Thursday, June 24, 2010

Black flight" changing the makeup of Dallas schools

Interesting trend in Texas. Quote from within: " The trend seen in Dallas schools is part of a larger national move away from inner cities for many black families, but the plunge is steeper in Dallas ISD than other urban districts in Texas and is among the biggest declines nationally." I wonder to what extent the administrative ranks are Latino...


Black flight" changing the makeup of Dallas schools
The Dallas Morning News (June 9, 2010)

Every morning Vivian King drives her granddaughter past her neighborhood Dallas
ISD school on the five-mile route to her charter school.

Both are "recognized" public schools, but King believes the A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy offers her granddaughter, 6-year-old Vivica Griffin, a better education.

"We didn't want her to go to the schools around here," King said.

King's decision makes her part of a historic shift in Dallas ISD: The number of black children attending DISD schools has reached its lowest point since 1965.

The movement mirrors, on a smaller scale, massive white flight from the district in the 1970s.

Black students formed a majority in Dallas schools through the 1980s and '90s. Over the last 10 years, though, the number of black children has fallen by nearly 20,000, or about a third. Meanwhile, Hispanic children have filled their seats as the district's overall enrollment remains fairly flat at about 157,000.

Today, about 41,000 black students attend DISD schools. They make up 26 percent of the district compared with 106,000 Hispanic children, or 68 percent. White students are 5 percent of the district.

For interactive map, click on map

The trend seen in Dallas schools is part of a larger national move away from inner cities for many black families, but the plunge is steeper in Dallas ISD than other urban districts in Texas and is among the biggest declines nationally.

Interviews with dozens of parents reveal that the exodus is not fueled by a single reason, but by myriad forces including issues of race, class, perceptions of problems within DISD, an explosion of charter schools and the quest for the American dream in the suburbs.

Adelfa Callejo, a Latina civil rights activist, said it's like history repeating itself.

"They're doing exactly what the whites are doing, abandoning the school district," Callejo said. "That will leave us with a lack of black leadership. You need leaders of all races to make it happen."

Specifically, black parents most often mentioned the following reasons:

· The perception that Dallas ISD schools offer an inferior education compared with suburban schools, and that the school system is too big and impersonal.

· As Dallas ISD educates a growing number of Hispanic students, many of whom are poor and learning English, some black parents say the district no longer focuses on their children.

· The desire of middle-class blacks to live in bigger, newer, more comfortable homes in the suburbs, away from big-city crime and congestion.

· A growing number of charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups.

· Many of Dallas' traditionally black neighborhoods are aging, and young Hispanic families are moving in to replace them and having children.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa did not voice concern with the drop in black students, saying the shift is part of a national trend.

Hinojosa disagreed that DISD is losing focus on black children.

"We cannot be successful if those kids are not successful, absolutely not," he said.

He pointed to a district initiative to improve math skills of black students.

"Three years later, those results are bearing out," Hinojosa said. "We've had tremendous growth in those performances."

The most recent TAKS results show that black students improved in all subject areas this year, but Hispanic students showed even greater gains.

'Saggy pants'

Perceptions of Dallas ISD schools play a large role in parental decisions.

For many black parents, Dallas ISD is little more than a place to warehouse kids, a place where educators don't care and students lack discipline.

"I don't want my grandkid in that environment where the teachers don't teach and the kids wear saggy pants," King said. "You don't see that at the charter school."

Yet, state data shows the teachers are less experienced at the charter school King's granddaughter attends than their neighborhood DISD school.

Brianna Sosa, 17, attends Gateway Charter Academy in Oak Cliff. The small size - 340 students - offers a family environment. She said that outweighs the fact that her school does not offer an array of Advanced Placement classes.

Sosa, who is black, has never attended a DISD school and previously attended Lancaster schools. She was concerned when she heard about the metal detectors at DISD high schools.

"I'm not a rough person," Brianna said. "I couldn't imagine walking through metal detectors. I wouldn't feel safe at a school like that."

Still, many black families have stayed with DISD.

"There are excellent teachers in Dallas, and I just elected to stay because I like Dallas," said Ola Allen, whose daughter just graduated from Skyline High School.

And Christopher Davis, whose son attends Thomas Tolbert Elementary, praises the school. "The classes are smaller, and you have more one-on-one type education," he said.

Still, Davis said his family has thought about moving to Mansfield.

"Better schools, a better community, less crime," he said.

Racial friction

Racial friction between blacks and Hispanics has long been a reality in Dallas ISD, from the hiring of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to racial divisions among board members to arguments over funding priorities for civil rights-era learning centers.

Many black parents are concerned about the attention and money spent bringing native Spanish-speakers up to speed. Some say their children are ignored.

"Nothing is geared towards us; it's all geared towards the Hispanics," said Shirley Daniels, spokeswoman for the Black Coalition to Maximize Education, a civil rights group and plaintiff in DISD's federal desegregation case, which lasted from 1970 to 2003.

On the other hand, community activist Jesse Diaz, whose daughter attends a DISD school in Pleasant Grove, said he believes that some of the district's naysayers have a prejudice against non-English-speaking Hispanic children and poor kids. The percentage of DISD students labeled "economically disadvantaged," meaning they qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, has increased from 73 percent in 2000 to 87 percent this year.

"People always ask me, 'Why are you sending your daughter to DISD?' " said Diaz, who is Hispanic. "They don't want to be there with that class of people."

Marisela Vargas, a longtime DISD volunteer, said her three children received good educations in the district. Two are now teachers in DISD and another served in the Air Force and is now a plumber, she said.

