Asheville City Schools take aim at racial disparities

MARGINALIZED: Confronting the largest disparity between the performance of black and white students in the state, outgoing Asheville City Schools Superintendent Pam Baldwin says that shifting the system toward greater equity “is not ‘another thing’: It is the only thing.” Photo by Jack Sorokin

Step into any Asheville City Schools classroom, and chances are you can guess students’ academic proficiency simply by looking at the color of their skin.

The achievement gap between black and white students isn’t unique to Asheville, but the painful truth is that it’s worse here than in any of the state’s 114 other school districts. According to the Youth Justice Project, an arm of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the Asheville City Schools have the biggest disparity between white and black students’ academic proficiency of any district in the state. Regardless of economic status, about 80 percent of the system’s white students achieve grade-level proficiency; less than 30 percent of black students meet the same benchmark. The Durham-based organization reached that conclusion by analyzing data from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: The charts above show that white students in the Asheville City Schools district outperform their statewide peers (indicated by the red dotted line) at all grade levels, while black students underperform state averages for black students. These charts reflect data provided by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction for the 2015-16 school year. Graphic by Steph Guinan
ACHIEVEMENT GAP: The charts above show that white students in the Asheville City Schools district outperform their statewide peers (indicated by the red dotted line) at all grade levels, while black students underperform state averages for black students. These charts reflect data provided by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction for the 2015-16 school year. Graphic by Steph Guinan

“This is not a new problem,” notes outgoing Board of Education Chair Peggy Dalman. “We’ve known about it and tried to make progress on it for years. But the truth is, it hasn’t worked.”

Frustration over the district’s failure to budge the needle in reducing the disparity sent Superintendent Pamela Baldwin on a hunt for new approaches. After what she says was an exhaustive search, Baldwin found a program called Integrated Comprehensive Strategies for Equity, headed by professors Elise Frattura and Colleen Capper of the University of Wisconsin. The two women are working with over 200 school systems across the country in an effort to eliminate systemic inequities that perpetuate societal patterns of oppression and disadvantage.

“ICS, right now, is the only system we can find in this nation that actually addresses the specific components of an educational system to address the gaps and needs of children and teachers in our community,” Baldwin told school board members during a Jan. 19 planning retreat. The University of Wisconsin, she continued, “is right now the hub of racial equity work.”

“This is not a new initiative,” stresses Baldwin. “The addition of ICS is the next step in our strategies to address the needs of all students.”

The program is relatively new, raising questions about its long-term effectiveness. But the short-term results have been impressive, with significant gains in both achievement and graduation rates.

And at the school board retreat, Baldwin emphatically supported the initiative. “What I have heard the whole time is ‘Is this just the flavor of the month?’ I say, racial equity is not ‘another thing’: It is the only thing. … Good teaching strategies, relationships, caring about children, giving them what they need for support is … about being a great school district. In our district, it happens to be an issue based on race.”

Searching for solutions

Last November, a group of leaders from the Asheville City Schools met with Frattura and Capper for a half-day session. Out of that first contact emerged plans for the three-day training and planning session the system hosted March 1-3. About 150 teachers, principals, district staff, parents and other community members convened at the Mission Health Conference Center on the A-B Tech campus to kick off a districtwide initiative.

Superintendent Pam Baldwin will leave Asheville at the end of March to join the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. Bobbie Short will serve as interim superintendent until a replacement is hired. Photo by Virginia Daffron
Superintendent Pam Baldwin will leave Asheville at the end of March to join the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. Bobbie Short will serve as interim superintendent until a replacement is hired. Photo by Virginia Daffron

The effort comes at an awkward time for the city schools, however. Baldwin is leaving this month to become superintendent of the 12,000-student Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. In addition, three new school board members — a voting majority — will be sworn in April 3 and will help choose Baldwin’s replacement. The new superintendent will oversee a process that’s expected to play out over a number of years and could ultimately lead to a major retooling of the system’s academic structure.

Baldwin, however, stresses that despite the change of leadership, “The teachers, staff, students, community, district and school leaders, and Board of Education believe in this work and understand that it takes everyone to move it forward.”

