by Bob Geary
The Wake Education Partnership's report on student assignment policies is out this morning. It's not a plan, the WEP emphasizes. But it is a roadmap to how the new Wake school board majority should approach the making of a plan — one that retains diversity and socioeconomic balance in the schools while also offering stability to Wake families. It's a must-read, if possible before John Tedesco gets up this afternoon with his thinking on the subject.
Creating a plan that serves the county well won't be easy. It never was easy, and the bigger the county gets, and the more spread out (and economically segregated), the harder it's going to be. Nor, the WEP emphasizes, will everybody get everything they want. But we can have a sound system that serves everybody's needs by working things out in a collaborative and transparent way, Ron Margiotta.
That, the WEP says, and by all agreeing to adhere to a single common standard: "The plan must provide all children — from those who struggle academically to the highest achievers — a real chance to reach their full potential. Anything less would be selling students short for the sake of convenience."
* The focal point of discussion about balance will be east Raleigh, north Garner and a large section of eastern Wake County. This is where most low-income families live and where the issues of balance and building efficiency are the most difficult to resolve. That is partly because some neighborhoods in this area have more students than nearby schools can handle, not less.
* The one issue that will make or break almost any assignment plan is parental choice. This is a political reality rather than an academic necessity. In the simplest terms, families in suburban areas must feel they have enough meaningful choices to guarantee their support of the bigger system. At the same time, the school board must be able to exert enough control over those choices to guarantee schools do not become segregated.
With careful planning and community involvement, Wake County can create a student assignment model that provides both stability and balance.
Public support will be critical, which means the financial costs must be obvious. Computer simulations also should be run so parents and policymakers know what to expect before the buses roll.
It has never been easy during the 34-year history of the Wake County Public School System to maintain diverse schools, but it is just as important today — if not more so.