Former Wake County school board member Beverley Clark wasn't the only speaker firing bombs at Tuesday's school board meeting.
As noted in today's article, critics of the new choice-based student assignment plan and supporters of magnet schools made up much of the turnout for public comment. Several speakers urged the board to make major changes to the new assignment plan.
Speakers also defended the magnet school program, downplaying the data indicating they have larger achievement gaps than non-magnet schools. They also denied that magnets were schools within a school as terms such as "social justice" and "diversity" were often mentioned.
Amelia Lumpkin, a former magnet student, said she came to dispel three magnet school myths. The former Enloe High student is the daughter of Adrienne Lumpkin, a past Enloe PTSA president, who also spoke Tuesday.
Amelia Lumpkin said it's a myth that it's "unfair" because magnet schools have programs other schools don't have. She said Wake doesn't have the resources to provide magnet programs at all schools. She also noted that magnet schools are in older facilities and "less favorable" areas.
"You give some to get some," Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin said the second myth is that equal means equitable.
"All children deserve an equitable education, which is one that serves their needs the best and offers equal opportunity for success and upward mobility upon completion of their education," Lumpkin said. "Each school does not necessarily have to check a certain number of boxes to be right for your child.”
Lumpkin gave the example of how she goes to Davidson College and her sister attends Appalachian State. She said neither school offers the same program and neither would get what they want by switching.
Lumpkin said the third myth is that separating children by different factors allows you to help them to learn better. She said that while differentiation can help with growth, the impact of diversity within a school can’t be minimized
Lumpkin then gave a personal example, citing how at Enloe she had the presence of two theater teachers, a technical theater teacher, a chorus teacher, a band teacher, a music teacher and two dance teachers that showed the school's commitment to arts.
Lumpkin said that her time in the arts program caused her to develop a passion of theater for social justice which is now the specialty in her major.
While noting the safety pitfalls at Enloe, Lumpkin said she had benefited from being around such a diverse student body.
“It goes without saying that I benefited from having a diverse student body," Lumpkin said. "As an African-American female, high-achieving theater person, I always had an eclectic group of friends with different styles of dress, patterns of speech and ways of supporting me.
Please keep magnets alive. The magnet system is a way to ensure sustainable distribution of programs as well as diversity and equity for every school.”
Robert Siegel, whose children have attended Enloe, said that any review of the magnet program should look at the complexity of challenges for educating downtown Raleigh students. He pointed to national studies showing that African American students who attend integrated schools are more likely to graduate and have higher income earning potential.
“I believe that we do have a pro-integration constituency here in Wake County," Siegel said. "And these are inconvenient truths for anyone who wants to exploit the achievement gap, laying the blame at the doorsteps of our magnet schools. And these are inconvenient truths for people who want to complain about the extra federal funding for magnet schools knowing full well that without the funding some of these magnets would become schools of poverty.
And these are inconvenient truths for people who refer to our magnets as a school within a school, implying that the teachers treat the base students differently than students attending from the suburbs. These teachers give 110 percent to every student, every day. Spend some quality time at these schools and learn firsthand what these educators do."
Siegel said that "instead of singling out certain magnet schools," the school system should be lobbying for adequate funding.
Mary Martorella, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, also spoke of the need for extra funding. She also urged the school board to increase scrutiny of the problem of growing concentrations of poverty at some schools.
"Although choice, proximity and stability have value in determining student assignments, they need to be limited when the pursuit leads to high concentrations of poor children in a school," Martorella said. "Your primary focus must be on creating the best possible education for all of our children. It is indeed their civil right.”
Karey Harwood said that the achievement gap in Wake is complex and varied.
Harwood compared the achievement gaps between F&R and non-F&R students at several schools looking at three-year test score averages.
For instance, Harwood said that Lynn Road and Mills Park elementary schools both have gaps of 25 to 28 percentage points. But she said that Mills Park's non-F&R students have a proficiency rate of 96.1 percent compared to 77.6 percent at Lynn Road. She said that's a gap of 18.5 percentage points between two supposedly similar groups.
Then Harwood compared Davis Drive and Stough elementary schools, which have gaps of 21 to 25 percentage points between F&R and non-F&R students. She said the proficiency rate for non-F&R students at Davis Drive is 97.3 percent compared to 81.9 percent at Stough.
Harwood said that to Davis Drive's credit, it has one of the highest proficiency rates for F&R students at 75.8 percent. But she said it also has one of the lowest percentages of F&R students in Wake, which she said has been made even smaller by the discarding the diversity policy.
Harwood said anyone concerned with truth wouldn’t argues that a relative achievement gap shouldn’t be considered the same thing at different schools.
Harwood's last example was Root, Lacy and Hunter elementary schools, which she said all have achievement gaps of more than 50 percentage points. She noted that Hunter educates homeless students. She said the fact that two are non-magnets and one is a magnet tells very little if anything at all.
“We’re wasting time and energy trying to paint the achievement gap as a magnet school problem," Harwood said.
Harwood then noted that on average non-magnets also have large achievement gaps between F&R and non-F&R students.
“Rather than using achievement gaps to attack the magnets, much as the achievement gap was used to attack the now discarded diversity policy, please spend more time and effort looking more closely at the numbers in context," Harwood said. "If the concern for the achievement gap was sincere then a complex array of responses is required for a complex and diverse county. All of our schools need more resources."
