Guest Opinion, By Lindalyn Kakadelis, Senior Consultant
Wilmington, NC – School Superintendent Tim Markley’s “confidential,” memo laments his inability to raise scores of black students in schools with majority populations of minority and low-income students. The only option left to him, it seems, is to follow Wake and Mecklenburg’s failed attempts at busing— that is, to assign students to schools based on their socio-economic status rather than their proximity to a school. The goal here is to improve school performance by bringing more high-income students, who generally are successful on End-of-Grade (EOG) tests, into majority low-income schools, whose students generally score poorly, and vice versa.
This can increase a low performing-school’s average on End-of-Grade tests merely by adding students who pass the tests or removing students who do not.
What this “solution” does not address is how to help low-performing students improve. A failing school is comprised of failing students! Hiding failing students in successful schools does not mean that those students will stop failing, it just makes their existence less apparent. Whose purpose does that serve?
Not the students’.
Some say that busing will improve the outcomes of low-performing students by osmosis.
There is no evidence of this in Wake and Mecklenburg counties, which have both tried busing. The achievement gap in Wake County between white and black students is 40 percentage points. In Mecklenburg County, the achievement gap between these students is 42 percentage points.
Those figures, post-busing, are much more troubling than New Hanover County’s current achievement gap of 25 percentage points.
Regarding achievement gaps, Markley’s memo reports that black third graders passed only 21.6%, 26.3%, and 27.9% of their EOG tests at Rachel Freeman, Alderman, and Gregory elementary schools, respectively. This means that roughly, only 1-in-4 of these students will pass their grade at these minority and low-income majority schools.
Shuffling these students around does nothing to address their low performance— it merely adds more successful students so that a 1-in-4 ratio becomes a less-scary one. Nothing will change for John, Sue, and Bob—the three students who didn’t pass— they’ll just become less visible in the data.
How could Markley bring them to success?
A public elementary school in downtown Wilmington has the answer.
Douglass Academy is located at 6th and Red Cross streets, a stone’s throw away from the three schools, above. It’s a minority-majority school, too, with 98% minority students and 94% low-income students.
Embargoed testing data referenced in Markely’s memo reveal that Douglass Academy students passed 55% of their EOGs last year. Students who had attended the school for 3 years passed 75% of their tests.
The school is a public charter school, which means it is separate from the district and can offer a unique curriculum. It is tuition-free and accepts any student. The school also provides free transportation and meals, making it equally as accessible to low-income students as are district schools.
So how is Douglass Academy translating 98% minority students and 94% low income students into 55% passing compared to rates in the 20’s? The school uses a classical curriculum and the Direct Instruction teaching method, which provides a “no excuses” approach to behavior and achievement. It is one of four schools using this identical method—two of which are the highest-scoring schools in Brunswick and Columbus counties.
Douglass’ educational model is ensuring high-performance and success for individual students.
Markely’s memo is saying that since he can’t save failing students, he’ll save failing schools.
This is despite proof occurring in his own backyard that would-be failing students can be successful along with an example of how to achieve that success. Will he look?
Biography: Ms. Kakadelis began her career in education as an elementary school teacher. She then served six years on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education where she was Chair of the Policy Committee as well as on the Curriculum and Legislative Committees. Next, she helped establish the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a Charlotte non-profit where she was the Executive Director for four years distributing scholarships to underprivileged youth. Ms. Kakadelis next spent ten years as the Director of the NC Education Alliance with the mission of raising awareness of school reform issues across the state where she assisted local school boards with K-12 policy issues and disseminating best practices to boards and policymakers. Now as a Consultant, Ms. Kakadelis is focusing upon advocacy for the at-risk and under-served children in North Carolina.