Certain neighborhoods in the South are weathering a new version
of an old phenomenon: white flight.
Across the region, white, often middle-class, teachers are
leaving schools dominated by African-Americans almost as fast as
they arrive. Many are moving to school districts with smaller
populations of blacks, new studies show.
Critics see the exodus as a new form of segregation, encouraged
by court rulings that no longer enforce racial diversity. But
teachers say that cultural and economic barriers, not racial ones,
are fueling the trend in a region where more than 40 percent of the
public school population is black.
At the very least, the growing shortage of white educators is
creating a dilemma for black schools from Picayune County, Miss., to
Decatur, Ga. Right now, there aren't enough black teachers to go
around, either. "All the stars are aligned for white teachers to
leave," says Gary Orfield, an education professor at Harvard
University in Cambridge, Mass. "It's a combination of poverty and
racial segregation, added to cultural differences, that all makes it
tough for suburban teachers to figure out the black and Latino
In Georgia, the trend is as pronounced as anywhere: A new study
from Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta says that 32 percent
of white elementary school teachers left their posts at
predominantly black schools in 2001 - up from 18 percent in 1995.
Moreover, they left well-to-do black districts at about the same
rate as poorer ones.
Recent studies in Texas, California, and North Carolina reach the
same conclusion. The effect, critics say, is that black students
aren't getting an equal shot at good schooling. The reason: As white
teachers leave, many blacks are fleeing the profession, too, leaving
a dearth of qualified teachers of any kind. "As a result, we have
lots of classes being taught by substitute teachers, who don't
usually have degrees and aren't licensed to teach anything," says
Tom Clark, a former superintendent of the Picayune County, Miss.,
Other factors are contributing to the exodus. A recent school
building boom in Georgia created more job options for teachers -
many of whom wanted to work closer to their own neighborhoods.
What's more, many qualified teachers tend to leave lower-performing
schools at faster rates.
But the authors of a new Harvard study on the "resegregation" of
the South believe the flight is rooted in something more ominous.
They see it an inevitable result of a backsliding society where
white and black students increasingly go to different schools. They
trace that divide, in part, to recent federal court decisions
outlawing civil rights-era protections, such as busing and
affirmative action in college admissions. …