Below is a proper smackdown by Patty Williams:
Patty Williams is the coordinator for Great Schools in Wake, a coalition of WakeUp Wake County.
John Adams famously wrote, "Facts are stubborn things," and indeed they are for Wake County School Board member John Tedesco, who is now spreading his false conclusions about Wake County schools on a national scale.
In an OpEd column by conservative Minnesota Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, Tedesco claims that “busing for diversity” failed in our county, and Kersten gave him free reign to misinform her readers.
Kersten was writing in opposition to a plan by the Eden Prairie Board of Education to use socio-economic status as a factor in student assignment—the not-so-radical idea that education leaders should work to avoid the creation of high poverty schools.
A mountain of data shows that where there is concentrated poverty in a school, (1) recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and administrators is difficult, (2) student achievement suffers, and; (3) it costs more to educate each student. And contrary to Tedesco’s statement that “racial segregation has increased” in Wake County schools, a recent report published by Harvard University (“Segregation and Exposure to High‐Poverty Schools in Large Metropolitan Areas”) ranks Wake County among the least segregated metro areas for Black and Hispanic students.
Tedesco speaks against Wake’s past policies, but, in fact, fewer than five percent of students in Wake County are bused to avoid creating high-poverty schools. Years ago, school board members had the foresight to use socio-economic diversity as one of several criteria for student assignment.
As a result of this focus on maintaining healthy and balanced schools, only 15 of Wake’s 163 schools have a population of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in excess of 60 percent.
Counter to the claim that the “affluent are fleeing to private schools,” North Carolina Department of Public Instruction data demonstrates that the percentage of students attending public school has remained remarkably stable over the past decade. In fact, from 2005-2010, Wake County netted an additional 3,110 students coming from charter, private, and home schools.
According to historical data, Tedesco’s assertion that test scores have dropped every year is also without merit. Achievement gaps among subgroups, including economically disadvantaged, Black, and Hispanic students have narrowed, as measured by the results of end of year testing. And our dropout rate is among the lowest in North Carolina (3.47% for the 2008-09). Graduation rates have dropped—but by a mere 1.1 percent overall over the past four years, during a period of rapid growth and overcrowding in the district. During the same period, graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students have increased.
Clearly, there is a great deal of room for improvement in student achievement in Wake County—show me a school district anywhere in the nation for which this isn’t true. We know we can and must do more for our Black and limited English proficiency students. Yet, rather than focus on student achievement, Tedesco and his like-minded board members have used an imaginary busing issue to demonize and politicize our school district at the expense of the children they were elected to serve.
Wake County schools have not been torn apart by “income-based busing,” as Tedesco claims. In fact 94.5% of the nearly 40,000 parents surveyed at his request earlier this year indicated that they were satisfied with their students’ assignment. Tedesco even called our schools an “academic mess.” This from a man elected to govern our schools! We have excellent schools, and a strong community whose passion for education is at an all time high. Many parents who voted for Tedesco and his majority cohort were looking for stability in assignments—not a complete and systematic destruction of the core values that drove the assignment policy. The only academic mess created is entirely due to the Board majority’s lack of focus on the classroom.
Finally, to counter the claim of Tedesco’s alleged “efficiency mess,” one need look no further than to the conservative Civitas Institute, whose recent study found Wake County to rank in the top quartile of cost-effective schools: “Wake County’s per-graduate cost was found to be nearly $20,000 below the average per-graduate cost” among North Carolina schools.
Sadly, student bullying has been a topic that we’ve heard all too frequently about of late. In Wake County, we are witnessing a new form of bullying in the relentlessly negative, highly charged rhetoric that Tedesco uses to taunt the public into thinking that our public schools are failing. I know many school districts that would envy a 78.4% graduation rate, a nationally acclaimed magnet program, and an average bus ride of 17 minutes in a county that spans 831 square miles.
Research shows conclusively that, in fact, using socio-economic diversity as a means of improving academic achievement boosts the achievement of all students. Just remember—diversity is the complexion of a 21st-century world.
But rest easy, those who care for children in Minnesota. Tedesco’s views did not prevail with a majority in the Eden Prairie schools system. In the end, their leaders were braver than Wake County’s current education regime: Eden Prairie’s Board of Education voted 5-4 to use socioeconomic status as one deciding factor in assigning students. They are headed in the moral direction—against creating high poverty schools or segregated schools. Why can’t we say the same in Raleigh and Wake County?