It’s been some time since I last posted. In my last post, I addressed the final choice plan that the Board ended up adopting 6-2. I’ve not posted since, because WCPSS has done a good job addressing questions and concerns about the plan, and the plan hasn’t really changed.
When I last posted, I recommended changes to the plan that would reduce the polarization of our schools, promote achievement, and provide more information. A new Board has been elected since that post, and some of the changes relating to the promotion of achievement appear likely to be implemented prior to 2012-13. This is good.
I’ve become concerned, however, that Board members elected on a platform promising to improve the plan are now under pressure to delay or repeal it altogether. This would be a mistake.
While I agree with some critics that there are unanswered questions, I don't think many of these remaining questions can be answered before the plan is implemented. It is a risk of a choice plan that choice implies some uncertainty.
While calls for delay for “further study” often seem reasonable, costs of delay must always be considered. In this particular case, delay means that nodes will have to be reassigned to fill new schools. In addition, nodes should be reassigned to address crowding at existing schools. The already completed magnet application process will have to, or at least should be, redone.
These changes will anger many. They will also be difficult. The non-proximity components of the current assignment policy were all but eliminated by the last Board. This means that policy will have to be changed if the Board wants staff to recommend new 2012-2013 assignments that use other criteria. Changing that policy will be difficult, because despite recent guidance from the Obama administration, it remains unclear the extent to which you can use race for assignment. Nor is it any longer clear the extent to which we can use free and reduced price lunch status.
For these reasons and others, delaying the choice plan is a poor idea. That does not mean nothing should be done to the plan. Selecting a high performing school for children from low performing areas who do not choose a school before the second round of choice selection ends on April 9, 2012; ensuring that there is room at a high-performing regional school for displaced children from low-performing areas near Group I magnets; and guaranteeing neighborhood transportation for all choices are all things that could be accomplished for 2012-13. Minor changes to feeder patterns may also be manageable.
The time for delay is past. Staff devoted enormous time and effort to the creation of the plan now on the table. They have diligently answered question after question about it. The choice plan they developed obviously embodies many compromises; it gives no one everyone she wants. But its critics have failed to unify behind any coherent alternative after two years of opportunity to do so, because they cannot find a better alternative that the public would accept. That pretty much tells us what we need to know about the wisdom of delay.
Amend the plan, but move forward. Many other matters clamor for Board-level attention, and they aren't getting it.