The Public School Forum of NC’s Committee on Racial Equity divided its work into seven domains derived from preliminary research of national trends in race and education and utilized as frames when studying North Carolina. The following summarizes the committee’s core findings in each domain:
Although substantial progress was made in the desegregation of schools in the years following the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), North Carolina has several districts that have since resegregated, and others that never fully desegregated after Brown.8 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, once a national model for school integration efforts after Swann v. CMS (1971) has found itself with a large number of raciallyand socioeconomically isolated schools (a condition known as “double segregation”).9
Abandonment of desegregation efforts in favor of “neighborhood school” models has once again made schools more racially identifiable, due in part to residential segregation. For residents living in majority Hispanic and African American census blocks, the chance of their children attending racially-identifiable, high poverty, or low-performing schools is dramatically higher than for those in majority white census block.10 This backward trend can also be seen in Wake County, where racially and socioeconomically isolated schools have doubled in the past decade.11 Over the past two decades, the share of Black and Hispanic students attending majority-minority and intensely-segregated schools statewide has grown significantly.12 Resegregation has appeared in other counties as well, including Guilford, Forsyth, Pitt, Halifax, and Harnett.
The trend toward resegregation is not limited to traditional public schools. North Carolina charters are increasing the extent to which the overall system of public education in the state is racially identifiable as well. Roughly two-thirds of all charter schools in the state are either disproportionately white or disproportionately students of color.13
2. Discipline Disparities
Students of color in North Carolina schools have significantly higher rates of both short- and long-term suspensions than their white counterparts.14 The state has lowered the overall rates of suspension and expulsions over the past several years. What has not changed, however, is the disproportionate representation of students of color in disciplinary actions. Black students in particular are as much as four-times as likely to receive short-term suspensions as their white counterparts, with similar gaps in long-term suspension data. American Indians are suspended at rate three-and-a-half-times more.15 This disproportionality is appropriately labeled a “disparity” because similarly situated students of difference races are treated differently. Studies suggest that students of color are judged more harshly for subjective offenses (e.g. insubordination, disrespect, aggressive behavior, etc.), while white students receive punishment more for objective offenses (e.g. weapons, drugs, vandalism, etc.).16 The use of discretion in enacting student discipline appears to give rise to racially disparate impact.
3. Opportunity Gap
In nearly every educational metric, from cohort graduation rates to college and career readiness, the majority of students of color in North Carolina underperform their white counterparts.17 The trend holds even when one controls for economic disadvantage, exceptional children’s status, and limited English proficiency. This is commonly called the “achievement gap,” but is perhaps better termed an “opportunity gap.” Research reveals a measurable relationship between race and a slew of other social factors that limit educational opportunity. A student is at a decided disadvantage if he lives in poverty, lacks stable housing or adequate healthcare, experiences food insecurity, is exposed to adverse childhood experiences, has limited English proficiency, or is an undocumented immigrant. Students of color are overrepresented in these categories, all of which have deleterious effects on academic achievement.18 As such, it is impossible to take any of these issues fully into account without acknowledging the resulting racially disparate impact.
4. Overrepresentation in Special Education
On a national scale, students of color have historically been overrepresented in special education.19 In North Carolina, all racial subgroups remain relatively proportionately represented, with the exception of African Americans, who make up 26 percent of all public schools students yet comprise 32 percent of all school-aged children with disabilities. Specific areas where they are most overrepresented are: intellectual disability (45%), emotional disturbance (44%), developmental delay (34%), and specific learning disability (32%).20 These also tend to be the areas that are most stigmatizing.21 Research in this area suggests that overrepresentation in these categories belies misdiagnosis rooted in cultural bias and misunderstanding.22
5. Access to Rigorous Courses and Programs
Students of color are underrepresented in the most rigorous courses and programs offered in North Carolina schools, including Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG). Deeper analysis of available data spotlights areas of concern, but also reveals some promising trends. On the one hand, students of color lag behind their peers in AP course enrollment, exam-taking, and exam pass rate. But a concerted effort has been made to increase AP subgroup enrollment and test-taking in North Carolina. Student participation in AP courses among American Indian students increased by 45 percent last year. Among Black students it increased by 22.8 percent, and for Hispanic students it jumped 21.3 percent.23 Exam pass rates have also improved. In AIG identification, disparities persist, with Black and Hispanic students the most dramatically under-identified groups, both around 5 percent.24 While policy states outstanding abilities are present in all student populations, this doesn’t seemed to represented proportionately.
6. Diversity in Teaching
In North Carolina, the vast majority of the teaching force is white (84%).25 This is a tremendous mismatch with an increasingly diverse student population that is half non-white. For the majority of teachers in the state it is likely that they will teach students who do not come from the same racial or ethnic background. Consequently, students in the state will not see themselves represented in the profession. Research has indicated that having teachers of color reduces the likelihood of suspension for students of color, leads to increased achievement, and increases identification as AIG.26 Additionally, it serves to decrease stereotypes for white students and promote cultural understanding. With enrollment in teacher preparation programs in decline, the challenge of filling classrooms with teachers of color and keeping them has become all the more crucial to help students of color succeed academically.
7. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Teachers must be able to relate to the students they serve. Whatever their background, teachers need to understand their students both as individuals and as representatives of their communities. Unfortunately, recent North Carolina Teacher Effectiveness ratings for teachers instructing students of color have been dismal (see “Teacher Effectiveness by Quartiles of Minority Students”).27 This effectiveness rating is determined in part through observational data and three-year average student-growth.
Approaches to teaching that honor students’ cultural customs and traditions have been shown to increase achievement. On the flip side, a lack of cultural competence can have negative educational consequences. Underpinning many of the data disparities related to culturally responsive pedagogy is the presence of implicit racial bias. This refers to attitudes or stereotypes based on patterns and associations about racial groups that affect understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. For school leaders and teachers alike, implicit racial bias can influence responses and decision-making on the job. Much research has been conducted in recent years on implicit racial bias and how it manifests itself even in the most well-intentioned individuals. Creating awareness about biases, and responding in ways that honor the culture of the student population, hold great promise to improve racial equity.