Vargas said the key to having a successful experience in DISD is to get involved and voice any concerns. "We cannot blame everything on DISD," she said.

Suburb migration

Regional student statistics show black families are sending their children to suburban districts such as Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Garland , Plano , Frisco and Mansfield.

Bray Elementary in Cedar Hill has for years carried the state's top rating of "exemplary." Ten years ago, the student body was nearly 80 percent white. This year it's about half black, a quarter white and a quarter Hispanic.

Maurice Addison and his wife moved to Cedar Hill from Detroit two years ago. Addison is a patrol officer with the Dallas Police Department.

Addison, who is black, said he asked around when picking a school for his two sons. He heard good things about Bray.

"Once we came here and went to a few PTA meetings and met a few teachers, we very quickly observed the passion of teaching and all the extra activities," Addison said.

Other plusses: the school's after-school "character chorus" emphasizing respect and responsibility. And all students learn to play string instruments.

Addison, a product of Detroit public schools, said he never considered Dallas public schools. "I'm from the city, and I know the detrimental issues that are going on with city schools right now."

As more black families migrate to the suburbs, figures show white families move farther out.

Bray's principal, Robert Johansen, said much of the white exodus from Cedar Hill schools took place in the early 2000s.

"I believe it was because they didn't feel like people looked like them. We still were an exemplary school. We still were performing. They were afraid that there was going to be a change," he said.

This year's preliminary TAKS scores show more than 95 percent of Bray students - black, white and Hispanic alike - passed their reading and math tests, and half or more scored at the higher "commended" level.

There are DISD schools with economic student demographics similar to Bray's that scored as well.

Switching to charters

An explosion of charter schools in Dallas has offered new options to parents.

About 5,900 black children who live within DISD's boundaries attend charter schools. Houston ISD, by comparison, enrolls more black students than DISD and loses fewer of them to charter schools.

Academy of Dallas in Oak Cliff has the state's lowest academic rating of "unacceptable." But that does not deter Brenda Toliver, whose grandson attends.

"To me, they're more advanced," she said. "The children learn a lot more, and the classes are not that big."

Yet TAKS scores show that last year less than a quarter of fifth-graders passed all their TAKS exams. About a mile away, 60 percent of fifth-graders passed all of their exams at DISD's Henderson Elementary School.

A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership school in the Red Bird area is one of the area's larger charters. Nearly all students are black, as that group's enrollment has spiked from 161 kids in 2000 to 948 this year.

The charter has amenities not typical on Dallas ISD campuses, from an indoor golf course to a playground with artificial grass and a kid-size basketball court.

Several A.W. Brown parents said that the school, rated "recognized," has a superior curriculum that encourages parent participation. Fifth and sixth-graders must do 100 hours of community service. They say administrators and teachers seem more concerned about their children and that classes are smaller - though A.W. Brown reports class sizes that well exceed the state average across every grade level.

"Charter schools are on a higher level," said Brandy Redwine, whose daughter attends A.W. Brown. "They get up and personal with the students and tend to care for them."

Housing factors

The loss of black students is also due to larger shifts in neighborhoods. Aging black populations in the city and the destruction of housing has fueled change.

Freda Jones Dunbar lives across the street from H.S. Thompson Elementary. It has lost 635 black students in the last decade, and the 220 students left are evenly split between black and Hispanic.

Dunbar has lived in her South Dallas home for 10 years. "When I moved here, it was flooded with kids," said Dunbar, who is black. Now she sees only a handful of children walk to school each day.

The city recently tore down the Rhoads Terrace projects, which used to be across the railroad tracks from the school. Down Bexar Street, the Turner Courts projects also came down. Nearby blocks are sprinkled with vacant houses.

Jones says she doesn't want to move. She knows everyone who lives on her short block. And she hasn't seen young families move in.

"They're going to Duncanville , Cedar Hill, Arlington."

COMING MONDAY: Some civil rights leaders who once battled for equal education in Dallas schools are now urging black parents to send their kids elsewhere.


The Dallas Morning News analyzed student enrollment data from the Texas Education Agency over the past decade. Among the findings:

· Ten years ago, Dallas ISD had nearly 161,000 students. It was 38 percent black, 52 percent Hispanic and 9 percent white. Today, Dallas enrolls 157,000 students, with 26 percent of them black, 68 percent Hispanic and 5 percent white.

· Black enrollment in Dallas ISD dropped by 19,000, or 31 percent, over the decade. In both raw numbers and percentage change, that's a bigger decline than in Houston, Fort Worth and Austin ISDs.

· DISD's Hispanic enrollment climbed 23,000, or 27 percent. Only Cypress-Fairbanks ISD near Houston and Northside ISD near San Antonio added more Hispanic students over the decade.

· During that period, the number of white students dropped the most in Arlington ISD (a loss of 10,500), followed by Mesquite ISD (10,000), Garland ISD (9,000), Fort Worth ISD (7,500) and Dallas ISD (6,500).

· 5,900 black students who live within Dallas ISD's boundaries attend charter schools. Among Texas districts with a sizable black population, only Lancaster, North Forest and La Marque ISDs have a greater share of resident black students attending charter schools.

· Dallas ISD may be losing black students, but the total number of black people living in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area has surged. According to a new Brookings Institution report, Dallas-Fort Worth gained 159,000 black residents from 2000 to 2008 - second only to Atlanta. The Dallas region also added 597,000 Hispanics, second only to the Riverside, Calif., area.

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