Our Community, Our Schools

By James E. Ford
Presentation to CMS Board on April 12, 2016

I’ve written and spoken pretty extensively on issue of student assignment from the student and teacher perspective. But today I speak as a CMS parent and concerned Charlottean.

There once was a time when we could say that we didn’t know. We didn’t know that CMS had so many schools with concentrated poverty. That many of our schools had become so racially isolated. We didn’t know that fixating so many of these students in the same schools was so harmful and injurious to them. That our poorest most vulnerable residents were least likely to mobilize upward in comparison to our major municipal counterparts. Perhaps we could say that we didn’t know that schools and housing patterns were so delicately intertwined together. Or that our district had effectively resegregated along race and class lines in a way that has a deleterious effect on the life chances of our youth. There may have been a space in time when we could claim ignorance or naivety. But that day is over and that time has since expired.

We are now faced with putting to test the theory embodied in the saying, “if people knew better, they’d do better”. We are now in the know. What we know is there’s a half century of scholarly peer reviewed research supporting integrated schools as a means of closing achievement gaps and ensuring equity. We know that alleged “neighborhood schools” are not the byproduct of some sort of natural selection, but the result of careful crafted boundaries driven by politics and economics. That talk of “forced bussing”, even in it’s absence from conversations about student assignment, is an Atwaterian proxy for something else. That inclusive schools yield academic benefits for low income students, while allowing affluent students continue to thrive. That as emotionally attached as we may be to the concept of neighborhood schools, there’s virtually no academic literature showing it positively impacts student outcomes for all children. That separate, is STILL inherently unequal..

So now here we are, compelled to move from words and thoughts, to action. The state
constitution guarantees that students have the right to a sound basic education and “equal opportunities shall be provided for ALL students”. Schools are a common good, belong to the people so in truth, they are all our schools. While the problem is complex and cannot be solved entirely by schools, the education sector does have a role to play.

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because
it is right.”