School choice, metro Detroit's new white flight
By Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Mike Wilkinson | Bridge Magazine
When the high school in Eastpointe recently welcomed the football team from Lakeview High, it was a homecoming of sorts.
That's because nearly 700 students from Eastpointe actually attend school in Lakeview, a public school district five miles away in St. Clair Shores. As it happens, many of the students who left Eastpointe for Lakeview are white.
So it was that on a cool September evening, most students and fans on the home team's side of the football field were African American, while many of their white neighbors filled the Lakeview side. It was a sight that saddened Jennifer Ward, head of the band boosters.
A lifelong Eastpointe resident, Ward, who is white, graduated from the high school in 1988, when almost everyone in the district looked like her. Eastpointe was called East Detroit back then, but residents soon changed its name to distance this blue-collar city in Macomb County from the crime-soaked image of its neighbor to the south. The only vestige of its old name is in its schools, which are still called East Detroit Public Schools.
Ward said she thinks half of those who left East Detroit schools choose other districts for racial reasons. Others, she said, probably did so because the Lakeview schools have better test scores, more funding and better facilities. She admits there is likely no way to know for sure. But she also believes that when neighbors don't go to school together, they don't get to know each other as well as those who do.
"East Detroit is diverse. It's the real world," Ward said. "Everybody should go to school where they live."
The white flight seen in Eastpointe is playing out in districts across metro Detroit and around the state. In the past 20 years, as African Americans have moved out of Detroit and into the suburbs, white parents have, whether by chance or design, used the state's schools of choice program to move their children to less diverse, more white traditional public schools. At the same time, some black families have chosen historically white suburban school districts to send their children, while others are choosing charter schools that are strikingly more segregated and black.
As a result, school districts across parts of the state are ending up more racially segregated than the communities from where they draw students.
Such is the case in Eastpointe.
Consider: The East Detroit school district is only 19 percent white, even though 40 percent of school-age children living there are white. And the flood of East Detroit students to Lakeview, which is 80 percent white, has produced yet another shift: the loss of students prompted East Detroit to solicit students from other cities, mostly Detroit.
"School choice has accelerated segregation by race, by class, by ability, by special education status and by language," said Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University who has reported widely (and often critically) on Michigan's school choice policies.
But defenders of school choice say the policies produce more good than harm by empowering parents – black and white – whose local schools are failing their children.
Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, is one of the staunchest defenders of school choice in Michigan. He acknowledges that choice can financially harm the districts that are losing students.
But he and others contend that education policy should err on the side of School choice, metro Detroit's new white flight | MLive.com: