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E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools

This is the executive summary of “E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools” by the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). Read the full report here, and find all content related to the report here, including the companion report Deep Rooted.


Racial inequity in education has a long history in North Carolina public schools. Race conditions students’ access to educational resources and opportunities, and therefore has been and remains a persistent and powerful predictor of every measure of student success in school. Yet, it is difficult to find evidence that comprehensive assessment of, and sustained attention to, embedded racial inequities are a part of the ordinary operation of public education in the state. 

Without comprehensive empirical analysis of the state of racial equity, it is difficult for stakeholders to fully understand where racial inequities exist, the magnitude of the opportunity gaps, how disparities are produced, and how they might be eliminated to ensure all children and youth have the same opportunity for educational success.

In the absence of purposeful reform that flows from a full understanding of racial inequities, business-as-usual approaches to public education serve to further the accumulation of educational disadvantage among children and youth of color in the state. 

The “E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools” report endeavors to provide comprehensive analysis of the condition of racial equity in North Carolina K-12 public schools. It does so through the examination of the relationship between race and over 30 indicators of educational access and outcomes using North Carolina student-level data from the 2016-2017 school year. Given the historical, embedded nature of racialized public education outlined in our companion reportDeep Rooted: A Brief History of Race and Education in North Carolina,” this report represents a first step in the process of addressing racial inequity. As such, these analyses focus on two rather straightforward questions:

  1. Does race influence educational access and outcomes?
  2. Does race influence access and outcomes after accounting for other factors, such as gender, socioeconomic status, language status, (dis)ability status, and giftedness?

Our intentional emphasis on race serves several purposes: to spark additional dialogue and inquiry, to indicate directions for more in-depth study, and to provide an empirical basis for the development of intervention(s) and reform(s) aimed at providing equitable access to the benefits of public education. 

Without exception, we find that the influence of race functions to diminish both the access and the outcomes of non-Asian students of color.

Our results confirm the existence of long-standing racial gaps in achievement, graduation/dropout, grade point average, SAT scores, and ACT scores. However, unlike many analyses related to race and educational success, we also examine how access to educational resources that facilitate success differ across racial groups. Here we consistently find that students of color have diminished access to the resources that affect success, including access to advanced coursework, experienced teachers, and racially/ethnically matched teachers. 

Our analysis also identifies numerous instances of compounded, interconnected disadvantage for students of color. For instance, we find that the overexposure of non-Asian students of color to disciplinary suspension, which removes students from the learning environment, ripples through several other indicators, such as chronic absenteeism and graduation rates. Specifically, after controlling for the effect of other factors (race/ethnicity, gender, language status, special education status, and free/reduced lunch status), students who were suspended at least once were over three times more likely to be chronically absent and over twice as likely to drop out of high school than students who had never been suspended. 

We believe our results bear upon longstanding biases in the discourse around race and education, which tends to focus on the annual reporting of racial achievement gaps with little mention of gaps in access and opportunity. This feeds a narrative suggesting that non-Asian students and communities of color place less value on education, and thus are less deserving of the benefits of public education. Our results across multiple indicators strongly contradict this view. We find that when controlling for other factors, like socioeconomic status and suspension patterns, several student groups of color (i.e. Black, Hispanic, Multiracial) are less likely or similarly likely to be chronically absent or to drop out of high school. We also find that White, Black, and Multiracial students have similar proportions of students that aspire to attend four-year colleges. Thus, while many factors (i.e. access to rigorous coursework and access to experienced teachers) appear beyond the control of students and communities of color, we affirm that they demonstrate a strong commitment to educational success. Given that public education is a social, political, and economic enterprise, we emphasize the importance of informing the discourse around race and education.  

While our results suggest that reforms to policy and practice could ameliorate racial inequity across all the indicators we examined, we highlight several key actionable items. First, equitable access to rigorous coursework would likely promote the explicitly stated college and career readiness goals of state and local educational agencies. Second, intervention to eliminate racialized patterns of school discipline would likely have a positive ripple effect across several key levers of educational success, including attendance, achievement, graduation, and college matriculation. Third, equitable deployment of experienced, effective, and committed teachers stands to promote racial equity across all measures of educational success as well. 

“E(race)ing Inequities” provides a comprehensive empirical analysis of the state of racial equity in North Carolina public schools. Combined with the historically and socially informed perspective of our companion report, “Deep Rooted,” the persistent accumulation of educational disadvantage among students of color in the state is unacceptable.

However, it is our hope that armed with the results of this report, and with continued study and dialogue, North Carolina can begin to move purposefully toward policies and practices that ensure that all students have an opportunity to succeed in North Carolina public schools. 


Editor’s note: James Ford is on contract with the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research from 2017-2020 while he leads this statewide study of equity in our schools. Center staff is supporting Ford’s leadership of the study, conducted an independent verification of the data, and edited the reports.

James Ford

James E. Ford is the executive director of CREED — the Center for Racial Equity in Education. He represents the Southwest Education Region on the N.C. State Board of Education. Ford is pursuing his Ph.D. in Urban Education at UNC Charlotte. He previously taught World History and Sociology at Garinger High School in Charlotte, and in 2014-15, he was the Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

Nicholas Triplett

Nick is a faculty lecturer at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. His research and work focus on educational equity, school discipline, and the role of schools in social class reproduction. Nick has authored numerous peer reviewed articles and book chapters, and his work has been presented at state, national, and international educational conferences.

In the past, Nick has been a high school social studies teacher, a facilitator at non-traditional independent schools and educational co-ops, and served as member and chair of the board of directors at other local charter schools. He has also been (and remains) a stay-at-home dad for the past 11 years.

Nick graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a BA in History and an MA in Teaching. He earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction (Urban Education) from the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

He lives with his wife Susan and three children Owen (11), Jonas (7), and Olive (1.5). Owen and Jonas will attend Charlotte Lab starting in 2018-2019.