WakeEd

The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. How will the new student assignment plan balance diversity, stability, proximity and stability? How will Jim Merrill replace Tony Tata as the new superintendent of the state's largest district? How will voters react to a $810 million school construction bond referendum on Oct. 8 ballot? How will this fall's school board elections impact the future of the district?

WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui. While Keung posts information and analysis on the issues, keep us posted on your suggestions, questions, tips and what you're doing to cope with the changes in Wake's schools.

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Wake still one of the best districts?

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How soon do you think the New York Times will do another story about Wake's academic results?

As noted in today's article, things have changed since the Sept. 2005 Sunday front-page Times article on Wake. Tougher math and reading EOG exams have lowered Wake's passing rate from 90.4 percent in 2005 to 70.8 percent this year.

That article, along with the ensuing coverage in other publications, helped boost Wake's national reputation. Wake school and community leaders would often argue that Wake is one of the best school systems in the nation.

"The Wake County Public School System is among the best in the nation, in large part because of many decades of great leadership by some courageous school board members and educators in the district, and great support from community and business people in the county," wrote former Gov. Jim Hunt.

Hunt penned those words in "A School District's Journey to Excellence: Lessons From Business and Education," the recent book written by former Superintendent Bill McNeal and former school board member Tom Oxholm.

So, can Wake still make that claim now? Folks in the district say the answer is yes.

"It doesn't take away any of the luster from Wake County," said Donna Hargens, chief academic officer, of the new test results.

School board member Patti Head agreed that Wake is still among the best school districts in the nation.

"People who come to Wake County will still get a good school," Head said.

School board member Lori Millberg said no parents have questioned her why the test scores have dropped. She said people understand that it's because the tests have changed.

Millberg and other school officials stand behind the 91 percent passing rate of a few years ago as having been a valid measure of academic performance in the district.

"It doesn't take away from the fact that we made great gains," Millberg said. "The results encouraged other school systems that they could do it too."

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shearertw--You bring up a

shearertw--You bring up a good point. Considering the number of highly educated parents we have in Wake County and the county's higher wealth compared to the rest of the state, we SHOULD be performing better. The fact that Wake scores higher than the rest of the state doesn't necessarily mean that it is because of the superiority of Wake's schools or teaching methods. I'm sure it plays a part, but I think that the other factors are more important.

We need to be taking the Iowa tests or other national tests in order to really gauge where we stand. Scoring better than the rest of the state doesn't mean a whole lot.

A letter from William Lynch

With reference to Keung Hui's 11/12 article about WC (Wake County) vs. NC scores and WC bragging rights: There are truths about performance comparisons that the N&O continues to ignore.

Comparisons of performance do not depend upon test difficulty or the selection of cut lines. Also, the ability to make comparisons with past results or with national achievement are not affected by changes in a home-grown test.

The fact is that the WC vs. NC gaps from 04-05 to 07-08 are identical! There are proper quantitative methods for defining this gap. One simple statement is that WC students perform at a level that is about one sixth above the statewide knowledge growth from one grade to the next.

A better way to profess this gap to the public is to say that ~33% of NC students have test scores that are lower than the highest score for the lowest 25% of WC students. This is true for all of the years shown in the line graph and is indifferent to any changes in test difficulty. The WC edge is primarily related to the enhanced performances of WC white students relative to statewide white students.

WC is not gaining ground on the state and there is little to "brag" about.

William T. Lynch, Ph.D.
Apex

Wake County also has one of

Wake County also has one of the most eductated parental populations in the country, not state, country.  So what does that say about the job WCPSS is doing?

Never was...

Wake is not and never was one of the best districts in the country.
2 years ago, I moved from one of the better school disctricts (a smaller one as well) and the difference is night and day. I agree with one of the other posters as well that the curriculum in WCPSS is 1.5 to 2yrs behind.
The outcome of the election ensures the same 'ol, same 'ol will continue. Special thanks goes out to all of you straight ticket dem voters.
Of course the system should break apart (I suggest 5 districts).
I recently attended the magnet school fair and was amazed at the resources designated to these "special" schools. Does anyone know the cost per pupil difference between a "regular" ES and a "magnet" ES in WCPSS? My kid's ES (Holly Ridge) can't even get books for all the classes! How can this level of disparity in educational opportunity in the same school system NOT be illegal?

