Fighting Repeal of Diversity

Today the Wake County School Board in Raleigh, NC  will meet.  Today, the school board will further discuss their plans to redistrict the schools, effectively ending a decade-long policy aimed at creating socio-economic diversity in Wake County Schools.  Today, thousands will meet in downtown Raleigh to protest this decision, this decision that has been described by Claude Pope, chairman of the Wake County Republican Party, as a “mandate” by voters. The school board argues in favor of neighborhood schools and to end busing of students to create economically diverse schools.  They argue that this will make schools stronger, communities stronger, and is more convenient for parents.   Protesters argue that this is re-segregation, that those from poorer neighborhoods will  end up in faltering schools,  that many magnet schools will lose their funding,

Today, as a former high school teacher in Wake County Schools, and a firm believer that ALL students deserve the best that we can give them,  I wish I was at that protest.

I am not going to go into what the empirical data in test scores state about the diversity policy, as I will fervently argue that test scores tell very little about actual learning (although right now, before changes are in effect,  these test scores are showing a closing of the achievement gap across all economic situations and races).  I am not going to go into whether or not this policy is a form of racism.  What I am going to tell you is about my own experience as a teacher in Wake County Schools.  I will tell you about the  “evidence” I collected as teacher, the evidence that this diversity policy works.

I served as a  teacher at Sanderson High School in Wake County for three years, between the years 2002-2005. I served as co-advisor for class council.  I tutored and performed workshops for teachers.  I was highly vested in the school and the students. Most teachers I know in this school are highly dedicated to providing the best education for the students. Sanderson High School is in North Raleigh.  The current statistics of the school are diverse, with minorities making up over 46% of the population.  Over one-hundred students are Limited English Proficient.  I could not find any current information on how many students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, however, if I am recalling this correctly, approximately 20% qualified for the program. The population was diverse, the challenges of differentiating, many.  However, in my experience, the diversity of the school was one of its great strengths.

Never in my time in Sanderson did I “dumb” down the curriculum for students.  I differentiated instruction and made sure that all students were learning to the best of their ability, that all students were challenged.  Was it difficult?  Of course.  But I would not accept excuses from myself or my students.  Many other teachers wouldn’t either.  Our job was to educate all the students, make sure all student had comprehension of the material, challenge all the students.  Can these things happen in neighborhood schools as well, demanding the best from all?  Potentially.  But……

Poverty is a difficult thing.  People who have lived poverty, worked with people in poverty, taught in poverty know that it is a strange and difficult state of being.  It truly gets in your psyche, changes communities, changes thought process, gives a sense of fear, a sense of loyalty and place.  I will give you an example.  I had this student at Sanderson.  He was intelligent.  He was crazy intelligent.  He had a good head on his shoulders, common sense, and the ability to succeed, if only he tried.  He also came from poverty.  One day, after earning a D on an exam, I pulled him aside after class.  I asked him, “What happened?  I know that you know this information.  What is the problem? Is there something going on I can help you with?”

He looked me straight in the eye.  His response took the wind out of me.

“Ms. Fiore, I can’t do well.   I’d be disrespecting the block. You don’t know where I come from.”

I think I paused, took a deep breath, and blinked 10 times before I answered.

“D—–, you are right.  I can’t know. But let me ask you, is this your block?  When you are here, in this school, in this classroom, you are not on the block.  You are on my block.  And here, on my block, you only have to worry about one thing, disrespecting yourself.  You are a smart kid, with real potential. You need to honor that. Many people here and at home, are working to give you opportunities.  Respect them, and yourself, and grab those opportunities.”

I challenged him.

I gave him the permission to succeed.

He left my class with an B+ average.

He is just one example of many that did better, learned more than they would have if they were in a school where the majority of kids lived in poverty, where resources were scarce,  where there was a high teacher turn-over rate due to burnout, and where there is  a constant reminder of who they might be disrespecting on the block.  It is a dramatic example, but an example nonetheless.  As teachers, we were all afforded a safe place where kids had the permission to succeed.  The Wake County diversity policy, by my own estimation and experiences, worked beautifully.  It took kids from poor neighborhoods and gave them a fighting chance.  It provided teachers with enough support that they would not face burnout from dealing with many of the issues surrounding schools of poverty. It provided a situation where a sense of despair was eased, where the sense of entitlement taken down a few notches.

Today, it has been taken away. Wake County is set to go back to neighborhood schools where there will be schools that will close, schools that will have a 90% or greater poverty level,  and where magnet schools will be in jeopardy of losing their funding.  There will be schools that will lack resources and a stable teaching staff.

More students will be lost in the system. We will fail them.

And for what?  For parent convenience even if that means a drop in student achievement?  For politics?  For the supposed “strengthening of neighborhoods”?  Is there empirical evidence that supports that?

