The revised student assignment policy drew some widely differing reaction Tuesday between the Wake County school board majority and minority board member Deborah Prickett.
As noted in today's article, policy supporters praised the revised policy with its balancing of student achievement, stability, proximity and operational efficiency as something "that anybody in this country would be proud of."
But Prickett charged it was a policy aimed at low-income and low-performing students that would move them out of their neighborhoods and wouldn't really help them succeed academically.
During the discussion, Prickett said she was concerned about the new wording that talks about trying to minimize high concentrations of low-performing students and students from low-income families at each school.
Prickett brought up the federal funding that Wake receives from the Title I program to help low-income students. She said she was concerned that reassignment would put low-income students out of Title I schools where the funding would provide additional assistance.
"I want to be certain the students who need the funding are getting the funding," Prickett said. "I’m concerned that when we take concentrations of low-performing students, and we’re also dealing with low-income families in addition, that we may lose some students who need the funding by just merely moving them to another school. I want us to be aware of what we’re doing.”
Prickett said the sections on minimizing low-income and low-performing students seemed to be "punitive" wording rather than taking a "positive" approach.
“Who is going to decide which students are going to stay in a school and which students are going to move from a school?" Prickett said. "Someone has to make these choices. Now I would prefer it to be the parents because I think it's the parents who know what’s best for their children.”
Prickett also challenged that moving these low-income students would help them.
“If we move them to another school where we think that we’re giving them more opportunity," Prickett said. "They go back home at night. They’re still back in the situation of poverty they’re in. We’re not really helping the community in that way.
I’d like to see us start helping not only the school but the students who live in the community by giving the communities the resources that they need, the interventions that they need. And that may look like something like having Health and Human Services hook up with one of our schools providing healthcare, parenting classes that sort of thing with our schools.”
Prickett also complained that the assignment policy doesn't address students who aren't academically struggling.
“We’re looking at an assignment plan that’s just basically targeting the low-performing students and the low-income families," Prickett said.
Prickett argued for the need for more equity in resources in the county.
“This plan basically moves the students out of their neighborhood and sends them away," Prickett said. "And when they come home at night they’re still dealing with the problem.
So I guess I’m trying to say that assignment isn't going to fix everything. It’s not going to fix the situation that the student lives in. I want us to be very aware of this."
Board member Jim Martin said he had to respond to Prickett's comments.
First, Martin thanked staff for revising the policy to take out things that don't deal with student assignment. He said they "can not comprehensively address student achievement in a student assignment policy."
Martin said that an assignment policy should "not be the catch-all for everything else."
“You ask what does it do to the higher-level children," Martin said as he continued to address Prickett. "You have your magnet, your application schools. They are addressed in the degree that assignment can impact that. But assignment can’t address all of our AG (academically gifted) needs.
Your assertion that this policy would be shipping children all over the county, or taking children out of their neighborhood, you apparently haven’t read the proximity section. Because the proximity section very clearly tries to say that number 1 if you live in the immediate vicinity of the school you get to go to that school. That’s not shipped all over the place.
And number 2 it says we’re not going to split up neighborhoods. That’s very critical to keep a cohort of students together. So I think that your assertion that you’re just going to be taking students and shipping them wherever, you’re almost implying that anytime and almost at whim students will be pulled out of one school and sent to another school and that’s absolutely not in this policy. I think staff has done a very good job to make sure that that’s not the case.
Furthermore I think it’s really critical to note that no one is saying that there’s going to be some hard line that if a school crosses 42.459 percent that all of sudden we’re going to do something. No it says target ranges. That’s going to be plus or minus 10, plus or minus 20 percent or something of the county average. We’re not going to get into this situation where it says oh you missed Title I by two students all of a sudden you’re going to lose those resources.
So I think we need to respect this policy as written. I think the staff has done a very good job to try to craft it in a context to recognize what student assignment can do and also recognize what it can’t do and that’s exactly why we need to pay attention to equity issues and look more comprehensively at what we’re doing and not try to let student assignment do all the heavy lifting for us."
School board member Tom Benton said he wished the community could have seen the "rich" discussions the board had about the draft policy during the work sessions.
“Student assignment is not a fix-all to these issues but it is an important tool," Benton said. "But we have to remember that it is just one tool and we've got to be reasonable.”
Benton cited as "reasonable" the proximity section of the policy and use of wording like "where appropriate."
“But all of this was recognizing that every bit of research that you can find — and I've not seen any yet that disproves it — every piece of research strongly suggests that if you've got high concentrations of low-performing students and from low-income families in a school it is extremely challenging to get them up to the levels that they deserve," Benton said.
And we’re just not talking low-performing students in those schools. One of the issues that we’re continuing to talk about in District 1 (is) what is happening with Level 3 and 4 kids in the schools where there’s a concentration of low performing (students).
If you look at the data what you’ll often see in our schools is that we’re doing a fantastic job of raising Level 1 and 2 kids up to proficiency. At the same time we are not advancing our Level 3 and 4 kids because what happens is that sometimes the tone in those schools is set so that you are emphasizing help for the kids who need it so much.
I was extremely impressed with what y'all came with from Student Assignment to start it. But more importantly I truly, truly wish that every citizen in Wake County could have seen or could go back and hear the discussions in the work sessions where these points were discussed and kicked around and we were trying to make clear we’re not going back to where we’re just going to yank kids from here and move them to there to balance out numbers.
If y’all remember at my interview, I said students are not numbers. They are human beings. They are our number-one job to keep care of the student and this policy comes the closest to giving staff the direction to actually put in place a fair and equitable student assignment plan in my opinion. This is an assignment plan that anybody in this country would be proud of."
Board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner said the policy puts the board in exactly the right place of laying out he parameters in policy and leaving the details to staff.
Board chairman Keith Sutton said it's been a "very thoughtful and deliberative process" that led to these revisions.
“What I think has come out is a policy that certainly helps to move us forward and not backwards and think about the things that are important to us in a policy putting student achievement at the top of that because that’s what we’re all about as a system, as a district and as a board," Sutton said. "I think what this policy does is help to the extent that we can use student assignment helping to give students the best possible chance at being successful and being able to succeed,"
The policy was approved 7-1 on first reading with Prickett voting no. Second reading is May 21.