Wednesday, 18 November 2015 13:10

A New Middle-Class Exodus?

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A New Middle-Class Exodus?

Martin Harris

Martin Harris is an architect, and a property rights and education advocate.

Here's an easy one: what do Wake County, North Carolina, (Raleigh is the big city there) and Chittenden County, Vermont, (Burlington is the not-quite-so-big city here) now have in common? Answer: both have school districts eager to assault the next beachhead in the diversity wars; having defeated racial segregation (sort of) in public education, the next objective is economic segregation. The new catch-phrase is Socio-Economic Status, or SES. The new idea is that it's public education's duty to make sure rich kids and not-rich kids are suitably mixed in the classroom and on the playground.

Actually, the same initiatives are under way elsewhere: Baltimore, San Francisco, Las Vegas. And always the argument is the same: that poor kids benefit from sitting within the "radiated aura" of rich kids, and that rich kids benefit from doing the radiation and observing the resulting changes. Those with fairly long memories will remember the same arguments underlying Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision which ended de jure (but not de facto) racial segregation in schools but set in motion waves of middle-class white flight from cities across the country as parents made their own decisions about how much radiation they wanted in their own kids' classrooms. Boston, for example, saw much of its middle-class vote with its feet and leave, resulting in its minority school enrollment growing from 30 percent of the total before the court-ordered busing that triggered white middle-class flight, to 86 percent today. If you're interested, you can find the statistics on larger urban school district minority enrollment percentages in the annual National Digest of Educational Statistics. In the 2005 edition, for example, Wake County, North Carolina, shows up as 41.7 percent minority. Burlington is too small to be included but would be, statistically, near zero; therefore, it's safe to say, Burlington experienced statistically near zero white flight as a result of the Brown decision.

It's not my intent here to comment, favorably or adversely, on the middle-class white flight to the suburbs which ensued from Brown; it is my intent to observe that it did happen, and to predict that the same forces that triggered it will emerge, again, when parents are forced to confront the new face of mandatory classroom diversity, SES. This time, I'd predict, Burlington won't get off as easily as it did last time. With 22.6 percent of its school enrollment coming from Food-Stamp-entitled families (the state average is 10.8 percent) Burlington is already statistically poorer than the rest of the state, illustrating that a modest amount of middle-class/middle-income flight from the City has already happened. In this way it's somewhat like Raleigh, North Carolina, already having experienced middle-class flight for one integration reason, its magnet-school program having failed to attract the middle-class back to city schools, and now facing more of the same exodus for another diversity-theory reason, one might reasonably ask whether it's prudent for a school district to, knowingly, engage in forms of social engineering it has already been told by past history, will result in fewer of the students it considers to have "radiant auras" to remain enrolled.

One might well ask why public schools should be in the "radiant aura" business anyway. Just that question was recently posed by Abigail Thernstrom, presently Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and author of a number of studies on school integration and its various outcomes, ranging from middle-class flight (observed) to changes in student achievement (not observed). Here's her rhetorical question -- beforehand, you know the answer is no.

Did moving kids around the city to get the racial numbers right have a positive impact on how much math kids learned? Surely that is the bottom line that truly matters. The Seattle School Board simply ignored that question.

My prediction is that, regarding "moving kids around the city to get the SES numbers right," the Burlington School Board will do likewise, history to the contrary notwithstanding. And middle-class flight will then ensue. *

"You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips." --Oliver Goldsmith

Read 1914 times Last modified on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 19:10
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