Today, even though I cannot be there, fighting alongside the community, fighting alongside teachers and adminsitrators that know that this is a bad idea, I lend my voice.  I urge Wake County parents, teachers, students, and voters to stand up and not stand for this repeal.  I urge you to stand up and fight for all students, to give all of the students a chance.

I am standing here with you.

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25 Responses to “Fighting Repeal of Diversity”

  1. miss tejota 20 July 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Very powerful piece. Thanks for informing me of something that is going on in our world today.

    You are correct the repeal will not service anyone. It will do more harm than good.

    Once again, thank you.


    Corina Reply:

    Thank you.


  2. ilinap 20 July 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    THANK YOU for writing this! It is great to read the perspective of a teacher who has hiked on this road herself. And be glad you were just standing with us in spirit; it was bloody hot!


    Corina Reply:

    Thanks, Ilina. I am glad that it was a peaceful protest stood up for those disenfranchised by the new system.


  3. marty 20 July 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    You have hit on a point that I think has been left out of a lot of arguments, and I’m so glad to hear it.

    We ALL need for the children of poverty to be challenged, taught, and given a fighting chance to break that cycle of poverty. These are kids that have an enormous amount to offer society, but they need the chance to unlock that potential. Not just for themselves, but for everything they could be in our community.
    marty´s last blog ..Mama wingsMy ComLuv Profile


    Corina Reply:

    Thanks. And this is true. We cannot strengthen neighborhoods, people, society as a whole until we afford people the tools to do so. This is what the diversity policy wished to do. Level the playing field so that everyone is afforded the same opportunities.


  4. Bruce DeBoer 20 July 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Awesome story. I hope you don’t mind, I inserted a paragraph into a blog post on my site.


    Bruce DeBoer Reply:

    Find my post here:


    Corina Reply:

    Thank you so much. And thank you for the link back.


  5. [...] from a teacher.  I copied this from her blog but I’m sure she won’t mind.  Go to Down to Earth Mom for the entire post. Poverty is a difficult thing.  People who have lived poverty, worked with [...]

  6. @sweetbabboo 20 July 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    Amen. I too have heard the ‘disrespecting the block’ argument from both students and a former co-worker who had to overcome such thinking herself.

    So few people realize just how hard teachers work to help students. Ending the diversity policy will only create more obstacles these top-notch teachers will have to overcome to help students. Not to mention the challenges the students will face.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is one that needed to be told.


    PS: I’m right there with you on the testing doesn’t show a school’s value or the students’ learning. I struggle constantly to try to make friends, family, and everyone get it. No one ever does and instead they continue to judge schools based on that inaccurate data.


    Corina Reply:



  7. Neil 20 July 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    I absolutely agree with you on this issue, but I wonder how many of those who love this idea with passion, would take their own kids out of public schools if their local school was part of a diversity program?


    Corina Reply:

    Stirring things up. Yes, people are hypocritical. I am sure this would happen. Does not make this any less good of an idea.


  8. 21 July 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    Those that love it “with a passion” would not take their kids out of school for it. Liars that “claim” they are for it… they would.

    You post is brilliant, but sadly, the only ones that will read it to the end are those that really don’t need to do so.

    Mostly because I think it is a scheme far more nefarious than even you are giving them credit for (In my not so humble opinion of course). This is not about *just* segregation, there is strong financial incentives at play here. For when those “other” neighborhoods inevitable suffer for all the reasons you point out, then you start playing the money shuffle game. Taking money away from the schools that don’t test well (when in theory that is where the money should *GO* not get taken away from… but that is another rant), then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Then eventually, then claim that the system doesn’t work, and start to push towards vouchers and privatization of schools,which will hasten the divide more.

    Sorry, I just find it amazing that politicians are so quick to go out of their way to destroy children’s lives for the games that they play. Is it really so hard for some of them to look past the end of their own noses?
    JayMonster´s last blog ..My ComLuv Profile


    Corina Reply:

    Jay: Yes. And yes. The game is nefarious. And housing developers do have a hand in this, I am sure. And I know the people that are reading this are like-minded people, which is ashame, because I would hope that others would read this and get a taste of what the real classroom is like, a taste that the people from the “other” neighborhoods (as you put it) are living, breathing, full of potential too.

    I welcome an argument.

    I have heard the argument that, “but if one school in a poor neighborhood is funded as much as a school in a rich neighborhood, the problem goes away.” I think they are missing some very key issues. Yes. Money of course will help. It gives the teachers classroom resources, provides books, etc. However, money does not solve the issue that there will still be less parental involvement (due to parents working more than one job and other issues), there will be less fundraising money which can really make a difference in a school, and there will still be that overwhelming psychological mind game that poverty plays. Money of course can help to stabilize a academic program (and is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to doing so), but it does not take care of the societal ills that come surrounding poverty. Teachers get burnt out as well. We all know that throwing an endless supply of money at something may fix somethings, but only masks others.


