Metro Nashville’s new student assignment plan isolated hundreds more children by race and socioeconomic status and contradicted decades of social science on how to teach poor urban kids, according to an expert witness Wednesday in federal court.
"Clearly that's what's going on," said William Rock, a retired education professor at the State University of New York and national expert on school desegregation. He called it “the worst thing that can happen to a child.”
Rock testified on the second day of the trial of the NAACP-backed lawsuit aimed at overturning the rezoning plan that ended the busing of black children from north Nashville to Hillwood this school year. The NAACP contends the plan discriminates against black children by consigning them to substandard educations in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Rock testified the percentage of students attending racially isolated schools—those where at least 80 percent of the students are black—increased from 22 percent to 25 percent after the rezoning.
"What they did was they changed the [district’s] feeder pattern to remove black students from schools where they had a fairly integrated situation and moved them into schools that were over 90 percent black," he said.
Q: Is it your opinion that this segregative effect was an accident?
Q: Well then what would you call it?
Rock: When the board of education takes an action, it’s not an accident; it’s deliberate. So they deliberately did it. … I really don’t understand why anyone would say there wasn’t a segregative effect. The segregative effect was predicted by the [rezoning plan’s community] task force and, according to the implementation plan data, it happened.
Rock cited 40 years of studies, including research in Nashville by Vanderbilt University’s Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, showing that students learn less in schools where poverty is concentrated.
All the problems these children face—poor health, hunger, drugs, gangs and violence, and a culture that scorns education—it's all just too overwhelming for schools, this research shows. Poor children learn more in middle-class settings, Rock said.
The school board has promised to spend $6 million annually to improve north Nashville schools, but Rock testified:
“Everything we know about the education of children says the worst thing that can happen to a child is to place a child in a school that’s heavily isolated by socioeconomics, in which almost all the children are coming from families with very low incomes in which achievement levels are low.
“And also in addition to these other things, they are isolated by race. When you have isolated schools like this, we have not been able to overcome the effects of that isolation with compensatory education. Cities all over the country have tried all kinds of things, and there just never has been anything sustained happen to improve the achievement of children.”