Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Charles County Schools Set To Become Majority Black

One of Maryland's southern counties is set to become majority black school district this year. Five years ago, two our of every three students in the 20,000 student district were white. This year, school officials believe that at least half of the students in the now 27,000 student county will be black, reflecting a massive demographic change and challenge for the county's public schools.

As the student body has diversified rapidly, academic performance in Charles has remained steady and, by some measures, improved. This reflects in part the growth in Charles, which is being fueled by relatively affluent and well-educated African Americans moving in from neighboring Prince George's to find less expensive housing and better schools.

It also reflects efforts by Charles school officials to address factors that have pulled down black achievement in some other middle-class communities, such as lower expectations from educators and less involvement from parents.
While a majority of students are black, the overwhelming majority of the county's teacher and school administrators are white, although two members of the seven member elected school board, including the Board's President are black.

Only the Atlanta Suburbs have a faster growing black population than Charles County, according to a Post analysis of Census data. The historical parallels are hard to ignore. Some 35 years ago, Prince George's County underwent a similar transformation, from a majority white county to a majority black county. Today, Prince George's County schools routinely rank at or near the bottom of the state's education measurements. Charles County officials are worried that the same thing might happen in their school district as well.

Right now, Charles County is defying the research that says diversity in student populations generally leads to a degradation of school performance. But one has to wonder about Prince George's County 35 years ago. Did the influx of black families from the Washington DC automatically result in lower school performance, and if not, what is the lag time.
Anirban Basu, an economist who studies demographic trends, said that some research has shown that increased diversity has led to drops in academic performance but that Charles has had a different experience.

"It's a function of socioeconomic status. It's true that many of the newcomers are African Americans," said Basu, who worked with Baltimore's public schools. "But it's also true that many of the newcomers enjoy lofty, affluent incomes. These are young people that come from families of means. I think that is a greater predictor of test scores and academic achievement than is race."
Basu believes socio-economic status plays a bigger role as a predictor, and that could be right. However, I believe that as children get older, the parental expectations and the peer associations and pressure will play a larger role than the affluence or not of the parents.

Charles County offers an excellent opportunity for education theorists to have a real laboratory to watch--is it race, is it socio-economic status, is it school policies, or is it something else that drives success in school or failure in schools. As Charles County receives a larger percentage of black families, will the schools maintain or improve on their successes or will they follow a course like Prince George's County has experienced in teh past 35 years, one of steady decline in school performance county wide.


P. Kenneth Burns said...

Whoa tiger. The main factor of driving the pitiful state of the Prince George's County Schools is years of mismanagement. Race should not be a factor in this argument.

Bruce Godfrey said...

My understanding is that black migration to Prince George's County was near-unique instance growing both majority-black and substantially wealthier at the same time.

The article does not seem to state whether either absolute or relative performance changed in Prince George's County and if so how during the county's great demographic shift.

The article does not seem to reach the race-based point that Red Maryland does, perhaps along the lines of Kenneth Burns' comment supra.

I would be curious to learn how the growing black minority in Charles County compares demographically both absolutely and relative to local whites with that of Montgomery County. Much of eastern Montgomery County along the US 29 corridor is African-American and while it is not the wealthiest sector of the county, black students at e.g. Montgomery Blair High are known as high achievers. I recall one such student from Princeton - a materials engineering King of All Geeks.

My own suspicion, though this is a total conjecture, is that middle-class black families in PG have exerted such an effort just to survive, pay bills on daunting mortgages and take care of their families that the famous Montgomery civil infrastructure of a civic group in every phone book has not been duplicated. So PG County's government got away with more crap because the watchful citizens' eyes are on their paychecks, their children's welfare in the short term and paying the mortgage on a $500K jumbo note in Mitchellville. Who's got time for endless parliamentary procedure? So government goes astray. Thesis, not proof on my part.

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