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White teachers flee black schools

Some see exodus in South as a new form of segregation.

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Certain neighborhoods in the South are weathering a new version of an old phenomenon: white flight.

Across the region, white, often middle-class, teachers are leaving schools dominated by African-Americans almost as fast as they arrive. Many are moving to school districts with smaller populations of blacks, new studies show.

Critics see the exodus as a new form of segregation, encouraged by court rulings that no longer enforce racial diversity. But teachers say that cultural and economic barriers, not racial ones, are fueling the trend in a region where more than 40 percent of the public school population is black.

At the very least, the growing shortage of white educators is creating a dilemma for black schools from Picayune County, Miss., to Decatur, Ga. Right now, there aren't enough black teachers to go around, either. "All the stars are aligned for white teachers to leave," says Gary Orfield, an education professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "It's a combination of poverty and racial segregation, added to cultural differences, that all makes it tough for suburban teachers to figure out the black and Latino cultures."

In Georgia, the trend is as pronounced as anywhere: A new study from Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta says that 32 percent of white elementary school teachers left their posts at predominantly black schools in 2001 - up from 18 percent in 1995. Moreover, they left well-to-do black districts at about the same rate as poorer ones.

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