I spoke at our school board meeting again yesterday. I spent two hours writing, re-writing and editing my speech, 30 minutes waiting in line for a ticket to the meeting, two hours at the meeting -- all so that I could speak for two minutes to nine people whose minds would not be changed by anything I said. But at least I said it -- and now you can read it:
Fifteen years ago, I took my first teaching job at West Charlotte High School. This historically black high school was once a successful national model for integration, one that brought together students who otherwise might never have crossed paths. West Charlotte’s students succeeded not because of diversity, but diversity was an important part of what made the school work.
Since Charlotte’s community-based choice plan was put in place in 2002, West Charlotte has become mostly black and mostly poor. The school has struggled academically, enduring painful turn-over among teachers and administrators.
Meanwhile, parents across that district are abandoning the public schools. Even though the Charlotte plan promises “community assignment” and “parent choice,” many families have few good choices available. When denied through the magnet lottery or denied transportation to a magnet school, they are left with an under-performing, under-enrolled base school – hardly the choice that any parent wants for their children.
Geographically-defined school communities – like those you propose – will create high-wealth schools and high-poverty schools. The changes you made to this year’s magnet lottery have already started that process, as more affluent families are leaving lower-income schools. Research shows definitively that high-poverty schools are extremely expensive to run and nearly impossible to maintain at a healthy level of academic success. Like Charlotte, your path will create a system with some good choices and lots of bad choices – and bad school choices are not viable options for any child.
This is indeed a community issue. But my community is Wake County, not just my neighborhood. We must move beyond geography to define our school communities as great places for teaching and learning so that every school is a good choice for any family.