In his weekly news conference on Friday, Superintendent Tony Tata discussed frequently asked questions about the work of the student assignment task force. There is no online link for this yet, but it’s good info. Sorry, in advance, for the length.
What if I like the school I am in now?
TATA: That answer is simple. For both plans, if you like your school, you can stay. You are grandfathered in for the duration with the transportation situation that you currently have. It is very important to us that the transition to this new assignment process be as stable as possible and I want to point out on our comparative analysis chart that is on the website with the green, yellow and red rankings based upon the 18 criteria in the nine courses of action, the green course of action does receive some lower marks than blue on stability of school assignment, facility utilization and student displacement because much as it happens today under green, areas, or nodes, would be reassigned to account for crowding the following year and in extreme cases, a school might be capped. Then we would have to reassign a node’s overflow students to another school with open capacity. With the blue plan, you would have your choice for those schools t hat may or may not fill up within the priorities.
Will magnet programs continue?
TATA: Of course, magnet programs will be recommended to continue. Magnet schools are an essential part in my mind of both the blue and green plans with the same locations, the same themes, the same program pathways and approximately the same number of magnet seats. Additionally, there is a proposal to add more magnet schools in both plans. And that is built into the budget. We continue to believe that magnet schools at a $13 million costs are a better investment than other formulas such as weighted student funding or staffing that would drain additional resources from outlying non-magnet schools and areas into those areas that would require more funding.
Will schools be capped under each proposal?
TATA: Capping is a unique term. It refers to an action that the school board takes after the start of the school year when a school has become so overcrowded that further enrollment is simply not possible. As far as the blue and green proposals go, they handle capacity in slightly different ways. The green proposal, much as it happens today, would reassign areas or nodes to account for school crowding the following year. In extreme cases, a school might be capped by the board sending overflow students to another school with open capacity. The blue plan will not require this type of capping of schools because it will only take students up to the capacity of the facility and when schools are filled, families will go to an alternate top choice.
Do these plans include forced busing?
TATA: The concept of forced busing comes from the idea that a student will be sent to a school that they do not choose to attend. In the current system, that technically applies to anyone who is not attending a magnet or calendar option school. The green plan is similar to our current plan in that it assigns students to schools based on their addresses and the choices are limited to magnet and calendar options only. The benefit of the blue plan is that it is a choice plan and that gives an opportunity, not a guarantee, but an opportunity to attend one of several different schools. This means if proximity is your priority, then you can rank order your most proximate schools. But if school program offerings are your priority, you can rank order your choices by the programs they offer.
How do the plans differ from the current assignment plan?
TATA: The green plan is the closest to our current plan in that it assigns entire neighborhoods by node to a school. This plan differs in three main ways that attempt to improve stability over the current plan. First, it provides more calendar and cohort consistency. Second, there is a guaranteed traditional option, meaning no mandatory year-round schools. That was one of the things I kept hearing on my listening tour. Finally, it provides a concrete method for assigning students in low performing areas to high performing schools.
The blue plan has a selection process that expands on the way the current plan allows parents to apply for magnet or calendar choices, except that all options would be by choice. Whereas the current plan gives only two base calendar options or one base high school plus a set of magnet choices, the blue plan offers several more base options in addition to a full set of magnet choices. The biggest difference is that individual family choice becomes the driving factor in assignments, rather than the system assigning students node by node.
We have been asked whether there is a staff bias to the blue plan over the green plan.
TATA: The simple answer is no. There is no bias, only objective analysis. Our research and processes are in full display for all to see. I’ve been told I’m being too transparent. I’d rather be too transparent, than not transparent enough.
