Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hoboken Board of Education President Uses Racial, Incendiary, and Divisive Imagery of "white flight" to Characterize Charter Schools Impact on Hoboken Public Schools

"White Flight" as depicted by Time magazine
picture: Getty Images
Words are powerful things. And in the hands of a learned individual, like a southern minister, words can lead a civil rights movement. In the hands of a college professor skilled in lecturing and communicating complex ideas, words can be the building blocks of new ways of understanding the world around us. In the hands of a skilled local politician, words can uplift or be a devastating condemnation of an entire sector of a community. 

On March 13, 2014 the President of the Hoboken Board of Education Leon Gold was quoted in as saying that the charter schools in the city were "fostering white flight" and bankrupting the school system. That quote has gotten a fair amount of attention over the past few weeks for its negative impact on the Hoboken community. 

What is "white flight"? 
White Flight is the phenomenon of upper- and middle-class whites moving from cities to the suburbs. Its opposite (but related phenonmena) is gentrification, a process in which wealthy whites move back into an urban area, displacing the current residents and rapidly driving up the cost of living so that the previous residents are forced to move. Both practices have been extensively documented by students of demographics and urban development. White flight, in particular, has negative connotations, especially for those left behind in the suddenly impoverished neighborhood.

White Flight began on a large scale in the USA after WWII, when African-Americans began to try to establish homes in America's cities. Many of these men and women were starting to enter the middle class themselves, with good jobs, education, and community values. In many cases, however, racism led whites to attempt to keep blacks out. When this proved unsuccessful, the white population moved to the suburbs, establishing new and primarily racially homogeneous communities. This practice was termed "white flight," and resulted in class and racial segregation in many American cities.
Its challenging to see the credibility in such a statement when the City of Hoboken has this type of demographic profile: 

Races in zip code 07030:

White population: 36,607
Black population: 1,289
American Indian population: 33
Asian population: 3,516
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population: 11
Some other race population: 117
Two or more races population: 830
Hispanic or Latino population: 7,602

It does not seem as if there is a mass exodus of white people from the town of Hoboken. In fact, since 1970 the percentage of white people in the community seems to have grown with nearly every passing decade. 
Perhaps the Board President was talking about the school district? Well, that is possible. But when we look at the district demographics we see an interesting story as well. While not parsed by race, here is data from the 2012 ASAA Report looking at low income vs non-low income. When we look at this graph it becomes quote apparent that the district has almost 70% non-low income students in the early grades. So, no one is running away from the school district. In fact, they are flocking toward it. Unfortunately, once non-low income parents have had their children in the district for a few years, it appears that the non-low income parents leave the district. Seems to me this is an issue of not being able to retain families who have placed their children in the district's hands rather than white flight. 
2012 Hoboken ASAA Report (a.k.a. "October 15 Report")
White people are not leaving Hoboken. So the term "white flight" was not appropriate. High income parents are at least trying to use the traditional public school system so the term "white flight" again does not seem appropriate. Why use a term like "white flight" in the first place? That might be left for people to decide. 

So, to review. This is an example of "White Flight": 

This is another example of "White Flight": 

This is an example of the consequences of "White Flight":

This is an example of imagery invoked by the term "White Flight": 

This is NOT an example of "White Flight": 

I am disappointed in the purposeful use of inflammatory and divisive words like segregation, racism, and "white flight" being thrown around like gumdrops by a small group of people in Hoboken to characterize a charter school.