The Integration Report, issue 7

April 17, 2008

The past two issues of TIR focused on several policy concerns surrounding the implementation of socioeconomic (SES) diversity plans. This issue will look at two North Carolina school districts currently using SES as a factor in student assignments, temporarily concluding our analysis of SES integration.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) occupy a prominent place in the history of desegregation as the first school system after district wide busing was approved by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1971 case, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.1 The busing strategy accompanying the student assignment plan created the most fully desegregated metropolitan school system in the country.2 CMS remained under court order until 2002, when the courts ruled that the district was unitary over the strenuous objections of School Board members who desired to continue and improve the district’s desegregation plan. Since that time, CMS has replaced the consideration of race with a student assignment plan that weighs school proximity, choice, SES (measured by free and reduced-price lunch), academic performance, and transfer requests.3

Recent data from CMS reveal a starkly resegregated school district, with the number of racially identifiable schools nearly doubling since the implementation of the 2002 race-neutral assignment plan.4 Pass rates on the end-of-grade assessments fall below the state average for economically disadvantaged, Limited English Proficient (LEP) and Latino students.5 Importantly, parent and community involvement in the school system has significantly declined since 2002.6 These trends reflect the assignment plan’s emphasis on neighborhood schools and choice (see TIR, issue 2 for further discussion of uncontrolled choice, in addition to the Swann Fellowship amicus brief filed in the Seattle/Louisville case at which tend to exacerbate existing patterns of residential segregation. CMS considers SES as a factor in assignment only when a transfer request might upset the SES balance of a school. For example, if a parent filed for a transfer, the district would consider how granting the request would alter the SES composition of the school the student was leaving, as well as the school the student would be entering. The limited use of SES under the plan may partly help to explain the patterns of resegregation that have occurred under CMS’ current policy (for further information regarding factors that have fueled resegregation in CMS, please refer to the following link to the Swann Fellowship amicus brief filed in the Seattle/Louisville case at ).

In contrast to the situation in Charlotte, nearby Raleigh has experienced a fair amount of success under its SES diversity plan. In 1975, at the outset of its prior desegregation plan, the City of Raleigh merged with suburban Wake County. The state legislature passed a law allowing the metropolitan school district known as Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) to be created. After a federal district court in 2000 ordered CMS to begin dismantling its desegregation plan – amid mounting concerns that the courts in general would not continue to look favorably upon race-based student assignment policy – WCPSS voted to begin using a race-neutral plan that relied heavily on SES and student achievement factors.7 The over-arching premise of Wake County’s SES integration is based on research that pointed towards a trend of accelerating resegregation as minority and low SES enrollment rises sharply. Wake County school officials implemented an enrollment cap stipulating that no more than 40% of students at any given school in the district should be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.8 The enforcement of the cap is complicated by an annual student assignment plan that weaves together enrollment capacity, instructional programs, stability, proximity and student achievement – along with the SES diversity cap – to adhere to its managed choice principles.9 The Wake County community was, of course, building on the successful experience of decades of racial desegregation.

Despite the high correlation between poverty and race in WCPSS, Wake County has experienced a slight decline in its racially balanced schools under the SES integration plan. Approximately 65% of WCPSS schools were considered balanced in 1999, the year before SES integration was implemented; in 2005, just seven years later, that percentage dropped to 59%.10 This decrease may be partially explained by system-wide difficulties in enforcing the free and reduced-price lunch enrollment cap, which in turn is due to rapid growth in the district. Student achievement hovers above state averages for almost all subgroups,11 and despite a growing minority of parents vocally opposing the plan, school board elections continue to yield members who support the SES assignment plan.

What forces might account for the very different outcomes for these two school systems, when both consider SES as a factor in student assignment? Fundamentally, CMS relies heavily on neighborhood schools and parent choice before considering SES, prioritizing proximity over socioeconomic balance. Without a school level guideline mandating a certain percentage of low-income students, the system has rapidly resegregated. On the other hand, the plan employed by WCPSS imposes a clear 40% enrollment cap for students qualifying for free and reduced price lunches. This policy has resulted in a slight decrease in the number of racially balanced schools, but nowhere near as dramatic as the resegregation apparent in CMS.

The different outcomes for CMS and WCPSS offer two important lessons for school districts interested in implementing SES integration. In general, how district officials choose to structure SES diversity plans matters. More specifically, a system-wide plan that clearly delineates the target SES balance for each school works better than a policy that gives precedence to geographic proximity that reinforces neighborhood segregation.

For next time…
The next issue of The Integration Report will focus on recent developments in Jefferson County, Kentucky. We will explore the district’s decision to drop the “Singleton Ratio” – a guideline that helped distribute teachers of color evenly among schools in the system.

Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
The Integration Report

1 Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 50.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Common Core of Data, 2002-2005, Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 50.
5 NC School Report Cards, 2006-07, Retrieved from
6 Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration, p. 51.
7 Flinspach, S. and K. Banks (2005). “Moving Beyond Race: Socioeconomic Diversity as a Race-Neutral Approach to Desegregation in the Wake County Schools,” in School Resegregation: Must the South Turn Back? Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
8 Student Assignment Process, WCPSS.
9 Wake County School Policy 6200, 2000.
10 Common Core of Data, 1999 and 2005.
11 NC Report Cards, 2006-07, Retrieved from


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News Summary

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

New settlement in Hartford’s Sheff desegregation lawsuit
Nearly two decades after the Sheff v. O’Neill lawsuit was filed, the parties in Hartford’s longstanding school desegregation case have reached a tentative settlement that seeks to reshape how the state addresses persistent racial isolation in Hartford schools.,0,3435728.story

River not a fair school boundary, judge rules
Dividing the Jefferson Parish public school system in half, with the Mississippi River as an impenetrable boundary, is unfair and potentially repressive, unless attorneys can prove that identical educational opportunities exist on both sides of the river, according to a transcript of a federal judge’s ruling released this week.