Harwood closed by saying "please seek solutions, not scapegoats.”
Heather Koons warned what could happen in Charlotte with the creation of high poverty downtown schools with low test scores could take place in Wake too.
“Some of the downtown schools will become extremely high poverty if you move or weaken magnet programs or continue with the current choice program," Koons said. "In just two years thanks to selective node shifts, the number of schools with poverty rates above 75 percent has shot up. And the old board even knowingly created an all-new high poverty school.”
Koons further commented on Walnut Creek Elementary, complaining that the old board extended their school day without giving teachers extra pay. That's partially being rectified by using federal Race to the Top money to offer signing bonuses and performance pay.
Koons also accused the old school board of not following through on its promise of small class sizes at the crowded Walnut Creek. She added that Wake doesn’t have the money it needs to address the challenges of the poverty schools it now has.
“I propose that you take a really hard look at the path you’ve started down and make a rapid u-turn and go back and fix what the old board has broken before you make any new changes," Koons said.
Adrienne Lumpkin said that she was going to publicly answer the magnet survey.
“Most of our schools in Wake County are very good, whether they’re magnets or not," Lumpkin said. "Our public magnet school program however has been a stalwart champion of Wake County’s education system for more than 30 years. Magnets play a particularly important role in providing expanded educational opportunities for diverse populations of students. The diversity is part and parcel of the learning experience.”
Lumpkin said other school systems have failed when they abandoned diversity.
"It’s critical to maintain magnet opportunities for parents who choose to take part in them," Lumpkin said. "That is our choice plan. Magnet parents and students get a chance for a wonderful experience and give up the luxury and convenience of new buildings and proximity.
That is the compromise that we have been willing to make. Nobody gets everything they want and this has been our give and take.”
Lumpkin said Wake should increase the number of magnet seats by creating more programs and not by displacing more base students. She said new magnet programs should be placed in areas that will draw a heterogeneous populations. She said it would be a mistake to put magnets strictly in wealthy suburban areas
“Magnets shouldn’t be eliminated, disseminated or watered down but rather strengthened to improve our entire school system," Lumpkin said. "Please don’t screw them up.”
Hal Reed pointed back to last fall's school board elections.
“The 2011 Wake County board election was a very clear cut referendum on the 2009 elected board, the work they had done and the plan they had devised for student assignment," Reed said. "It was a shutout, a landslide election last year. The citizens of Wake County voted no, five to nothing in fact. I don’t think the results could have been any clearer.
Had you really wanted choice for Wake County parents, you would have listened of that election. Wake County parents spoke very, very clearly. I don’t think it could have been any clearer. But within a week, in a move of thuggish, cynical politics, Mr. (Superintendent Tony) Tata and the lame duck board moved forward with a hastily patched together assignment plan, spitting in the face of voters. It was a sad, cynical anti-democratic ploy and I hope that it haunts you as you seek other offices."
The vote occurred after the general election but before the runoff election when it was still 4-4 between the Republicans and Democrats.
Reed warned that real estate values will drop in the new plan with people not having a base school.
“Don’t take on the magnet schools if you haven’t finished the assignment plan, and you haven’t finished with the assignment plan,” Reed said.
Former school board candidate Rita Rakestraw also pointed back to the 2011 elections.
“Many of us were elated that Kevin Hill won his re-election runoff in November," Rakestraw said. "And now we are respectfully waiting for the school board to give our children in Wake County a fair shot. We thought that it might happen in January, February, March. Now it’s June.
Nothing in this choice plan prevents the creation of high-poverty schools, In many of our schools, numbers are becoming more and more unbalanced and are heading into a downward spiral. If you don’t vote to make some changes,"
Rakestraw pointed to projected F&R rates for incoming students at several schools to say that Wake is turning into a system of have and have-not schools.
“I ask you to reinstate Policy 6200," Rakestraw said. "Please put a cap on each school so it’s not overwhelmed with too many low-achievement kids. For example, no more than 50 percent below grade level at each school so our teachers are not overburdened, so all our schools in Wake County can strive to be balanced, diverse and we can give each child the attention and resources he or she needs."
Kelly Roberts defended Hunter Elementary, whose achievement gap was noted at last week's meeting.
“I am here to offer my full support for the magnet program," Roberts said. "Nowhere else I know can give my children the tools for global living and the thirst for social justice that characterize their experience with Wake County schools.”
Roberts said the achievement gap data need more context and texture. She said that the board should consider the transient nature of the proximity students and how they're working against "almost insurmountable challenges" to educate them.
“The unilateral and rapid repeal of policy 6200 effectively decimated the strides we were making to provide consistent support for our free and reduced lunch population," Roberts said.
Roberts said that when looking at gaps they should consider the continuum of AG Basics students and homeless children that "creates outliers."
Roberts also said that Hunter is not a school within a school. She said the AG Basics program is "perfectly situated in the neediest populations of downtown Raleigh."
“We have no silos, no AG-only teachers," Roberts said. "Each teacher teaches both core and electives and the entire population benefits. The best education for all is the goal and most teachers have the expertise to spot areas of creative and critical thought in children who might otherwise be overlooked due to their socioeconomic status.”
Roberts said the theme this year is one school as they've been targeting students on the cusp of grade level status.