Early success

Launched in 2012 based on a model first proposed in 2004, Integrated Comprehensive Strategies for Equity aims to ferret out and eliminate institutional racism that Frattura and Capper say disproportionately places students of color in remedial or special education programs, creating lower expectations and reduced academic achievement.

The program’s website for client school districts provides some eye-opening statistics, though the names of the districts cited are changed to preserve confidentiality and keep them from getting inundated with phone calls.

A school that was one of the first in the nation to adopt the institute’s recommendations, in 2004, saw graduation rates for students with disabilities jump from 69 percent to 97 percent between 2004 and 2009, the website notes, while the rates for students without disabilities climbed from 85 percent to 97 percent. During the same period, average student American College Test scores increased from 21.7 to 23.4; scores on the test range from 1-36, and the national average score in 2014 was 20.

Another district, which began working with Frattura and Capper in 2011, also had dramatic results. By 2015, it had reduced the number of students identified as having a disability from 15 percent to 11 percent and cut the number of students bused out of the district for special behavioral services from 43 to 6. At the same time, the district made gains in reading proficiency that exceeded expectations across all student groups.

And a high school began implementing these practices in 2012 by “making more higher-level courses available to all students, increasing the number of students enrolling in at least one AP or honors course, and reducing the number of lower-level courses,” the website reports. And even as the courses were “leveled up” to higher academic standards, more students took the more challenging classes, and fewer students failed.

A broken system

The problem, Frattura argued at the conference, is rooted in the history of public education. “In any school district in this country, we’ve all done things that perpetuate discrimination,” she said on the first day. “The question is, why and how?”

Modeled on private schools for middle- and upper-class white boys, she explained, the U.S. public school system defined academic achievement using standards developed for those elite male students. And even as the country attempted to desegregate its schools in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, ideas about what constitutes success remained fixed.

When some groups of students failed to meet those standards, Frattura continued, separate tracks were created. Over time, they’ve proliferated, producing a dizzying array of educational jargon: exceptional children, English language learners, tier two, tier three, alcohol and drug supports, alternative education, Title 1. This, in turn, has created educational environments in which a large percentage of the students may be categorized as needing some kind of specialized intervention. What’s more, those programs disproportionately target children of color and those experiencing poverty.

Photo by Jack Sorokin
Photo by Jack Sorokin

It isn’t clear what percentage of students in the city schools receive at least one intervention. About 18 percent of kids in the elementary grades receive tier two or three interventions, but that doesn’t include special education, gifted and many other pullout programs. Right now, the district can’t report those numbers accurately because of overlap among categories, says Melissa Hedt, the district’s K-12 teaching and learning coordinator. But that kind of analysis will be part of the equity audits planned for next year.

Institutional racism also shows up in other ways. “Black males are 70 percent more likely to get a referral [for discipline] than others,” April Dockery, Asheville Middle School’s principal, pointed out at the conference.

Frattura, meanwhile, noted, “We have a lot of programs to fix the kid. Our underlying assumption is that the child, not the system, is broken.” And specifically addressing the students in the audience, she added, “I want you to know: You are not broken. You never were, and you never will be.”

The push for racial balance

Asheville was slow to respond to Brown v. Board of Education. The city didn’t even attempt full integration until 1969, and shortly after classes began that August, a riot broke out, forcing the schools to close for a week.

By the late 1980s, some neighborhood elementary schools were enrolling a mix of black and white students, but others were still largely segregated. A federal court finally imposed a desegregation order that led the district to adopt a magnet-themed school choice framework in 1990.

The magnet system aims to create proportional representation among the city’s schools while giving families a say in which schools their children will attend, Hedt explains. But sometimes, those two goals can conflict. Until recently, she continues, enrollment policies “weren’t as clear as they should have been” and, in some instances, “weren’t implemented with fidelity.” Changes made since Baldwin was hired four years ago, says Hedt, have enhanced the district’s ability to use school assignments to help achieve racial balance.

