Wake County Schools

Wake school board accused of 'cherry-picking' data

Posted April 5, 2011 9:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2011 12:26 a.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— Members of the community accused Wake County school district leaders of "cherry-picking" data to support their contention that busing for diversity was unfair to underprivileged students during the public comment portion of the school board meeting Tuesday.

The data was released last week as part of an ongoing federal investigation into Wake's student assignment policy, which was launched after the state NAACP expressed concerns that a neighborhood schools model would concentrate poor students into schools in poor communities.

In a narrative response to the data request from the Office for Civil Rights, school leaders stated that poor and minority students were subjected to "disproportionately long bus rides" under the district's former student assignment policy, which bused students to balance socioeconomic status levels in schools.

School leaders also found "a strong correlation between long bus rides and low academic performance" in black students.

But some diversity supporters aren't buying the school board's argument.

RitaAnita Linger, who supports using socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment, charged that the board released "purposely misleading data to support its bad policies."

Adrienne Lumpkin called certain members of the board "data-challenged" and said they were "cherry-picking" numbers. Neil Riemann accused the board of presenting data unfairly, in part because not all achievement factors were taken into consideration, he said.

Some diversity supporters said because the students who were bused were also disadvantaged, they would likely struggle with achievement anyway.

School board member John Tedesco said opponents were the ones cherry-picking.

"They have their agenda, and they are going to cherry-pick for their agenda," Tedesco said.

He added that the district's former busing for diversity policy produced low-performing schools and failed to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

"We pretended and ignored the fact (that) there were many schools struggling," he said.

School board attorney Ann Majestic, who helped author the data report sent to OCR, agreed.

"The policy that has been changed did not produce the benefits that some had hoped," Majestic said.

In part due to continued community outrage with the board's effort to move to a neighborhood schools model for student assignment, the board has deferred to new Superintendent Tony Tata to develop a plan.

Tata has temporarily reassigned six members of his staff to devote themselves entirely to implementing the school system’s new student assignment policy.