Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Recently, the Wake County (NC) School District made national headlines for their decision to discontinue a diversity program that allowed for school placement based on socioeconomic status. The uproar resulted in the arrest of protestors at a recent School Board meeting, most notably the President of the state NAACP chapter, Rev William Barber (pictured above). In a speech to the Board during the most recent June 15 meeting, Board chair Ron Margiotta said the following in a speech to the members:

"As a Board, we have received some criticism, mostly from those who would prefer to remain in the

past. We have been unfairly criticized, many roadblocks have been erected to distract us from our

work. However, we remain steadfast in our beliefs and undeterred in moving forward; very decisively

with our goals. Our goals are lofty and worthwhile, however, change will not come quickly or easily."

(Wake Co. Board of Ed Minutes 6.15.10)

Let me quickly lay out why this is just an awful statement. I applaud the protestors at the meeting for not rioting after hearing such arrogance.


For those who don't know, I'm the son of career educators in the School District of Philadelphia. I've watched my parents go through the entire public school ringer, and have also had my own experiences in public school and working with public school administrators. On top of this backdrop, I'm a grad student in Urban Education and most importantly a parent who thinks that given the taxes I pay, I should have MANY quality PUBLIC education choices at my disposal. And more ideally, ALL people should have quality public education choices no matter their bank account status.


Wake County is made up of twelve cities, most notably state capital, Raleigh, and growing metro center, Cary. The county consists of all most 900k residents according to the most recent census numbers. The median family income ranges from $110k in Cary to as little as $44k in Zebulon.


I did some lunchtime research (defined as web surfing while eating lunch) on the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), and some interesting trends quickly became clear. The big buzz phrase in public education these days is ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS (AYP) for short due to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act signed into law in 2002. So whether you like it or not, AYP is the measuring stick against which schools are judged these days. Of the 51 elementary schools that made 100% of their AYP goals last year, 66% were located in TWO of the cities of Wake Co., they were RALEIGH, the state capital, and CARY, the most affluent city in the county. Five of the cities in the county only had ONE school meet all of their AYP goals. I think it's no coincidence that the cities with the fewest number of "quality" schools were the poorest, and had the highest rates of unemployment. I could go on and talk about how only 8% of the high schools made AYP goals, but I think you get the picture. Board member, John Tedesco, has been on TV talking about how the program was rescinded because it was not working for the poorest students in the county, but you would also recognize that there are other disparities that must be addressed so that ALL students have access to a quality education.


Board Chair Margiotta is trying to sell folks on the idea that eliminating the current school choice program is not a move to "Create high-poverty or low performing schools", but that's laughable because that was already happening, and now there will not even be the same effort to stem that trend. Without the diversity program, families who are able will pick up and move to areas where the highly-resourced schools are concentrated, leaving the already struggling cities to wilt even further without their tax dollars. My four years spent at the mighty Central HS, a Philly magnet school, certainly played a part in preparing me to work where I work, live where I live, and develop relationships with folks of various backgrounds. If public school gatekeepers continue to be allowed to make moves that institutionalize socioeconomic and racial strata, then THEY are the ones who are continuing to harken back to the past NOT the protestors who shout at the top of their lungs that they want something different.