Is it a higher value for Wake County students to attend their neighborhood school or for students from low-performing nodes to be able to get into a high-performing school?
That issue is at the heart of changes being proposed to bump up the importance of student achievement in the selection process for the new student assignment plan. If implemented, the changes could result in students from low-performing nodes taking away openings at the high-performing schools from the families who live near them.
“We want to make sure that low-performing students and minority students get a good shot at some of these schools,” Democratic board vice chairman Keith Sutton said last week. “We want to make sure the plan is successful. We don’t want to create more high-poverty schools.”
Click here for a list of the high-performing regional-choice seats.
Click here for a list of the regional-choices schools that includes the underenrolled schools. Even though the spreadsheet doesn't include the high-performing middle and secondary schools, I'm told they're on the actual list.
There are no official seat asides in the plan right now. School administrators acknowledge that this could mean that some applicants from low-performing nodes would wind up in an underenrolled regional-school choice instead of one of the high-performing schools.
That wasn't an acceptable option for the Democratic board members.
“There are definitely schools that do better with low-performing children,” new Democratic board member Jim Martin said. ”I don’t think the least selective schools are the ones that are likely to meet that need.”
Fellow new Democratic board member Christine Kushner echoed that concern, particularly in regard to the students from the low-performing nodes who are being displaced from attending magnet schools.
“It’s important that those students who aren’t able to be in a magnet school by proximity do have s real choice," Kushner said. "It’s a moral choice to be able to attend a high-performing school and I think that’s an important factor of this plan.”
The new majority is looking at two ways to tackle the issue.
One option targeting the high-performing schools would move students from low-performing areas above neighborhood students in the selection process. Siblings would still go first but then would come the applicants from the low-performing nodes. This would mean the proximity students would get whatever is left over.
Another possibility for those high-performing schools would be to set aside a fixed percentage of openings. Superintendent Tony Tata said they're looking at the impact of setting aside 15 percent of the seats.
Tata said staff will officially report to the board on Tuesday about the impact and feasibility of implementing those student achievement changes. But he gave some examples last week of how it could impact schools.
"Do we want to go to Olds Elementary and say you don’t get 66 kids or whatever it is for kindergarten?” Tata said. “You’re getting 50 because we’re going to hold 16 seats in that very small school because you’re a regional-choice school.”
Tata also cited Davis Drive Middle, another regional-choice high-performing school. He noted how families from Carpenter Elementary have complained about how the new plan would no longer feed them to Davis Drive Middle. Unless the plan is changed, the Carpenter families would have to apply to go to Davis Drive.
"Are we going to set aside 20-40 seats, now denying Carpenter Village further access to Davis Drive Middle?" Tata told board members.
New Democratic board member Susan Evans said they can create a waiting list for proximity students at the high-performing schools who don't get in because of the set asides. She said they can then release to those on the waiting list any seats not taken by the students from the low-performing nodes.
It's uncertain how many applicants from low-performing nodes will request a regional-choice school.
Tata told board members that the student assignment task force debated the issue for months before deciding not to include set asides. He said they opted for a mix of having applicants from the low-performing nodes go to high-performing schools and underenrolled schools.
"We can do whatever the board wants to do there but it’s a very real tough discussion," Tata said to the board. "You can talk yourself into either direction on that.”
Democratic board chairman Kevin Hill acknowledged that the changes could keep some neighborhood students from getting into high-performing schools.
But Hill also pointed to how it’s an accepted practice that the magnet schools will displace some of the students who live near them.
“We’ve got to make decisions that are in the academic benefit of students,” Hill said.
Republican board members are calling the proposed changes another quota system, using test scores instead of family economic background or race to balance schools. They’re warning that the proposed changes to the assignment plan would result in some students’ being denied a chance to attend their neighborhood schools.
“I can’t imagine parents wanting to lose the option to attend a proximate school in order to put in a quota busing system,” Republican board member John Tedesco said.
Tedesco said the changes are a repackaging of the old diversity policy under a new label.