Charlotte Schools Look To Magnets To Close The Racial Gap

Charlotte Schools have a long history of dealing with segregation issues in public education. While current testing standards focus on the ever-present racial gap, notable efforts to address the issue were first started in Charlotte Schools in 1969. The Civil Rights movement brought the inequalities in educational opportunities of children to the forefront with a 1971 US Supreme Court ruling that imposed a 30-year term of mandatory busing.

The effects of busing were immediate. Charlotte Schools achieved integration numbers that earned the district nationwide acclaim throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Far from being the end of the story, parents of students in the Charlotte Schools had concerns. Many parents wanted the option to send their child to their neighborhood school, rather than having them ride an hour across town. The Charlotte Schools’ magnet program also fell under attack as parents fought the limited number of slots allotted for white and non-white students.

While busing sought to bring inner city minority children to more affluent school districts, the magnet system sought to attract middle class families and above to poverty ridden Charlotte Schools. The Charlotte Schools offer magnet programs for gifted and talented, language immersion, math and science, global studies, and many more.

Charlotte Schools’ magnet programs are free, public, and based on a lottery system. Dissatisfaction with the magnet methods came to a head in 1997 when a family sued Charlotte Schools because their child was denied admission to a magnet where all the non-white slots had been filled. In 1999 a judge declared that Charlotte Schools had already achieved integration, and repealed the mandatory busing statute. While that motion was soon overturned, it was reinstated in 2002, and Charlotte Schools have been “colorblind” ever since.

Where does this leave the Charlotte Schools in 2007? With many of the same issues. While many Charlotte Schools are well rated and successful on state testing measures, those that aren’t still tend to be in high-poverty areas. And the national racial gap that shows African-American students and other minorities (except Asian-Americans) lagging far behind white students in state test scores is still huge.

Despite the innovative programs offered by many magnets in Charlotte Schools, both white and black parents struggle with the issue of where to send their children. Middle class families have to decide if a gifted program in a high poverty school will be better that the regular classes at their neighborhood school. Will a child’s education fall behind from attending one of Charlotte Schools’ lower rated facilities? Or can the strength of the magnet rise above the discipline and behavior issues that often haunt at-risk schools? Success of the magnet program in Charlotte Schools may prove to have as strong and long-lasting implications as the busing programs of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

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