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.

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