Monday, August 24, 2015

What's the question; what's the answer?



In 2009, the parents of Wake County spoke. They elected a majority on theWCPSS School Board who supported the end to the mindless reassignment of their children. These School Board members bravely broke the mold after decades of diversity busing. Busing that not only adversely affected the education of suburban students but was eventually proven by WCPSS itself to have no positive impact on the education of the poor students targeted for those long distance assignments. After a few immediate and key resignations and retirements, many doors were opened to the changes needed in our school system.

The assignment policy was amended. Diversity goals were removed. An emphasis was placed on the educational needs of students and the involvement of parents. After years of mandatory year-round assignments and families split by school calendars, choice was resurrected. The ’09 School Board members ran on a platform of providing the necessary resources to students – not busing students for diversity under the guise of a better education. Their policies promoted stability, community involvement, and predictability in assignment in their attempt to create a school system that was responsive not critical.

But that didn’t last long.

Some were outraged at the very thought of removing diversity as a goal in assignment. They did all they could to create and spread fear around our community of what could happen. They painted their own message in the media of resegregation and the isolation of minorities. In 2011, a new majority-Democratic Board was elected to save and restore diversity.

So how is it that just last week the N&O published in an article that states the number of high-poverty schools has more than doubled under the direction of the new School Board? Let that sink in….more than doubled – from 18 to 46. Twelve WCPSS schools now have populations of more than 70% low-income students. There were none under the ’09 Board.

The current School Board has had five years to undo the changes they deemed as “destructive” and “racist” and yet have chosen to do absolutely nothing. Not only have they not taken any action on the changes made back in ’09, their inaction and apathy have done more to make their fears a reality than anything else. And their friends - who raised a ruckus and feigned concern about the “loss” of diversity - are now silent and uninterested because their Democratic friends are faithfully leading the charge.

Or are they?

The N&O editorial this past weekend addresses this issue. It questions these numbers but it totally misses the mark. The question we should be asking is not “Do we pursue diversity or do we let segregation return?” That is a lazy, simple-minded question and only serves to create the same fearful rhetoric we heard years ago.

What we should be asking is “What can we do to improve education for every child in Wake County?” It’s a tough question with many answers and just as many opinions. I agree that we are at a crossroads as a county and community. But diversity is not it. There are so many others ways to improve education and address the needs of our students than assignment. There are better conversations to have. Our crossroads is ensuring we don’t go back to the way it was.

Although our current School Board has managed to create a school system that reflects exactly what they claimed they were against, we simply can’t let the diversity pendulum swing completely back.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snow Job

Spring Break is gone. Well, most of it. Families were blindsided by WCPSS with a complete reversal decision announcement on Saturday about the winter weather make up days.

Parents are angry. So far, over 7,500 parents, teachers, and students have signed a petition to show how angry they are. Many families have long-standing nonrefundable travel plans. Many were looking forward to this one of very few opportunities to be together for the week.

I understand their anger. And their frustration. But let's make sure we understand what we really should be angry about. It's not about Spring Break. It's about why and how we lost Spring Break.

In a nutshell, this is the epitome of bad governance.

Let's begin by understanding that the 2014-2015 school calendar has built-in make up days. According to the WCPSS website: March 23, June 9, June 10, and June 11 are the Teacher Work Days "Available for Weather Make up".

Board Chair Christine Kushner and Supt. Merrill first told us that June wouldn't be used and our children would be attending school on Good Friday and two Saturdays in order to provide "quality instructional time".

What a load. Last Friday was originally planned as an early-release day. It was extended 2 1/2 hours to a full day to make up for one of the missed snow days. But then... it was delayed 2 hours again due to ice that didn't happen. Where did that "quality instruction time" go?

And what about the day WCPSS waited to cancel school until after a few buses hit the road? That "quality instruction" isn't being made up at all.

Enough of that, let's talk about the governance issue.

On Tuesday, March 3rd's work session, WCPSS staff recommended using Good Friday and two Saturdays. Go to 46:55 mark of their work session.

At the 55:25 mark of the Board work session, Supt. Merrill clearly supports use of this option as a way to protect Spring Break for families.

At the 58:00 mark, Cathy Moore asks for support of this staff recommendation and Chair Kushner responds "You have consensus support of that recommendation."

