to school there and too many resources are being diverted elsewhere.

And there is no doubt that there are some reasons to look critically at the school populations in Goldsboro. Why are there so many more minority students in city schools? Are their educational opportunities really limited? And, more importantly, what is the real cause and the real answer because, after all, the important result of this discussion is helping Wayne County students — all of them — succeed, isn’t it?

The first step is to start talking — really talking — about the facts and perceptions.

So, let’s take a look at what is happening in Wayne County — without rhetoric, easy answers or politically charged statements.

Schools are built where people live, not vice versa. Just as roads and shopping malls follow building trends, so, too, do school buildings. That is true not just here, but across the country. Do whites flock together? Maybe. Does socioeconomic ability matter in where you live? Most assuredly.

Many parents do not want their children in an inner city school. Look at the statistics. There is more to worry about there — anywhere. That doesn’t mean suburban schools are pure and innocent. The recent round of school shootings did not happen at inner city schools — and the drug problems do not stop at their doors either. But in a direct comparison there are more children from problem homes with the issues that could potentially affect their learning process and attitude toward education in inner city schools. That is a fact.

That doesn’t mean that every student who attends an inner city school is a discipline problem or has no interest in education. There are some very successful and inspirational examples of young people who came from poor, but strict, homes with one parent or two, who went on to great accomplishment because they had the support of a family that demanded they do the work and respect their teachers. There are others who have overcome their home life to succeed in the face of great odds.

And, to be fair, there are plenty of stories of rich kids whose privileged backgrounds created not only a bad attitude but a dangerous environment of behavior without consequences. Troubled kids are troubled kids, no matter how much their parents make.

If we really want to address the concerns in the city schools, we have to stop pretending that the environment around them — and the home life of some of the children — does not matter.

Listen to some of the children who live in the city’s housing projects and poor areas. They deal with homes that are often tough to come home to, and neighborhoods that are not easy to overcome. It matters. Ask them.

To deal with the lack of success of some of their classmates, we need to look at the factors that affect their education.

It is misleading to suggest that inner city schools do not get dollars — or that extra funding is the key to improving student performance. These schools get more special education resources and remedial and extra programming dollars.

The problem is, that is not all they need. They need social and other support programs as well as afterschool and other opportunities to help students with learning challenges. They need parenting programs and support structures that set high standards and demand achievement.

We have to get serious. We have to get honest.

So, let’s talk about diversity in schools. Let’s also talk about environment, resources and opportunity. Let’s look at artificial district lines and where people live, but also at housing and neighborhoods. Let’s examine school success and where it begins — or stalls. Let’s look at what life is like for students in and out of the city’s schools — and what it will really take to improve their educational opportunities.

And, OK, let’s talk about resegregation, not as a fait accompli, but as an opening gambit, a chance to attack the problems our schools and students face.

No more posturing for the camera. No more officials saying what they think the audience wants to hear.

Let’s talk about all the factors, all the warts, all the concerns. Let’s start the road to a solution, one tough discussion at a time.

We are ready to start. Any takers?

Published in Editorials on October 25, 2006 11:13 AM