Wednesday, May 25, 2011


By Cash Michaels
An analysis

            If Wake School Board District 4 school board member Keith Sutton is correct, and the board adopts either of the two proposed student assignment plans Supt. Anthony Tata unveiled this week, then low-performing schools with significant free-and-reduced lunch populations could be a thing of the past.
            “Those plans take into account the use of student achievement in determining how we assign students,” Sutton, who represents predominately-black Southeast Raleigh on the board, told The Carolinian last week. “So, we will not have free-and-reduced lunch anymore.”
            “Those days are gone.”
            But it maybe a bit early to pop the champagne corks. The proverbial “blue” and “green” Wake assignment plans are admittedly nowhere near finished, and may not be until late June. Feeder patterns for both middle and high schools have yet to be determined, hindering parents who have gone online to figure out what would work best for their children.
            Both plans are touted as offering student achievement, stability and proximity, in compliance with the board’s neighborhood community-based schools policy.
            The reaction to the incomplete presentations at the school system’s website has ranged from confusion to anger, with some parents commenting that Tata should not have presented anything if it wasn’t ready.
            Tata counters that the two plans are only “samples” to give parents an idea of how each student assignment could work, as opposed to would work. The public’s input will be factored into any final details and fine tuning before the plans are presented to the board in late June.
Touted as the best of nine proposals that Supt. Tata’s task force developed after the Republican-led Wake School Board failed to do so all last year, the plans offer two rather simple alternatives.
            Parents either get school choice or school predictability.
            The blue plan, based in part on the school choice model of Massachusetts consultant Dr. Michael Alves, offers parents an array of school choices in which they can enroll their children.
            The green plan offers base school assignments according to a family’s address, so every child automatically has a school assignment.
            Four of the five school board Republicans like the blue plan because of the choice feature. They say it gives parents the power to decide, not the school system.
            Debra Goldman, the fifth GOP board member, has not indicated her choice of late, but in the past she’s been insistent on parents having a base school assignment.
            Three of the four Democrats on the board are open to either the blue or green.
            District 4’s Keith Sutton, the fourth Democrat, prefers the green plan.
            “I think that it just makes sense that we assign students based on their address. It just makes sense that if you’re after a stability and proximity model, then you want an address,” he said.
            Sutton added that his problem with the blue school choice plan is management, given Wake’s size and 143,000 student capacity.
Sutton added that using student achievement as a tool could ensure that the proper resources equitably go where they are academically needed, contrary to high poverty school situations where low-performing, high poverty students are dumped in a failing school with scant resources and second-class administrative support.


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