YOU HAVE CONSENSUS SUPPORT OF THAT RECOMMENDATION.

Even the so loved WCPSS Twitter account tweeted:





(They're not so sassy anymore, are they?)


So, what could possibly have happened between Tuesday and Saturday? That's the big question.

An even bigger and more concerning question is... why the quiet announcement on a Saturday? Since the Board wasn't scheduled to meet, who made this decision to use Spring Break days?

What's the point of having a public discussion and "consensus approval" from the Board about the make up days if they're not going to follow it?

Why include input from staff and communicate this to the public if they are just going to run roughshod and make up their own rules without any transparent discussion?

I understand staff met again on Friday and Saturday to discuss this. What influenced them to convene again to discuss a different option? Who was at that meeting? Was the Board involved? If so, how? I've asked for minutes from this meeting but there are no minutes taken at staff meetings.

Did WCPSS violate the public records law by deleting records from Twitter and Facebook about previous discussions and decisions?

And where in the world is Supt. Merrill? Mr. Mustache didn't even show up to defend this decision in today's press conference. Instead, he sent Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore to do his dirty work. Coward.

So many questions...

But, again, this isn't really about Spring Break. Losing Spring Break is simply the result of bad governance, a lack of transparency, and a Board that does what it wants to do, regardless of policy.

I'm just hoping those 7,500 people will remember this next election.




 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Well, well, well.  It really is true.

The Democratic-led WCPSS School Board is clearly rebranding the vision of the '09 Republican-led School Board and calling it their own.

You read that right.

The Democrats have not brought back diversity busing as their supporters elected them to do. In fact, according to WCPSS staff, they have no intention of using diversity assignments anymore.

Yes, yes. I know. Even after all those protests, disruptions, and arrests back in 2010; even after all the media play over how removing the long-standing diversity policy would destroy our school system and our community; even after watching Rev. Barber and his uber-liberal GSIW crew disrupt meeting after meeting with dancing, praying, singing, and name-calling over the end to diversity busing. Yup, even after all that, the Democratic Board isn't going to do it.

Instead, they are continuing the vision of the Margiotta-led Board and the work by Supt. Tata.

But, how can that be? How can Susan Evans, Jim Martin, Christine Kushner, the 3 current Board members who were part of the GSIW leadership team and who have stood side-by-side with Rev. Barber at protests and Moral Mondays, now see things MY way?

Bizarro world, indeed.

And think about it. Putting an end to diversity assignments back in '09 was an outrage. The liberals lashed out and decried the policy change as "resegregation" and said we were heading back to the days of Jim Crow. They then caused enough ruckus and created enough fear across our county to regain control in the next election.

Geez, guys. What was the big deal?

This School Board is doing exactly what the Margiotta-led Board was trying to do: End the long bus rides for poor and minority students and bring the resources to the students and schools that need them the most.

Did anyone hear that message back then?

When Supt. Tata was leading the charge, it was called Managed Performance Empowerment (MPE) and was part of his 2012 strategic plan. High-needs schools were identified and given more funding to improve academics. I blogged about the ending of this program - the Renaissance schools - and their funding back in June.

And, yet, lo and behold, the WCPSS staff announced last week that, rather than busing, they too will be using the MPE model and provide extra resources to high-needs schools.

Hmm, oddly familiar and eerily quiet.

I was hesitant to believe that Supt. Merrill and this Board were going to simply repackage Tata's work and the vision of the '09 Board when they came out with a new academic formula earlier this year - one that didn't place a priority on diversity assignments.

Today, I'm glad to see things playing out as they should have in 2009.

And without all the noise.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Irrational Numbers

A research paper about WCPSS was released this past June. It's titled "Middle School Math Acceleration and Equitable Access to 8th Grade Algebra: Evidence from the Wake County Public School System" and speaks very highly of WCPSS' math placement policy. And yet it has received no media attention, no mention of it by the School Board, and not a peep about it from Supt. Merrill.

But, why? Why would such an important document - one that shows that a simple change in policy has resulted in academic success for many minority and low-income students - not be lauded by the Wake County Public School System?

Let's go back to 2009 so you understand the whole story.

