Steadier on schools

December 16, 2010 

Could it be that the Wake County school board is coming to its collective senses after a year of putting the well-being of many students - and that of the whole community - at risk?

The signs are promising. The board on Tuesday deflected a hasty and ill-considered push to reassign some 6,000 students, largely from Southeast Raleigh, to schools in their neighborhoods, effective in the 2011-2012 school year. That would have resulted in schools where most of the students were from disadvantaged backgrounds, narrowing their chances for academic success.

Still on the table are reassignments affecting 3,200 or so students, and in a system growing as dynamically as Wake, moves of that sort are unavoidable. But if the board can do what it needs to do without also creating schools where poverty is concentrated, it will be back on the right track.

Not that the rules for determining which schools students will attend haven't been fundamentally changed. Following a Republican-aligned takeover of the board a year ago, a long-standing diversity policy was dropped and neighborhood schools were re-emphasized. The diversity policy was meant to keep schools in poor neighborhoods from becoming poverty clusters.

The board's new majority took a stab at devising an assignment model based on attendance zones. But that effort collapsed when Republican Debra Goldman, the vice chairman, decided she couldn't support it because it posed too much uncertainty for families. On Tuesday Goldman again split with her former allies to help block the Southeast Raleigh reassignments proposed for next year.

Distributing 140,000 students throughout a growing school system is a tricky process, and there's always room for improvement. But changes should be made with careful forethought and planning - the opposite of what the board's former majority was attempting to do in its zeal to abandon the diversity policy. Goldman also is supporting a methodical effort by the board to chart a more acceptable course. Good for her.

Board member Keith Sutton properly warned that wholesale reassignments focused on Southeast Raleigh would send exactly the wrong signal at a time when the U.S. Justice Department is investigating a complaint from the state NAACP about the system's potential resegregation.

Policy or no, it's crucial that Wake not end up with schools in certain neighborhoods where most students are poor. Such a pattern is harmful to students and also fosters middle-class flight and economic decay. A board that stands against that pattern serves its community in exemplary fashion.

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