Thursday, February 04, 2010

Reality and the school revolution in Wake

The new Wake County School Board is running into some unexpected issues in its quest to get rid of a diversity policy and create a new school assignment system designed around the notion of zones -- which sounds to some like a return to acceptance of a segregated schools system of the sort the county worked hard to get rid of decades ago.

Chris Fitzsimon, a former television newsman and former aide to then-House Speaker Dan Blue, has some pointed commentary on his blog about this process, including a new survey where most parents said they were satisfied with assignments. Fitzsimon, a regular on TV's N.C. Spin who keeps a close watch on happenings in Raleigh, had this to say about recent developments:

Fitzsimon File
Missteps in the march to resegregation
By Chris Fitzsimon
The Gang of Five that now runs the Wake County Board of Education can't be too happy these days, as their clumsy ideological efforts to dismantle the system's nationally recognized student assignment policy are running into trouble at every turn.

Tuesday, the board majority learned that 94.5 percent of parents who responded to a recent survey about year-round schools said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their child's school without regard to the calendar.

That does not sound like a community clamoring for major changes in the way the school system is run or the way students are assigned.

The board also declined to approve changes in assignments for several hundred students in response to a board vote last month changing the way assignments to year-round schools are made. Board members said they weren't ready to change the assignments without more review and discussion.

It turns out overhauling student assignments is more complicated that the Gang of Five's campaign rhetoric claimed.

School officials will instead proceed with taking requests from parents for magnets and year-round schools under the second-year of the three-year assignment plan approved by the old board, the one intent on maintaining healthy diverse schools, not abandoning them.

In the days leading up to Tuesday's meeting, Gang of Five leader John Tedesco explained his vision for a new reassignment plan to abolish the diversity policy and create what he calls community schools based on assignment zones. Tedesco admitted that his proposal would lead to the creation of high poverty schools and would significantly change the popular magnet school program, an important piece of the diversity plan.

Debra Goldman, the increasingly more reluctant Gang of Fiver, told reporters she wanted to protect the magnet system, not overhaul it, which throws a major wrench into Tedesco's plan.

Tedesco's admission that his zone assignment scheme would create high poverty schools contradicts the repeated promises by Tedesco and the new majority that they would not resegregate the schools. Race and economic status are sadly closely aligned in Wake County.

Assistant Superintendent Chuck Delaney told the Independent Weekly that abandoning the diversity policy would create as many as 10 high-poverty schools with as many as 80 percent of the students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

The experience of other districts shows that a concentration of poor students at that level is likely to prompt middle class parents to abandon the schools, often leaving them with close to 100 percent poor students.

Research is clear that schools with high concentrations of students eligible for free and reduced lunch are less likely to have experienced, top flight teachers, one of the most important factors in student learning.

Former school board member Bill Fletcher, a conservative Republican, told WRAL-TV that the high poverty schools would be a disaster. "If we're not careful, we will see our teacher turnover rate go up, costing the district at least $15,000 for every position vacated," Fletcher said. "We'll see academic achievement suffer. We'll see teacher attraction suffer."

Given that poor students don't perform as well in overwhelmingly poor schools, Tedesco's grand plan would create two school systems, one middle class, white and successful and one poor and struggling in which the vast majority of the students are African-American and Latino.

Tedesco says his plan would address that with more funding for poor schools, which Dr. Gerald Grant described as throwing money over the wall in his book comparing Wake County Schools to systems in Syracuse.

The experience of school districts around the country shows that doesn't work, not to mention that it sounds a bit odd for politicians so closely aligned with Republican Party to propose throwing money at a problem to make it go away.

Tedesco and most of the rest of the Gang of Five acknowledge that the zone scheme or any proposal to end the diversity policy can't be implemented until the 2011-2012 school year. And that's assuming that Tedesco can convince Goldman to rethink her opposition to dramatically reworking the magnet system.

The delay is good news for people worried about Tedesco's plan for rich zones and poor zones, and it gives more time for parents who are currently satisfied with their children's schools to speak out, all 94.5 percent of them.
Progressive Pulse Blog


diggndeeper said...

This is most curious reporting(?) of the new movement by the Wake County school board. I am not so sure this is actual accurate reporting. I say this because if these board members entered into a philosophy to discontinue socioeconomic busing, you have to assume some schools become higher poverty, due to concentration of the demographics, and some schools become lesser poverty levels.

Anyway, Wake County already has lower academic performance than CMS as Mecklenburg County found out when it ended forced busing.

As for teacher turnover, Wake County's present numbers are not that different from CMS's. I think CMS could get theirs better with a couple of simple strategies but that is discussion for another time.

Anonymous said...

The problem with social activists is they don't hear the real issues, choosing instead to turn everything into a political, racial, societal rant and twisting statistics to serve their purpose.

Just about every sentence written by this joker could be refuted or explained by something other than what he's trying to imply: that somehow, the GOAL is to separate people.

That's not the goal. The goal is to EDUCATE people.

He says 94.5 percent of people are happy with their school. Of course they are. It's a common thread in schools all over the country. People think the school their kid goes to is great (and in many cases it is) but they think most of the other schools stink.

Why this perception? Because all we ever hear about is how horrible everything involved with education is, which is a farce.

There will always be whiners. If the ones whining are the ones failing, the system is probably working the right way.

Those who fail are the ones who make excuses and worry more about what other people have instead of what they can accomplish with what they have.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Chris Fitzsimon (and probably Jack Betts as well) should check in with CMS. Have test scores plunged for minority and FRL students since we left busing behind? Or are scores gradually increasing (anyone should be suspicious of scores that dramatically shoot up overnight)? The answer is the latter, which can't be said for Wake FRL and minority kids. What about the overall condition of schools since the change in assignment? Check out Observer archived articles about school conditions in the 80's and 90's--appalling! Are some schools now heavily FRL and and showing overall lower scores than other schools? Yes, they are. However programs are in place at those schools to specifically target those children who start school with a disadvantage. Would these children be able to receive that specialized help if they were spread throughout the system as they were under busing? And, biggest question of all--were poor and minority children succeeding under busing? No, they were not--their scores were merely hidden, as test scores were reported as an average for the entire school. Sure, we had fewer "failing" schools, but no fewer failing kids--in fact, probably more. However, if diversity is the holy grail I suppose that doesn't really matter.

Afiz said...

Thanks for the great post
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