In 2009, a scathing report was released by SAS that accused WCPSS and their data reporting of "hiding an inequitable situation for students in schools serving more FRPL [free reduced price lunch] students." Under the leadership of then-Supt. Burns (the coward that left when he couldn't stand the heat), WCPSS had been purposefully withholding minority and economically-disadvantaged (ED) students from being placed in Algebra 1, even though they were academically ready.

Shameful, right? Even worse, Supt. Burns had the nerve to suppress this report for months - with no intention of releasing it to the public. No wonder he hightailed it out of town.

Fortunately, the then-School Board (you know, the ones that were painted as evil and racist) immediately worked to address this educationally-damaging practice that was restricting access to Hispanic and Black middle school students. Yes, that's right. They focused on academics; not diversity.

But this wasn't without strong opposition from the "diversity lover" Democrats.

School Board member Kevin Hill and newly-elected Jim Martin fought against allowing access to these children. Even though Hill acknowledged that some students had been wrongly held back, the Democratic Board members still believed that these minority children weren't capable of achieving.

Ironic, isn't it? The very people that were supported by the NAACP and Rev. Barber, the very people who stood arm in arm at protests and candlelight vigils, the very people who were elected to "protect diversity" were completely against implementing a policy that provided minority students opportunities to succeed.

Passing this policy was a huge step forward. Enforcing this new policy and unwinding years of a culture of low expectations was daunting. As the paper points out, "..compliance with the policy appeared more modest in its first few years." However, after a "powerful directive" from Supt. Tata, "...compliance with the policy became stronger over time".

The result? Enrollment in Algebra 1 nearly doubled from 2009 to 2011.

(Side note: let's not forget that Kevin Hill and his fellow Board members hated Tata's leadership style. Maybe because Tata demanded and expected results. Unlike Supt. Merrill, who does...what?)

And it wasn't just enrollment that increased. After the policy had been in effect for a full year and thousands of students were added to Algebra 1, much to the dismay of the Democrat School Board members, overall performance for all students in Algebra I went up 1.1%. 

So, read the paper. It's a lot to digest but here are some important facts about the policy change:
  • We know from the End-of-Course (EOC) data that >95% of students placed are successful.
  • The inclusion of ED and minority students in 8th grade Algebra I has significantly increased.
  • Providing access to higher-level math exposed ED and minority students to teachers who were of average or greater than average effectiveness. Historically, these children have not had access to highly-effective teachers.

This is all great news but, under our current leadership, some very important questions and concerns remain:
  • Has inclusion remained a goal of the system?
  • Do students stay on an accelerated track once in high school?
  • As the paper points out, this policy had to be mandated by Supt. Tata. What is Supt. Merrill's mandate? 

The math placement guidelines may be the same in writing as they were in 2010 but compliance to the policy is now unknown. Transparency is something this Board has lacked since day one. Are all qualified children, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, still given access to the proper math class? Supt. Tata demanded that the data regarding placement be transparent. Supt Merrill? Not so much.

So, now you know. Acknowledgement of this success by the Tata-hating School Board would be extolling the virtues of Tata's leadership and decisions. That will simply never happen.

And, considering Board members haven't changed their opinion on the capabilities of poor and minority children, don't hold your breath on any mention of this paper any time soon.



Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/08/19/1422077/hell-be-a-teacher-at-131000-a.html#storylink=cpy


Read more here: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/wakeed/sas-and-wakes-achievement-gap#new#storylink=cpy

Sunday, June 22, 2014

D before E

Have you ever wondered if diversity really trumps education in Wake County? I mean, honestly... you can read my posts from the past two years and listen to my opinion but I'm sure you've thought: 

"Yeah, yeah. You're just political and hate this School Board" or 

"My kids are fine. Diversity is a good thing (as long as we don't get reassigned)." or 

(in a whisper...) "That woman is crazy."

Well, I feel your pain. This School Board has not made it easy. In the past 3 years, they have made many damaging decisions (like going through 4 superintendents in 2 years) and many non-decisions (uh, after 3 years and whole lotta talking, still no assignment plan?).

But, are they really so focused on creating diversity in our schools that the educational needs of our students run a far second?

Here's some clarity. 

