A couple of recent academic studies provide intriguing looks at the impact of "resegregation" in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 12 years after the district gave up race-based student assignment.
In a newcomer-rich community like this one, the 2002 demise of court-ordered desegregation and the long legal battle that led up to it may seem like ancient history. But researchers take the long view, and both papers used years of individual data for CMS students before and after the switch to a race-neutral system.
For those who missed it, CMS used school boundaries to achieve racial balance from the 1970s to the 1990s. At that point, magnets began to play a growing role in efforts to encourage voluntary desegregation. Lawsuits by white families seeking to end race-based assignment led to the end of court-ordered desegregation. The ensuing assignment plans, which combine neighborhood schools and magnets, created a rapid and dramatic increase in mostly-black and mostly-white schools. (Both papers give a more detailed history.)
The conclusion: Yes -- for a relatively small number of white families.
The study by David Liebowitz (Harvard University) and Lindsay Page (University of Pittsburgh) found that African American and Hispanic families are more mobile than white ones, and their moving patterns didn't change significantly when student assignment changed. But they found differences for white families after 2002, when moving became a practical way to seek a higher-quality neighborhood school, "even if one criterion was racial homogeneity of the school."
Even during race-based assignment, whites who moved "exhibited a strong preference for communities that were less integrated than their starting community." After 2002, the researchers found, "White families were much more likely to select into a Whiter but worse performing zone than their current one. However, they were no more likely to select into a Whiter and academically stronger neighborhood than before the new assignment policy." Despite those trends, the researchers found that the numbers were too small to affect the district's overall level of segregation.
Please note that I am simplifying two long, complex papers about touchy subjects. There's no way to crunch some combined 80 pages of academic analysis into a blog post and catch all the nuances. I can't find a free version of the second article, which is published in the American Educational Research Journal, so it may be tough to read the full thing. Just know that both papers contain a more sophisticated analysis than I can summarize here.