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Posted at 4:30 PM ET, 01/19/2011

How Colbert brilliantly skewered Wake County (N.C.) school officials

By Valerie Strauss

Stephen Colbert used a Washington Post story on the Wake County (Raleigh, N.C.) Board of Education to do a hysterical piece on "The Colbert Report" about the panel's decision to scrap a school diversity plan that has long been considered successful.

The story, by my colleague Stephanie McCrummen, explains that the policy in Wake County has led to a situation in which, as she wrote "Some of its best, most diverse schools are in the poorest sections of this capital city. And its suburban schools, rather than being exclusive enclaves, include children whose parents cannot afford a house in the neighborhood."

But a new majority-Republican school board backed by national tea party conservatives wants to get rid of the policy in a move that some say will lead to resegregation of the county's public schools.

Colbert picked up on this and did the following video, which is hysterically funny but also terribly sad, simply because it is so accurate.

This is how the piece is promoted on the Web site of the Colbert Report:

"The Word - Disintegration
"North Carolina Tea Partiers want to reverse socially engineered progress until things get so bad for the poor that they can't be ignored."

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Disintegration
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

By Valerie Strauss  | January 19, 2011; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Equity, Laugh and cry  | Tags:  colbert, colbert and wake county, colbert nation, desegregation, resegregation of schools, stephen colbert, the colbert report, wake county diversity, wake county public schools, wake county resegregation  
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Brilliant! And to think that Anthony Tata, who was brought to DCPS by Rhee, is now superintendent of this backwoods school system.

Posted by: bugrad | January 19, 2011 8:48 PM | Report abuse

On the contrary bugrad, Wake County is the antithesis of a "backwoods school system". Because it is one of the most progressive school systems in the US, the Tea Party General Tata has been called in to help destroy it.

Posted by: natturner | January 19, 2011 10:24 PM | Report abuse

I think the word he was looking for is "disinformation". 94.5% of parents are satisfied with the current system? Yeah right. There aren't even that many parents proactively engaged in their child's education in Wake County. Oh, they meant "95% of my friends that I asked". Well that's a valid sample set.

Heaven forbid our school district be divided on geographical boundaries like almost every other district in the country! We must be a bunch of racist republican homophobes! Only they would make snap judgements about an entire community with barely any facts to support their opinions!

The Wake County "diversity" policy is only working if you consider one aspect of it's goals: usurping parents influence over their child's education. In every other way it fails miserably. The only information you need is the graduation rates and test scores to know how bad it is.

Look, Stephen Colbert is funny. That doesn't make him a journalist. Though it does make him more honest than the so-called journalists who take his routines more seriously then I think even he would want them to.

Posted by: atticusser | January 19, 2011 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Satire is easy when you pick and choose and play fast and loose with the real facts, which is what Colbert does perfectly, on all topics.

If he based his satire on what he got from the WaPo article as is implied here, then they should be proud to rank high on the satire list of comedians.

One seeking the truth should not look to Comedy Central, or slanted articles that leave out pertinent information.

Then again, in this day and age, Comedy Central is the source of "news" for too many.

Posted by: nancybus | January 19, 2011 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Someone please find where Colbert sends his kids, I don't want to assume but my guess is that it is a private school so that his kids don't get any poor on them. I live in Wake County and the schools are great and they are trying to solve problems of overcrowding and there is never a perfect solution, and they are making it an issue of race when not all poor people are of one specific race. It is and issue of taxes, people pay more taxes when they make more money and they want there kids going to the school that their tax pays for.

Posted by: pcypher17 | January 20, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

This was a shining moment, BUT he has been letting us down when faced with the new reformers Canada and Rhee:

Posted by: plthomas3 | January 20, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I am not familiar with all the details of Wake County, but my opinion is that there are a lot of details missing on both sides.

Many years ago, I taught in a "bussed" school. One problem with this is that it is very difficult to get the poor families to the school to meet with teachers. Much of this is due to transportation issues. My personal opinion is that schools work best when parents are part of the school community. If students are bussed away, it cuts down on this support. (I realize that parents can live next door to the school and not support it, but the chances are dramatically increased if transportation is not an issue.)