Last week, the N&O had an article about the WCPSS School Board ending a successful and effective program that was running at 5 low-income schools in Wake County.  While Mr. Literal, aka School Board Jim Martin, tried to berate the N&O and claim that the Board never canceled this program, the reality is the funding has ended and this program, one that has helped thousands of low-income children, is over. Don't let Mr. Martin's patronizing twist on the truth make you believe otherwise. 

In the end, the program was ended because this Board doesn't like helping all sorts of poor kids together in one school. In the Board's opinion, it's wrong for poor families to choose to attend school together and then have the school system provide extra resources to help their children. The success of that program isn't what's important to them. The diversity of that school is important. Diversity over education.

But, do you care? After all, not my children.

So, let's talk about something that you might care about. Something that really speaks to the Board's one and only concern: diversity.

At their last work session (the meeting before the official Board meeting), there was a discussion about the placement of the new schools that will be built from the 2013 bond money. You know, the bond you voted for last year because "it's for the children".

WCPSS staff has been working to identify areas to build schools around the county in order to best serve the growing population of Wake County. To make it easy, I'll recap that discussion for those of you who live in SW Wake. 

Here's what your unsympathetic and magnet-focused School Board member Susan Evans had to say:

"We've been having various other conversations about student assignment and the magnet program and I think this is probably a good time for us to put it out there on the table. We have to be forward thinking about all of that stuff and I don't know what the decent answers are but, I've said this before and I'll say it again."

Here it comes, people...

"While I understand that the density of new neighborhoods is strong along that Western corridor and will be strong along the most Southern corridor, so that looks like that's our immediate need, I have a concern from a long-term perspective that, in 20 years when those neighborhoods have aged up and we've got a bazillion schools around the perimeter of the county, is that going to serve us well? We need to think globally about the positioning of schools with long-term in mind and build more towards the center of [the county]."

Globally? Uh, ok. So, even though we have been recognized as the fastest growing area of the county...  And, even though you have been told by Susan Evans that you matter and she will work for your family and your children...  And, even though you honestly believed that your support of the 2013 school bond would result in new schools in your crowded neighborhood...  Even though there is an "immediate need" (her words, not mine) for schools in our district, we're not going to get them.

As quoted in the N&O, "It’s easier to assign children to schools in the central areas of the county to balance population and diversity than to send them to schools farther away."

Let me say that in plain English. 

Schools will be built closer to Raleigh so diversity will be easier to achieve. And your kids are the next pawns in that system.

So, the joke's on you. Do you care now?


 

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/21/3954206/wake-county-leaders-debate-where.html?sp=/99/102/110/112/#storylink=cpy

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Suburban Imbeciles

I just watched the WCPSS Strategic Plan meeting...aka #wakevision.

(If you want to waste 2 hours of your time, you can watch it here.)

This meeting was held at Memorial Hall on May 30th to kickoff the development "of a five-year strategic plan that will guide the school system moving forward." (BTW, this meeting cost you at least $2,422.85.) (And...the last five year strategic plan was done just two years ago. But, whatever.)

The speaker hired by WCPSS, some guy who calls himself a futurist, was actually okay.  Engaging, sounded pretty knowledgeable, had some interesting ideas.
A little nutty but tolerable, I guess. In a nutshell, his message was that we need to be teaching for our kids' future, and not from our own past. And how important this is - now more than ever - because the world is changing at a faster rate than it ever has. 

Good message. But, considering this crowd and that School Board members and Supt. Merrill were in the room, it probably floated over their heads and right out the door.

But, the absolute best part of this meeting (and well worth watching at 1:51:55) was when one parent, Becky, stood up to ask a question. Little ol' Becky was pretty confident in her question...as if she already knew the answer. Here's what she said:

"I am the parent of two students at Martin Middle School. One of the stronger points of the Wake County Public School System has been the long-time commitment to having diverse schools. What do you say to parents, and I think this is part of the visioning process, guys - who are so adamant that the worst thing that can happen to their kid is that they could be reassigned to a different school the next year?"

Good grief. 

Could Becky possibly be any more condescending while gnashing her teeth?

Uh, yes, she could. And she was:

"I'm sorry - but if my child is going to have 5 to 10 different careers, God forbid that they should have to go to 4 or 5 elementary schools. I mean, it seems like preparation for living to me."

