Bill Clinton speaks in support of Wake school diversity

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

BY THOMAS GOLDSMITH – Staff Writer

Former President Bill Clinton has become the highest-profile figure to wade into the controversy involving the future of Wake County’s public schools.

Clinton chose the opening of an exhibit in his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. on one of the nation’s most dramatic school integration events to criticize Wake County’s change in direction on keeping schools’ populations balanced by students’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

Previously, newsmakers including federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and cable television satirist Stephen Colbert had taken swipes at the decisions made by the board leadership in charge since December 2009.

“In one of the largest, most successful urban school districts in America, in North Carolina, there was a huge busing plan assigned to integrate people not just racially but economically,” Clinton said Saturday before the surviving eight members of the Little Rock Nine, who as teenagers in 1957 were the first blacks to attend Little Rock’s Central High School. “Based on decades of evidence that with really poor people who come from families under stress or from broken homes, if they spend time in stable environments with lots of supportive adults, turns out they’re just as smart as everybody else and they do just as well as everybody else.”

Clinton went on to say that the school board changed direction because members thought student achievement had not improved enough under the discarded diversity plan. The school board leadership has attributed much of its opposition to the old plan on low achievement by low-income students. “And let’s let these people – I couldn’t make this up – let’s let these kids go to school with more of their own kind,” Clinton said. “Maybe they’ll be more comfortable and will do better.”

The Little Rock Nine received worldwide recognition after the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division had to be called in to protect the students as they attended classes at Central High School. .

Asked for comment, Wake school board chairman Ron Margiotta seemed startled that the former president had been moved to comment on the policies of a local school district.

“Why would he want to get involved in Wake County?” Margiotta said Wednesday night. “That’s my only comment. I certainly wouldn’t want to take on a former president of the United States.”

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