Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Colbert Response

Last week, I included this in an email:


Speaking of great videos, run, don't walk, to watch this one of Stephen Colbert BRILLIANTLY skewering the right-wing-nitwit-Tea-Partiers trying to undo the highly successful integration of the schools in Wake Country, North Carolina ("North Carolina Tea Partiers want to reverse socially engineered progress until things get so bad for the poor that they can't be ignored."): www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/371414/january-18-2011/the-word---disintegration (4:53)


In response, a friend sent me this – he makes some VERY good points about how :


As a native son of North Carolina, as someone who ran a high-achieving school for 4+ years, as someone who has followed the Wake County debate for the past year or so, and as an ardent fan of Stephen Colbert, I have thought a lot about the coverage the Colbert Report gave to Wake county a few days back.


Seems silly to have to vocalize, but I certainly am an advocate of school integration. And I get why Wake County's particular version of integration (holding schools to no more than 40% Free and Reduced Price lunch) is/was valuable for so many important reasons: not creating pockets of impoverished schools around the county, allowing families to settle anywhere in the county and not worry about the quality of their zone schools, not discouraging teachers away from particular schools because they are the "poor schools" or the "dangerous schools." I get all that.


But what I don't get and, more importantly, what I don't think my many white, middle-income, well-educated friends in Wake County immediately get (and this includes, by extension, Stephen Colbert, who strangely waded into this debate) is just how bad those same schools (the ones celebrated for their diversity and innovative integration policies) are for poor, Black, and Latino kids.


While I think this Tea Party Revolution in the County's schools has been mishandled and not discernibly thoughtful, here is my issue with maintaining the system as it was:


In the 2009-10 school year, 89.2% of Wake County's white students passed their State 3rd-8th Grade Reading Exams. 86.8% of the County's non-economically-disadvantaged students (those who could afford the $2 a day to buy a federal school lunch) passed those exams. But, only...


·         52.5% of the County's poor students

·         54.6% of its Black students

·         52.4% of its Hispanic students

·         51.4% of its Black male students, and

·         50.8% of its Hispanic male students


...passed those same exams...all while attending schools that were fully integrated and had less than 40% free and reduced price lunch populations.


The numbers are no better in Math, and Wake County's testing data are about the same or worse for these demographics than all other big counties in NC (Mecklenburg, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Orange).


If the Wake County School Board is going to achieve anything with their busted up system, they're going to need to come out and talk about incentives for teachers to work in low-income schools, professional development for teachers on how to educate kids who start two or three years behind their middle-income peers, and establishing a different curricula for Reading and Math that follow a longer school day schedule and a longer school year calendar.


And if others argue for keeping the system as it was, they're going to need to come out and talk about initiatives that can differentiate classrooms, hire additional staff members to push in/pull out for intensive Reading groups, squeeze time from lunch and recess for additional intervention groups, and merit pay for teachers and staff who demonstrate value-add for their highest need students.


So Colbert is right for talking this through, but I hate that he's only telling the half of this story that's easiest to tell.


Maybe you can help me better circle this square. I think the solution may be to keep the innovative integration policies of the county (holding schools to 40%), while focusing resources on those kids most in need of support. Seems simple enough to me, but the debate doesn't seem to be about that at all. It seems to be about either keeping the old system OR rallying behind the new one, not the best of both. And what Colbert's piece did was further empower my white, middle-income friends to argue for keeping the system as it was…without the needed resources to help the poor, Black, and Latino kids who are languishing in these much-heralded schools.


We're very good in the South at hiding our poverty and the issues associated with it, and I feel like this is a classic case. The issue of maintaining an integrated system seems, prima facie, a really good, commonsensical thing. But it is/was desperately under-serving those kids most in need of a quality education.


Thanks for continuing to put these important issues on the radar screens of a ton of people near and far.


Here was my reply to him:


Wow, what a fascinating email!   You are EXACTLY right that simply integrating schools is NOT a panacea.  Two big reasons I suspect why it hasn't worked:


1) Parents/demographics are MUCH more important than most schools -- it really takes an extraordinary school to overcome this.


2) The unfair allocation of teacher quality isn't only between schools, but among classrooms WITHIN schools.

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