There is a move afoot in the Asheville City Schools district that bodes ill for our students and the city’s future. The ACS board and Superintendent Gene Freeman owe our community an explanation for plans that clearly align with policies put forward by right-wing Republicans who aim to end public education in America. The strategy has been to shift school systems to charters, resegregate students and gradually weaken public schools.
In March, Freeman told Xpress, “Families of color have unfairly limited elementary school options for their children because the district is mandated to maintain antiquated racial quotas that were put into place 30 years ago” [“Separate But Better? Asheville City Schools Seeks Changes to Desegregation Order,” March 17]. He advocates elimination of current integration rules but provides no data to back up his assertions.
Also, he laments ACS Black enrollment was down to 18% from 48% in 2004 and argues that Blacks are leaving Asheville at an “alarming rate.” But the district Black school-age population is 17.6%, so why the alarm? From 2000-19, Asheville’s Black population fell 16%, while the white population increased by 36%.
The GOP plan is “to introduce normal market forces.” In a recent phone conversation, Freeman explicitly stated that he believes in the market versus the integration model for school choice.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg was the poster child for school integration until it wasn’t. Student performance rose dramatically into the 1990s as the system integrated, then a shift in policy permitted resegregation and expansion of charters. Test scores fell. The most segregated schools, whether white or Black, delivered the worst results.
Nor is CMS alone. All across the country, schools have resegregated with calamitous results.
As demonstrated in a 2012 study by the Civil Rights Project, “The consensus of nearly sixty years of social science research on the harms of school segregation is clear: separate remains extremely unequal.”
Now ACS is proposing a turn away from integration without offering any tangible reason for the change. The new Asheville PEAK Academy, doubtless well-intentioned, is participating in the shift. The apparent goal is to pull Black students out of ACS. The PODS (Positive Opportunities Develop Success) activated during the COVID-19 crisis do the same. The ACS embrace of CHOSEN, a religious-based educational approach endorsed by Freeman, is another. But the best academic research indicates that segregation always results in lower success for both white and nonwhite students. Meanwhile, ACS preschool classes are being handed off to the Asheville Housing Authority, a move guaranteed to sort students by race.
Interestingly enough on its website, Forthright Advising — the Raleigh PR firm Freeman hired for $90K — touts its work for … the Rowan-Salisbury school district in 2017 and 2018. The resulting GOP legislation … exempted Rowan-Salisbury from rules governing North Carolina public schools. …
ACS claims to value transparency. The community deserves answers, but instead Superintendent Freeman obfuscates and complains that Asheville’s concerned citizens are the problem. Rather than listen to the parents of the students he is charged with educating, he told Xpress, “I mean, when I took this job, had I known how difficult the community was, I’m not so sure that it would have been something that I was eager to jump into” [“Use Your Words: Parent’s Story Highlights Difficulties Connecting with Asheville City Schools,” March 24].
“Difficult” because we actually give a damn. Asheville deserves better.
— Cecil Bothwell
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted Freeman, Asheville City Schools and the Board of Education with a summary of the letter writer’s points, but ACS spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin declined to provide a response for publication.