  9. SelfishMom 22 July 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    This post really rang true to me. I was bused to another neighborhood for 13 years to go to two magnet schools. By law, the schools couldn’t have more than 65% of any race, and I was one of the many white kids who went downtown each day to help balance things out. In exchange for the bus time I got to attend two incredibly awesome schools.

    I’m not going to lie, busing was sometimes hard. It added almost two hours to my day sometimes. But the flip side was that I spent all those years with people of all different races and religions, rich and poor and in between. The diversity made up for any hardship.

    Now here in Brooklyn, we’ve got the opposite problem. White parents take their kids out of the neighborhood to attend better schools. I’m lucky to live in a very diverse neighborhood, so here if everyone would just stay put it would be fantastic. But of course in other Brooklyn neighborhoods that isn’t the case, where everyone is black and poor and the schools suck and only some kind of desegregation program would help. It’s kind of a mess.

    But it sounds like in your area the program is working and needs to stay in place. And sadly, the kids who need it the most might not have the most involved parents who will rally about this. Thanks for trying to spread the word.
    SelfishMom´s last blog ..My ComLuv Profile


  10. CaryMom 22 July 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    The Wake School Board meeting, where 19 protesters were arrested, has made national news on CNN. My problem with these protestors is that the current school board made their positions very clear before the election. the majority of Wake County voters wanted this change. So if you didn’t vote, sit down and shut up.


    Corina Reply:

    While I agree wholeheartily that voting is important, that we speak LOUDLY with our vote (I vote in EVERY election since I earned that right), to say that someone should sit down and shut up is something that I cannot abide. Some of these people did vote. Some of them, perhaps not. But civil disobedience (while remaining civil) is a right. The people have a right to assemble. If they break the law, then they may be arrested. They are getting their voices heard.

    This is true whether or not you believe with what is being said. The majority of voters in this country wanted health care reform too. Yet there are people that meet everyday to fight that and other government reforms (which the majority of the voters wanted). They have that right to assemble. I may not like what they have to say. I might criticize what they have to say. I may debate what they have to say with vigor. But, they don’t have to sit down and shut up.

    It all comes down to this. This post isn’t about voters, or people getting arrested or if this story made national news on CNN. This post is about what I see working in the schools. This post is about school reforms, and how to educate ALL of our students to the best of our ability. I truly believe in equality in education. I have seen it work. I think that this is going to be disastrous for a good number of students, so I fight for them. I will not sit down and shut up because I no longer live there and did not vote in this election. I will be the voice of the disenfranchised. Because, as a teacher to ALL students, they deserve that.


    SelfishMom Reply:

    Cary Mom, I think this might be one of the best examples of why legislating by referendum simply doesn’t work. The people who will be most affected by this – poor kids – CAN’T vote. And if you think that every white, upper middle class voter is going to vote in the best interest of ALL kids, you’re delusional.

    Should the parents of the kids most affected vote on this? Of course. But the fact that poor and/or overworked parents from poor areas are often less involved in this stuff is part of the problem, and it’s their children that are suffering. Without a good education it will all be repeated. Your attitude about this is disgusting. Imagine for a moment that it was your child facing a dismal future in a sub-par school. Then sit down and shut up.
    SelfishMom´s last blog ..My ComLuv Profile


  11. Convertible Girl 22 July 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    Thank you for writing this — I wanted to be at the rally, too, but couldn’t. Hate to be one of those people who comments and then asks you to read my own blog, but thought you might appreciate this ( from my teaching experience. My son starts kindergarten in 2 weeks — I’m hoping some of this will come back toward center by the time he gets to Sanderson.
    Keep fighting the good fight!


  12. followthatdog 27 July 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    beautiful and powerful post. I wish others were as eloquent on the subject as you are


  13. wayne 1 August 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I had heard a brief story on NPR. Glad I came over from twitter where I go by nutmegdesigns.
    wayne´s last blog ..What shaped you- here are two things that shaped meMy ComLuv Profile


  14. [...] My friend Corina from Down to Earth Mama is fired up about some significant changes happening in her area’s schools.  As a former teacher, she has an insight you don’t want to miss about Fighting Repeal of Diversity. [...]

  15. marybabysteps 17 August 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Corina, I’m just now seeing this but am glad that I did. I taught in a high school in Robeson County NC for a short time. That school district had apparently “redistricted” a few years before I got there. I got to see the aftermath and can tell you that Jay has it absolutely right. The money and resources were also “redistricted” in those schools. It was a sad thing. Thanks for your poignant insight.
    marybabysteps´s last blog ..Brady Should Be on Americas Got TalentMy ComLuv Profile


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