Raleigh, N.C. — Amid a raging debate over community-based schools in the Wake County Public School System, a consultant out of Massachusetts says he might have an option that can help give parents more choices in their children's education without creating high-poverty schools.
It's called "controlled choice," and Michael Alves will present the concept next Tuesday to members of the Wake County Board of Education's Student Assignment Committee, which is working on implementing a new assignment policy that tries to place students in schools closer to where they live.
It's a reversal of the current policy, in which some students are bused so that no school in the district has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches.
The "controlled choice" plan is similar to what the school board majority wants in that it would divide the county into several assignment zones.
But instead of geography being the only factor, Alves says, the zones would be based on a computer model that distributes the student population so that each area is representative of the entire school system.
"The idea is to be fair," Alves said, who has worked for nearly 30 years with other large school systems on assignment plans. "You subject everything to a practicality test. It has to a plan that is implementable. It has to have a fairness test."
Board member John Tedesco, who head's the board's assignment committee, invited Alves to speak at Tuesday's meeting while he is in town visiting with local business leaders and elected officials about the assignment debate.
The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wake County Public School System Administration Building, at 3600 Wake Forest Road.
Tedesco says he is open to hearing more about the "controlled choice" concept.
"We understand that this community is huge – it's 850 square miles – so we want to manage it in some geographic zones that make sense as a part of a community while allowing for stability and balance for our families," he said.
State NAACP President Rev. William Barber, who has led a high-profile campaign against the community schools policy, says he's skeptical of the "controlled choice" plan, not having seen the details or been able to talk to Alves.
"We know that when you use selective real estate – so-called neighborhood schools – as opposed to sound research, then we end up creating pockets of misery," Barber said.
The controversy surrounding the student assignment policy has thrust Wake County Schools onto the national stage, attracting attention from national media outlets, including The New York Times and several news networks.
Tedesco and Barber both appeared on CNN's American Morning Thursday to debate the issue.
School board co-chairwoman Debra Goldman goes On the Record with WRAL News' David Crabtree about the controversy surrounding the student assignment policy and the Wake County Board of Education. Watch Saturday at 7 p.m. on WRAL-TV.