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School boards push busing students to even the playing field, even though research says it doesn’t help

Multiple school districts across the country are considering busing-type programs to distribute impoverished students equally, despite their own data suggesting that it would not reduce the achievement gap.

Analysis by the Daily Caller News Foundation found that the middle school that currently has the worst outcomes for impoverished students, the Fairfax school in Virginia, also has a 50-50 split of impoverished and non-impoverished students. Students from poor families actually do better in schools where they are surrounded by students of similar backgrounds.

Elizabeth Schultz, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-dominated Fairfax school board, said school administrators will benefit from busing because it “covers up” problems at low-performing schools by replacing their students with high-performing ones, raising the average without figuring out how to help the low-performing student learn better. “They make feel-good changes to attempt to close a gap when they’re not actually closing the gap. They’re just covering it up,” Schultz told the Daily Caller.

“I asked repeatedly, where is the data to show that moving boundaries will affect student achievement? They can’t do it,” she said. “They’re working off feelings. They’re deeply convicted ideologues who are inflicting it on unsuspecting families and taxpayers who aren’t paying attention.”

In Howard County, superintendent Michael Martirano and school board members were pushing a plan for every school to have close to the same number of poor students, measured as those receiving free and reduced meals (FARMs). At a hearing on Oct. 10, Sarah Bedair, a parent with a Ph.D. in engineering, presented the school board with data showing no correlation between the “achievement gap” and the number of students receiving for FARMs.

“We are told the primary benefit is that students receiving FARM will experience improved educational outcomes,” Bedair said.

“Your own county data shows no meaningful dependence whatsoever, and forced busing will never close the average county-wide 45% achievement gap,” she continued. “Claiming correlation between both of these data sets would never pass a peer-review process.” She said the board was “massaging statistics while ignoring underlying educational problems, using children as pawns in an ideological social experiment your own county data disproves.”

Her chart below shows the achievement gap remained similar at schools that span the full range of demographic mixes. Schools with few poor kids are on the left, and schools with mostly poor kids are on the right. Each blue dot represents one Howard elementary school.

A local resident, Carl Manganillo, spoke after Bedair: “Will the superintendent really tune out the well-respected individuals who have spoken? They’re some of the brightest minds in the region, and they’ve pointed out major flaws in the research. Would you give your child medicine if the research was deemed to be inclusive?”

“As far as I can tell, the only proponents of this plan are the politicians,” Manganillo said. “This whole process is just a formality, they’re just going through the motions.”

“The calculus is already done,” he continued. “I don’t mean calculus like math — I don’t believe the super understands the math. But when it comes to political calculus, I’m sure he had full grasp and made sure he had the political cover to move forward.”

Chao Wu, a data scientist and the board’s only immigrant member, strongly opposed the plan.

“I am writing to you in sheer shock and disapproval of your behavior towards Dr. Wu in last night’s work session on the massive redistricting of [Howard County Public School System],” resident Ashley Serio West wrote in an open letter to board chair Mavis Ellis. “I saw several eye rolls and many dismissive statements made towards him by yourself.”

“Dr. Wu was consistently rushed. I hope this is not because he is an immigrant or of Chinese descent,” Serio said. “I do not believe it is prudent or wise to be dismissive of his views. His views represent the majority of my community.”

“In 2013, Seattle’s school board introduced ‘racial equity teams’ as part of a five-year plan to tackle a chronic achievement gap,” The Washington Post reported in August. “The plan expired without making a significant impact, critics say. Recent research from Stanford University found that from 2016 to 2017, the gap in test scores between black and white students in Seattle actually increased.”