By Cash Michaels
EDITOR - This is part 5 of a multi-part look at Walnut Creek Elementary School, and the other high poverty schools that the conservative-led Wake County School Board will be creating in Southeast Raleigh as it moves forward with its controversial neighborhood schools policy. Studies consistently show black and Hispanic students are relegated to poor instruction, a lack of resources and a second-rate education in high poverty, racially identifiable schools. The property values in neighborhoods with high poverty schools also suffer, as families move away.
The Carolinian examines the question, “Will all or any of this happen in Wake County?”
“Unprofessional, unwise, unwarranted and everything else you can think of.”
That was Wake School Board District 4 member Keith Sutton’s blistering assessment of the AdvancEd accreditation review report’s finding last week that his Republican colleagues on the board, while willing to create more high poverty schools filled with economically disadvantaged children of color - courtesy of the GOP’s neighborhood schools policy - apparently had no intention of giving those schools the extra resources and staffing needed that AdvancEd was told by concerned school principals they must have.
“Going forward with these high poverty schools will be a disaster educationally,” Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, told The Carolinian during a visit to Raleigh this week.
These two paragraphs from the explosive March 16th 15-page AdvancED report tell the story:
Each of the five [Republican] Board members indicated a reliance on their ‘own’ data to support their conclusions and defend their actions. Board member John Tedesco asserted that the previous Student Assignment Policy distributed low achievers throughout the system so that their needs would be hidden and consequently not be met. Mr. Tedesco has repeatedly advocated for concentrating low achieving students in a school so that their needs are not hidden.
However, when Board members were asked how they would ensure that schools with a significant population of low achieving students would be supported, there were no solutions or plans offered. High school principals noted deep concern that the new [neighborhood schools] policy would significantly compromise their ability to meet the needs of students. Additionally, principals indicated that there is no plan for providing the additional resources for a school with a high proportion of low achieving students. Given that the school system is facing significant financial challenges there is much doubt among administrators that the necessary resources will be available and targeted to support the need for instructional interventions.
Calling it a “very thorough report,” Sutton says AdvancED accurately captured the behavior of the Republican board majority over the past 14 months, and how it has impaired the total board’s ability to lead and provide proper governance to the school system.
In a statement, Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said he disagreed, “…with certain opinions expressed in the report, especially unfair characterizations of individual board members’ motives…”
Both Margiotta and fellow GOP board member John Tedesco have told The Carolinian in the past they will not respond to requests for comment from this African-American newspaper.
Approximately a hundred people were interviewed by the AdvancEd Special Review Team last month.
“The team reviewed student achievement data, Board policies, minutes and videos of Board meetings, and written communications,” the report states. “Additionally, the team interviewed every Board member, the Superintendent, key central office administrators, community groups, high school principals, parents, teachers and students.”
What the report documents about the board’s attitude towards managing the high poverty-low performing schools it will almost certainly create is perplexing.
As The Carolinian has reported in its ongoing multi-part series on the prospect of more high poverty schools in Wake County, the school board’s Republican majority flatly rejected an amendment to its neighborhood schools resolution on March 23rd, 2010 - a year ago this week - that if adopted then, would have mandated a cost analysis of what running high poverty schools in the system would require in terms of staffing, transportation and fiscal obligations.
“In order to retain teachers in high poverty schools over the long haul, you would have to pay them a premium on the order of 43 percent more, so if their base salary is $50,000, you’d have to pay them considerably more to get them to stay,” says education researcher Richard Kahlenberg. “These are numbers that, in the current fiscal climate, no one would support. Those extra resources won’t flow into the schools, and you’ll end up with inferior schools that aren’t going to provide the kind of education Wake County students expect.”
But board Republicans voted “no,” saying then such planning wasn’t needed, though later acknowledging that new high poverty schools would be created.
“I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Failure to plan is a plan to fail,” Board member Kevin Hill, who introduced the failed amendment, told The Carolinian in reaction last October.
A year of planning lost, because the board majority thought it was not necessary.
New Wake Supt. Anthony Tata may now include a high poverty schools strategy in his upcoming overall 2011- 12 strategic planning for the school system, in conjunction with Tata’s evolving student assignment plan due in several weeks. But by his own proposed budget, he’s already losing $52.00 per pupil spending in the system because of budget cuts (assuming that the NC Dept. of Public Instruction holds to its projection of only a 5 percent (or $40 million) cut to its education allotment to Wake.
And that’s only for next year before Tata knows for sure just how many high poverty schools he will have.
