NAACP complaint about Wake County student assignment plan triggers review by accreditation agency

Wake County’s public high schools are at risk of losing their accreditation unless the school board majority can justify all the major decisions it’s made since December, says a News & Observer report in Education Week. Advancing Excellence in Education Worldwide (AdvancED) will be conducting a sweeping review of the school system this fall in response to a complaint filed by the North Carolina chapter of the  NAACP.  According to AdvancED CEO Mark Elgart such a review "is rare, and it is serious." In response to the audit, school board chairman Ron Margiotta said, "I question their authority. This seems to be political."

The AdvancED review team is charged with determining whether the school board is making decisions based on the best interests of students and the community and whether the board is following its own policies, Elgart said. If the answers don’t satisfy the team, Wake’s 24 high schools could lose the accreditation that makes it easier for students to get scholarships, loans, and college acceptances. The decision to scrutinize Wake school board actions follows months of protests, rallies, and arrests since a new majority took control of the board in December and immediately began dismantling the district’s longstanding economic diversity policy in favor of community schools.

AdvancED accredits more than 27,000 schools, but only rarely executes the kind of review that Wake is getting. In Georgia, reviews of three districts resulted in one losing its accreditation, the first such action in nearly 40 years, and two others facing sanctions. In two of those Georgia districts, the state’s governor removed school board members in the aftermath of the accreditation group’s review. No provision exists in North Carolina law that would allow anything similar to happen here. AdvancED has given Wake until the end of the month to provide documentation for more than a dozen decisions the school board has made. In addition to the student assignment changes, other matters that will be reviewed include requiring tickets for seats at board meetings, building a high school in Rolesville instead of on already purchased land in northeast Raleigh, contracts between the board and lawyer Thomas Farr, and the cost of ending the mandatory year-round schools policy.

School officials  have urged AdvancED to drop the review, calling it "completely unwarranted." However, the school district’s response didn’t satisfy AdvancED, which now wants detailed information on the qualifications of the people developing the new student assignment plan and any financial and academic studies used to justify abandoning the diversity policy. Some of the issues raised are similar to those brought up by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a community group that supports the old diversity policy.

Source: Education Week, 8/18/10, By T. Keung Hui and Thomas Goldsmith

[Editor's Note: In May, the Associated Press reported that the Wake County School Board’s vote to eliminate its busing policy in favor of keeping students in schools close to their homes ends a diversity plan that was considered a model for school districts. A summary of the article is available below.]

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