Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do Schools Gentrify?

A friend of mine attended Decatur High School some 25 years ago. Back then, he told me, the school's student body by reputation was 80% black. (Although to a 120 lb white freshman from the sticks, it looked closer to 95% black.)

Not anymore. Decatur High School's student body is now only 47% black . . . and 46% white! It has a respectable 8/10 rating from GreatSchools.net.

How did this happen? Normally among families with school-aged children, blacks are displaced by Hispanics, not whites. And while neighborhoods can gentrify, they are usually gentrified by homosexual or otherwise childless whites. People contemplating families usually move to the 'burbs, of which the Atlanta area has an abudance. Once schools become "black", no white family wants to send their kids there, even if whites are a majority in the community.

Consider, for instance, the Buckhead area (of A Man in Full fame) in north Atlanta. Overwhelmingly rich and (~85%) white, Buckhead's public high school is nonetheless only 13% white and scores a dismal 3/10 from GreatSchools.net. Clearly, even with per pupil expenditures in excess of $12k, white families have written off North Atlanta High.

Decatur, meanwhile, is presently 65% white. I have no knowledge about its demographics over time, but as the longtime home of Agnes Scott College and Columbia Seminary, it certainly has its share of white pointy-heads. But how did white students achieve parity at Decatur High?

Any ideas?

2 comments:

Trumwill said...

Maybe it became a magnet school? I know it's not uncommon for districts to choose the most troubled school for magnet programs. My middle school, one of the worst in the district, attracted all sorts of kids shortly after I left because of a special science program. It wasn't heavily minority, but I would say 3/4 of the NAMs I went to high school with I also went to junior high with.

Φ said...

I checked the schools' website and didn't detect any magnetism. :-P My friend said that 25 years ago the school used three-tier tracking, and the Level 1 academic track was much whiter than, say, the phys. ed. classes. The school had a good reputation among whites in the community, most of the Level 1 teachers kept order in the classroom, and my friend had no problem with the quality of instruction.

His experience was not free of problems. Outside the classroom, there was a sense of . . . disorder. Smoking in the restrooms. Fistfights in the lunchroom. Stairwells you knew (or learned) not to use.

But in general, it was as if the school knew what kind of population it had to deal with, and regulated it accordingly. My friend only recalls being assaulted there once, as opposed to routinely at his redneck junior high school. But then, at DHS, students were rarely left unsupervised.