By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The Dallas Morning News has been doing stories and editorials about the shrinking population of black students in the Dallas public school system—a phenomenon the newspaper calls "black flight."
In its first story the paper reported: "Interviews with dozens of parents reveal that the exodus is not fueled by a single reason, but by myriad forces including issues of race, class, perceptions of problems within DISD, an explosion of charter schools and the quest for the American dream in the suburbs."
But it seems to me that the mainstream media have a tendency to frame all stories about black people as problem stories. I just don't know why we have to have all the muted anxiety about it.
I'm not saying there are not problems embedded in this picture. But why isn't the larger perspective here of a happy story? African-American people are doing what everybody does in America. Moving on up.
When I look at census data for the suburbs surrounding Dallas, I see some of the greatest increases in the percentage of the total population that is black in those places where median household income has gone up the most over the last decade.
In Allen, for example, median income has increased 24.2 percent since 2000, according to U.S. Census figures. In that time, the black share of the population of Allen has gone from 4.4 to 7.7 percent. You may see that as not much black population. But I see it as a growth of 75 percent in the relative share.
Most of the black out-migration from the city has been to the southern tier of suburbs, to be sure, where cities like DeSoto and Lancaster have seen the black percentage of population increase by more like 30 percent. Both are now majority black communities.
Income growth for the entire population there has been in the range of 12 percent, but that measure is masked by a significant amount of apartment development. Apartment dwellers may pull the overall income numbers down, obscuring the fact that there are also large, new affluent majority-black single-family-home neighborhoods in those communities, as well.
So why is that happening? No, wait: Why are we even asking why it's happening? Why is it a mystery?
Last week I drove through a gorgeous development 18 miles southwest of downtown Dallas near Lake Joe Pool in Manchester. I entered the back way for some reason. The homes, all brand new, seemed to me to be the size of small hotels.
I was stunned when I came out at the other end by the main entrance to the development and saw the for-sale signs—prices in the 150s to 400s.
You know what you can buy for $150,000 in my inner-city neighborhood where most of the housing stock is 75 to 100 years old? Nothing. Not one thing. For $400,000 you can buy 2400 square feet, but then you need a new roof, heating and air conditioning and a cousin on the police force.
We love it there.
But families with kids who are just getting a foot through the door into the middle class do not love it. And they're especially worried about the schools.
I'm not sure how fair the school thing is when you look at the numbers. Duncanville, which is less apartment-prone than Lancaster, does have a public school system that outperforms Dallas schools in the education of black students.
In Dallas, 64 percent of all students pass the state-mandated achievement tests, but only 55 percent of black students pass, according to numbers published by the Texas Education Agency. In Duncanville, 69 percent of all students pass the state tests and 62 percent of black students pass. That's a significant difference.
But Dallas beats the heck out of Lancaster, where only 52 percent of all students pass and 50 percent of black students pass.
Dallas and Duncanville are closer in the number of top black students they produce. In Dallas, 7 percent of black students test at the "commended" level. Duncanville has 8 percent of black students at the commended level. Lancaster has only 4 percent.
If you look at the more affluent northern suburbs, the performance numbers for black students get much better. In Lewisville, 76 percent of black students are passing their tests and 14 percent are at the tops of their classes. In Lewisville, 85 percent are passing and 16 percent are at the top.
Remember I said that Allen has gone from 4.4 to 7.7 percent African-American since 2000. Lewisville has gone from 7.4 to 9.2. The big yardstick is this: in the same period, Dallas' black population has dropped from 25.9 percent to 23.2.
So I ask again: Where is the mystery? Black families, motivated by a desire to live in better houses and put their kids in better schools, are availing themselves of new opportunities, the direct result of black political struggle and hard work. Tell me how else this story was supposed to go?
Not all of the choices by black families may pencil out to be right. Some suburban school districts may actually be poor trades. But if at first your move does not succeed, move, move again. And some of the moves made by black families obviously are working out very well, indeed.