Posted on June 7, 2010

‘Black Flight’ Changing the Makeup of Dallas Schools

Holly K. Hacker and Tawnell D. Hobbs, Dallas Morning News, June 6, 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.

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. {snip}

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.


‘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.


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.”


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.


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


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

Bray’s [Bray Elementary in Cedar Hill] 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.


Switching to charters


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.


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.


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.


[Editor’s Note: Part 2 of this series, “Black Leaders Leaving DISD Along With Students,” can be read here.]