The choice between evidence and ideology

The choice between evidence and ideology

- in Fitzsimon File

The new student assignment committee of the Wake County School Board will meet Thursday to begin considering changes to student assignments, five days before a scheduled final vote by the board on resegregating the schools by ending the system's nationally recognized diversity policy.

It's not clear how the committee can begin changing where students attend school without knowing the board's final decision about diversity, though the new Gang of Five majority hasn't worried much so far about making decisions before votes or circumventing the democratic process in its drive to divide students and the community along racial and economic lines.

Members of the assignment committee ought to spend Thursday reviewing the research presented by education scholars called together his week by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition.

Professors from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and N.C. State summarized a large body of education research that draws disturbing conclusions about the push by the new board to divide wake county schools into rich zones and poor zones, concentrating poor and African-American students in high poverty schools.

Gang of Fiver John Tedesco, the mastermind of the rich zone, poor zone scheme, claims the plan will somehow improve the educational achievement of poor students. But Dr. Helen Ladd from Duke said Wednesday that her research shows that high poverty schools consistently wind up with less qualified and less experienced teachers than other schools.

There has never been any disagreement that quality teachers play a vital role in student achievement. Tedesco's plan would make it far less likely that poor students would have the best teachers, which seems to directly contradict his claim that his zone scheme would improve the performance of poor students.

Tedesco has also suggested that spending more money in the high-poverty schools he wants to create would help offset some of the problems faced by poor students. But Ladd says more money won't help much. Research shows that the strongest teachers are less responsive to salary levels than they are to the economic and racial balance of the school.

Tedesco also never mentions the county's budget problems when he raises the possibility of spending more in poor schools or poor zones. The Wake County school system faces a $20 million budget hole this year and things don't look much better in the near future.

Wake County already spends less per pupil than the state average and far less than other large, urban systems across the country. More money is not available now and throwing it at high-poverty schools doesn't work anyway.

The Great Schools in Wake Coalition distributed 14 scholarly research papers Wednesday about the effects and challenges of high poverty schools. The studies all agree that concentrating poor students in schools is a mistake and makes it far more difficult for the students to learn.

Those are the facts, things you would think board members elected to make the best decisions for the people and the community they represent would be interested in considering before they vote to dismantle the current assignment plan.

This week's presentation of the research gives the Gang of Five another chance to show what's more important to them, making thoughtful decisions after understanding and discussing the vast body of research about student assignment and academic achievement, or continuing their blind allegiance to an ideological agenda regardless of the consequences for the students and the community.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.