by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
According to an article in the News & Observer, the newly elected Democrats on the Wake County school board “pushed for substantive changes in the system’s new assignment plan.” I have to admit that I did not expect this to happen. It is a case of giving the Democrats too much credit.
I thought that the Democrats had learned some lessons from their Republican predecessors on the board. First, hard-charging policy changes are not popular with the public. Arguably, the Republican leadership tried to do too much, too quickly, and too forcefully. This allowed opponents to characterize Republicans as radicals (and racists), not reformers. I believed that the incoming Democrats, who all have such amazing qualifications, would learn from this and choose to implement reforms incrementally and strategically. After all, they have plenty of time and incentive to do so.
Second, parents want stability and predictability in the school assignment process. Neighborhood schools, predictable feeder patterns, and/or school choice achieve those goals, albeit in different ways. To their credit, Republicans chose a decent school choice plan that incorporated ideas from a consensus plan proposed by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership. For importantly, it included input from Wake County school staff and the public. In the end, all involved spent a great deal of time, effort, and resources to develop a plan that appealed to county leaders and parents alike.
The bottom line is that the Democratic majority has every right to make changes to Wake County’s assignment plan. Politically, however, it is foolish to propose “substantive” changes at this point in the game. It would simply invite the kind of criticism that may have contributed to the demise of the Republican majority.
Some unsolicited advice for Democrats:
1. The argument that the Republicans approved it “quickly” is a moot point for a public that has a pretty short memory about such details.
2. If you want the public to hate you, make Jim Martin your spokesperson. He comes across as smug and condescending.
3. Make more of an effort to work with Tata or replace him.