Meanwhile, the federal court order is still in effect, and while parents can request specific schools, there’s no guarantee that those preferences will be honored.

Fatal distraction

Today, Frattura told conference participants, most schools focus on identifying student deficits — which simply doesn’t work. “It’s very clear to us that the more kids are removed from general ed, the further behind they get. If it was working, it would go the opposite way,” she pointed out.

An extensive body of research supports her contention. More than 100 studies conducted by various researchers over the last several decades have found that students labeled as having special needs do better academically in integrated settings, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. And a 2005 National Education Association resolution states, “The use of discriminatory academic tracking based on economic status, ethnicity, race or gender must be eliminated in all public school settings.”

Such labeling, Frattura maintained, creates a stigma, and figuring out which ability level they’ve been placed in takes kids “about 15 minutes in kindergarten.” Once a child has been placed in a remedial track, she continued, “They do not see themselves as successful learners.” Thus, their subsequent subpar performance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dockery has seen this at Asheville Middle School. “Students are aware,” she said. “They feel marginalized and put into silos.”

But not only does the child’s self-esteem take a big hit when singled out for intervention: Students also receive less effective instruction, said Frattura. “The kids that need the most cohesive instruction are often the kids that get the most fragmented instruction throughout the day,” she explained.

In addition, veteran Principal Shannon Baggett noted, “There seems to be a mindset among teachers, when students are pulled out and put into these different groups, that they’re going to be the magic bullet that’s going to solve all the problems.” Baggett will head the Montford North Star Academy, the district’s new middle school option, which will open at the former Randolph School campus on Montford Avenue in August.

Particularly at the elementary level, students in these tracks are frequently removed from class to receive interventions by a changing cast of specialists. These include speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, English language and reading instructors, and volunteer tutors. Their packed schedules, and the fact that some rotate among multiple schools, make it hard for these staffers to coordinate their efforts to achieve optimum results.

Local experience bears this out: “The children that are the most needy are pulled out the most times over the day,” noted Principal Cynthia Sellinger of Hall Fletcher Elementary.

The resulting disruption has a negative effect on all students, Frattura asserts. How the new approach will address these issues isn’t clear yet, however, and none of the local school personnel who spoke on the district’s plans gave specific examples.

Accentuate the positive

Another trap schools fall into, said Capper, is thinking that society must first solve poverty before addressing student achievement issues. She led conference attendees through an exercise that identified — and then rejected — attitudes about students and families experiencing poverty. Schools, asserted Capper, can’t afford to wait until poverty is eliminated because they’re part of the cycle that perpetuates it.

The solution, she maintained, is “having high expectations” and recognizing the strengths and skills “these kids bring to school: what they do know how to do.” That includes things like being resourceful, being committed to their family unit, overcoming a wide variety of challenges, valuing education as a path out of poverty, being hardworking and having, on average, the same intelligence as students with higher socio-economic status. Research, she noted, shows that with a proactive education that builds on assets rather than focusing on identifying deficits, all kinds of students can achieve success. When instructional resources are focused on the main classroom, eliminating the distractions that come with moving students in and out during the day, all children’s performance improves.

The Asheville City Schools, Hedt points out, have already taken some steps toward addressing the issues created by tracking. At Asheville Middle School, she says, math courses have been “leveled up” over the last couple of years, creating mixed-ability math classrooms serving all students.

During that same period, continues Hedt, “We’ve been working to increase access to our honors courses” at the high school level. At the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences Asheville, where all courses are at least honors-level, “There are 26 African-American students in the ninth-grade class; in the 12th grade, there are six. So you can see where the enrollment efforts have picked up,” Hedt told school board members during the January planning retreat. The hope is that reducing or eliminating separate tracks at the elementary level will lead to more minority representation in the honors and AP courses in high school.

Through students’ eyes

Besides students and faculty from the education department at Western Carolina University, conference participants included members of a group that’s rarely been consulted in such endeavors in the past: current pupils in the city schools. During those three days, about a dozen students drawn from the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council contributed on an equal footing with the adults. With a mix of races and genders, these students represented Asheville Middle School, Asheville High and the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences.

