Friday, April 8, 2011


            I read with great interest what my colleague, T. Keung Hui of The News and Observer, had to say about my most recent piece in The Carolinian Newspaper titled, “Why Feds May Not Buy Wake School Board’s Response.”

            For the record, I have no problem with Hui reviewing any of my work. As one of two esteemed education reporters for the N&O, he has every right to evaluate what is written elsewhere about WCPSS, and report what he believes to be relevant to his many readers. I do the same thing.

            But that doesn’t mean, when necessary, that I shouldn’t clarify some points that he and others may misinterpret.

Hui is correct that I absolutely don’t “put much stock” in the Wake School Board’s limp and blatantly dishonest official response to the US Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights per the racial bias complaint filed by the NCNAACP. And there is a very simple reason - after over forty years of busing for the purpose of school desegregation, there is simply no credible, independent research or data confirming that school bus rides of ten miles or more hurt the academic achievement of poor students of color.

            That to me, confirmed by education research expert Richard Kahlenburg of the Century Foundation, is a critical point, because given the thousands of public school districts we have across the nation, and the number of years we’ve been busing poor children to school, if there was a scintilla of truth to that nonsense, we would have heard it by now for sure.

            Conservatives who just love neighborhood schools policies would have seen to it.

            So the Wake School Board stands undeniably alone in its stupidity, and as the AdvancED accreditation report confirmed, the board’s Republican majority just makes this stuff up, or gets someone else to make it up for them.

            Hui doesn’t quibble with me there, but further on, he does.

            The portion of my story Hui takes issue with:
            Michaels questions Wake's decision to only cite test data on black student achievement since 2007-08 in the OCR response.
"But the board’s response interestingly omits the steady growth of black and Hispanic student achievement in Wake Public Schools between 2000-2005 which reached 81 percent at or above grade level," Michaels writes. "It was during that time that the school system’s SES was making national headlines in the NY Times and Forbes Magazine for academic achievement."
Michaels also takes shots at the OCR response having "no reporting of the school system’s 91.5 percent overall student achievement accomplishment or number one status above 114 other North Carolina school districts." That took place in the mid-2000s.
"Clearly, it would be hard for OCR to believe that black and economically disadvantaged students have been always hurt by SES, if it were also told that before growth and lack of resources impeded the system’s progress, those students were, in fact, achieving and graduating at impressive numbers for several years," Michaels writes.

And here’s Hui’s point:
What's not mentioned in the article is that the test scores from Wake's high watermark came before the state began making the end-of-grade exams a lot tougher in 2006.
Scores dropped for all groups statewide but the sharpest declines were among black and Hispanic students. At least in Wake's case before 2006, many black and Hispanic students were low Level 3s so the new standards hit them especially hard.
As for starting with 2007-08 to report data, that's the same challenge the N&O faced with the Five Questions series in February. We made the decision to use the 2007-08 school year as the baseline because that was the first year of the new reading exams. Using an earlier date would have resulted in sharp spikes based on the change in exams.

OK, what the N&O did and why, is not my concern. They were doing research, and made determinations accordingly. That’s their right.

But here’s the point I was making per how the Wake School Board’s OCR response completely, AND deliberately, omitted the school system’s most successful period of achievement in its history. It doesn’t even try to be honest!

Here, read their version of the period from 2000 to 2007:
“Although WCPSS has received positive attention in the media and from some prominent national figures for its past student assignment policies…”

THAT’S IT, and that’s my point. NOTHING about, as Hui says, “Wake’s high watermark” of test scores for several years, because to do so would confirm that WCPSS DID work mightily with its black and Hispanic students, and for a while, DID succeed with them.

So to make their point to OCR that Wake, under SES, has 'always' failed with poor black students, the school board tries to hide those facts, and ultimately the truth! But let’s not stop there. 

The board’s OCR response doesn’t even try to make Hui’s point that after the state tests were renormed in 2007, that overall scores statewide went down, and black and Hispanic students who were on the bubble to begin with, saw their scores fall the most.

So Hui’s point is because those students flourished under a different, less challenging standard, those earlier numbers before 2007 should be disregarded in the scheme of things.

Though I understand it, here’s my problem, respectfully, with Hui’s contention:
1)             Prior to 2007, all 115 NC school districts competed under the same rules, meaning that even if the end-of-grade tests were less stringent then, they were so for EVERYBODY, and Wake still consistently dominated.

2)             Even after the state tests were renormed and overall scores fell, Wake was still leading, and it wouldn’t be until 2009 that Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s black students would overtake Wake’s.

And that only happened because CMS was under a 2005 court order to improve instruction to poor black students in its numerous high poverty/low performing schools after Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. accused the system of “academic genocide,” forcing CMS to spend millions of dollars on a four-year program that HAD to begin showing results by 2010.

So CMS students were being driven up, while Wake was regrouping (per its 2007 curriculum management audit) and devising strategies to stop its fall.

But the point can’t be lost that for two years since the renorming, Wake still led CMS!

If any school system could be justifiably accused of “hurting” its poor black students, it would be CMS, until a court order forced them to get it together.

As to Wake’s black students turning the corner and making incremental progress on those scores, again, everyone is under the same rules, so just as Wake’s black students are taking the state tests twice, so are CMS, and Guilford, and every other school district in the state.

And even then, the board in its OCR response doesn’t say a word about this progress, because to do so would give credit to SES, which is still in place operationally until Supt. Tata’s yet-to-be-seen student assignment plan is unveiled and adopted.

In closing, the point of my piece wasn’t so much to retell Wake’s recent academic history, as it was to prove how much of that history the Republican-led Wake School Board, through its glaring omissions in its OCR response, was trying to hide it. But since Hui brought up what he felt was an incomplete picture on my part in my piece, then I might as well take the opportunity to complete that total picture to everyone’s satisfaction.

Everyone, that is, except the Republican-majority on the Wake School Board!


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