Federal judge denies stay in county schools desegregation case
U.S. District Court Judge Bernice Donald has denied a stay of her July court order restarting the racial desegregation process in the Shelby County (Tennessee) school system. In denying the stay, Donald ordered school leaders to appoint a special master by April 26 to oversee the desegregation process.

Jefferson County schools drop racial ratio for teachers
Faced with a lawsuit they say they couldn’t win, officials with Jefferson County Public Schools say they will no longer consider race when hiring or transferring teachers.

Judge nixes reopening Lynn school race case
A federal judge has refused to reopen a lawsuit by parents challenging the city of Lynn’s use of race in assigning students who have requested transfers to schools outside of their neighborhood district.

Judge OKs Alamo closure
The Galveston public school district did nothing unconstitutional when it closed Alamo Elementary School, ending an intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice after the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens complained that the closures of San Jacinto and Alamo elementary schools put an undue burden on minority students.

Robert A. Dentler, 79, helped draft school desegration plan
A sociologist and an architect of Boston’s school desegregation plan, Dr. Dentler died Thursday in Mount Auburn Hospital of geriatric myelodysplasia, a bone marrow disorder.

WCPSS lays out details of 3-year assignment plan
The Wake County School Board laid out details for a three-year school assignment plan that would create and open 13 schools.

Schools will seek clarity on ruling
The Pitt County school system is seeking clarification of federal court orders that have set racial requirements here for more than 30 years. The motion seeks guidance on the use of race as it relates to two 1970s court orders to desegregate Pitt County and Greenville City Schools, which merged in the 1980s.

School district faces racial preference lawsuit
Berkeley Unified School District’s race-based admissions policy came under attack yet again on Monday when the Pacific Legal Foundation appealed a 2007 court decision that ruled in favor of the district.

Civil rights lawyer runs for KCMO School Board
The man who took the Kansas City Missouri school district to court in 1979 in a far-reaching desegregation case has decided to run for the school board. Civil rights lawyer Arthur Benson will conduct a write-in campaign in sub-district one for a seat that no one is officially running for.

Suit challenges Alabama property taxes on racial bias grounds
A federal court suit contends Alabama’s lowest-in-the-nation property taxes were rooted in racial discrimination a century ago and still harm black students in disproportionate numbers. The suit seeks an order for the governor and Legislature to restructure Alabama’s tax system across the board to sufficiently fund K-12 schools.

Jefferson School Board begins reworking plan
Jefferson Parish School Board members began to rework the district’s desegregation plan Monday night. Last week, a federal judge told the district it had 90 days to correct problems in the plan.,0,130747.story

Long Island schools need a lesson in diversity
My daughter’s school, in western Suffolk, looks much like mine did when I was growing up on Nassau’s North Shore: blackboards and books, tests and teasing, kids playing tag during recess. If you removed the computers, I doubt you could tell the difference between my second-grade class in 1968 and hers.,0,4891025.story

Board chairman suggests board ask appeals court to lift desegregation order
The chairman of the Calhoun County School Board (South Carolina) wants to appeal directly to the courts to get the district’s long-standing desegregation order rescinded.

School Board eliminates race-based transfer policy
The Fort Smith Public Schools District Board (Arkansas) voted Monday to abolish multicultural transfers, bringing the district into compliance with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling regarding “racially based” transfer policies in public schools.

New Evans can move schools beyond court-ordered desegregation
Orange County School Board (Florida) vigorously pushes for unitary status.,0,4715464.story

Metco counts on more aid
With transportation costs skyrocketing, school districts south of Boston that participate in a program offering suburban schooling for inner-city students are counting on a proposed increase in state funding, saying it’s the only way to keep up with costs.

Please send us your news
Please send reports, documents, and decisions from your community to The Integration Report, Editor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, at Include web links if they are available.

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Additional Resources for School Integration

The School Law Blog
An important discussion of news and analysis of legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents. Mark Walsh has been covering legal issues in education for more than 15 years for Education Week. He writes about school-related cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and in lower courts.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) have co-produced the 2nd edition of their K-12 school integration manual entitled Still Looking to the Future: Voluntary K-12 School Integration; A Manual for Parents, Educators and Advocates. The Manual addresses the practical questions of what can be done to promote diversity and address the harms of racial isolation in schools.
To download the manual, visit or
To request hard copies or CDs of the manual and supplemental materials, please send an e-mail with your contact information and the number of copies requested to

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP/PDC) are currently distributing their collaboratively-written manual, Preserving Integration Options for Latino Students, a guide for parents, advocates and educators interested in promoting diversity and addressing the harms of Latino racial isolation in their schools.
To download the manual or for additional information, visit or

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The Integration Report – Staff Members

Editor – Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Editorial Assistant – Jared Sanchez
Editorial Committee – Erica Frankenberg, Gary Orfield, Laurie Russman
Webmaster – John Khuu

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Key Terms

Choice – student assignment plans that provide school options to parents in a manner that does not necessarily take into account racial or socio-economic integration.
Court order – school districts under the supervision of the courts for operating dual – or segregated – schools, accompanied by a plan to end the dual system of education.
Neighborhood schools – refers to student assignment plan that relies on a child’s proximity to their nearest school. This assignment method reinforces existing residential segregation, which remains high in many metropolitan areas.
Racially identifiable schools – schools with student populations that vary from the district’s racial/ethnic composition by a certain margin.
Unitary status – a school district can be declared unitary once it has shown good faith in eliminating all vestiges of its previously segregated, or dual, system. 

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The Integration Report is produced by the Initiative on School Integration at The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.

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