Black Middle Class Abandoning PG County Public Schools

The American Interest, May 27, 2013

Prince George’s County, Maryland stands out from the rest of the country in that it is among the most affluent majority-black counties in the US. But despite its uniqueness, it is quickly falling prey to a common trend—middle class parents are pulling their children out of public schools and putting them in private competitors that offer a better education.

PG County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is well aware of this trend and is taking steps to improve the quality of the schools in an effort to bring back these middle class students. The county has just approved Baker’s plan for a massive overhaul of the school board, and he has promised a number of other educational changes, although this part of his proposal has been light on actual details. But as the Washington Post reports, while middle class families are watching these changes with interest, few have actually made the leap and put their kids back in public schools. And as the middle class students and parents abandon the system, the situation is likely to get worse for those that remain:

Many experts and schools officials say a return of students from middle-class families is a key component to turning around struggling school systems.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said students from low-income families benefit from attending school “where your classmates expect to go on to college and act in a way that is conducive to that.” […]

It is unclear how many Prince George’s middle-class families home-school or send their children to private school. Briant Coleman, a spokesman for the school system, said the county does not track those students. But the school population has been dwindling and the percentage of poor students increasing significantly, evidence that middle-class students have been leaving the system.

For years, people have blamed many of the problems in minority-majority school districts on “white flight,” arguing that middle class whites abandoning public schools is responsible for much of the struggles of these institutions. But this suggests that middle-class blacks and whites are doing the same thing—leaving blue cities for better opportunities and living conditions, and leaving old style public schools because they want a better education for their kids.

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