Are charters in the North losing black students to the South?

Reports in recent years have documented a trend of higher attrition rates in charter schools than traditional public schools. For instance, a charter might start out with 100 students in its first-grade class but, five years later, end up with only 80 graduating fifth-graders. Many of these reports have been published by teachers’ unions, which tend to oppose charters, in attempts to suggest that charters push out low-performing students. Charters sometimes counter that the students who leave do so freely — because they can’t handle the high expectations.

Another explanation I’ve heard from charters is that many of their African-Americans students leave to move down South. Now, new census data lend some credence to this theory.

A New York Times article today reports that the South’s black population has risen to its largest size in 50 years. Much of that growth comes from migrants leaving northern cities like New York and Chicago, and the people who are leaving tend to be of child-rearing age.

This change has huge implications, of course, and not just for the South. According to the Times article, the families who are leaving tend to be college-educated and middle-class. Does this mean that those left behind in Northern cities are less educated and poor? Possibly, and for inner-city charters in the North, and schools in general, this suggests a more difficult road ahead. Already, we’re seeing what such demographic changes have done to Detroit.

In the South, the biggest growth for blacks is happening in places where they were previously a small minority. At the same time, there has been a boom in the number of Hispanics, who are relative newcomers to the area. Out of the top 10 states with the fastest rates of Hispanic growth in the past decade, eight are in the South, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Will schools in the South become less segregated? (Already, they tend to be less segregated than schools in the rest of the nation.) Or will there be white flight in the places minorities choose to move? Depending on the reasons people are moving – to start new, better-paying jobs, to take jobs requiring fewer skills, or to move in with family because of unemployment – will Southern schools be contending with more affluence or more poverty, and how will they handle the changes?