Here is a piece on the Wake County school board race from Ashley Osment, a senior attorney at the Center for Civil Rights at UNC School of Law; Leah Aden, a fellow at the center, and Stephanie Horton, a third-year law student at the School of Law.
In it, they address points made repeatedly by school board critics, one being that ending 'busing' would save money (Charlotte spends more on school transportation) and one being the dismal graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students (a doubling of the ESL population since 2000 is one cause).
Wake County, Don’t Turn Back
This week and next, Wake County voters must decide whether to stay the course with its nationally heralded policy that promotes equality and “diversity” for all children or turn sharply toward a “neighborhood school” policy akin to the failing approach adopted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). Two issues at the forefront of the debate are busing and Wake’s 2008-2009 graduation rates.
Parents opposed to busing express concerns that it negatively affects the educational environment of Wake County Schools by contributing to poor performance, decreasing parental involvement, impeding extra-curricular participation, increasing costs and disrupting family units. While these are valid concerns generally, in Wake County, they are not grounded in fact.
In comparison to CMS, where students spend 44 minutes on average riding a bus each day, Wake students spend 38 minutes. Wake spends about $135 less per child for transportation. In comparison to the State, Wake students spend almost 1/4 hour less on a bus each day.
Pursuant to Wake’s “diversity” policy, 86 percent of its students currently attend a “neighborhood school” within five miles of their homes. Ninety-nine percent of Wake children attend a school within 10 miles of their homes. Only about one percent of children in Wake are bused to achieve diversity. For those attending magnet schools, Wake attempts to enroll students in schools within 12 miles of their homes.
In sum, as Chuck Dulaney, Wake’s assistant superintendent, remarked in June 2009, “Most of the people who are traveling long distances do so by choice.”
Critics of Wake’s “diversity” policy point to low graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students. It is indeed a problem that in 2009, Wake’s graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students fell to 54.6 percent. Close examination appears to link this drop in graduation rates for low income kids to correspondingly low graduation rates for Latino students and students with limited English proficiency.
Plainly, Wake must take immediate action to meet the needs of Latino students. The Latino population in Wake County has more than doubled since 2000. The school district’s diversity and curricular policies must be specifically adapted to meet the unique needs of these students.
But it is not the case that graduation rates across the board are lower in Wake County. Overall, Wake graduates almost 80 percent of its total high school students, above the state average of 70 percent and national average of 73 percent, as well as the CMS average of 66 percent. Wake’s graduation rates for African-American, Asian and multi-racial students exceed state averages as well.
As compared to CMS, Wake students attend colleges within the UNC System at higher rates, perform better while in college, require less remediation once enrolled and graduate at higher rates. Wake students take college entrance exams like the S.A.T. and Advanced Placement tests at higher rates than CMS students and score higher as well.
Education reform is at a critical crossroads nationwide. Only 52 percent of students in the nation’s 50 largest cities graduate high school in four years. Many in the education field look to Wake as a model for other urban school districts.
High-poverty schools suffer from an inability to recruit and retain high quality teachers and leaders, lack positive peer effects and have funding issues, which together create unsuccessful learning environments. Economically disadvantaged students are ten times more likely to drop-out of school. Without the education and skills necessary to compete for quality jobs, high school dropouts earn an average of 60 percent less than graduates. Consequently, billions of tax payer dollars are required to fund social welfare programs, which help support dropouts and their families.
Wake’s “diversity” policy gives low-income kids a much needed chance to succeed in a global and knowledge-based economy. Designed to protect all schools from the uphill climb that comes with high poverty schooling, Wake’s “diversity” policy affords every student opportunities to learn and grow alongside diverse sets of peers. The alternative “neighborhood school” assignment policy favors children from families that can pay the price of high mortgages over schools that can provide the benefits of a better education for all students.
The main question before voters in this election is whether they will allow balkanization to take root in their school district, where some children are assigned to schools of privilege while others are consigned to high-poverty schools.