What happens to high poverty schools, like the new Walnut Creek Elementary opening this August, the following year when Tata knows he’s losing at least $28 million in federal stimulus funding, in addition to further state cuts?
The fact that the Wake School Board majority never attempted to plan for any of this, as the AdvancEd report confirmed when they were all interviewed last month, proves that the board Republicans were rolling the dice on this, and many other issues impacting the system’s most vulnerable children of color.
“To make these kinds of decisions, to make these changes in policies, and to do so without a clear plan, and to do so without regard to data and research, was just everything from unprofessional, unwise, unwarranted and everything else you can think of,” Sutton pointedly told The Carolinian.
The Southeast Raleigh school board representative wasn’t the only one disgusted by the report’s findings.
“It shows intentionality,” said Rev. William Barber, president of the NCNAACP, the group that filed the original complaint against the school board with AdvancED.
“The five [Republican] members of this board are resegregationists; they are regressive; they are backwards,” Barber continued. “We no longer have to hypothesize what this board will do. This board is so egregious in their regressive actions, and so committed to their ideology rather than what research and the law says.”
The AdvancED report, developed by the Georgia accrediting agency’s Special Review Team which conducted a two-day probe, not only confirmed the NCNAACP complaint that the Wake School Board was not following its own policies, but uncovered much, much more of particular concern to Wake’s African-American community.
That included Republican board members, based on “their own data,” rejecting school system generated evidence proving that black and economically disadvantaged students have been academically improving under the current socioeconomic diversity plan still in force, for the past several years.
The AdvancEd report confirmed that improvement.
“A review of student achievement data by the Special Review Team indicated that the system is experiencing noted improvements,” the report cited. “School system staff provided student achievement data that indicated the system is closing the achievement between Caucasian and minority students; decreasing the dropout rate for minorities at a faster pace than Caucasians: improving the graduation rate for minorities a compared to similar urban systems in the United States; and increasing the performance of students in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.”
The AdvancED report continued, “High school principals indicated that student performance has been steadily improving over the past decade,” and particularly on state end-of-grade testing since 2007-08.
Because the Republican majority on the Wake School Board has done very little by way of improving student achievement, overall or otherwise, in the 14 months they’ve been in office, it is apparent that these improvements are chalked up to reforms already underway - in this case the 2007 Curriculum Management Audit commissioned by former Wake Supt. Del Burns - under the previous Wake socioeconomic diversity policy.
The board majority apparently could care less, evidence shows.
“Each of the four newly-elected Board members, as well as [Chairman] Ron Margiotta, refused to acknowledge the student achievement data compiled by the school system and displayed on large posters in the Board meeting room,” the AdvancEd report states.
To acknowledge academic improvements their regime isn’t responsible for apparently is something the board majority has no intention of doing, so they’ve done the opposite.
The GOP board members, along with their loyal supporters in the media and elsewhere, to this day continuously portray WCPSS as continuing to “fail” black and economically disadvantaged students, knowing full well that their system staff has proof positive that the exact opposite is true.
“In several instances,” the AdvancED report cites, “Board members indicated that Wake County was struggling with improving the graduation rate of African-American males and that Wake County Public Schools are not keeping pace with Charlotte - Mecklenburg Schools. Although Wake County trails the state average as well as the success rate in Guilford County Schools, according to data provided by staff, the graduation rate among African-American males exceeds that of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the national average.”
“That has bothered me for quite a while,” board member Sutton told The Carolinian. “I’m not sure how you serve on a board where you are trying to make change and support a system, but every chance you get, you go out and give false information or false data about that organization.”
“To me it almost seems like, at one point, a well designed media campaign to crush the system, make it look bad, and then [they’ll] build it back up again with these new policies and new directives. I don’t think that’s good from an ethical standpoint,” Sutton added, “… and I think it’s not really permissible from our own policy standpoint.”
“It’s a sad confirmation of what we have known and what we have said,” NCNAACP Pres. Rev.Barber said.
“There is no comprehensive strategic plan, and they don’t have a clear vision; they don’t have a clear set of priorities to go from here forth,” said Yevonne Brannon, chair of Great School in Wake Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group that has opposed the board’s neighborhood schools policy.
AdvancED has advised the Wake School Board that it has a year to clear up the many issues documented in the report that have crippled its governance. The system has been placed on “accredited warn” status. Another special review team is scheduled to visit again on Nov. 30th to see what progress has been made.
Wake Supt. Tata says he will incorporate many of the recommendations from the AdvancEd report in his strategic plan.
A majority of the board must approve that plan.