What if I told you that segregation still existed in Charleston? Would you believe me?
Charleston, South Carolina, is a city that prides itself on its beautiful historical atmosphere that charms tourists and locals alike; however, when you look closer, Charleston is a city that is heavily influenced by the deep roots of its racist and segregated past.
Well, at first I didn’t believe myself either. When I moved to Charleston last year for college after growing up in New Jersey my entire life, I had to relearn the ins and outs of my new community. What I found was not positive, to say the least, especially as someone who went to public school in a state that is ranked #1 in the country for education.
Believe it or not—I would believe it, because it’s true—the Charleston County School District re-segregated their schools through the increased privatization of its public schools and the implementation of “school choice” magnet schools. On the Charleston County School District’s website, school choice may seem like an amazing opportunity for students to transfer to different schools that embrace and challenge their academic interests. But, in reality, the system takes most— if not all—of the top high-achieving students out of their respective zoning areas across Charleston. It then places them into highly selective schools, leaving a concentration of minority students that often face extreme poverty, crime, and horrible home life situations behind.
Charleston County has managed to have both the top-ranked high school in the state—Academic Magnet High School—and one of the lowest ranked—North Charleston High School—in the same school district. And these two schools are only separated by a set of train tracks.
School choice has completely changed and destroyed North Charleston High School. As ⅔ of the students that live in its zoning area have transferred to other private choice schools, the school’s population has severely depleted. In 2015, North Charleston High School only had 450 enrolled students in a building for 1,200, and who knows if even half of them even showed up for more than a few days. In a once diverse and populous school, around 90% of the “left behind” North Charleston High School students are Black and poverty-ridden. The same goes for Burke High School—the only public high school in downtown Charleston—which has a minority population of 98%. Creating a segregated school no different from the ones before Brown v. Board of Education.
Now comes the point in the story where we cue in the reformers that do not actually do any reforming, rather they make the matters worse.
In a document consisting of very little information, Coastal Community Foundation—a private organization that has no prior experience in the field of education—proposes a solution to increase the academic performance and growth of students in the Charleston County School District. This solution, Reimagine Schools, will further privatize and segregate the district’s schools and increase the organization’s profits off of parents, schools, and donors.
So basically, to combat issues that were caused due to the privatization of public schools, Charleston is going to privatize more schools? That totally makes sense.
The around 31.1 million dollar plan supported by billionaires is aimed at creating “Innovation Commissions” for around 23 public schools that are located in—Oh, wait let me guess! Low-income and Black communities?!—low-income and Black communities. Also, the plan allows for 25% of a school’s teaching staff to educate underperforming students without state certification. For context, out of 40 freshmen in an English class at North Charleston High, only one person’s reading level was above their grade level. And Reimagine Schools’s solution is to hire teachers that are not state-certified. How is that reimagining and benefiting Charleston’s schools?
Furthermore, most people involved in the Charleston County School District do not want this plan to be implemented. North Charleston High School Principal Henry Darby vouched for every school that would be impacted by Reimagine Schools at the Charleston County School District’s board meeting on January 10. He stated, “I stand for 23 principals who are affected by the Reimagine Schools. We are passionately against the Reimagine Schools proposal and wish for the measure to be terminated.” Along with Darby, parents, teachers, and administrators argue why to implement a $31.1 million plan authorized by a private, third-party organization when the city can just place that money into the district itself. And they have a valid point.
The privatization of public schools in Charleston has created a giant problem contributing to increased segregation, underperformance, and underfunding. The last thing we need is another “reform” that will do the same.