Wednesday, November 30, 2011


                                NAACP PRESIDENT REV. WILLIAM BARBER

By Cash Michaels

            The president of the NCNAACP is urging the new Democrat-led Wake School Board, scheduled to be sworn-in Tuesday, to put diversity back into WCPSS policy, and also into the new school choice assignment plan, to ensure that the needs of the system’s most vulnerable students are met.
            “Why wouldn’t you,” Pres. Rev. William Barber rhetorically asked when interviewed Nov. 9th, one day after Democrat Kevin Hill won the District 3 runoff race to complete the five-seat Democratic sweep. “If you’re saying you’re not going to have it back as policy, then you’re in essence saying what other folks are saying - that diversity is somehow a bad word and dirty thing, and not good public policy.”
            The civil rights leader also wants the new board majority to follow-through on their promise to take a closer look at Wake Supt. Anthony Tata’s school choice assignment plan, which the board hurriedly approved several weeks ago.
            As District 4 board member Keith Sutton and several others have already said, diversity, or something similar, should be an equal component of the Tata plan to ensure equity in student assignment.
            However, that could guarantee a fight with the now-Republican minority, led by current Vice Chairman John Tedesco, and their backers.            
It was shortly after a Republican majority swept into office in 2009, campaigning on a promise of ditching the previously successful student diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools, that diversity was officially removed as a element of board policy.
            Board Republicans, led by then Chairman Ron Margiotta, declared that busing for diversity was not only hurting the school system in general, but black children in the system specifically. Republicans suggested, without any empirical data to back them up, that long bus rides from Southeast Raleigh to suburban schools were detrimental for African-American students.
            The GOP rhetoric was to build a case for neighborhood schools, and dismiss any of the national recognition Wake had accomplished per its previous years of academic success through socioeconomic diversity.
            Rev. Barber said the Margiotta-led Wake School Board distinguished itself the moment it took control by immediately, and deliberately, ignoring past proven policy practices of consensus, and research and law, something the AdvancED international educational accreditation agency, which put the board on notice about its behavior, stated.
            AdvancED, to whom the NCNAACP complained to about the Republican majority on the Wake School Board, confirmed in its initial report last March that Margiotta and company dismantled the diversity policy without any empirical data to justify why.
            Indeed, the report continued, the board’s Republican majority consciously denied any evidence of academic improvement for black students, based on the diversity policy, that was occurring during their tenure in office, instead trumpeting their own “data” to the contrary.
            The ultimate concern of AdvancED, the NCNAACP, and others who carefully watched the Wake School Board was that its neighborhood schools plan would result in racially-identifiable high needs/high poverty schools in predominately black Southeast Raleigh.
       EDITOR'S NOTE - On 12-1-11, the US Dept. of Education released a report of public school districts are underfunding their high poverty schools in communities of color. Click here to read the report.

