By Cash Michaels
The headline of the March 9, 2011 story in The News & Observer was clear:
“WAKE CAN’T TELL FEDS HOW MANY STUDENTS BUSED FOR DIVERSITY.”
“Wake County school officials… can’t provide detailed information on the number of students who were assigned to schools for socioeconomic diversity,” the story reported. “…Ann Majestic, the school board’s attorney, said Wake didn’t track which neighborhoods…were reassigned for diversity reasons.”
On WRAL-TV that same March 9, 2011 evening, the same story, this one titled,
“WAKE SCHOOLS DIDN’T KEEP BUSING RECORDS.”
“…some requested data was missing.”
“…school leaders admitted they never kept records of their busing program.”
“School board member John Tedesco said the lack of data on why students were bused may make it difficult to determine how well the diversity policy worked,” reported WRAL-TV that evening.
And yet, in its March 22, 2011 official response to the federal racial bias complaint the NC NAACP filed against the Wake School Board with the US Education Dept.’s Office of Civil Rights, there it was, detailed percentages of students who are bused starting on page 30 of the 46-page report.
A section examining how socioeconomic diversity (SES), the Wake School System’s previous student assignment policy that is still in effect until the board’s neighborhood schools policy takes hold once a new assignment plan is adopted, allegedly “…has led to disproportionately long bus rides for poor and minority students.”
In short, according to the board’s official response to OCR, since its inception in 2000, SES in Wake County has never helped economically disadvantaged students academically achieve, and helped even less when those students were bused far from home.
The section then displays a spreadsheet that “…shows the numbers and percentages of all WCPSS students who have bus routes within the ranges of 0-5 miles, 5.1 to 10 miles, 10.1 miles to 15 miles, and overt 15 miles to their assigned schools.”
“As shown in the excerpts… Black and Hispanic students have much longer bus rides than White students in Wake County,” the OCR response report adds.
Several charts measuring academic proficiency rates for black students based on the length of their bus commute to base schools give percentages “proving”, according to the report, that the longer “poor and minority students” travel to and from school by bus, the worse they perform academically.
“Members of the Board majority have long believed, based on their own experiences and what their constituents have told them, that poor and minority students carried a disproportionate share of the burden in the District’s “busing for diversity” approach,” the report opined.
“The data,” it continued, “strongly support this belief.”
The only data referenced per this issue, however, is Exhibit 72, information provided by Wake Schools System staff to the now-defunct Student Assignment Committee, which was chaired, ironically, by John Tedesco.
“…the spreadsheets staff provided to the Committee show that students who are transported “out of zone” to attend base schools farther away tend to have a lower proficiency across several measures when compared to their “in-zone” peers,” the report cited.
But what is this data based on if just three weeks ago, Wake School System officials couldn’t even give OCR the total number of students bused for diversity for the past three years in the first place?
And if Tedesco told WRAL-TV that, “…the lack of data on why students were bused may make it difficult to determine how well the diversity policy worked,” then how is the school board’s report able to factually prove, beyond the Republican board members own feelings, that longer bus rides under SES do hurt students of color academically?
In short, either the school system actually has those busing for diversity numbers - widely believed to be between 3-4 percent of the total student population from 2007 to 2009, or they don’t.
The Carolinian reached out to the Wake County School System for an explanation, but no comment was forthcoming by press time Wednesday.
This newspaper also asked several board members for an explanation.
No one could answer. In fact, one board member, Kevin Hill, replied, “Good question,” admitting that he was never made aware how this analysis came about with the numbers OCR was looking for.
Irv Joyner, one of the NCNAACP attorneys who helped craft the federal complaint, wasn’t buying the report’s findings.
“I agree that there are some mysterious numbers being used or the Board has been providing contradictory information to the public and OCR,” he told The Carolinian after reviewing the report. “It seems to me that you need hard and accurate numbers in order to create percentages.”
“The issue before OCR is whether the schools are being segregated on the basis of race. That decision is measured, in large part, by the absolute numbers,” attorney Joyner continued. “Are African-American students being assigned to predominately one-race schools and are Whites being assigned to predominately White schools? The Board's response seems to center on its motivation, which is questionable. The issue is the "effects" of the assignments.”
Joyner concluded, "The issue of the student achievement -which is another separate issue - cannot be measured by mere numbers. You have to look at who is being assigned where and for what reasons are they there. You also have to look at their prior educational skills and development. Thus, this issue is more complicated than the Board would lead the public/OCR to believe. At best, the answer to this side of the review deals only with motivation and not with the issue of re-segregation.”