A system trying to hide its failures

The great Wake school divide

September 29, 2009 

— The Wake County Public School System touts its diversity awards but hides the disturbing academic achievement gaps between white and minority students and between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students. The school system highlights its SAT scores, but not the decrease in students taking the college aptitude test.

School officials have ignored the extremely low graduation rate -- 56 percent -- for economically disadvantaged students, as well as the 85 percent of schools that have an overall graduation rate of less than 80 percent. They have masked the real academic achievement of our schools with obscure and misleading facts. They fail to mention that only two high schools passed the AYP (adequate yearly progress) ratings in 2009. They tell us that AP (advanced placement) and AG (academically gifted) participation is up, when only two of the 21 high schools have greater than 20 percent taking AP exams and only four out of 21 schools have an AG participation of greater than 25 percent.

The school system continues to defend its busing formula as a heroic measure for low-income children but fails to reveal that those students are the most likely targets for repeated reassignments -- shipped from high-income school to high-income school to mask the real failures of their lack of education of our most vulnerable students.

The school system laid off more than 600 teachers and more than 300 teacher assistants, increased class sizes and froze teacher salaries. It cut busing costs by forcing parents to transport their kids who applied to transfer out of the reassignment process. School officials cut $12 million on textbooks, technology, teacher education and student accountability. Yet administrators continue to have six-figure incomes and then complain about not having enough money to help our kids. They expect the remaining teachers to pick up the slack by paying for school supplies out of their own pockets.

To add insult to injury, the system's Student Achievement committee recently voted to use the $26 million in funds provided to Title I schools, schools receiving federal funds for their high percentage of low-income students, on schoolwide programs rather than on targeted assistance for at-risk students.

Schoolwide programs may be used where the percentage of children from low-income families (eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) for the entire school is greater than 40 percent. Targeted assistance may be used where that percentage is less than 40. So why do they keep referring to that all important F&R percentage? Of the 40 schools in Title I, 36 have been in Title I more than two years, and many have failed AYP more than four years in a row. These schools represent over 24,000 students here in Wake County, with over 12,000 of them in the F&R lunch category.

Wake has chosen to distribute Title I funding to the whole school rather than target assistance to children who are failing. In the Schoolwide Program option, the system is judged by the schools' performance and not by the performance of identified Title I students.

This calls into question the massive reassignments that the system has carried out and could continue to do to shuffle students. Could it be to meet its percentages and make the performance look like it is improving, without really helping anyone? Then officials tout their success for achieving "Healthy Schools," an approach that allows them to hide and ignore problems yet maintain the appearance of a high-quality school system -- and leaving us with schools who continue to fail and remain in Title 1 for years.

The Wake school system needs to listen to parents and care about educating our kids. We need school board candidates like John Tedesco, Chris Malone, Deborah Prickett and Debra Goldman who will support a re-evaluation of current policies to refocus on education. Let us focus on "Healthy Students," not just "Healthy Schools."

Christopher W. Marsch is the father of two students at Barwell Road Elementary School.

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