In Wednesday’s early morning hours, the Wake County school board voted along party lines to return to a base assignment plan that will attempt to balance student populations.
The new tack does not reflect a change in policy, but results from a new directive. It doesn’t state what metric will be used for balancing populations, but offers census data or family income as possibilities.
The change to base assignments will take affect in 2013-14, not the upcoming school year.
“This directive decreases choice and increases mandates,” said Republican board member Deborah Prickett. “This is no more than social engineering.”
“Those are the kinds of points of language that will inflame turmoil,” Democratic board member Jim Martin returned. “Let’s look at data. Let’s think. Let’s avoid political chaos.”
Several Republican board members argued that Democrats should wait until the choice process is fully complete and more data is available.
Democrats argued they’d seen enough data to know changes must be made.
“Based on the choice plan enrollment data … the percentages of lower-income students at many schools that already had higher poverty levels than the district average are predicted to increase,” said Democratic board member Susan Evans.
The trend was revealed last week by a Record analysis of free-and-reduced lunch data.
The directive calls for a new assignment plan that will focus on student achievement, stability and proximity, but doesn’t direct the order of importance the attributes should be given.
In the current assignment policy proximity is listed as the most important factor.
To address potential disparities in policy and practice, the directive states, “the board will revisit policy 6200 [the assignment policy] to develop appropriate socio-economic factors to consider in the assignment process.”
That means the Democratic majority could change the priorities in policy 6200, as well as add a socio-economic diversity component.
What the New Policy Will Look Like
The new directive provides a framework for staff to move forward in 2013-14, but it isn’t heavy on specifics. Staff is supposed to come back with recommendations for a new plan in September of this year.
The biggest take home is that assigning for a certain level of diversity will be a component. In developing the new plan, staff is directed to “integrate the best practices and strategies” from both the old diversity plan and the current choice plan.
While the final hybrid is far from certain, the directive clearly states that new plan will be address-based, as opposed to choice based.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture informed Wake last year that it can’t use free-and-reduced lunch data for student assignment purposes, as was the case under the old diversity policy.
Instead of using other income metrics, such as census data, the Democratic majority could opt to balance schools based on achievement data.
For instance, the old diversity policy set a cap on the amount of free-and-reduced lunch students that could attend any school. The new plan might set a cap on the amount of students from low-performing nodes that can attend any one school.
Nodes are small geographical units divided the county for school assignments.
Proximity and stability will also be important factors in the new plan, according to the directive.
The directive asks staff to consider employing a “stay where you start” philosophy, which would be designed to avoid reassignments.
Such a caveat would mean no reassignments within grade levels.
To address proximity concerns, the directive states each student should receive an assignment “within a reasonable distance to his or her residence.”
Predictability would also be a goal of the new plan. It will “provide prospective families to the area with a reasonable degree of predictability of a base school assignment,” the directive states.