Professor: Wake's diversity policy was trumped by growth

Posted April 27, 2010
Updated April 28, 2010

— The Wake County Public School System is attracting national attention as it tries to create a new way of deciding which students go to which schools and of trying to avoid high concentrations of poor students in some schools. Among the educators studying the board’s moves is University of Georgia education professor Eric Houck.

"I think the Wake School System is in somewhat limbo right now,” Houck said.

Houck, a former employee of the Wake Education Partnership, co-authored the study, "To Turn Back Would be a Huge Mistake: Race, Class, and Student Assignment in Wake County Public Schools."

Houck said that despite the firestorm of scrutiny over overturning the diversity policy, it was not being properly implemented to begin with.

"If you look at the particulars of the policy, that no schools should be over 40 percent free or reduced-price lunches, over time you see more and more schools out of compliance with that," Houck said.

Professor studies Wake's diversity policy Professor studies Wake's diversity policy

The school system has used busing, student reassignment and magnet schools to achieve socio-economic diversity. It bases diversity calculations on the number of students in a school who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which are federally subsidized and depend on family income.

But Wake parents upset over the diversity policy went to the polls last November to elect a new majority to the school board. That majority is working to end assigning and busing students for diversity in favor of a community-based assignment model.

Houck said growth contributed to the school board not being able to comply with its own policy. Only 10 schools were out of compliance with the diversity policy in 1999, but that number had increased to 36 schools by 2007.

"What we think happened in Wake is that more and more free or reduced-price lunch students came into the system and made it impossible to meet the 40 percent threshold, but the spirit of the law was held onto over time," Houck said.

The district kept up a reputation for having diversity policy in place, but it lacked the commitment to make the changes needed over time to enforce the policy, Houck said. The policy did, however, work in spirit.

"Wake has maintained high levels of student achievement, and they have maintained the spirit of the policy by preventing the resegreation of their schools along race and class lines," Houck said.

The question being debated now is whether Wake’s neighborhood-based student assignment will racially segregate schools.

"The schools will begin to reflect neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are segregated by race and by class. Therefore, schools will become segregated by race and by class," Houck said.

Houck, who wrote the study with fellow UGA professor Sheneka Williams, is presenting its findings to the American Educational Research Association annual meeting this week in Denver.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • rargos Apr 28, 2010

    Our year round school went from about 5% Hispanic to over 30% Hispanic in five years - during the same time test scores went from 92% passing to 48% passing (look it up on the WCPSS website and you can figure out which school).

    Coincidence? I think not. I doubt any of those childrens' parents were here legally, in no small part because they never volunteered, never attending PTA meetings, etc. They did drop off/pick up their kids in very nice cars, considering that almost all of those children also got free/reduced lunches ....

  • rargos Apr 28, 2010

    I work two jobs to send my kids to private school (after 5 years in WCPSS) and it's worth every penny ....

  • ncguy Apr 28, 2010

    yes it's hard to get that no more than 40 percent at 1 school because of the system.

    Fraud is the major factor another is illegal alien children.

  • wildcat Apr 28, 2010


  • wildcat Apr 28, 2010

    The old days are over and we are in new times even though some have not realize this or they was just simply taught by their parents the old ways. Remember the change is going to happen whether you like it or not.

  • wildcat Apr 28, 2010

    continue to provide input and fight for neighborhood schools.

    Good luck on that. Remember the illegals will be allowed in that school too.

  • wildcat Apr 28, 2010

    Question: a lot of that growth was illegal aliens and their children.

    Obviously! Of course someone is not getting that picture. While they (leaders) continue to allow these illegals to come, the schools are going to much crowded and more problems. Why can the leaders not see this? Maybe they need glasses.

  • readme Apr 28, 2010

    Question: a lot of that growth was illegal aliens and their children. Do they qualify for F&R lunch? Anyone know? Because that would explain how the FR percent went up a lot so schools could not keep up busing enough "rich" kids across town.

  • readme Apr 28, 2010

    Garnerwolf1, my kid was one of the 3% as you said that was bused. So you can tell all these other posters that they need to chill, but I am going to continue to provide input and fight for neighborhood schools.

  • mustangyts Apr 28, 2010

    Do people realize that many private schools spend far less money per child than public schools and yet graduate a much better student more prepared for college? Schools should be all about education, not social ills. People see what they want to see, not the facts.