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Daily Journal

Once More, With Gusto

Oct. 19th, 2009
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RALEIGH – The political establishment of Raleigh and left-wing education officials across the United States continue to be stunned at the results of Wake County’s school board elections earlier this month.

Conservative candidates opposed to Wake’s nationally lauded and locally reviled assignment policies – including forced busing and mandatory year-round schools – seem likely to control the board of North Carolina’s largest school district after next month’s runoff election. The prospect has the establishment in a tizzy, darkly warning that Wake will go the way of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and other systems that junked forced busing years ago in favor of giving parents more control over where their kids go to school.

Wake become more like Charlotte-Mecklenburg? Disadvantaged students should be so lucky.

I don’t mean to be flip, but I’m frankly tired of people popping off about issues about which they obviously have little knowledge or understanding. The voters of Wake County – and the vast majority of Wake residents who didn’t vote, as it happens – are better informed on the issue than the supposed experts and politicians.

That’s the wonderful thing about the information revolution. No longer can bureaucrats and special interests hoard data and release only what seems to make their case. Citizens can go directly to government data on the web and draw their own conclusions. Thousands of North Carolinians have done just that on the site of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, where test scores and graduation rates are available by school district and demographic group.

Their correct conclusion was that Wake County’s claims of success from its forced-busing policies were utter nonsense.

Why should parents be fearful that Wake’s schools will come to perform like Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s? That would be an improvement! While average test scores are, indeed, higher in Wake than in CMS, that’s entirely explained by differences in county population. Charlotte has far larger populations of disadvantaged students. When you disaggregate the data, the relevant comparison presents itself easily.

Disadvantaged students were supposed to be the prime beneficiaries of Wake’s student-assignment policies. But in 2008-09, 47 percent of disadvantaged third-through-eighth grraders in CMS scored at or above proficient on state reading and math tests (which are actually too easy to pass, but that’s a story for another day). In Wake, the relevant statistic was 44 percent. CMS also outperformed Wake among black kids (48 percent to 45 percent) and scored about the same among white kids (86.8 percent and 86.4 percent, respectively).

Still wondering why Wake voters weren’t snowed by all the pro-busing propaganda? Let me give you some additional data to ponder.

Wake’s disadvantaged students also scored lower in reading and math than their counterparts did in Guilford County (46 percent), Cumberland County (48 percent), New Hanover County (49 percent), Asheville City (52 percent), and Buncombe County (57 percent).

More generally, despite years of enforcing a controversial, outdated, and unpopular set of policies for which Wake County officials were routinely feted by national left-wing organizations, their poor kids scored worse (44 percent) than the statewide average for poor kids (48 percent).

Is Wake's lackluster performance confined only to the younger kids? No. On the state’s end-of-course composite for high-school students, the performance of disadvantaged students in Wake (59 percent) was lower than Charlotte-Mecklenburg's (65 percent), though about the same as the state average.

That’s pretty much all you need to know to understand why Wake voters did what they did earlier this month. They finally got the facts that undermined what their politicians had been telling them for years. Rather than fuming and calling their neighbors racists, I think all those stunned politicians and busybodies in Raleigh should show some class, apologize, and then gracefully exit the stage.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation