Education

Wake schools task force targets students from poor families

Posted May 27, 2010

Wake County Public School System
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— In what is billed as an effort to do better by "the most vulnerable children," a new Wake County school board task force met Thursday to begin plotting how to raise achievement among economically disadvantaged students.

The task force is officially a school board committee with three board members and more than 30 invited community members. Member John Tedesco, the driving force behind the school system's new policy of seeking community-based school assignments and not trying for economic diversity in every school, co-chairs the panel.

Wake schools task force targets students from poor families Wake schools task force targets students from poor families

The other chair is board member Keith Sutton, who has been on the losing side in a series of 5-4 votes on the way to changing the assignment policy.

Thursday, Tedesco ran the meeting as Sutton sat silently next to him.

Success will take more than goal-setting

The meeting included a round-table discussion about what "success" would look like for economically disadvantaged students, but some tough comments came after that.

"We've got to embrace, this county, equity, not equality," Marvin Pittman, a former state Board of Education member, told Tedesco.

That will be a hard discussion, Pittman explained, because he means devoting extra resources to underachieving students who need help.

"It may look," he predicted, like the school board would be taking resources away from other schools and students.

Old ways have not worked

Tedesco said the task force's recommendations for the school system will go "straight to the board table," but he stressed that the wider community has to help, too.

"We've been attacking some of these problems for decades" without success, he said. In some cases, he told the group, the school system spends $500,000 to $600,000 more on under-achieving schools than on achieving schools at the same grade levels.

He and Hargens said, however, that while the achievement gap between poor students and others is shrinking slowly, the change is not happening fast enough.

The goal for the board, Pittman said, should be to identify "what our community needs to do to own up" to helping underachieving students.

The fact is, "In Wake County, race and class are very linked," said task force member Bridgette Burge, racial justice co-director of the YWCA's Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women project.

Data about underachievement should include information about race and ethnicity, Pittman, who is black, told Tedesco and interim Superintendent Donna Hargens. "We don't talk about it in Wake County," he said, but minority students do not do as well as white students who are equivalently well-off economically.

Other definitions for success from the discussion included graduating from high school, having options for the future, being bi-cultural, believing they can succeed, and having the academic, social and communications skills to stay out of trouble and make their way in society.

The number of suspensions from Wake County schools was 21,000 in the 2008-09 school year, and 1,000 of those put students out of schools for a year, Tedesco told the group.

It is unclear, Sutton said after the meeting, how the new task force will mesh with a Raise Achievement, Close the Gap initiative that the district has had since 2007.

Derrick Byrd, a chair of that group, was one of the community members Tedesco invited to Thursday's session.

The task force, which the school board created in a February vote, has no deadline.

"I think it's going to take all of us to grind for a while as a community" to find answers, Tedesco told the gathering.

38 Comments

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  • Realthoughts May 28, 2010

    Funny when some actual good ideas and suggestions come up for a change, WRAL tucks this article behind the front page from view.

  • Roland K. May 28, 2010

    I love how conservatives clamour for excellent schools, mexican border patrol, government cleanups of corporate oil spills, but when the quotes come in for how much this vital stuff costs, they balk and kick and scream as if all these government services are free. good services cost money. and the only way governments pay for good services is through tax revenue. I don't advocate "throwing money at a problem" which is about as trite a cliche as there is, well, you heard my proposal. and they're not free.

  • miketroll3572 May 28, 2010

    Well miketroll, it takes a village to raise a child, or are you of the survival of the fittest mentality. The solution: schools with high numbers of disadvantaged children need wickedly small class sizes, a few extra social workers/psychologists on staff and high quality food in the morning and at lunch. i.e., dough.

    No! It does not take a village to raise a child Hillary! It takes responsible parents and tough love. Thinking like that is what has gotten this country in the sorry state its in. You liberals think throwing money is the only solution rather than taking the rains in you hands and doing it yourself. And yes, I have 3 children and no, I am not rich by a long shot. We live paycheck to paycheck.

  • Realthoughts May 28, 2010

    If the problem is with the lack of parent & community involvement, then why doesn't the NAACP work closer with parents and communities to encourage more involvement with their children's education. Perhaps, NAACP could look at doing work sessions or community meetings that would help and encourage parents to get more involved.

    Perhaps, help parents see the many ways that they can make a difference just in supporting the child through the many parent programs that the school system offers; PTA, Booster Clubs, Band assocation, sports programs and more.

  • localyank May 28, 2010

    skidkid269 - Very true. At Ligon Middle they have a club called something like "Academic Achievement for African Americans" (nicknamed QuadA) that is intended to create a peer group for black students who are solid students academically. Although people complain about a club targeted toward a particular race, it's a good start to address the problem you've pointed out. A Magnet school in an ED neighborhood doesn't necessary help all kids, but it can provide an environment where kids who want to learn can do so without extreme peer pressure.

  • localyank May 28, 2010

    I applaud Mr. Tedesco for his concern and efforts, but he has fallen in with people who do not support public education. The problem is finding needed money for this effort. Once his constituents realize this means taking money away from suburban schools to fund special programs at the inner city schools (that are on the way, ironically), it will never fly (see MikeTrolls comments). My concern is that they will close the gap by taking away resources from high achieving kids, so that the top comes down. We shouldn't really be talking about achievement gap as much as how we provide what's needed (safe schools, motivated teachers, ample resources) to have all kids excel.

  • Roland K. May 28, 2010

    skidkid269: good point, sad too.

  • skidkid269 May 28, 2010

    It's not necessarily a parenting issue as it is a cultural one. An black student who excels may be looked upon as a sellout. The culture needs to change. That is far easier said than done.

  • Roland K. May 28, 2010

    Well miketroll, it takes a village to raise a child, or are you of the survival of the fittest mentality. The solution: schools with high numbers of disadvantaged children need wickedly small class sizes, a few extra social workers/psychologists on staff and high quality food in the morning and at lunch. i.e., dough.

  • OGE May 28, 2010

    "The task force is officially a school board committee with three board members and more than 30 invited community members."

    hmmm...so they want citizens to take seriously a panel of hand picked people who I am sure are in no way biased toward agreeing with all the trainwreck recent decisions forced down our throats by the New BOE Members. Yeah that makes sense.

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