Wake County Public Schools: History and Overview

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Wake County Public Schools: History and Overview
We review and analyze Wake County public schools, the largest school district in North Carolina and the 16th largest in the country.
The Wake County Public School system is the largest school district in North Carolina and the 16th largest in the U.S. The district currently serves nearly 150,000 students at its 165 schools throughout Wake County, North Carolina. The district features a relatively short, but colorful history, formed in the midst of desegregation in the South that changed the face of public education for the entire country.

The History of Wake County Public Schools

Wake County Public Schools is one of the more recently formed school districts in the country, dating back to just 1976. The district was formed as a result of a merger between the Wake County school system and Raleigh Public Schools. During that time, North Carolina schools found themselves in a state of flux, thanks to a Supreme Court decision involving desegregation of North Carolina schools in 1971. In Swann v. the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court determined that Charlotte-Mecklenburg must desegregate its schools through forced bussing, according to the Carolina Journal.

While schools resisted the idea of forced bussing, it became apparent over the next two decades that desegregation improved academic performance and test scores in the affected schools. However, the program was not sustainable over the long term, and increased diversity in the suburbs of North Carolina deemed the act of forced bussing no longer necessary. During the 1990s, the segregation debate was revisited, and in 1999, a federal court struck down the idea of race-conscious student assignment. School zones were restructured, and parental choice became an option in many districts across the state.
Despite the changes occurring in North Carolina in terms of force bussing at that time, Wake County held fast to the idea that forced bussing improved student achievement across the board. To get around the federal mandate, the county identified bussed students by economic disadvantage, rather than race, in order to preserve race-based bussing. During the decade since that decision, the performance of students in Wake County Schools has improved, even though concentrations of poor students have grown in some Wake County schools. However, despite positive test scores, many parents and educators are opposed to Wake County’s adherence to race-based bussing, and the debate over whether it should be allowed to continue has not waned.
Diversity Controversy Continues
In 2010, the diversity controversy in Wake County reached a new level. At that time, the school district abandoned its socioeconomic diversification plan that had been in place for more than a decade, and instead adopted a neighborhood plan, according to Wikipedia. This plan raised the ire of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sent a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education.
The work to find a compromise to this controversy is ongoing, with a current integration by achievement plan currently practiced in Wake County. With this plan, students are assigned to schools based on standardized test scores, ensuring all schools in the county have a similar percentage of students that performed high on the tests and students that did not fare as well. Schools must have 70 percent of students scoring proficient or higher and 30 percent of students scoring below proficiency.
Wake County Public Schools Today
With a relatively short, but controversial history under its belt, Wake County is a large and thriving school district today. WRAL reports that the county has more than 143,000 students during the 2010-2011 school year, which were served by more than 9,300 teachers. The district has a total of 163 schools, with four special option schools available. Around half of the students in the county are white, 24 percent are African-American and 14 percent are Hispanic. The district manages to maintain a healthy student-teacher ratio, which early grades seeing just 21 students to every teacher in the classroom.
During the 2009-2010 school year, Wake County saw more than 8,300 students graduate from its schools. Of that number, nearly 88 percent planned to pursue some sort of postsecondary education. Of that number, most were planning to go to four-year schools, while a smaller percentage were plotting their futures at community colleges and technical schools. Some of the top schools ranked in Wake County, according to U.S. News and World Report, are high schools, including Needham Broughton High School, Sanderson High and Garner High.
Today’s Wake County schools are committed to providing a world class education that improves the academic achievement of all their students, according to the Wake County Public Schools website. District officials want to see students that graduate from their schools become “successful, productive citizens.” To that end, the district has established a core set of beliefs it follows in educating children, which includes:
  • A belief that all students in Wake County are entitled to the same high quality education
  • Aggressively challenging students can help reduce academic achievement gaps
  • Parents, family members, mentors and members of the community all play a key role in the success of students
  • Teachers and principals must be highly effective if schools in Wake County are to succeed
  • The district must adhere to an environment of continuous improvement and focus on student achievement
To that end, Wake County believes it is at a crossroads involving new legislation at both the state and federal level, high expectations from within the Wake County community and rapidly-changing technological developments. As the district strives to address these issues, the continued focus promises to be on the success of the students and preparation for the 21st century.

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