My Convertible Life

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wanted: An Impossibly Perfect Student Assignment Plan

What's even more elusive than the Holy Grail, Big Foot and my abdominal muscles that never quite recovered from two c-sections?

A student assignment plan for Wake County that will make everyone happy all of the time.

This is not news. For those of you who are regular readers -- or who get trapped into conversations with me around town -- you've heard me soapbox about this before.

The problem is that so many things sound like good ideas in theory -- attending a school close to your house, having guaranteed feeder patterns to keep kids together from elementary through high school, getting to rank school choices based on your own preference, opening new schools with volunteers instead of reassigning students -- but they don't always work so well in practice.

What if the school closest to your house is horribly overcrowded? What if the guaranteed feeder patterns tracks your child to a high school you don't like? What if you don't like any of the choices available to you? What if no one picks the new school and it goes unused?

And then the real kicker for members of the school board is that (again, in theory) they can't just think about what's best for one or two kids -- they have to make decisions based on what's best for all kids and for the county as a whole (assuming, of course, that they're concerned about such things, which they probably are).

Last month, at a meeting that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, the Wake County Board of Education once again attempted to change course for how the district assigns its 150,000 students to the 165 schools across the county. In a move that may or may not have seemed like a political ambush, depending on your stance, the board majority (who happen to be Democrats on the non-partisan board) voted -- over the strenuous objections of the (Republican) minority that had made its own hostile and aggressive moves a couple years earlier -- to direct school system staff to develop a new plan.

For those of you who've lost track, that would be a new plan for 2013-14 to replace the plan that was new for 2012-13.


It's possible that the "new new" plan might just be a blend of the "old" plan and the "old new" plan or maybe a tweak of the "old new" plan -- I want to believe they're just trying to correct some of the bigger challenges instead of throwing the latest baby out with the bath water.

But even though I'm not a huge fan of the new plan -- a lack of base assignment tied to your address seems unsustainable and the lack of attention to diversity seems fiscally (if not socially) irresponsible -- I'm even less a fan of having a complete overhaul every two years following a school board election. And at the rate things are going, it's looking like we could be trapped in a two-year pendulum swing, with voters (and parents) continually frustrated on one end or the other.

I wish I had a solution -- or a magic wand -- but I don't. All I've got are some suggestions:
  1. To parents: Remember that the very element of the plan you love most might be the same piece that ruined another family's year. This stuff is complicated at best and impossible at worst, but no one on the school board or in central office is purposefully trying to mess with your family.
  2. To the district staff: If you're going to tie addresses to a base assignment, please do a thorough review of the existing node system first. When a one-block street with only 16 houses on it is split between two nodes with different school options, there's a problem.
  3. To the school board: Quit being Democrats and Republicans and start being representatives for public education that makes good sense. Be socially and fiscally responsible about implementing a plan that sets schools up for success and uses facilities wisely.
  4. To the students: Work hard and be nice to your teachers. While the school you attend can certainly make your life more (or less) challenging, it doesn't have to determine the results you get from your education.


  1. I've got to cook dinner, but I want to come back and read this more carefully.

    Thanks for commenting today. I

    1. Thanks, Leigh -- it's definitely a case of no-easy-answers.


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