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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wake County Schools Welcomes Jim Crow Segregation...Where's Obama?

Tumultuous Session Ends Wake County Schools Diversity Policy

During a tense marathon meeting, the Wake County school board voted to stop busing students for diversity, then cemented that action by taking the first steps toward a community-based system of student assignment.

With a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Republican-backed board's majority ended more than three decades of having racial or socioeconomic status be a prime factor in school assignments for students, who now number around 140,000.

Instead, they agreed to start assigning students closer to home, even if the change creates more schools with high concentrations of students from poor families. Board member John Tedesco, point man for the resolution, said the system already allows for high numbers of high-poverty schools.

"This gives us our direction now," said Tedesco, who will chair the committee that will split the county into community school zones, a blueprint that will take up to 15 months to develop. "We're now going to community schools. This will give parents more stability."

While the plan for the new community zones is months from completion, the school board majority quickly solidified its vote by making student reassignment decisions showing they're no longer considering diversity.

The board approved measures in the reassignment plan for this fall that would send hundreds of students to schools closer to their homes. In the process, some diversity-related moves made by the old board were reversed.

After nine long hours

The diversity decision came nearly nine hours into a tumultuous day. Chairman Ron Margiotta and his four allies beat back amendments by opponents on the board who didn't want to pass the resolution without more study, more research and more information on its cost.

"If this is going to stand the test of time, it could stand the test of a work session," said opposition member Kevin Hill.

The majority agreed to an amendment by Dr. Anne McLaurin, another opposition member, that inserted language from the state constitution that guarantees all North Carolina children "an equal opportunity for a sound basic education."

Then, member Carolyn Morrison put the majority in the position of having to vote on "a plan that ensures that schools will not become segregated." Ultimately, the majority didn't support Morrison's amendment.

"The eyes of the nation are upon us," Morrison said.

Tedesco sharply disagreed with the charge that ending the diversity policy will lead to re-segregation. "That doesn't happen today. The fact is, the laws of the state of North Carolina and the Federal Government are sufficient to make sure that does not occur."

During a public comment period, police removed more than 20 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, who sat in the hallway outside the meeting room and pierced the proceedings with loud chanting: "No Re-Segregation in our town! Shut it down!"

During a public comment period before the full board, about 75 percent of the speakers voiced opposition to the resolution that would lead to fundamental change in the way students are assigned.

Civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined those who urged the board not to abandon its commitment to diversity.

"We are now re-opening a lot of issues and a lot of problems," said Chambers. "I hope you pause a moment and think about the problems you might be creating for the children and the parents you serve."

No coercion, she says

Wake County parent Debbie Griffith Overby said she loves Wake's diversity, but doesn't believe in making students attend schools for that reason.

"I'm against forced busing," Overby said. "This is the United States of America. People should not be forced in Wake County to do anything they don't want to do."

Before the resolution passed, administrators in the morning work session said that they had already eliminated the use of socio-economic diversity in filling nearly all the magnet schools this year. In the absence of diversity, priority was given to applicants who had siblings in magnet schools or who were applying from crowded schools.

Previously, priority was also given to applicants from more affluent areas who could help create balance at schools in poor areas.

Only at the Wake Early College of Health and Science, where the goal is to attract prospective first-time college applicants, will diversity be used to pick applicants.

Administrators say 4,589 of the 7,670 magnet applicants, or 60 percent, were placed. Traditionally half or less are accepted.

Keeping cash flowing

Administrators warned that the board will need to act within a month to adopt a voluntary de-segregation plan to keep receiving Federal magnet grants. The diversity policy had been used for previous applications.

The new plan could come in the form of a resolution pledging to keep schools De-Segregated.

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Charlotte Schools Block Black Kids From Attending AP Classes

Students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's high-poverty schools face an "opportunity gap" in access to college-level classes, says a report from a citizen advisory panel being presented today.

Students at several low-poverty suburban schools can choose from more than 20 Advanced Placement subjects this school year, while students at four high-poverty schools have fewer than 10, the report says.

The Equity Committee, appointed by the school board, spent the past year looking at Advanced Placement along with services for students who don't speak English well. The recommendations, designed to boost equal opportunity, are likely to clash with budget-cutting plans.

For instance, the panel recommends that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools do more to increase AP offerings at the high-poverty schools, where most students are Black or Hispanic. The panel also calls for more minority enrollment in AP courses at all schools. But a consultant advising CMS on the likelihood of budget cuts for 2010-11 has suggested cutting some AP classes with low enrollment to focus on boosting basic skills.

"We're just in challenging times right now," said board Vice Chair Tom Tate. "I think that the board is going to have some pretty interesting debate on this."

AP Challenge

AP offerings range from 25 subjects at South Mecklenburg High to seven at Waddell, the report says. Even at schools such as Mallard Creek High and Northwest School of the Arts, which have large numbers of middle-class black students, AP classes are disproportionately white.

Taking AP classes can help students get into competitive universities, and students who earn high scores on the exams can get college credit. "The lack of a diverse range of core and elective AP courses at all schools raises serious equity concerns," the report says.

CMS offers other college-level options, including classes hosted by Central Piedmont Community College and advanced classes in International Baccalaureate magnets. The report did not look at those.

High-poverty high schools tend to have lower enrollments and more students struggling to meet graduation requirements, both of which can make it challenging to fill AP classes. For instance, Waddell offered 10 options on its "enrollment card" last winter but ended up only teaching seven, the report says.

But those schools also have successful college-bound students. The equity panel recommends offering a set number of AP courses at each school, even if enrollment is low, and urges schools to "actively recruit and place students in those courses."

The report says white students make up 37 percent of CMS's high-school students but account for 62 percent those taking of AP exams. Minority students may be hindered by home support, peer culture or low expectations in lower grades, the report says. Recommendations range from recruiting AP teachers "of various ethnic backgrounds" to "cluster(ing) students of racial groups in AP courses in order to provide peer support."

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Language Barrier

On students with limited English skills, the report notes that some schools have so many that students may not be immersed in spoken English, while others have so few that it's tough to provide adequate staff support for kids and families.

CMS has eliminated jobs for bilingual parent advocates, even as the number of students whose families speak Spanish and other languages has grown. The committee recommends restoring those jobs at schools with large numbers of families who need translation, noting that parent involvement is essential to student success.

The report describes a visit to Merry Oaks Elementary, where 19 languages are spoken, most children come from low-income homes, and some students "not only don't speak English but may not have any experience with indoor bathrooms or electricity." Committee members saw a woman arrive to enroll a young child, who did most of the translating between his mother and the school secretary. Two hours later, the child and his mother "were still trying to navigate the enrollment process," it says.

The report urges CMS to make sure schools make better use of available translation services and make it easier for families without cars to get to the Family Application Center south of uptown, where international students must register. City buses used to run along that road, the report says, but no longer do.

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Sources: WRAL, McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC, Youtube, Google Maps

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