Wake County school board member John Tedesco was on the Fox Business Network today defending the elimination of the diversity policy amid all the recent national media attention.
In this interview on "The Wiilis Report," Tedesco attacked the old diversity policy on financial and academic grounds. Tedesco, who was the only person interviewed for the report, also expressed his disappointment at U.S. Secretary Education Arne Duncan's recent criticism of Wake.
Tedesco also criticized last week's Washington Post article on Wake and denied that the school changes in the district were the result of a Tea Party takeover.
Gerri Willis, the host of the show, asked Tedesco if the diversity policy was dropped for financial reasons. Tedesco replied it was "certainly a money-saving issue."
"Those buses hold 72 elementary students each but yet the average ridership is only 23 because we spend a lot of time getting 5- and 6-year-old kids on bus stops at 5:30, 6:30 in the morning on one side of the county to commute an hour to the other side of the county with 10 kids on the bus here and 10 kids on the bus there," Tedesco said. "It's somewhat inefficient."
It's a bit of an exaggeration because it's mostly middle school and high school students who are on the first tier of buses in the morning.
But Tedesco added later that the primary reason for eliminating the busing policy was academics. He noted the old 54 percent graduation rate for low-income students and test scores showing how less than half the kids in the projected Southeast Raleigh zone were passing state reading exams.
"At some point we as a system have to focus our efforts and energies on teaching children how to read as opposed to just redistributing the problem to make all the children and all the schools look like they're equally balanced," Tedesco said.
Tedesco was asked why getting rid of busing is the answer. He brought up the issues of reassignment, saying there's lack of stability that's splitting up families. In a bit of an exaggeration, he said 24,000 students were reassigned last year. That's the original three-year number in the multi-year plan.
"I represent some of the lowest income sections of our community in my district and many of those families happen to be single-parent households, single-parent moms who come to me crying, 'Mr. Tedesco I take public transportation to work in the local hospital cafeteria. How am I supposed to go meet with my student's teachers an hour away from home? Why is my 6-year-old on a bus in commute for two hours a day and yet you want me to engage in the school?'" Tedesco said.
Tedesco was asked about last week's Washington Post letter by Duncan calling Wake's actions "troubling" and an example of going backward.
"I'm very disheartened and disappointed that Secretary Duncan chose to read a skewed media article out of The Washington Post before actually talking to leaders down here and making such a comment," Tedesco said. "But the reality is that this is 2010 in the Research Triangle of America.
We're one of the most integrated and diverse communities in the country right now and quite frankly having the mindset that simply reassigning kids is the answer to education has failed us."
Tedesco added the argument he's made in the past he feels poverty will be the civil rights issue of this generation. He said they can't use 1960s strategies to fight segregation to deal with the problem.
Citing The Washington Post article, Willis asked if the whole movement in Wake was backed by the Tea Party. Tedesco answered it's "absolutely not true."
"Quite frankly, most of it was a grass roots movement of parents," Tedesco said. "For some 25 years in Wake County our school board had been run by a Democratic majority, a majority of Democrats on the school board.
This year, parents both from liberals and independents and Democrats and Republicans alike rallied together to elect a new board majority who would shift in a different direction. One that would be more focused on student achievement, more focused on families, parental choice and stability for our kids."
Willis wrapped things up saying she wanted to hear the end of the story. She said she wanted Tedesco back on when he got graduation rates up to 80 percent.