Wake County school board members asked administrators Tuesday to explore a new student assignment plan that would move students in or out of some elementary schools to help their academic performance.
Administrators said that they didn’t intend to make new assignments for the 2016-17 school year specifically to balance achievement and poverty levels at individual schools – unless directed to do so by the board. Given the board’s response, the staff will now study ways to make assignment changes at 12 elementary schools that will be receiving extra resources because of their low student test scores.
“Is assignment a tool that can be used in the support of those schools?” school board member Keith Sutton said. “I don’t know enough to know the answer, but it’s something worth at least thinking about, talking about. It may not. I’m OK with that.”
Historically, Wake has tried to help lower-performing schools by reassigning some of their low-income neighborhoods to more affluent and higher-performing schools. Wake has less frequently moved students in affluent neighborhoods to lower-performing schools, because of the opposition from affected families.
From the 1980s through the 2000s, Wake was nationally known for its efforts to bus students for diversity, first by race and later by family income. Since low-income students on average don’t do as well academically as more affluent students, the goal was to try to balance income levels in student populations.
Following parental backlash over reassignments and year-round schools, Republican and now Democratic school boards over the past five years have scaled back the movement of students between schools, particularly reducing changes related to diversity. Assignments are based on four guidelines – stability, proximity, student achievement and operational efficiency – keeping schools from being too crowded or underused. At times the guidelines compete.
Instead of changing student assignments, the district has increasingly used new academic programs to address the challenges facing schools with a disproportionate number of low-income students. One of the new programs – the elementary support model – includes providing additional resources to 12 such schools: Barwell, Brentwood, Bugg, Creech Road, East Garner, Fox Road, Hodge Road, Lincoln Heights, Lynn Road, Smith, Walnut Creek and Wilburn elementary schools.
Sutton said they can’t afford to overlook whether those 12 schools might also benefit from assignment changes.
“We continue to say it’s not just about money, throwing money at those schools,” he said.
Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, warned that basing moves primarily on achievement can conflict with the other assignment principles of stability and proximity. She said it could also be hard to determine where to send the students who would be moved out of those 12 schools.
“If the board wants us to craft scenarios to look at, we can do that,” she said.
Moore said administrators are not working on a comprehensive plan for the 2016-17 school year. Instead the staff is focused on filling five new schools: White Oak Elementary in Cary, Oakview Elementary in Holly Springs, the school known as E38 in Morrisville, Beaverdam Elementary in east Raleigh and Pine Hollow Middle in northwest Raleigh.
The assignment plan could affect schools such as Mills Park Middle in Cary, an affluent but overcrowded school that might lose some neighborhoods to Pine Hollow.
Assignment staff will also try to address issues such as school overcrowding, as well as mismatches caused by schools feeding into upper-level schools that are on different academic calendars.
Administrators will draw up attendance areas for those five schools by first using a formula developed by N.C. State University’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory. The main drivers in the formula are proximity and operational efficiency.
The first draft of the assignment plan will be presented to the board in July. The board could adopt the plan in November or December.
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Possible student assignment timeline
▪ July 21 – Draft 1 of 2016-17 student assignment plan and preliminary maps for 2017-18 and 2018-19 assignments presented to school board.
▪ Sept. 1 – Draft 2 of 2016-17 assignment plan presented to school board.
▪ September/October – Student assignment staff holds community meetings on plan.
▪ Oct. 20 – Draft 3 of plan presented to school board.
▪ Nov. 17 – School board approves 2016-17 assignment plan.
Dates subject to change.