Grant Everist, who’s white, is Asheville High’s student body president. In an interview the morning of the conference, he said that having been in the city system since preschool, “There’s no school system that I would have rather grown up in.”

Everist, however, acknowledged that some of his fellow students might not share that sentiment. “Once you get to Asheville High, there is huge inequity in terms of race in AP classes versus honors versus standard. I’ve taken a lot of [advanced placement courses]: Honestly, the majority haven’t had any minorities at all in them.”

TEAM EFFORT: At the ICSEquity planning conference March 1-3, educators, administrators, community members, parents and students huddled to characterize the experiences of Asheville City Schools pupils, and how those experiences contribute to the disparities in achievement between different racial groups. Shown here is a table of representatives from Asheville High School. Photo by Virginia Daffron
TEAM EFFORT: At the ICSEquity planning conference March 1-3, educators, administrators, community members, parents and students huddled to characterize the experiences of Asheville City Schools pupils, and how those experiences contribute to the disparities in achievement between different racial groups. Shown here is a table of representatives from Asheville High School. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Conversely, said Asheville High football player Andrew Leota, walk into a standard course, and you’ll see hardly any white people.

Leota, who moved to Asheville from the Pacific island nation of Samoa when he was 7, is on track to follow his older brother Pete — an Asheville High alum who’s now part of the University of South Carolina’s offensive line — to play college football.

“College is hard to get into these days,” Leota noted. “I see a lot of people trying to use sports as a platform to get into college.” But while Leota, who’s a junior this year, is juggling an impressive list of offers from Division I schools, he’s also thinking of life after football. “I’m planning on getting my pre-med and going into sports medicine,” he revealed.

Having these students at the conference, said Baldwin, was important because “When it starts to get hard, you turn and look at a child. You turn and look at a student in this room, and it starts to get easy again. It’s easy to do work for children that you love.”

No quick fix

“Three. Four. Five years,” Frattura said slowly. Undoing over 200 years of educational history and societal inequity, she stressed, takes time.

Frattura exhorted conference attendees to resist the temptation to go back to their schools and immediately start reconfiguring their classrooms. In districts that have moved too fast to implement equity initiatives, she said, schools have struggled. Unless both district staff and the community they serve have a chance to grasp the history that’s helped create the current problems that affect all students, Frattura maintained, such efforts are doomed to meet resistance and stall.

For the remainder of this school year, says Hedt, teams from the individual schools as well as one representing the district will be debriefing from the conference and figuring out ways to communicate these ideas to the community at large. In March, an additional training will be held for incoming school board members Joyce Brown, Patricia Griffin and James Lee.

During the 2017-18 school year, each city school will complete a detailed equity audit that will include test data, discipline statistics, staffing, policies and procedures. By this time next year, each school will have a plan for realigning its staff and other resources to better serve students.

Leading the way

“We know that we’ve created this culture where kids feel marginalized, and we don’t want that,” says Dockery. “So we are going to change the way we do things. We believe that every student is capable, and we are going to create a culture that recognizes that.”

Dockery hopes all members of the Asheville community, regardless of where they fall on the racial or economic spectrum, will get behind the effort so the energy can come “funneling in … to help us get these kids where they need to be. I have been working toward something like this for a very long time,” she says. “I know we have institutionalized racism; I know that most of us know that. We just don’t know how to undo it.”

Asked what the hardest part of facing up to the district’s problems has been, Dockery’s eyes fill with tears, and her voice begins to waver. “I want people to see that our kids are worth it.

“We are going to do something different, and it’s not going to be comfortable; it’s not going to be traditional. It’s going to be awkward. But we have to change the way we serve children,” Dockery maintains, “or we are not going to move in the direction we need to move. And our children — my children, your children, our city’s children — deserve better. Maybe we will be the example of what the nation should do.”


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41 thoughts on “Asheville City Schools take aim at racial disparities

  1. Angel Chandler

    It is interesting that the most liberal city in North Carolina has the biggest academic gap between white and black kids in all of North Carolina.

