Wake County Schools

Business leaders unveil their assignment plan for Wake schools

Posted February 11, 2011 10:14 a.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2011 5:54 p.m. EST

— Wake County business leaders unveiled Friday their version of a school choice student assignment plan that they hope will please people on both sides of the ongoing debate of how and where students should go to school.

Two local nonprofit groups – the Wake Education Partnership and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce – released the report in response to a controversial policy approved last February by the Wake County Board of Education.

The groups hired Boston-based consultant Michael Alves to craft a plan that would give Wake County families options about where their children should go to school while focusing on the academic achievement mix of students attending each school.

The plan includes the following:

  • Gives parents more control over where their children attend school.
  • Provides more school choices.
  • Emphasizes proximity without the use of mandatory attendance zones.
  • Allows families to remain in their chosen schools unless they decide otherwise.
  • Promotes diversity of all types, but does not pursue diversity as a goal in and of itself.
  • Redefines school assignment in a way that clearly makes student achievement the top priority for every child.

The plan also focuses on four pillars – stability, choice, proximity and student achievement. Read the entire report.

Stability

"The promise of stability begins the first year by allowing families to remain in the schools where they are currently enrolled," according to the report.

Transportation would be provided and siblings would be automatically enrolled in the same school. Parents who are unhappy with their current school assignments can choose another school close to home where seats are available. They may also apply to a magnet school.

Choice

The proposal assumes most parents will choose a school close to home, but they can select from a list that also includes schools outside their immediate neighborhood. In every case, the list would include at least two magnet schools and two year-round calendar choices. The node-based assignments currently used by the school district will no longer be necessary.

"We can say with confidence that the school system should be able to provide every family in Wake County with a choice of 10 elementary schools, five middle schools and five high schools while increasing transportation efficiency," according to the report.

Proximity

As Wake County reshapes its assignment process for the future, the plan recommends families living within 1.5 miles of a school – based upon driving distances – be given assignment priority to that school.

"About 31 percent of Wake County’s elementary students currently attend a school within 1.5 miles of their homes. Under this proposal, that number could be expected to increase to nearly 50 percent," according to the report.

Many students, especially in middle school and high school, will not have a choice within 1.5 miles of home. In those cases, enrollment priorities would be granted for the closest available school.

Student achievement

The plan does not recommend the school system use a fixed percentage in determining the appropriate achievement mix.

"We believe a range is more flexible, particularly if that range is tied to the results of statewide mandatory testing," according to the report.

A recent proposal by the school board’s Student Assignment Committee suggested at least 70 percent of the students in every school perform at or above grade level.

"We believe that is educationally sound. The school system in past years set a goal suggesting 95 percent of all students perform at or above grade level – a laudable target," according to the report.

The school board’s move last year to do away with a decade-old practice of busing students to help keep schools diverse sparked an outcry from many fearful that implementing a neighborhood-based assignment policy will segregate schools and keep economically disadvantaged students from receiving the same quality of education as their counterparts.

Under the old policy, which is in place until the end of the 2012-13 school year, students are bused across district lines so that no schools have a student population of more than 40 percent receiving free or reduced lunch.

How that new policy will be implemented is still unclear.

In October, the board voted 5-3 to start over with how to do so after concerns that parents and other board members weren’t being given enough input.