The shortcoming of diversity in the schools

Sunday, January 30, 2011; 7:45 PM

Regarding the Jan. 12 front-page article "In N.C., a new battle on school integration" and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Jan. 14 letter in response:

The emphasis on the inflammatory issue of race in Stephanie McCrummen's article, in which I was quoted, reflected preconceived notions about the situation in Wake County, N.C. In reality, much of the controversy over neighborhood schools is related to the policy of busing poor students up to 20 miles to achieve socioeconomic diversity. This policy ignored important factors in a child's education and created nontraditional calendar assignments, widespread parental discontent and great instability, with over 60,000 students reassigned over 10 years. Most important, Wake's "diversity" policy did not improve academics; minority achievement gaps are even greater than unacceptable statewide averages. The Century Foundation's Richard D. Kahlenberg cites social theory and data that suggest improved performance while other studies contradict these data, but these discussions are theoretical. In Wake County, we have the benefit of real results. While you would think a diversity policy would help minority students, our schools have declined to the point that only 54 percent of low-income students graduate.

On Jan. 3, Mr. Duncan wrote in a Post op-ed: "But if I have learned anything as education secretary, it is that conventional wisdom serves to prop up the status quo - and is often wrong." It's disappointing to see him contradict those insightful words in his letter 11 days later by reacting to sensational accusations lodged to perpetuate a status quo that deprives many students of an appropriate education.

Kathleen Brennan, Cary, N.C.

The writer is co-director of the parents group Wake Cares.

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