Wake County Schools

Colbert mocks Wake schools' assignment controversy

Posted January 19, 2011

— The Wake County Board of Education and the issue about how children should be assigned to schools are getting more national attention – this time from funny man Stephen Colbert.

In a five-minute “Disintegration” segment on Tuesday’s The Colbert Report, the comedian mocked the board’s controversial policy change of doing away with busing students for diversity in favor of community-based schools. (Watch the clip at the bottom of this story.)

“Back in the day, (the school system) had segregated schools – white kids here, black kids there; rich kids here, poor kids there – here a poor, there a poor, everywhere a poor poor,” he said. “Sure, integrating schools may sound benign, but what’s the use of living in a gated community if my kids go to school and get poor all over them?”

Colbert referred to school board member John Tedesco as “part of a group of Tea Party-backed Republican school board members” wanting to go back to neighborhood schools to teach students the three “Rs” – with the words “Readin’, Ritin’, and Resegregatin’” appearing on screen.

And while the rant had the audience laughing, one person not laughing is June Atkinson, superintendent of the North Carolina Board of Education.

“We need to have a stable Wake County school system where the wonderful teachers and administrators in this county have the support, the backing and the innovative thoughts from our local board of education,” she said.

The local business community is also concerned, says Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

“It will have an impact on some people,” he said. “This image may make it harder to recruit talent and companies to the area.”

The Colbert Show spot continues a week of national coverage on the student assignment controversy.

Last week, The Washington Post covered the issue, prompting U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a letter to the editor in the paper, to call the move away from diversity “troubling” and warn other school districts to think twice before using Wake County’s new policy as a model.

Tedesco also appeared Monday on the Fox Business Network, saying that student achievement has suffered under the busing program and that underprivileged students would be better served by attending schools closer to home.
"Having a mindset that simply reassigning kids is the answer to education has failed us," Tedesco said. "I think we need new paradigms.”

Last year's vote to end the decade-old busing for diversity policy began a round of protests, investigations and bickering among board members that shows little sign of slowing.

Most recently, the school board has become embroiled in a dispute with AdvancED, a national accreditation agency that's investigating changes in the school system, including how the board reached its decision to scrap the diversity policy.

Board members say the agency is overstepping its bounds.

The federal education agency's Office for Civil Rights is also investigating the board's decision, following a complaint filed with the department last year by the state chapter of the NAACP and other groups.

They allege that ending a policy in which some of the district's 140,000 or so students were bused to achieve socio-economic balance in the school district amounts to a rollback of civil rights-era changes that integrated the schools.

Supporters of the new assignment policy say it will help narrow the student achievement gap and help parents be more involved in their children’s lives.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • jdoe1 Jan 21, 2011

    @jsc: Your argument holds no water. We have elections. This one, more than any I remember at any level, was clear cut. It wasn't 'hope and change' that later can be translated into any policy you want. It was 'elect me and I'll vote for neighborhood schools'. And those folks got elected.

    If you want to call into question the legitimacy of this board, then I assume you are ceding the illegitimacy of the previous ones that supported the busing policy.

  • freshjyve Jan 21, 2011

    Colbert is from Charleston SC, home of the thriving segregated school system. He should know, and maybe check his backyard before throwing stones from the glass house.

  • jscletsplay1002002 Jan 21, 2011

    @ Cricket at the lake
    No it wasnt the voters that voted them on the board,
    It was the lack of voters that did. Look at the numbers, in elections that conceern the board of Edu, turnouts are alway low.
    Yes the nonvoters need an awakening, as now they can see how important it is so that bad decision makers wouldnt be voted onto the board, thinking that they are following the majority.
    Here is the problem with the boards thoughts, they were voted in by the majority of people whom voted, even though it is not the wants of the majority of the Wake county citizens. This is why most of you are saying what you are saying, you think the majority want community schools, they dont the majority of the people that "voted" do.
    It doesnt reflect our Counties wants and needs.
    Thus when will people realize how important it is to vote all the time, not just on the president!

  • ncmike Jan 21, 2011


    I was drawing a simple analogy that if that district instituted busing for students who got pregnant to other schools wouldn't decrease the actual number of pregnant teens and would only serve to dilute and obscure the problem by lowering that particular school's percentage of pregnant students artificially - the exact same effect of diluting academic performance using the same method.

    Do you comprehend what the concept of an analogy? Did your education cover that in your English class?

  • chandlerdah Jan 21, 2011

    I don't have time to read all 779 comments. I would just like to ask the following questions:

    1. How socio-economically diverse is the school Stephen Colbert's children attend?
    2. Of all the school systems in the U.S., what percentage bus?
    3. In this time of slashed school budgets, how much does busing cost Wake each year?
    4. How could funds used for busing be reallocated to enhance schools with less desirable economic demographics?

  • soyousay Jan 21, 2011

    nc...not entirely an actual answer, although interesting us of caps

    you clearly implicated bussing as the source of teen aged pregnancies....and you are of course wrong.

  • ncmike Jan 21, 2011


    My point is that Wake has only DILUTED the problem it set out to fix (and made the problem even worse) by restarting busing in 2000. The pain points targeted by busing are simply being OBSCURED by spreading the out the same (and now we know, declining) performance of ED students and raising poor performing schools by loading hem up with better performing students. If this is about the kids, we should all be outraged at that - it is not the scores of the overall that matters - it is about each and every student and everyone is avoiding this most important and material issue in this debate.

  • soyousay Jan 21, 2011

    charl..Be ready to be pounced on over there

    so what's your plan to "defend" yourself from this assault you are anticipating? what exactly do you have in mind?

  • soyousay Jan 21, 2011

    nc..Today’s CNN report that 11% of the student body at a Memphis, Tennessee

    a much higher precentage of Palin's daughters got themselves pregant as high school students...Bristol Palin was not a minority or bussed...your point?

  • adithium Jan 20, 2011

    floydthebarber thank you for proving my point. You did exactly what i was saying the NAACP is doing. I never ever said going to school with a diverse group is what would make my kids suffer. You construed my statement to make it say that, good job. I said my kids would suffer due to my success, my point was if i choose a neighborhood with a great school 5 miles away i don't think my kids should have to go to another school 10 miles away because they are white, black or any other color. I should never be told, "Oh sir i am sorry you and your family make too much money to go to this school, we need to bus your kid across the county to the school that isn't doing as well and has a more diverse crowd." That is the suffer i am talking about, i could care less if the school is all orange students with yellow dots. If i can afford to live closer to a great school my kids should go there, i earned it for them.