Don’t assume all the

Don’t assume all the magnets have material extras. Moore Square does not have enough textbooks for the kids to take them home. The school does not even have enough for each kid to have their own copy in  class. Farmington Woods also does not have enough text books for kids to have  their own book in class.  Both are Magnets.  While West Cary is swimming in textbooks.

If I remember correctly,

If I remember correctly, textbook purchases are a local , site-based decison by the School Improvement Team, principal and staff.  The school is obligated to teach the NC standard course of study and they can choose to trade in textbook funds for other materials, resources if they decide to do so as long as they meet the curriculum requirements. 

 One year, my school chose to not buy new textbooks in lieu of math manipulatives for hands on activities.

Very often, state approved textbooks do not follow the complete  NC standard course of study-- but they serve as a resource for those teacher s who chose to use them.

 Show me a teacher who goes chapter by chapter by the book, and I bet this teacher generally  is not meeting the needs of the students or the curriculum.

A shortage of textbooks often occurrs at school due to student growth or popularioty of classes that exceed demand.  Seems as if we were told there is a major lag time in textbook order and delivery from the state warehouse.

I can accept that....

I can accept that but it wasn't my main point. 

I've asked an important question, what is the cost per pupil at a magnet school vs. the average traditional school in the county?  I've never seen that information but I think it is important for us to know when considering the magnet program in general.  Any additional funds sent to the magnet system is money taken away for the OTB schools (now that the vast majority of magnets are ITB). 

Sorry I have lived in one of

Sorry I have lived in one of the best schools systems. Fairfax VA. Naturally Diverse, High scores no matter what the kids economics, and much better behavior without being Draconian !!!! I feel Wakes old scores were fraud. I was in a school system that did test at a national standard and thought NC also did. Silly me, why should I expect honesty. What I have seen Wake is nationally a year and a half to two years behind curriculum wise. As far as meeting Federal regulations for special ed oh my god how has this county not been sued over and over again. It is sooo far out of compliance it is shocking. Well I guess Wake can pride itself on being better than Alabama By the way why didn't that report for the New York Times verfy the validity of Wakes test scores. The reporter would of had access to info I did not when looking at Wake.

Keung, Which schools'

Keung,

Which schools' parents got pamplets sent to them? I haven't heard of anybody who got one in our area & that surprises me.

I'd give it time. Wake says

I'd give it time. Wake says they were told it would take three to four days for people to receive the pamphlets since they were getting the non-profit postage rate.  Factor in Veterans Day and it might mean not getting them until Thursday or Friday.

Parents continue to flee "best" schools

Since I do not have a bird cage to line, I do not get the NYT. Did anyone see if they mentioned the fact that nearly 20% of all school-aged children in Wake County do NOT attend the vaunted WCPSS schools. This is the highest rate in NC and twice the national average. Isn't this proof enough that the image of WCPSS being "best in the nation" is all smoke and mirrors?

To be fair, Charlotte and

To be fair, Charlotte and Durham both usually have higher percentages of students opting out of their distircts than Wake. I haven't run the numbers for them for last year to see how they compare to Wake.

Opting out

Thanks Keung.  The N&O has reported this year that the Wake home school community is the largest in the state, I believe.  I also know that most private and parochial schools are bursting and many are planning expansions, explaining lower than expected WCPSS enrollment and yet another indication that parents are fleeing the government system in droves.  Kent

 

There was a nice rebuttal

There was a nice rebuttal written up to that original NYTimes piece in the National Review: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZWUxYzY1OGEzYWVmOGYwY2Y2NTIzZTA1MmFkOGQ4YWE

For now....

"Less is More" should be the motto of the WCPSS. If you want a better school system like mentioned below, I believe the best course of action is to reverse the 1975 law that mandated that Wake County & City of Raleigh combined systems. The current BoE(eR) is still operating under the mindset that there are two separate systems already. By breaking the "beast" apart, the elitist of the BoE(eR) then can focus on the school they really care about "inside-the-beltline." All those annoying parents & serfs "outside-the-beltline" cease to be a problem for them.