OMG. 4 or 5 elementary schools?! 

Becky is either the worst kind of parent or she represents the epitome of a smug, patronizing, and arrogant magnet parent who thinks us "suburban" parents are idiots. 

Maybe that choice is one and the same. :)

And Becky didn't stop there:


"We don't close our schools because the population shifts; we shift the kids around. And it has worked really well - except that parents get so irate because their children, in spite of the fact that they are all digitally connected, that they are losing that connection."

Fortunately, the futurist stopped Becky from babbling and making herself look even more foolish. His response, however, was brilliant. 

He said:

"I will say that if all the schools in the district are equal quality, there shouldn't be a problem. So, that's the first thing. If the school system can stand up and say "You're gonna get the same education", that's a true statement."

And we all know WCPSS isn't about educational equality. If it was, Becky and her buddies would be very upset over losing their magnet goodies and sharing them with the rest of us imbeciles in the suburbs.

And then the futurist said something incredible:


"The other thing is... the word 'diversity'... Diversity is a loaded, social, emotional word of about 50 years standing that, if you want diversity, you have to let go of the legacy thinking of what the word diversity means and create what is diversity in this school district in 2014. Whatever that is... face that diversity, rather than some formulaic thing. But, the first thing is to make all schools good. Then, it doesn't matter."

So, was it worth the $2300 for the venue and god-knows-how-much for Mr. Futurist to tell the irate parents of Wake County what we already know?  

For those last two minutes, yes. Yes, it was.

Do you think Becky, her magnet friends, and the WCPSS School Board actually listened to those comments? 

Not in a million years. 

Understanding this simple concept would require parents like Becky to change. Parents like Becky have it too good in the magnet system. Parents like Becky have absolutely no understanding of the effect of reassignment on a child - not to mention 4 or 5 of them. Parents like Becky may understand that the reassignment of our children allows her magnet children to remain safe, secure, and untouched at their school. Parents like Becky are ignorant and offensive. Sadly, there are plenty of them in Wake County.

Even worse, they are also on our School Board.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Repackaging Tata's vision

What we are witnessing today on the Wake County School Board is politics at its best.

In 2009, the School Board removed quotas for diversity in the WCPSS assignment policy. After all, there was decades of data that showed the busing scheme in Wake County - that is, using the assignment of poor children to fill quotas at each school - did not work. It did not improve academic outcomes.

However, as a result of that simple change, the liberals went wild. 

They packed the Board meetings, protested anywhere they could, chanted and sang, encouraged students to get arrested, and proudly crossed the security barriers to physically take over the School Board seats. C'mon, we all remember it. Overly-dramatic candlelight vigils. Yelling, singing, and praying during Board meetings. Years of hateful statements, speeches, and name-calling.

Fast forward to this past week...

New Superintendent Merrill and WCPSS staff presented a new academic formula to the School Board. This formula could be used to better identify the needs of struggling schools - how to place resources properly - rather than simply using diversity busing to address educational problems. Sadly, it does include the ability to reassign students to "improve" performance. But, it's no longer the be-all and end-all as this Board and their liberal friends so desired.

This new formula is divided into 5 areas - yet "diversity" is no longer the most important factor. In fact, "demographics" (which it is named under this formula) is similarly weighted to 3 of the other 5 factors.

And, shockingly, the left remains silent. No outrage. Silence. Crickets.

Let's not forget... the end result of all that hubbub from the liberals was the buyout of the contract of a very effective and very successful superintendent. With the support of the 2009 Board, Tata managed to change the conversation in Wake County. Not an easy feat.

So, I can only believe that either Merrill is treading on very thin ice with this Board by basically dismissing diversity busing as a solution in education. Or this School Board is filled with a bunch of liars and hypocrites.

In a nutshell...

A vision and leadership from a superintendent hired by a Republican-majority board?
Bad, bad, bad.

The same vision from a superintendent hired by a Democratic-majority board?
Hmmm... seems OK.

Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't set in stone. The Board has to approve this new formula that puts little emphasis on diversity busing. And, in the long shot that they will vote in favor of it, I wonder if the outrage will return.
 
I'm not betting on it.