Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Black Flight: Race and Economics

Tawnell Hobbs and Holly Hacker, education reporters for the Dallas Morning News, have brought to readers a phenomenon that I've been telling people for years: the emergence of Hispanics as the majority of students in Dallas schools, is not only a result of a growing population - its also a sign of black middle class families leaving southern Dallas.

Or, as their article puts it: black flight.

"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."

"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've been saying it for years, because it's been happening for years. And it should be troubling to everyone. It's troubling because as African-Americans leave Dallas for the southern suburbs of Lancaster, DeSoto, Cedar Hill and Duncanville (in the same way their white counterparts to the north left for Richardson, Plano, McKinney and Frisco), they leave low income neighborhoods poorer and the schools grow less and less effective. Even moreso, as DISD invests less and less in the technology in these schools, facilities, more experienced teachers and so on. The schools in these areas become less desirable.

But its more troublesome in another way.

As the children of some of the families in low income communities have grown up, gone to college started their own families or gotten good jobs, they have sought what other young people have wanted: better housing, proximity to shopping, better schools, closer commutes to work. In the 70's and 80's it was Lancaster and Duncanville. Over time it was Duncanville and DeSoto and eventually Cedar Hill. In some cases, it was Mesquite and Garland. More recently, it has even spread further south (Red Oak, Ovilla and Waxahachie).

It has also happened as section 8 vouchers have allowed even some of moderate income, the flexibility to move to the suburbs, instead of having their options limited to 'class B' apartments throughout Dallas. Again, it cuts down on commute times to work, shopping (grocery stores for example) and access to some of the 'amenities' that some of us take for granted and consent to drive relatively long distances for.

More about this later, but its easy to simply think of this as simply about race - indeed some of it is. Unfortunately quite a bit of it is about black resentment of the growing presence of Hispanics.

But its also about economics.

If we allow our urban areas to decay. If issues of crime, urban nuisances, unemployment and a lack of economic development continue to be ineffectively addressed, those who gain any significant amount of financial wherewithal, will not stay.

It ultimately impacts public education. What tends to be left in poorer neighborhoods are the families of children who can't leave. Go into those schools and the lack of options for those students become apparent. Talk with teachers, volunteers, parents, students and tutors and they will tell you where those lack of options are reflected: worksheets, instead of textbooks; disciplinary problems among children who come to school hungry or without rest; teachers who 'teach down' to the 'level' of their students and a lack of parental involvement.

There are teachers and principals who are making heroic progress in teaching these children. You may indeed see rising test scores. But in far too many cases its progress in spite of, rather than because of.

The fact is, as I say in my column this month, academic progress doesn't take place in a vacuum. The social, economic and civic environment must be addressed if failing schools in low income communities are to be attractive alternatives to families fleeing the suburbs.

It's not just about race...


Michael Davis-Dallas Progress said...

Rev. Britt,

Unless I missed it, it would have been good for the DMN to counterbalance the story with some affluent residents who decide to keep their kids in DISD and to get their reasons for doing so.

Also, the Sunday article talked about Turner Courts and Rhodes Terrace being torn down, but mentioned nothing about the fantastic new mixed-unit development that will be built in its place. Why?

As you mentioned, one of the things that is hurting southern Dallas are the housing choices.

For whatever reason, southern Dallas has an overabundance of some class B (but mostly class C) apartments. They extract rent from Section 8 renters that is far above what the residents are given in return. So people move the first chance they get.

We do have some such market-rate units coming on line in the next year or so, and maybe that will capture some young families that will put their kids in DISD.

There are a lot of factors, but some of the DISD schools in southern Dallas have high ratings. Perception hurts equally in this case.

We have to continue to work to create viable communities that will retain residents who hopefully send their kids to public schools.

Anonymous said...

Suburban flight is obviously not a new social phenomenon. The northeast section of the U.S is a prime study for historical demographic and current demographic shifts. The trend in Dallas will not be reversed, unless of course there is a massive exodus of illegals, which would be counter to the goal of the left.

The future is here for Dallas - a Hispanic majority and soon - dominance of the local political scene.