All in all, it hasn't been a good week for the Wake County Board of Education.
After the first three days of the week being either early release, cancelled, or opened late due to ice, school were having a rocky week. Then Wednesday night, the Board had another public meeting filled with angry and concerned parents. This time the contention was over statements by some of the Board that they might just choose to drop their accredited status, rather than answer the questions being posed by AdvancED, the accrediting agency for the Wake system. The Board majority's compromise decision was to write a letter to AdvancED regarding the restrictions under which they would agree to cooperate with the agency's attempts to investigate charges of racial discrimination and improper board procedures lodged by the state's NAACP chapter. Less than 24 hours later, the Board received AdvancED's response, which was basically "Sorry, Charlie." I'm sure it was stated in more appropriate legalese, but AdvancED could have reduced it to the immortal words of the Jeffrey Rush character in my favorite movie of the moment, The King's Speech, when he said, "My game, my turf, my rules." That is, the whole point of accreditation is to have an experienced, unbiased, outside team of educational experts look at the operation of a school to assure the public of its quality (or alert them to lack thereof). They can't really do that if the schools they are examining tell them what parts of the system they can and can not look into.
Then, on Friday, the head educator in the entire country, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, chose to single out Wake Country among all the public school systems in the country to question its commitment to racial equity. And this was not an off-hand comment captured on someone's iPhone; it was stated in a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post expressing his concerns about the WCPSS as depicted in a Washington Post article that I mentioned earlier this week. (Click here to see the letter in the Washington Post.)
Although it may not seem like it, I really try hard to understand the point of view of the Republican majority on the School Board, and I do my best to see them in their best light. Nonetheless, I have to say that I think it would be foolish for the Board to continue down this destructive path towards non-accreditation. There are three major arguments against pursuing this course of action:
1. Lack of Accreditation Will Hurt Graduating Students
Accreditation is the accepted procedure for colleges to know you are coming from a respectable school system. Losing your accreditation--or voluntarily withdrawing from accreditation when under an investigation--makes the system look fishy. Board Chair Margiotta, in his ignorance?arrogance? I don't know, I'm having a hard time finding a more neutral term here, states that since Wake County is so big, he is sure that colleges won't stop excepting Wake County graduates. He's probably right--for schools in North Carolina. I'm sure there's no way that NC State or UNC is going to ban all Wake County schools from their campuses, nor will ECU or probably Duke or other colleges in the state. But that understanding of this special situation will fade the further from North Carolina the high school students are looking to roam. Some colleges, especially the highly competitive ones, have an automatic "kick-out" of candidates from non-accredited schools...one way to keep the numbers manageable. Will they go back and make an exception for Wake County students? I don't know, but if I had a child graduating in the next year or so, I wouldn't want to count on it.
Furthermore, there are some programs, loans, internships, and scholarships that have legal requirements that students graduate from accredited schools (sometimes with exceptions for homeschoolers). They don't have any choice about it--Wake County students will not be eligible for those. So, sure, if you have a child who graduates from Wake County, is only interested in going to a North Carolina college, and doesn't need these restricted loans or scholarships, whether the schools are accredited or not probably doesn't make that much difference. But I think there are a lot of North Carolina high schoolers who don't fit into that category.
2. AdvancED is NOT Your Enemy; They Could Even Turn Out to Be Your Best Friend
AdvancED is not reviewing the operation to come in and tell the Board what to do or to tell them how to assign students to schools. AdvancED is supposed to be like a mediator or arbitrator; someone from the outside who can look at the issues with an impartial eye and give a ruling on which side is right. For months now, the NAACP, leading the charge for many other critics, has charged that the Board acted against its own established procedures and agreed to a policy that will lead to racially discriminatory education. The Board responded that they followed the correct procedures and have their arguments about how the new school assignments will benefit all students in the county. The NAACP has one set of statistics backing up their side; the Board has another set backing up their contentions. Whose figures are right? Were procedures followed or not? The latter question, at least, seems like there should be a simple yes or no answer to it. But we have been given no answer, nor even a suggestion of how we are going to achieve such an answer; instead, we have month after month of each side arguing over the same points and making no headway in proving their points.
Enter AdvancED. THAT is their job--to answer that question (among others). If the Board REALLY believes they have followed the appropriate procedures, and they REALLY believe their statistics are more valid than the ones of their critics, they should welcome AdvancED to come and tell the public, The Board is right, they did things properly, and their figures are appropriate. If AdvancED backed up their decision, that would take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the critics. Maybe we could even move on and get something accomplished. However, as I stated in an earlier post, this is not the first time that the Board majority acts like people outside their own ranks are out to get them.
3. Guess What? You're Going to Have to Answer those Questions Even If You Drop Your Accreditation
Let us not forget that this fight with AdvancED is not the only regulatory problem the Board has on their plate. The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights has not just one, but TWO, investigations of Wake County pending--one for racial discrimination, another for sexual discrimination (in interscholastic sports). And while you can chose to drop your accreditation rather than answer those pesky questions from AdvancED, you can't just opt out of a Civil Right discrimination suit brought by the US government....a suit that will be bound to ask all those same questions and MORE.
This is where Secretary Duncan's letter is so significant. As I've said before, I grew up in the Washington DC area, so I am fluent in DC-ese. Therefore, allow me to translate this letter. This letter is a warning to Wake County not to try to blow off and bluster through these discrimination complaints. There is NO WAY Secretary Duncan would mention Wake County in that context without someone in his office having checked into the case and decided that there were legitimate reasons for concern that the system was racially discriminating.
So the Board can stick their heads in the sand if they want and force AdvancED to leave--at the expense of Wake County graduates. But you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be at least an investigation, if not a lawsuit, coming from the federal Office of Civil Rights. And refusing to cooperate with AdvancED will make the suits in DC even more suspicious that there is something rotten in the county of Wake.
The best thing the Board could do for the schools, the public, and particularly for ITSELF is to get out of its own way and cooperate with AdvancED. But will it? As my Magic 8 Ball says, "Cannot predict now."
On a happier and less complicated note--today is my son's 12th birthday! Happy Birthday to Him! But it makes me kind of sad to think that this is the last year before he turns into a teenager...