The income-based student assignment in the Wake County Public School System has been causing uproar by parents every year. If the recent controversy is not convincing enough, take a look at this report, page 10, section “Reality”.
Any change that does not address the main cause of the problem will bring in more problems. Parent frustration for not being able to send children to neighborhood schools is not the cause, but the result of the failure of the system. Therefore, neighborhood-based assignment is not likely to provide a reliable solution for the growing and dynamic Wake County population. To the contrary, it is likely to cause more problems in near future.
Diversity is not the cause either. The current system is very limited in responding to parents’ demands, so is a neighborhood-based assignment that relies solely on proximity.
Nobody at the forum at Meredith College the other day was against diversity, and almost everybody acknowledged the need for a new system that allows parents to send their children to their neighborhood schools. However, no one-size-fits-all system, including a strictly neighborhood-based assignment, will fit to all in a diverse society. The new system, whatever it will be, needs to responds to parents’ demands to the maximum extent possible and needs to be flexible enough to implement district policies.
I am not a politician, policy maker or a public servant (so I may not be choosing my words as politically sensitively). I am not advocating one policy over another when it comes to diversity. However, our economic models, and in particular my own research on student assignment, allow me to look at the problem from an objective standpoint. A strictly neighborhood-based assignment, like the current income-based assignment, will make some parents happy while upsetting many other. There is a middle ground and a better solution that can respond to parents’ demands and allow the district to implement its policies, even the ones that aim integrated schools.