How far should Wake County go in the new long-term student assignment plan to balance academic achievement across schools?
As noted in today's article, the blue plan and green plan recommended by the student assignment task force don't go as far as the red plan and burgundy plan in terms of student achievement. Issues such as cost, proximity and stability knocked the red and burgundy plans out of the equation.
"We looked for the most feasible and acceptable models that are consistent with board policy 6200 and provided the best opportunities for achievement, stability and proximity,” said Superintendent Tony Tata.
After coming up nine options, the student assignment task force had narrowed the choices to the blue, green, red and burgundy plans. Videos were shot explaining all four choices but the blue and green plans were chosen in the end as the top two choices.
Student achievement arguably formed a higher basis of the red and burgundy plans.
Like the blue plan, the red plan was a choice plan. But the first step in the red plan would have been to get low-achieving students into higher performing schools.
First, staff had determined the achievement scores for the county's 187 census tracts, which each contains roughly 1,200 children. The tracts with the lowest 20 percent of scores would have been called CT1. Everyone else was CT2.
Under the plan, every CT1 student would have been slotted into one of the top schools, called achievement choices in the blue plan. Principals at those schools would have been told to make sure the CT1 students would have been assigned to a highly effective teacher, as shown by EVAAS data.
The red plan said that no school would have more than 50 percent of its enrollment being CT1 students with the target of no more than 30 percent of them in any classroom.
"Research clearly shows the best thing for a student with greater learning needs is pairing that student with a high-performing teacher," said task force member David Ansbacher in a video explaining the red plan. "That is where maximum student achievement occurs and this plan is rooted in that idea."
When the selection process began, the first three priorities in the lottery would have been to assign CT1 students. Only then would placement occur for CT2 students.
To get more CT1 students into the higher performing schools, the default option would be for them to be sent to those schools. If they didn't make a different choice or made no choice at all, they'd go to the higher-performing school.
School officials used the example of how 401K participation increased significantly after the federal government changes the rules so that your default choice was to be in the retirement plan unless you opted out. Previously, you had to opt in to participate.
"Most people will stay with the default choice, positively impacting student achievement," Ansbacher said.
The red plan also called for over time moving magnet schools into CT1 areas.
Tata said that the red plan was good in principle. But when they evaluated the impact of the thousands of CT1 students going to the higher performing schools, they determined that transportation costs would have been too much.
In the blue plan, less detail is provided on how they'd identify which students in low-performing area would get priority. Those low-performing students would also rank fourth in the lottery priority list behind people trying to go to closer schools.
The blue plan also has no specifics on making the achievement choice the default option for these students or on setting goals and targets for the percentages of low-performing students in schools and individual classes.
Tata said they still might make the achievement choice the default option for some low-achieving students. That might not be well received. For instance, school board chairman Ron Margiotta said that smacks too much of the old diversity policy.
Now let's look at the burgundy plan, which like the green plan has base assignments. But the burgundy plan would "essentially start over and wipe the slate clean," according to Susan Pullium, a task force member, in a video explaining the plan.
The attendance lines would be redrawn to balance out achievement levels.
"In this plan the schools will be better balanced along the achievement spectrum from day one," Pullium said. "As all the attendance areas are redrawn there will be conscientious attention to keeping an achievement balance. The goal will be that the schools' proficiency levels will be within acceptable range of the system's average in that grade span."
They'd try to draw up a contiguous base attendance area but if that didn't balance achievement enough they'd draw from non-contiguous areas. Pullium said in the video they'd try to assign whole neighborhoods in the non-contiguous areas as opposed to assigning small segments.
Pullium said they'd pair each non-contiguous area with a contiguous area at the school. They're hoping this would foster strong community relationships. In addition, they'd reassign these "partner pairings" together if they had to move students out.
The burgundy plan would try not to exit the township or municipality to get achievement balance. But "in the worse case scenario" they would try to stay in the region if they needed to go further out.
The burgundy plan also called for Wake to develop a plan to increase the number of highly effective teachers in the low-performing schools.
Tata said the burgundy plan would have caused too much instability.
The green plan still calls for assigning nodes for academic balances. But it wouldn't change as many assignments as the burgundy plan.
Click here for a chart comparing all nine plans.