An article in today’s News and Observer makes the spurious claim that “new data” shows Wake County School’s diversity policy harmed the education of minority students. This claim is based on data claiming that black students with longer bus rides have lower rates of academic proficiency. Of course, it should be no surprise that the data referred to is an attempt to support this claim since it was formulated for the Wake Board’s response to the NAACP’s Title VI complaint.
What is surprising is that the report does such a poor job of supporting this claim and any trends that can be discerned are far less clear than the article suggests. As travel distances increased from <1 mile to 2.1-3 miles, academic proficiency increased from 53.1% to 57.3%. Does this mean that 2.1-3 miles is the magical bus ride length that leads to greatest proficiency? Students who were bused 10 miles had a 49.5% proficiency rate while students who were bused 7 miles had a 40% rate, so is 10 miles better for academic performance than 7?
Since poverty is linked to lower academic achievement, it is easy to see how students who were bused to different schools for socioeconomic integration could attain lower rates of academic achievement than their middle-class peers who were not. The only thing this “new data” shows is that there was in fact a socioeconomic diversity policy and that poor students unfortunately often bore a disproportionate share of the traveling to make the policy work. That’s not exactly breaking news.