  2. Sarah Larson

    Admittedly I have not read this entire article, but it is impressive as investigative journalism . The problem is not where you search , reporters.
    As a lifetime educator and child advocate I have learned that this issue begins way before the child steps across the threshold of a school. It starts with good parenting, taking the child to the library, reading to the child and having them see you read . It begins with safe housing, families who love each other, self-esteem and hope, appropriate behavior, a healthy diet, an I can do it attitude. These are not exclusive to one race.
    Now suppose you are of the group you are painting as less than- how are these parents and their children to feel in school knowing that all Ashevillians assume that failure surely awaits them? Expectations are self-fullfilling. Why not just give up? No matter what , you are labeled anyway.
    Do you know the brown eyed/ blue eyed experiment reported on Frontline? One day the blue eyed children were told they were superior and not to play with the brown eyed students that day. The next day the teacher apologized and said she was mistaken. It was the brown eyed students who were superior students and that they should not play with the blue eyed children. The blue eyed were dispondent and no longer performed well that day. The brown eyed smiled all day and excelled. To this day these children now adults talk about this experiment and how it changed their lives. Color is God’s challenge to us! It should not matter. All children need a supportive environment to achieve their greatest potential ! It is my humble opinion that all of us will be better for it.

    • The Real World

      “It starts with good parenting, taking the child to the library, reading to the child and having them see you read .” — well, thank God someone said this! I read about half of the article and skimmed the remainder hoping to see mention of the parental responsibility aspect. But, no. How can that be? It is the most obvious first component to consider.

      Oh, I forgot, it’s the 21st century and personal responsibility is soooo boring and old school. Who does that anymore when you can easily convince so many people that “society” and “awful white people” are the cause of individual under-performance. Yet again, this information evidences the bigotry of low expectations toward blacks (believing they can’t help their outcomes; it’s someone’s else’s fault) and displays an obvious undertone of racism towards white people.

      Kids that grow-up with parents like Sarah describes can go to lousy schools and still become intelligent achievers. Because the most important people in their lives are making sure of it. As long as most people refuse to acknowledge that critical component — then educational wheels will spin endlessly, time and money will be wasted and kids will suffer the consequences.

      • Lulz

        These kids don’t have parents, They have a parent and more than likely a grandparent is their full time guardian. You want to create a society where women are propped up at all cost and told they’re better off being independent but with full subsidies? Look at this as an example. Period.

        Whatever liberals have touched is a disaster.

        • The Real World

          Lulz – your comment is disingenuous in that you don’t make mention of the fathers.

          It takes two to tango so you should certainly take the fathers to task if they are not routinely involved in their childs’ life and paying support to the Mother, if she’s the primary parent.

      • luther blissett

        “I read about half of the article and skimmed the remainder”

        Low concentration skills. That’s at best a B- in the test.

        It’s the 21st century and the US has had 40 years of wage stagnation, which means that latchkey kids raised by parents who mostly grew up in single-earner families are now parents themselves to daycare kids, many of them working double-shifts to make ends meet. It’s the 21st century and the US lacks statutory paid parental leave, alone among developed nations.

        “Parental responsibility” is fundamentally a function of time: if that time has to be spent working to put food on the table, it can’t be spent reading stories. If it’s time spent waiting for a short-notice call from the boss to see whether there’s a shift available, because if you don’t take that shift you won’t get the next one, it’s not time that can be blocked out for activities.

        But we do love the children so much.

        • The Real World

          Luther – Really, grow up. Half the article made no mention of parents so a skim of the second half was all that was necessary to confirm that that critical ingredient was going to be given a pass. But then, thoughtful readers understood that.

          Secondly, boy, you can’t make this stuff up. Right on cue, Luther provides us with all of the predictable excuses for why somebody else is responsible for your kids poor performance. Stop treating people like incompetents and victims, it demeans them and is a form of bigotry. You have no right.

