So, North Carolina has two very large school districts. The way it works in Carolina, see, is that our schools districts are made up along the county lines; not by the cities. This forces allows districts to be very very large. For example, Raleigh is about the 48th largest city in the nation, and yet Wake County Public School [WCPSS] is one of the top 10 in terms of student population.
The other thing that makes WCPSS unique is that it is one of the nation’s leading districts in how it is handling it’s student assignment. Unlike many, if not most, districts across the country, WCPSS assigns students by financial status. In this case, the district is using F&R [free and reduced lunches] as a proxy for income. As a result, the policy that has been in place for a number of years is that the district planners are trying to keep all schools at no more than 40% F&R population.
The idea, according to district officials, is that as the ratio of low income students at a specific school increases, achievement decreases;for all students. Therefore, assignment by income, taccdording to the theory, increases achievement for all students as well as minimizing the chance that a school degenerates into an inner city horror show so prevalent among many of the nation’s districts.
Anyway, I was reading this weekend. One story chronicled the difference in the assignment approach in Raleigh and Charlotte. The other describes one local Charlotte school that has changed dramatically since that district abandoned busing in favor of local or neighborhood schools.
I am a big believer in education. I firmly believe that the higher the education of the individual, the higher the income, the lower rate of incarceration and in general, the higher return to society. Further, I am a strong supporter of public education. While I typically am not in favor of entitlement programs, I find that educating our youth is not only helping them, but, from a national perspective, investing in ourselves. Unlike perpetual welfare or the minimum wage, I find that our society is actually improved by providing public education to all children.
However, in time, I do come back to my data driven roots. And in this case, I am finding that the studies showing the increase achievement not only to be sound, but compelling. I do not claim that a poor child sitting next to a rich child will help both of them learn. But what I am saying is this. Schools in affluent neighborhoods are going to have parents that are involved in the school. They are going to volunteer. They are going to donate to the PTA. They are going to make sure that the computer lab has, you know, computers. Further, these parents are not going to accept that when there is violence in the halls, nothing be done. They will demand action, and, because they have a demonstrable successful trajectory in life, they will get that action. In short, the schools will be safer, cleaner and better equipped. The exact thing, by the way, that will bring in the best teachers, or at least not have them running for the doors.
Folks on the other side, well, they see it another way. They claim that busing takes away from the neighborhood feel. They claim that busing takes away time for a child to study. They claim that they moved into a certain neighborhood to go to a certain school. In some ways, I empathize. In most, I don’t. My take, is that when data and studies show that a particular method works, and integration of economic societies helps, you go with the data. Every time.
Just look again at that Charlotte school. Its only been 7-8 years and the schools has fell back to old times and ways. Sure the Charlotte district will say that they are keeping up with Wake, but, I don’t think they are. The schools themselves certainly are not. And, as older sentimental teachers retire or just give up, the scores will show it too….