As I went through our community during my listening tour, I repeatedly heard a call from parents for stability in student assignment. As I did my research, it was clear to me that given our extraordinary growth year after year, we needed to make adjustments to our process so that parents can get the stability that they need, instead of having to break boundaries every year. We are growing at a rate where we need to add at least one new school every year, so that means there’s disruption to assignment every single year somewhere in Wake County. We needed to adjust this process so that parents can get the stability they need while the school system can also balance very limited and decreasing resources. The approach was to identify a wide range of options, and then the student assignment task force used a set of comprehensive, objective criteria to assess which options were best suited to the needs of the district. Based on these criteria, the blue plan ha d the lead over the green plan in terms of the criteria. I had the task force lay out the 18 criteria on the left hand side of a spreadsheet and the nine courses of action across the top. We talked about each criteria and whether or not the research showed how that course of action would execute under that criteria. We have shown all that work. It’s on the website.
The reason we’re coming forward with these two plans is that they were the most viable plans that we were able to develop in accordance with those 18 criteria. We wanted to give the community a few options, and both the blue and green plans are viable and consistent with Policy 6200 and both are still being evaluated. We are in the community input period.
That said, in terms of answering the call for more stability, choice plans, including the blue plan, provide more protection from reassignment than the green plan or any plan based on rigid assignments.
Will the blue plan increase transportation costs?
TATA: We think it may actually decrease transportation costs. We will have a better idea as we gather and analyze more data. Right now, 31 percent of our students attend their most proximate school. On average, Wake County elementary students attended their fifth closest school. We expect those numbers – the percentage of students attending the most proximate school to increase under the blue plan and quite possibly reduce distances driven or reliance on transportation. Modeling demonstrates that up to 57 percent of our students may attend their most proximate school under a choice plan. The result obviously could be a decrease in transportation costs.
Others have talked about you could have an increase in communication costs. One of the frequent comments we get is about the requirement to communicate with parents on a choice plan. We would have a requirement to communicate with parents on any plan, and we certainly have a goal of having parents more involved in what the school system is doing.
What is an achievement school and how do you make sure that all students have access to an achievement school?
TATA: An achievement school is defined by a formula that considers the concentration of high performing teachers in the school, the school’s three year average growth results for level 1,2,3 and 4 students, and the school’s three year average proficiency rate.
In the blue plan, every student without exception, will have at least one achievement school on their list of options. This is one unified school system and it seems to me only fair that every base school list should include calendar options and access to at least one high performing school.
We want every child to have the opportunity to attend a high performing school while still giving parents the option of making proximity their top priority, and of course, we want every school to be high performing, and that is our goal. In our strategic plan, we will lay out the method and process for achieving that goal.
Under the blue plan, how do I know that I will get the school I want?
TATA: Our research on other districts that have implemented control choice plans tell us that even after the plan is fully implemented more than 85 percent get their first choice, and over 93 percent get their first or second choice. So if you factor in that we have about seven percent that go the magnet route, you’re looking at a pretty high selection rate and first or second choice options delivered to families. Capacity and high demand are issues that families will have to be realistic about, but again parents have a say in choosing their priority options if their first choice isn’t available. This is a unique benefit of the blue plan. Individual families have much more say in their priorities while the system can still balance capacity and resources. In my view, it finds that middle ground where parents have the primary say, and the system then has the ability to help efficiently use the resources.
If schools are selected by choice, what will happen to underchosen schools?
TATA: We have levels of intervention incorporated into both the blue and green plans designed to make every school more desirable and competitive. That will be part of our strategic plan going forward. A lot of hard work has already gone into school improvement.
We will actively study underchosen schools beginning with the mock choice that will start on June 13, and we will see who chooses what and why. We will figure out how to increase attractiveness and make adjustments wherever necessary. As you are seeing now, we have STEM and global theme schools, the small school program, career and technical academies and the Renaissance model. There’s a lot of choice here in Wake County and there are a lot of good programs as you see across all 163 schools. We are also going to study high demand overchosen schools very closely in order to find and replicate what they’re doing that is so appealing to families. Because that’s got to be part of it as well. We have to address every level of achievement in the system. That gets me back to the discussion about the magnet program and the multiple purposes that the magnet program serves as an attractive option for parents that may consider charters or private and other types of school options. Parents want to make sure their children have the best education. We have an obligation to provide that to them.
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