          It’s as if you also regard the parents like pawns. In the 21st century and there are myriad options for birth control. The decision to have a child should be made carefully. That has always been true. If you can’t afford, with either time or money, to have 3 kids or even 2….then don’t. It isn’t complicated. Except for all the excuse-makers; they never have clarity as they’re too busy finding someone to blame for their life outcome.

          ” “Parental responsibility” is fundamentally a function of time ” — that is only part of it. The other fundamental aspect is having and enforcing expectations. If a parents don’t have them for their children, the probability is high that kids won’t have them for themselves.

          • luther blissett

            “The decision to have a child should be made carefully. That has always been true.”

            That’s bogus history with a big splash of moral scolding. People have kids because they hope that the next generation will have better opportunities (or better luck) on a more solid foundation. People have kids because their lives are mostly miserable and children provide some joy. It’s a gamble. It’s an act of faith. It’s not a franchise expansion project planned out on an Excel spreadsheet.

            “The wrong people are breeding” is an ugly look. The political left has had to accept the ugliness that underpinned the origins of the family planning movement. You might want to take that on board.

          • Lulz

            LOL it’s the wrong people breeding courtesy of subsidies. Again, how in the world do you expect anyone to rise above poverty if they’re rewarded cash and prizes for having kids? They are the wrong people dude merely because they place a burden on everyone else. And many of those kids will not get educated but either imprisoned, have more illegitimate kids themselves, or dead.

  3. Fascinating report
    I wonder about the statement early in the story that “regardless of economic status …”
    I’m skeptical. As I understand it, Asheville has the highest percentage of families living in public housing in the state. Those in public housing are disparately non-white. Low wealth families frequently have fewer books, fewer magazine and newspaper subscriptions, fewer opportunities for summer/education/sports camps, etc. and etc. and generally a lower education level amongst parents. I’d be really curious how the “economic status” was evaluated and would want more specifics.
    For one completely unscientific example: How do you compare the economic status of a home-schooling, B.A. holding, artist or writer who is barely scraping by, but offers a child a wealth of “enrichment” with someone making the same wage who is a high school dropout with little intellectual interest and no particular interest in parenting? I don’t think this necessarily breaks down along racial lines, but I suspect that those content to remain in public housing for generations are not necessarily intellectually curious.
    My point is that simply sorting by race and economic status might miss significant differences in circumstance.

    • tom williams

      Cecil is correct! You can not leave out economics and only focus on race. The reporter needs to follow up this investigation with a comparison of economic data from the top ten most populated cities in North Carolina. Based upon race; what percentage of the school age children live in public housing and what percent are on free or reduced lunch in all of the cities? Also what would be the economic breakdown of the general population as a whole? Asheville does not have the large African American middle and upper middle class percentages; that you will find in Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Greensboro etc.. Compare the academic success of white students and African American students from the same economic and social environment, as well in order to help validate the findings. After teaching in Asheville City Schools for thirty years, I would argue that racism is still a problem but poverty can not be ignored. For too many students, breakfast and lunch at school are their two best meals of the day. It is very difficult to perform well and compete with others when you are hungry. In Buncombe County Schools, you could focus on white only populations of T.C Roberson and Erwin High Schools and find a huge performance gap difference. Then identify the economic differences between the two schools and see if there is a correlation. You can not ignore the impact of economics .

      • Lulz

        LOL, pushing an 80% single mother rate is NOT the key to success. But go on and tell us all how you big gov luvas are going to solve it. Lemme guess, more money for your failures.

      • Actually, the research is pretty clear that you can leave out economics and the outcomes for children of color are nearly the same. My children are growing up in the same home in North Asheville, with the same stay-at-home parent to do homework after school and the same overflowing bookshelves in every room. However, when I let them out of the car at school in the morning, the worlds that my white sons and my black daughter navigate each day are very different from each other. Many studies show that my black child will be judged more harshly for her rambunctious behavior than her white siblings as well as having lower academic performance expectations from the adults involved in her education outside our home. Same family. Same schools. Different skin colors. Yes, this is a very complex issue. Yes, economics has a role to play, but it does all children a disservice to ignore that realities of implicit and systemic bias and racism in our schools.

