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School Boundary Decision Close in Wake County

The Wake County (N.C.) School Board appears close to approving a plan to create school boundaries that will allow parents their choice of several different schools, according to a recent article in the News and Observer newspaper.

The 147,000-student school district once assigned students in a pattern meant to avoid having poor students concentrated on any one school. But a Republican majority in the school board voted in 2010 to do away with that policy, setting up protests and drawing national attention.

The new policy would let parents choose from among a menu of school options, including allowing their children to stay at their current school for now. The plan would go into effect in the 2012-13 school year.

From the article:

The new plan is a radical departure in how assignments are handled in the state's biggest school district. Instead of parents being told where their children will go to school based on their addresses, they will choose from a list provided by the county.


Under the proposal, every family would have at least five elementary school options based on their address. The choices typically would be their closest schools. Once in an elementary school, students would be guaranteed a seat at a specific middle school and high school.

Families who don't like their default middle school or high school could apply to attend other schools.

Proximity would be the second highest priority when filling seats at schools. The only thing that would rank higher is making sure siblings can go to the same school. Families who want to go to their closest school, but can't get in because it's a magnet, will have additional choices, including two schools with histories of high performance.

Student-assignment policies like this are referred to as "controlled choice" plans. Both the Republicans and Democrats on the school board appeared to like the plan, according to the News and Observer.

The proposed resolution to Wake County's student-assignment policy, which will be voted on Oct. 18, will likely garner far less attention than the district did when it did away with the old policy. But school officials should watch, because this kind of policy may be a more politically palatable way to deal with the desire to eliminate concentrated poverty at any one school. As I explored in an article this week on the school boundary controversy in a Minneapolis suburb, mandatory student reassignments can often spark negative community response.

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