Duke Researchers Say Economic Segregation in Schools is Rising

Jan 17, 2013

A Duke University study finds the state's schools are becoming less racially segregated and more economically segregated.

For decades, race has been the most common measure of school segregation.  But 10 years of observation by some Duke professors shows there is a bigger divide in school populations even if ethnic disparity has leveled off.

Charles Clotfelter teaches law, economics and public policy at Duke.  His team looked primarily at students getting free lunch and found that some counties handled the divide better than others:

"Since 2006, it really hasn't changed but economic imbalance continues to go up. Wake County would be an example of one where the schools have really for a long time been fairly balanced in both economics and racial terms.  Other school districts and the second biggest school district in the state is an example of one that at one time was very balanced like Wake is now.  And in 2002, they changed over to a student choice, parent choice model where parents had a lot more leeway about what schools their kids went to and the degree of imbalance in Mecklenburg County really jumped up a lot."

Clotfelter says Vance, Hyde, Bertie and Forsyth counties also have high rates of economic imbalance.  So how do you fix it?  Clotfelter says diversity can be as simple as consolidating districts.  He puts Halifax and Davidson counties up as examples that would benefit from consolidation:

"Both of them have two city districts plus the county district and there are marked differences in racial composition among those."

He says that will also serve to improve the quality of instruction which suffers in disadvantaged schools.  Clotfelter says simply improving the state's economy will not be a fix for this. He says as long as counties hold on to jurisdictional boundaries, there can't be improvement.