        • Lulz

          LOL, are you saying that the local school system is racist? Or is it one of LOW EXPECTATIONS? You have culture of black failure simply because they don’t want to be accused of acting white if they like get good grades. Either you fit in or you don’t. And NOTHING is more corrosive to blacks than being accused of being white by OTHER BLACKS. Period.

          • Deplorable Infidel

            Yes, AVL city screwls ARE indeed racist and exclusionary. There should be NO ‘city screwls foundation’ …totally NOT needed, when we consolidate our two antiquated screwl systems! The time is NOW to overcome city screwl racism and elitism.

    • luther blissett

      “I suspect that those content to remain in public housing for generations are not necessarily intellectually curious.”

      That feels worthy of a grimace. The social mobility narrative in the US (especially for immigrants) used to be something like this: one working-class generation sacrifices itself by working every hour available at a low-wage, low-esteem, low-respect job, and over time creates opportunities not necessarily for themselves, but for their children. You take one for the team, bet on the future. Occasionally you get a hand up, as with so many beneficiaries of the GI Bill who were given keys to the suburbs, or those who were able to get zero-down USDA loans out in the county after 1971. Occasionally you hit a brick wall, especially if you’re part of a community that has historically had plenty of brick walls built in front of them. There are a lot of brick walls around these days for everyone.

      Trace back your family tree far enough — or not even that far — and you’ll find someone raised by parents who weren’t great readers, didn’t have many books around, but did their utmost to provide a stable and safe home for their children, and were glad that those children had library cards and good teachers.

      • Luther, I admit my expression was infelicitous. I understand that poverty is a trap not always of its own making, and we have certainly endured decades of effort to beat down the poor to the benefit of the wealthy. However, diet alone can have a tremendously bad effect down through generations, and poverty is highly likely to affect diet. It has ever been the intent of governments to placate the poor with sugar, for example. “Work all day for sugar in your tay, down beyond the railway …” and so forth. I didn’t intend to cast a bad light on those in unfortunate circumstances, but to observe that those circumstances can have consequences.

        • Lulz

          Again, what incentive does anyone have to improve themselves if they’re guaranteed a check? You guys don’t want people drug tested for welfare benefits much less employed. Because then you can claim the nation itself is racist. Hold on here, if people are doing drugs and won’t work because big guv luvas like yourselves are their mouthpieces for votes and to scare them during elections, then how are they going to get anywhere? You don’t want them out of poverty because then you’d have to present the case for voting in big guv luvas with their big guv luva taxes and regulations.

    • Big Al

      If a white Republican said “…I suspect that those content to remain in public housing for generations are not necessarily intellectually curious.”, he would immediately be labeled a racist.

  4. Sarah Larson

    All these comments are thoughtful. Economics is a huge issue, but no matter your opinion of JDVance in Hillbilly Elegy his theory is that the family value education, make that clear to the children that there are expectations the parents and grandparents have for them. They are not allowed to accept failure or defeat. That is what made the difference for him and to have a quiet place to study in the home. We as a society are guilty at every turn when we don’t stop to ask the underachievers, in this case, what are your needs, how can we best help you to achieve? We care! We want to do it right. Where are you being failed in the system? Why do you think you are having difficulty? Some children are dealing with much larger issues than passing a spelling test . Unless they are solved the school , the teacher, the
    pedagogy won’t matter. I’d like to hear from the children out there.

    • Lulz

      Where are they being failed? You gotta be joking. Why do you think subsidizing births in poverty will lead to success?

      • Alan Ditmore

        The success comes when the same funders also subsidize contraception; which is why the bluestates are so much richer than the redstates and can better afford better schools due to smaller class size. The births into poverty are not caused by the welfare subsidies, but by the absence of contraception subsidies. Though you are clearly right that the families described above simply cannot afford children.

