Neil Riemann, an attorney and critic of the Wake County school board's elimination of the diversity policy, says school leaders are making "bad" and "shoddy" arguments to federal investigators to justify the district's actions.
In a post Sunday on his Wake Reassignment blog, Riemann contends that the school district's recent response to the Office for Civil Rights doesn't prove the diversity policy was a failure. He acknowledges that Wake has lost ground academically but says the arguments made to show that the board majority acted reasonably "are not very good."
Among the many points in the OCR response, Riemann deals with the most controversial one in which Wake contended there's a correlation between decline in academic performance and longer commutes to school.
Riemann agrees with the statements in the response that poor and minority students are more likely to endure long bus rides and more likely to have their magnet school applications rejected.
"Certain poor and minority students pay a price in lost time and choice so that those same students and others can attend lower poverty, less racially isolated schools than they otherwise would," Riemann writes. "It is always legitimate to ask whether this is fair. It is hard to find an objectively right answer, but I would weigh most heavily the opinions of the communities most affected."
Riemann also agrees that there is a correlation between distance to base assignment and achievement. But he writes that it's not as "troubling" as Wake maintains.
"Students who travel farther to their base assignments tend to perform less well because they tend to be poorer, and our poor students—like the poor students in every public school system—tend to perform worse, as a group, than the nonpoor," Riemann writes.
"There is a misperception here, often shared by both sides, that a long bus ride, by itself, could or should improve academic performance," Riemann continues. "Busing a child away from a neighborhood magnet school maintained at 40% FRL to another, more distant school at 40% FRL will not do this, because the child’s performance should be similar in both schools. What the bus ride does is permit the existence of a system of schools where poor and minority children do not have to attend a poor, racially isolated school."
Another point Riemann touches on is Wake's argument that no local studies show the diversity policy helped the district's poor and minority students academically. He counters that there is no good reason to believe that things will turn out differently in Wake County than in other districts with high-poverty schools.
"The diversity policy retards the growth of high poverty schools," Riemann writes. "High poverty schools have been studied extensively, throughout the nation, from a variety of angles and approaches, at different levels of rigor, and the answer is clear: avoiding them is a good idea.
Riemann also acknowledges the data that Wake presented indicating it was outperformed in some ways by Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford County. But he writes that this does not mean the diversity policy has failed.
"While the comparison districts achieve better results in certain areas despite the absence of a diversity policy, you can’t use this to demonstrate that the diversity policy has failed," Riemann writes. "It may just show that whatever benefits the diversity policy has provided have, in the last few years and in certain respects, been eclipsed by some combination of things these other districts are doing right combined with things WCPSS is doing wrong."
Riemann addresses several other points before closing his post.
"I have attacked these arguments because they are bad arguments in support of a worse idea: the elimination of a policy that has retarded the growth of high poverty schools." Riemann writs in the conclusion. "Those who purport to be data-driven have a duty to use data to inform, not deceive. The response fails to do this, and we should condemn the use of these particular arguments by anyone who claims to be data-driven.
At the same time, WCPSS has lost ground in recent years when compared to fairly comparable systems. If the diversity policy did not fail us, other policies necessarily did. It is no answer to blame “growth” for this failing. Growth is a good thing for schools. Just ask Detroit. More importantly, growth is something that will one day return, whether it is good or not. When it does, we must have have a solid understanding of what we did wrong and how to do it better—despite growth—or we will be left in the dust. Some efforts of the ED Task Force are solid steps in that direction."