I honestly believe that there are some of the OTB unwashed masses that would do a great job running a county system. Ron M is one of those people. I'm sick & tired of the "let them eat cake" attitudes of the ITB School Board.

You can't be the best when you alienate parents

I've lived in other areas of the country too. Wake is a good school district but no where near the best in the country. Wake will never come close to being the best either if they keep alienating parents. I'm not even talking about all of the reassignments or year round vs. traditional issues. There just seems to be a general disregard for parental opinions in the WCPSS. I mean it takes lawsuits to get the school buses to do their jobs correctly. It just seems that if the school system listened to the voice of parents a little sooner in many situations WCPSS would go a lot smoother for everyone! There is a way to work through a bureauacry and it's through communication. But communication is a two way street that demands respect from both sides. The one thing I was shocked about when I moved her was the complete transfer of power of the school districts from parents to school board members. It is definitely an ideological shift that is hard to get used to. In most parts of the country the power is in the hands of the parents not the school board members because they know who pays their salaries & can vote them out.

Bureaucracy

There's a big reason that the best districts in the country tend to be smaller.  Smaller districts have less bureaucracy, answer more to the parents and create community pride in the district.  Large districts simply cannot do that.  The school board spends far more time on things like land acquisition, assignment patterns, scheduling and transportation (all of which are basically just administrative functions) than on academics.   I suggest this pattern is reversed in smaller districts.

 And, that's one reason why I support breaking up WCPSS.  I believe that a dozen smaller districts could each easily outperform the one larger district.  (A dozen is a random number I pulled out of the air.)

 

Bingo

Bob,

You are right on.  I don't think a dozen districts is the right answer because we'd lose too much economy of scale.  2-3 Districts would be much more manageable than the behemoth we have now.

Unfortunately, we are screwed as far as this ever getting done.  The NCGA would have to approve this.  I'm pretty sure if you asked the seven Democratic NCGA members, six would say they don't support it and Ty Harrell would say he's "still considering" the issue.  I think a lot of people cast straight-party Democratic ballots without thinking about the impacts at the local level.

The new Dem majority on the BoC doesn't help either.

Just my 'happy thoughts' on the subject.

YOU ARE EXACTLY

YOU ARE EXACTLY CORRECT!

Just like releasing a 3 year "move the kids all over" plan on Saturday and then having so called "meetings" with the parents for comments AFTER it's released so they can say WE LISTENED!

BS!!!

Pay NO attention to the "let's bus the kids endless miles and waste millions doing so" plan because they continue to whine that IF they don't get all their funds and schools aren't built they'll never be able to adhere to any of it ANYWAY!

The BS Plan!!!!!  THAT is what the wcpss has become!!!

 

Well, gotta say

OK, there should be no doubt I am a strong critic of WCPSS. That said, Salem Elementary and Middle schools are freakin awesome. Why? Simple -- heavy parental involvement and great LOCAL management and teachers. We've warded off the evil pixie dust from the WCPSS laboratories -- for now. I'm sure Chuck is as light a touch as Gen. Sherman when it comes to his enemies (i.e., successful local schools) He's got the "Brave" BoE(eR) behind him, right?

I second this!

Salem Elem and Middle are great!  Here's a big THANK YOU to all the parents, teachers and local management! :)

Shhh...d..d..del & dulaney will reassign you!!!

If Salem is so great, then surely it must be time to destroy its record by reassigning half the population out for so-called F&R issues...  Count your blessings and keep quiet or you will meet the same fate as Davis Drive at the hands of these power-crazy jerks!!! 

Enron-style accounting: Alive and Well at the WCPSS...or, How to normalize achievement via F&R busing.

"heavy parental involvement

"heavy parental involvement and great LOCAL management and teachers"

 You've hit the nail on the head with those two..... 

One of the best school

One of the best school districts in the country....puhleez....

I've lived in one of the best and there is no comparison. If Wake was so great at the true business of public education (which is actually teaching all of the kids), there'd be no question about using a nationally-recognized test (like the Iowa Tests) rather than the NC-specific EOGs (that aren't difficult enough).

Instead Wake spends all of its time and energy on figuring out how to ration education resources to a select few (magnet programs), how to ignore most advanced and AG students, and how to bus kids to the end of the earth just so they don't have to deal with Title I school issues....

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.
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