Wake Ed

March 31, 2014

Raising concerns about creating “separate but equal” schools in Wake County

Wake County school board member Jim Martin is raising concerns that the possibility of deemphasizing student assignment as a tool for helping academically struggling schools in favor of providing additional resources could create separate but equal schools.

Is there a real danger of creating separate but equal schools if the Wake County school system were to give more emphasis to providing additional resources at struggling schools instead of using student assignment as the primary intervention tool?

The new draft index proposed Thursday by Wake County school administrators to use “multiple factors to prioritize school needs” drew concerns from school board member Jim Martin. Click here and here to view the handout from the meeting with the second one containing the elements of the new formula.

The talk from administrators about deemphasizing assignment and the concern that demographic considerations weren’t being weighted enough in the new formula raised worries from Martin.

Demographics is one of the five indexes that would be used to develop a single figure to evaluate the schools with the greatest need. Demographics would be weighted as 10 percent of the overall formula, compared to 60 percent for performance. The demographics index score would be developed by equally weighting four pieces: percent economically disadvantaged, percent Limited English Proficient, percent students with disabilities and percent Levels 1 and 2 on state exams.

Demographics would also be reflected in the performance index. It would come through the performance of subgroups, which would rank from 6.25 percent to 16.7 percent of the performance score depending on school level.

“We’ve talked about subgroups everywhere else,” Martin said. “Maybe we need a subgroup index, as well, to avoid separate but equal. I don’t believe separate but equal exists.

I don’t think we want to get into a situation where we look at a school and say, ‘OK, you’ve got these challenges. Here, we’re going to give you these extra resources, but we’re going to keep you with a challenged population, for example.’

That could come out of this approach. I just want to make sure that we balance these ideas with the assignment ideas.”

Martin later referenced the situation at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh, whose enrollment is largely made of African-American students.

“They’re working really hard at Walnut Creek, but that’s a very racially identifiable school,” Martin said. “I don’t believe in racially identifiable schools. I don’t care if it’s all black, all white, all Asian.

I think that is a critical component to how we think about both assessments in terms of needs, but also in terms of assignment. It’s somewhat captured in (index) three, but I don’t think it’s quite there. I think this could lead to separate but equal.”

Martin also spoke up when student assignment didn’t show up on the page in the handout listing types of extra supports for schools.

“I’d like to quickly throw in an existing support,” Martin said. “Student assignment is an existing support, particularly in our discussions. So let’s not just look at it as in extra programs here. Student assignment, it is not the only tool, but let’s not throw it out as a tool.”

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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