Education

Tedesco lays out his vision for Wake school assignments

Posted April 23, 2010 8:03 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2010 11:15 p.m. EDT

— Broad outlines of a how to create community-based assignments for Wake County public school students emerged Friday in a presentation by the leader of the school board majority that has driven a decision to turn away from diversity as the top assignment factor.

John Tedesco, one of four members elected last year, showed the board how he envisions his student assignment committee can 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.

Tedesco and his board allies have argued that the longtime assignment policy has not avoided too-high numbers of poor students in some schools and that student achievement has been going down at the same time. Too much emphasis on socio-economic diversity amounts to profiling students from poor areas, they have argued.

It is possible, Tedesco said, to create a computer algorithm for assignment that "encompasses our community's values."

"We have a unique opportunity here to start to put our values into the process," he said.

There also, he said, are better ways that the district can measure equity between attendance zones.

"Our current system uses primarily blunt tools" to move large groups of students, Tedesco said. It lacks the ability for "fine tuning" to meet students' needs.

The result, he said, is parents pulling their students out of the county schools. The district's average of 17.5 percent non-involvement in the public school system is nearly twice the national average, he said.

The committee, Tedesco said, will take about three months to meet with outside experts, including a group from Duke University that has worked with large-city school systems and will donate its time to Wake County.

Then, he said, there will be as many as eight large community meetings, then more committee work to implement.

Changing away from a nationally recognized, diversity-based system has been controversial. Early in his Tedesco put up a slide saying, “Let’s take this opportunity to move from contentious to cooperative to visionary.”

He listed five objectives for the redesign:

  • Better align systems “for effective and efficient delivery of services”
  • Set policy and planning “in agreement with internal and external community goals"
  • Have 95 percent of schools stay as they are
  • Consider about 5 percent of schools for a change, such as making new magnet schools
  • Have 85 to 95 percent of students not be affected by forced reassignments

Tedesco showed the board several maps that he said illustrated possible ways of using overlaid attendance zones to encourage parents to choose schools that avoid creating pockets of poor students.

Board member Anne McLaurin, who supports the current diversity policy, said she isn't sure community zones are enough to ensure that there's no segregation.

"It was very, very hard for me to see how you can create community zones without zones of poverty,” McLaurin said. "What I saw was a map that had areas, zones, with real poverty in them. With real economic and racial segregation and there wasn't an explanation of how we are going to do that differently."

Tedesco discussion followed a presentation earlier this week in which the Wake Education Partnership told the board about poor graduation and achievement performance in Knightdale High School, which sits in the same southeast portion of the county that has the highest concentration of low-income households.

Tedesco agreed with those who say that research clearly shows student achievement suffers in high-poverty schools.

He also said, however, “Large bodies of research emerging in the last 20 years detail the problems associated with profiling students as a whole sub-group by race or income.”

Thinking about those profiles in assigning students, he asserted, “can reinforce pre-established biases for low expectations of these students."