The Three Shades of Tedesco

The Three Shades of Tedesco

- in Fitzsimon File

Many of the comments in the latest round in the battle over the future of Wake County Schools have by now become familiar to folks following the debate. One board member reminded spectators that Wake County has a great school system and doesn't have a problem with diversity, that growth management is really the biggest issue.

The board member pointed to overwhelming evidence that "high poverty schools cause significant challenges for our community" and criticized the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system for its assignment plans which have led to a number of high poverty, segregated schools.

The board member talked again about using the economic status of students as a factor in school assignment and said the new board majority has made mistakes since taking over in December, particularly in the process and procedures in its deliberations.

All those comments were made by Gang of Fiver John Tedesco, not one of the four members of the board opposed to the direction of the new majority.

Tedesco made the statements Friday afternoon during his much ballyhooed presentation of his vision of a new student assignment policy that included a confusing PowerPoint and conflicting statements that raised as many questions as they answered.

It also made some spectators wonder if it was the same Tedesco that appeared the week before a Tea Party rally in Raleigh, railing against "social engineering" in the school system, an obvious reference to the school's current policy of using economic diversity as a factor in student assignment.

Tedesco blasted the opponents of the new board majority and in the bitter partisan spirit of the Tea Party, lashed out at Governor Beverly Perdue, who had made only passing comments about the direction of the new board.

Friday, Tedesco said under his plan the schools could "weight assignment applications using economic status as a factor," which sounds remarkably like what he claimed was social engineering. And he seemed more than ready to work closely with the people he condemned from the Tea Party stage to flesh out the details of what he presented Friday.

The presentation itself was a blur of colored dots, maps, charts, and columns of information that appeared to be based on the work of Duke Economics Professor Atila Abdulkadiroglu, who has worked on school choice issues and attended Tedesco's session.

Either Tedesco is unclear about his own plan and Abdulkadiroglu's work or merely couldn't figure out how to express it clearly, but the presentation was almost impossible to follow at many points. Here's an example of Tedesco's overview of his student assignment framework early in his remarks:

"By creating multiple layers of geographic area, such as zones within regions, within the county, by creating multiple value systems and prioritizing those value systems and by creating additional levels of choice that we have and trying to push those choice (sic) within the system, we can drive a better balanced system with those sorts of crisscrossing roles."

The reaction to Tedesco's presentation was both confusion and concern from board members like Anne McLaurin, who worried about the high poverty areas that his zone scheme seemed certain to create.

A group of former Wake County School Board members gathered Monday morning to issue a statement calling for open dialogue with the Gang of Five and an "equal opportunity and excellent education for every child" in Wake County.

Several of the former board members were more pointed in their criticism of the new board majority in interviews with reporters. The reserved tone of the prepared statement seemed somehow a reaction to Tedesco's perplexing presentation Friday, a performance that only added to the uncertainty about the future of Wake County Schools.

One of the most stunning works now on display at the new and improved North Carolina Museum of Art is the Rodin sculpture "The Three Shades," which features three casts of the same figure at slightly different angles.

It is a perfect metaphor for the current debate in the Wake County Schools and the various incarnations of the person leading the way for the Gang of Five. The last ten days have brought us Tea Party Tedesco, Tempered Tedesco, and tough to follow Tedesco.

That ought to be enough to put the brakes on the push by the Gang of Five to dismantle the current assignment system. You shouldn't change direction if you don't know where you want to go.

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.