Wake County Schools

Colbert mocks Wake schools' assignment controversy

Posted January 19, 2011 5:27 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 7:52 p.m. EST

— 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.