    • luther blissett

      It’s easier to value education, even in households where parents weren’t academically inclined, if it’s obvious that education delivers on the rewards it promises. That’s become less clear over the past 10-20 years, thanks to the rising cost of tuition, and it aligns with the question of A-B Tech’s academic mission. There’s also a genuine tension (one that Vance identifies) between wanting your children to stay close by even if the best opportunities aren’t available, or letting them follow their own path somewhere else.

      Consider the passing reference in the piece to sports scholarships: even though the NCAA has its own problems (free-ride scholarships don’t offset unpaid labor that’s re-sold for billions of dollars) it’s perceived as a more obviously merit-based system: if you have the talent and put in the work, you get the offer. The same applies to the military, which is what provided Vance with his route out of poverty. The question to ask is why it isn’t as obvious elsewhere.

      • Sarah Larson

        i am wth you there. If parents who are educated and value education are having trouble making a living the model doesn’t serve the next generation. We are a separated society. Who reads Mountain Express, who is in on this conversation? If we can’t get together as a community we will never be able to solve these issues,

        • Lulz

          80% single mother black birth rate. Again, are you so blinded by ideology that you ignore this damning evidence?

  5. Jonathan Wainscott

    First, listen to this episode of This American Life

    Then, read this:

    Taking your kids out of public school when they are already born with a legacy of privilege is the most insidious form of “white flight” there is. Taking your kids out of public school when they are already born with a legacy of privilege, isolating them from the rest of the real world for the largest part of their day besides sleeping, and denying other students access to your special kids is only making the problem worse.
    We care more about greenways than black kids in this town and that is a simple fact. Three out of six of our current council members have never been parents. Listening to Cecil Bothwell talk about kids is like listening to a mechanic talk about cervical cancer.

    • Alan Ditmore

      White flight leave all the land, housing and funding to non-whites, who are in no way dependent on any white integrative presence; so I really don’t see the problem unless whites take most of the funding with them like with charter schools.

      • Alan Ditmore

        The damage to non-whites is being done by white gentrification, which is the exact opposite of white flight. Asheville could really use some white flight to reduce rents for non-whites. If you pick up litter they will raise the rent!

    • Lulz

      LOL Rockville, MD is but one example of parents that can should take their kids out of the phony rackets of public schools and run like hell. You understand? Anything the government meddles in is a disaster namely because it’s gone beyond anything of value and into pure politicization. It’s a racket pure and simple. Public education is gone into the realm of absurdity now where the MOST per capita spent on students IN THE WORLD translates into poor outcomes.

    • The Real World

      OMG, where to start on J. Wainscott’s comment.
      1 – Do not even start with the very racist label of “white privilege”. I suppose you’ll have to sit a few minutes to figure out how you didn’t grasp that it’s a racist idea….because you bought hook, line and sinker whatever your prophets were selling. (Btw, do you all still not get why this country took a big swing to the right politically in Nov? It’s quite simple and only those in denial don’t understand.)
      2 – How are you in a position to tell other parents what they should do regarding their children’s education? You won’t be around to suffer any fallout from forced bad decisions. You prefer a socialist environment? Venezuela is available and would probably be happy to have you right about now. Bring all your money.

      “We care more about greenways than black kids in this town and that is a simple fact.” — you might be correct about that. But, the rest of that paragraph is more assigning blame to everyone other than the most relevant stakeholders — the parents! This article provides ample proof that you and others are primarily focusing on the wrong aspect.

  6. Alan Ditmore

    The solution is simple; transfer funds from AIG to sped. the only cost would be to AIG students who are neither self motivated (and can therefore be educated by a library) nor affluent enough to pay for education; and these are quite few. This, along with low social mobility and high commuting distances show how Asheville “progressivism” is pure lip service and this city is totally LINO and EINO. Asheville is far too elite to be either liberal or environmental and such claims by leadership are a complete farce. Asheville is far less progressive than the US or even the NC average. This is proof as are the high rents.

      • Alan Ditmore

        “progressive” cities like Sausalito are not progressive because they have higher rents, thus excluding them from the definition despite their claims.

  7. Deplorable Infidel

    AVL city screwls are racist, elitist, non inclusive and run by evil power mongers.

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