“If it ain’t broke, let’s fix it,” seems to be the battle cry of the new majority-Republican school board in Wake County North Carolina, which is working hard to undo its decades-long struggle for desegregation. The main issue? The new school board majority is pushing hard to revert back to ‘neighborhood schools.’ Although at first glance this may seem harmless and even logical, the hidden agenda they’re pushing is “let’s keep our rich white kids from affluent communities together and group the poor children, who are mostly minority, in their own school.” Don’t believe me? Listen to the rationale of school board member John Tedesco, described by the Washington Post in its article In N.C., a new battle on school integration, as “the most vocal among the new majority on the nine-member board.” According to the Post, Tedesco claims that “he and his colleagues are only seeking a simpler system in which children attend the schools closest to them. If the result is a handful of high-poverty schools, he said, perhaps that will better serve the most challenged students.” Tedesco himself states, “if we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful. Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it.”
Ok, so according to him, the Wake County School Board’s goal is to make the issues of poor and minority kids so great they can’t be ignored? Was that his campaign platform? “If elected, I vow to create schools where at least 80% of the students come from high poverty. I vow that I will do whatever I can to make the educational issues and needs of these students so dire, that they can’t be ignored.”
Scary reasoning: let’s address the educational problems associated with poverty by making them so bad we have to address them.
When the Wake County Board drafted a preliminary map of new school assignments, it was clear that their plans would create a handful of “high-poverty, racially isolated schools.” Perhaps more alarming, however, was the rationale offered by Art Pope, a former state legislator who said he would back extra funding for such schools. According to Pope, “If we end up with a concentration of students under-performing academically, it may be easier to reach out to them.” Brilliant. Address the needs of under-performing students by creating a situation where they will likely under-perform.
Sound strange? I thought so, and so too did Stephen Colbert, who blasted the school board in a recent segment on The Colbert Report. To me, the only focus should be on what’s best for kids–not parents, teachers, board members, or the community. There’s plenty of research demonstrating the negative impact on students who attend school with a high concentration of poor or minority students. The conclusion of Geoffrey Borman and Maritza Dowling’s 2010 article, Schools and Inequality: A Multilevel Analysis of Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity Data is compelling in the argument against the Wake County Board of Education’s position:
“. . . going to a high-poverty school or a highly segregated African American school has a profound effect on a student’s achievement outcomes, above and beyond the effect of individual poverty or minority status. Specifically, both the racial/ethnic and social class composition of a student’s school are 1 3/4 times more important than a student’s individual race/ethnicity or social class for understanding educational outcomes.”
So what’s the real agenda with the Wake County Board of Education? To me it seems like the Wake County Board of Ed’s flimsy arguments and faulty reasoning do little to mask their real agenda: to (as Stephen Colbert puts it) ‘disintegrate’ their schools. Is this really what the Wake County Board of Education and the community members believe is in the best interest of all kids?