For years supporters of Wake County Schools (WCPSS) diversity plan have preached with evangelistic zeal the importance of mixing students of different economic and racial backgrounds as a way to boost minority student achievement. In recent months, diversity in has been pushed more by a doomsday message of segregated schools and racial polarization than by evidence that it helps to educate students. These developments have obscured an important fact: Wake’s diversity policy has produced disappointing results in the classroom.
An examination of elementary school End-of-Grade (EOG) and high school End-of-Course (EOC) tests don’t lie. From 2005 to 2009 (EOG and EOC tests underwent significant revisions in recent years so comparisons prior to 2005 are discouraged.), the percentage of minority students at or above grade level on EOG tests declined for Black, Hispanic, Economically Disadvantaged, Limited English Proficiency and Students with Disabilities. Over the same period, the percentage of students at or above grade level on EOC tests also declined in all areas except Limited English Proficiency. It is true the last couple years have brought some modest improvements in EOG and EOC scores. However, 2008-09 scores still remain at or below 2005-06 levels in eight of ten categories.
It should also be noted that while WCPSS EOC and EOG scores have been consistently above the state average for most of the past decade, during the period 2005-2009 the differences between WCPSS and state average scores have been declining. From 2005-2009 all Wake County minority student achievement EOG scores declined toward the state average. In addition, scores for Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged Students actually declined below the state average by two and four points respectively.
With regard to EOC scores, from 2005-2009 the difference between WCPSS and the state average also continued to dwindle for Blacks, Hispanics and Economically Disadvantaged Students. On the positive side, EOC scores for Limited English Proficiency showed a healthy increase (11 percentage points) and a nominal increase (1 percentage point) in difference above the state average.
If WCPSS’s diversity plan was really working wouldn’t it be reflected in minority dropout and graduation rates? WCPSS four-year graduation rates for Blacks, Hispanics, Economically Disadvantaged, Limited English Proficiency and Students with Disabilities all declined from 2005-2009. Black graduation rates declined from 70 percent to 63 percent; while Hispanic graduation rates declined from 58 percent to 51 percent.
True the WCPSS dropout rate has been less than the state average. Still it is also true that during the same period, the absolute difference between the two is dwindling. With regard to minority dropout rates the news is also not good. The percentage of blacks as a percentage of total dropouts actually increased from 46 percent (2004-05) to 49 percent (2007-08). Likewise, the percentage of Hispanics as a percent of all dropouts also increased, from 15 percent (2004-05) to 18 percent (2007-08).
Abbreviations: Econ. Dis=Economically Disadvantaged; L.E.P. = Limited English Proficiency; Stu. Dis=Students with Disabilities.
Diversity proponents have had a hard time accepting proposals to improve these conditions. Last year, former school board member Lori Milberg and others made sure Ron Margiotta’s proposal to evaluate the WCPSS’s diversity plan never saw the light of day. . In 2009 the SAS institute published a report highly critical of the way WCPSS positions minority students for success. Superintendent Del Burns didn’t release the report until the day before last fall’s school board elections.
Diversity proponents admit minority achievement isn’t where it should be, but they also contend, without diversity outcomes would “likely” be worse. It’s the height of arrogance to ask citizens to ignore a decade of poor test results and then say things would certainly have been much worse without diversity. Poor scores merely reflect poor policy.
At the heart of diversity is the premise economics is destiny. History and character attack the validity of this claim. Should a neighborhood schools plan be adopted, diversity proponents claim Wake’s schools would quickly divide among racial lines and minority scores would quickly plummet. Such statements ignore the other districts in North Carolina that have successfully addressed this question. Several years ago Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which has a much higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, stopped busing students to achieve diversity. How are they doing? This past year the percentage of Black, Hispanic, Educationally Disadvantaged and Limited English Proficiency Students in CMS who passed both reading and math EOG tests scores was greater than equivalent categories for WCPSS. The same outcomes hold for minority EOC results at the high school level.
It’s time to get past the rhetoric of crusaders and recognize Wake’s diversity plan has failed. Diversity hasn’t boosted minority student achievement nor served to better integrate minority students. Minority students and taxpayers alike deserve a policy that is workable, fair and produces solid results for everyone in Wake County.