        Principals complained, and AdvancEd confirmed, that the GOP-led board had no plans for appropriately dealing with the high poverty schools its neighborhood schools policy created. That fear turned into fact recently, when Wake Supt. Anthony Tata and staff allowed the brand new Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh - which is 72 percent free-and-reduced lunch and over 50 percent low-performing - to run 149 students over-capacity to 929 for three months, before finally, last week, capping enrollment.
            Tata and the board had to act. With an AdvancED team due back in town this week for a followup investigation on the NAACP complaint, having the Walnut Creek controversy still dominating the headlines would have done more harm than good.
            Barber said the actions of the Republican majority on the Wake School Board set a “dangerous” precedent that if allowed to continue, would have spawned similar recalcitrant conservative-led school boards across the nation, using neighborhood schools as a “wedge issue” to win politically.
“We’re not just concerned with diversity,” he said. “We’re concerned about the negatives of resegregation, because we know with resegregation you get resegregated bodies, budgets, and buildings, instead of all of the sound building blocks of a quality education. We know if you don’t have a commitment to diversity, you’re not going to have a commitment to equity and resources, which means you undermine student achievement.”
The NCNAACP president wants the new board to make a comparison.
“We had a gold standard plan. We had a proven plan. Now what the community is asked to do is accept a hypothesis. Research does not show anywhere where they have used the so-called choice model, that it has performed better than the healthy schools - socioeconomic diversity resource plan that we had. And that’s been our argument all along. Not Democrat or Republican. Show us, the community, how what you are planning to do - do a side-by-side comparison - is better than what you had.”
            Rev. Barber is clear that the “old” socioeconomic diversity plan “had to be tweaked,” and thus wasn’t perfect. Because of Wake’s tremendous growth several years ago, students sometimes found themselves moved from school-to-school, or siblings were separated at different schools. Though the resulting student diversity manifested itself in high academic gains, the constant shuffling of students angered parents, and spurred a growing anti-diversity movement that resulted in the 2009 Republican school board sweep.
            The high growth also diverted Wake schools administrators’ attention from the practices that helped black and Latino students achieve, and after five years of success, those numbers began to suffer as well, something the Republicans politically exploited.
            Barber says the new Democratic school board majority should compare the new school choice plan to the old plan, and empirically show how “what we want is better than what we had,” as opposed to experiment with a new plan that is untested in a school system as large as Wake, which is currently the 16th largest in the nation.
            “The new board needs to assess how does this plan guarantees high quality constitutional well funded diverse public education for every child,” Rev. Barber said. “Does it ensure that poor children, minority children have access? It has to be done.”
            In fact, when Supt. Tata’s team developed various plans several months ago for the public to evaluate, the final two plans were labeled Blue - a school choice plan; and Green - a node-based plan very much like the old diversity plan, were indeed considered, which the blue plan winning.
            Barber says that comparison didn’t take into account all that the original diversity plan accomplished, and thus, was incomplete.
            He added that in private conversations, Tata said that he would like to see diversity as an element in the new student assignment plan, but the Republican-majority would not allow it, and he had to follow their direction.
            With the change in Wake School Board leadership now, Rev. Barber says the opportunity exists to ensure that the new plan meets the needs of the system’s most vulnerable children.
Rev. Barber noted that even the “father” of the school choice, Dr. Michael Alves, said that diversity must be part of any school choice plan in order for it to work.
            Dr. Alves visited Raleigh over a year ago when the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Wake Education Partnership brought him in to broker a compromise choice plan. Chairman Ron Margiotta openly rejected Alves’ advise, saying the only diversity in the school board’s final student assignment plan would be the “natural” diversity already there.
            Barber says student diversity, along with the bedrock resources to teach all children effectively, is the formula for success in Wake County schools, even with school choice. Racial resegregation with a lack of resources for students of color, will mean failure, he added.
            The civil rights leader says the NCNAACP will petition to meet again with Supt. Tata, to followup on their first meeting with him earlier in the year. Barber also revealed that the civil rights organization will request a meeting with the new school board once it is situated.
            “We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests,” Barber added. “We always seek to talk. We want to be a partner moving forward. This is about all of our children.”
Rev. Barber said he would consider attending the swearing-in of the new Wake School Board next Tuesday, but he is still barred after being charged with trespassing twice after demonstrations at the old Wake Forest Road headquarters in 2010. He said that the NCNAACP will “have people there.”
The tone of the 2011 Republican school board campaign, at times, was racial, with fliers picturing Rev. Barber and national NAACP Pres. Benjamin Jealous as black leaders looking to “take over” the Wake School System through the five white Democratic candidates.
            “That’s a throwback to the 1940’s and 1950s, that really, really hard race card,” Barber says. The civil rights leader stayed out of view, as to not make himself any more of a campaign issue.
Rev. Barber expects Tedesco, if he indeed stays on the board (he’s considering a 2012 run for state schools superintendent) and the other board Republicans to create as much trouble as possible for the Democratic majority over the next four years.
            “Not only did the Democrats win, but a philosophy won, a moral position won,” Rev. Barber said. The civil rights leader attributed the five-seat Democratic sweep on October 11th and November 8th to “fusion politics,” bringing blacks, whites, Democrats and Republicans together in coalition to being about needed change. The kind of fusion politics that North Carolina historically experienced in the late 1800’s in North Carolina between former slaves known as “Freedmen,” poor white farmers and Republicans.
            “What we saw here was in 2009, a radical, regressive, well-funded…we now know that all the way from the Tea Party; the Koch Brothers; Art Pope, who was said in an email was the architect of this plan to takeover public education, as a test case to see if a community would go backwards,” Barber said, adding that if it had worked in Wake County, the same effort would have spread across the country.
            The fusion victory,” Rev. Barber said, was a rejection of “this backwards mentality, this regression, this creating public policy that fosters resegregation and undermines the opportunity for high-quality, constitutional, well-funded, diverse public education.”
            “It is quite a moment that we must study and lift up.”

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