Sept. 25, 2009
Renee DeGross Valdes, 404-413-1353
ATLANTA - Beginning in the 1980s, as Ronald Reagan became the 40th President of the United States, another major milestone in American history began: African-Americans and Latinos began moving from cities to the suburbs reversing years of central city living trends.
"It was the era of vanilla suburbs and chocolate cities," said Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology and education professor and director of the Center for Understanding Race and Education (CURE) at Columbia University. Wells discussed recent migration patterns, diversity and educational opportunities and policies Thursday as the guest speaker of the Dan E. Sweat Lecture Series at Georgia State's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
"Now there is a reversal of trends happening," Wells added. "There is a resurgence of white flight from suburbs to cities and exurbs or out to gated, highly exclusive communities."
By 2000, the percentage of blacks living in central cities had declined to 53 percent with nearly 40 percent living in the suburbs.
"Rates of school segregation are increasing faster in suburbs of larger cities than in cities themselves," Wells said. "The color line has moved to the suburbs. They have become the new frontier for addressing issues of racial and ethnic diversity."
Wells is the principal investigator of the Study of Urban-Suburban School Change, which is examining the role of public education and the demographic shifts occurring across and within urban and suburban boundaries in Atlanta, New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Detroit and Louisville, Ky.
Her research and writing has focused on issues of race, education and policy such as school desegregation, choice, charter schools, and tracking how they shape and constrain opportunities for African-Americans.
"There is ample evidence that school desegregation is beneficial for all students," Wells said.
Wells suggests something for policy makers to ponder: amending school choice policies to create and support more diverse schools; enhancing inter-district transfer programs and magnet school programs; and consolidating wasteful small school districts.
"This is a difficult time in history," Wells said. "More parents value diversity but feel more stress about a child's advantage. It begs the question of what roles do schools, their boundary lines and policies play in the new formula?"