Poor Schools Getting Poorer Under Choice Plan

Creators of the controlled-choice assignment plan maintained that poverty levels across the county would remain stable under the new plan.

But a Record analysis of new free-and-reduced lunch data shows the poorest schools are getting poorer at a much greater rate than more affluent schools.

We divided Wake's schools into four equally sized groups. We made a note of which group has the highest percentages of students receiving free-and-reduced lunch and the group with the lowest F&R percentages.

We then averaged the rate of change in each of the four groups.

Schools in the highest quarter added more than 4.5 percent to their F&R numbers, while schools in the lowest quarter added a little more than 1 percent.

The numbers chart a shift between this school year (2011-12) and next (2012-13) based on the results of the recently implemented controlled-choice assignment plan.

In addition, our analysis measured F&R changes between each school year for the past six years.

In the three years before the diversity policy was scrapped in March 2010, schools were actually moving toward the county average, rather than away from it.

The trend reversed the year after the assignment policy was changed, by a Republican majority, to reflect proximity as the most important factor in a student's school assignment.

Blue bars represent schools where the average F&R growth in schools is above the county average for that year. Red bars represent those below that year's county average.

Before a proximity policy was put into place, schools above the county average experienced negative growth and vice-versa. In the years since, poorer schools have been adding F&R students at a higher rate than schools below the county average.

Republican board member John Tedesco told the Record the shift shouldn't be attributed to the policy change. He said Republicans at the time were working off a three-year plan implemented by Democrats.

That's true. However, the Republican majority did shift groups of students around, after it changed the assignment policy, to get them going to school closer to their homes, despite the three-year plan.

The former diversity policy set a 40 precent cap on the percentage of free-and-reduced students that could attend any particular school. However, many schools exceeded the cap as growth in the county exploded over the past decade.

The former policy was based on research that shows schools with higher percentages of F&R students face more challenges. The controlled-choice assignment plan itself reaffirms this research.

In the lead up to the policy change, diversity advocates argued that ending the policy would create high-poverty schools and lead to a system of haves and have-nots.

Proximity advocates argued that neighborhood schools would give communities more ownership and empowerment, as well as end long bus rides. But they also acknowledged that a neighborhood schools plan would lead to higher concentrations of poverty in some schools.

However, the choice plan creators, under the direction of Superintendent Tony Tata, claimed the new controlled-choice plan would lead to F&R percentages staying the same.

“First of all, it's expected,” said Tedesco, who voted for the choice assignment plan. “When you're in a recession, you're going to get increased F&R in sections [of the county] that traditionally struggle economically.”

Tedesco continued, “I think the new model is going to allow us to stabilize it more over time. You can't look at a snapshot of change.”

But Democratic Board Chair Kevin Hill finds the shift worrisome.

“I can't speak for the board as to what we will do if anything for August,” Hill said. “But I feel certain that having this information will be important as we look at what to do with assignment for 2013-14 and beyond.”

Hill also said getting this year's achievement data, once it is available, will be the other critical factor in enabling he and his colleagues to best understand how to guide the new choice plan.

You can email Will Huntsberry at wehberry@raleighpublicrecord.org or find him on twitter @willhuntsberry or #wakeschoolboard

4 thoughts on “Poor Schools Getting Poorer Under Choice Plan

  1. Nice piece.

    Prior to the implementation of the choice plan, the Republican majority, sometimes with the cooperation of Mr. Sutton and other members, reassigned a number of children in a manner inconsistent with the 3-year plan that resulted in poor schools getting poorer than they would have gotten under that plan (because they brought children closer to home, and we live in racially and economically segregated neighborhoods). John is incorrect when he suggests that those moves were consistent with the three-year plan. Some were; many were not. This is easy enough to verify.

    The choice plan is finishing off the job of terminating diversity-based assignments. Because it includes grandfathering, the process will move slowly, but over the next 12 years, we will move to a system where nearly every child attends the school closest to her home (because the priority system coupled with the existing lack of school capacity means that your chance of getting any school that is not your closest is low, unless you want to attend a school most don’t care for). This means that in a way, your analysis is far too conservative. The demographic shifts you note are almost entirely the result of changes in the composition of the kindergarten class. So if replacing the old fifth graders with new kindergarteners caused the school’s OVERALL FRL to go up 5%, it is not unreasonable to conclude that it will go up 30% once the school has six grades filled by the choice plan.

    Note that this is not exactly an indictment of the choice plan. The existing Policy 6200 includes no diversity component, so a neighborhood assignment plan would produce very similar results due to the segregated housing patterns mentioned above. Under either plan, can only desegregate schools if you can move children, voluntarily or involuntarily, away from their closest school. The current Board seems unable to agree on much of anything in this area, and the staff has no interest in promoting this approach, so it’s hard to see how they are going to pull that off.

  2. This should come as no surprise to anyone. The concentration of poor kids in certain schools and the creation of a “second class” of school children is an easily foreseeable outcome of the so called proximity plan.

    I hope the right wing realizes it will cost a whole lot more to build jails for these kids in a few years than it will to build schools for them now.

  3. In order to draw any type of conclusion from these numbers, I would have to see the school choice applications of the lower income children.

    We know the affluent self-segregate, and most everyone is fine with that. So what if the less well-of parents do the same? Are we to deny them the “choice” that we are willing to grant to others?

    In the end it matters little, but I have much more sympathy for the parents forced into a bad school than the ones who chose it.

    The issues that the Yevonne B’s of the area are focusing on now are the least of our concerns. Locked in assignment with no excess capacity, and the impending cuts to the magnet program are more pressing problems for me than F/R ratios.

  4. Your analysis is absolutely correct however we need a closer look at student assignments prior to the choice plan. In 2010 several schools whose populations have fought to keep if any, as few minority and lower achievers from their schools They were patronized by the majority board. F&R and low performing students were moved at the end of the 2010 school year without seeking to have this happen. This arrangement allowed majority students to occupy these schools to near capacity. What saddens me most is to see our majority leadership stand by an applaud the high number of F&R students in one neighborhood. Now the larger question is , how many families actually made application under the CHOICE PLAN?
    The Rim school philosophy has caused a sell-out.