I think being a part of the community outweighs the other issues. There is no perfect solution, but are bigger class sizes worth spending the dollars on transportation?

This is a tough issue, but common sense needs to reign. As educators, we need to start taking students "where they are" and help them get to where they need to be in the classroom-not on the bus. It comes from creativity, hard work, and persistence. It does not come from tests.
It also does not come from artificial situations created by busing.

Posted by: mmkm | January 20, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

The fact is that Wake County was using "diversity" to game the system. By putting more and more affluent kids in poor schools and spreading out poor students among affluent schools, they could show "improvement" of high needs schools without anyone's test scores actually going up.

Posted by: someguy100 | January 20, 2011 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Some of you are correct, Colbert was definitely focusing on only select facts in this case. Unfortunately, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations misrepresent the situation. The Wake school board majority isn't trying to reverse the free integration of schools. Instead, it's trying to reverse the school assignment strategy that requires certain students to take a bus to a school that is not their closest or most convenient option. This is not only an expensive (and environmentally unfriendly) approach to assignment, there is absolutely no data showing that it has improved the quality of education for students.

Furthermore, isn't the assignment strategy is, itself, a form of systematic discrimination, forcing people to do something they might not want to do on the basis of economic status?

So let's summarize... Wake is trying to trim its budget by putting aside an expensive and ineffective program, and it is no longer assigning people to schools based on race or socio-economic status.

How is that going backward?

I'm still waiting for the NAACP to answer that question instead of focusing its energy on branding certain school board members racists and bigots.

Posted by: goliberty | January 20, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

goliberty and the Wake school board make the exact same arguments that were make against desegregation in the 1950's and with the same purpose, to re-segregate schools. The ONLY period during which the achievement gap shrunk was the period of forced bussing for desegregation. If those policies had been continued, there might be no achievement gap today. But of course that is precisely the point: The civil rights and Great Society era programs were not eliminated because they failed, as the current propagandists claim, they were eliminated because they worked, just as they have worked in Wake County until now, and that would have upset the social order that the privileged class so cherishes.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 20, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

The Wake County, North Carolina school system (Raleigh-Cary-Apex-others) has been the pride of our community. All the schools are quite good, top to bottom, and our Magnet Schools program is regularly cited nationally for the quality and variety of the specialized educational programs that are offered.

I look forward to seeing those new members throwing Molotov cocktails at a well-functioning system eventually voted out of their positions. I believe the community will pay much more attention to school board elections in the future - and no longer take it for granted that this community jewel is on cruise control, safely in the hands of concerned educators.

Dave Kuntarich
Apex, North Carolina

Posted by: dkuntarich | January 20, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm tired of reading that people who can afford it send their kids to private schools to avoid mixing with the poor. My brother and sister-in-law, well-off but not rich, sent their kids to a private school for several reasons. 1. It was multi-racial and multi-national, while the public school was all-white. 2. All of the teachers had degrees in academic subjects, while the public school teachers had degrees in education and might or might not have studied the subjects they were teaching. 3. The kindergarten teacher was able to cope with several different reading levels among her students, while in the public school was the typical "one size fits all" experience I had suffered under. 4. The private school began foreign languages in elementary grades.

Some parents choose private schools--often at a great financial sacrifice--because they know what education is supposed to be and know their kids won't get it in the available public school.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 21, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse

someguy100: "The fact is that Wake County was using "diversity" to game the system. By putting more and more affluent kids in poor schools and spreading out poor students among affluent schools, they could show "improvement" of high needs schools without anyone's test scores actually going up."

This is the best comment on here! It's the easiest way to beat the ridiculous NCLB criteria, just move kids around so the "schools" keep showing improvement.

Posted by: staticvars | January 21, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I went to Wake County Public Schools in the 90s and 00s and am now at a great college learning about social responsiblity.

The bottom line is not always test scores or graduation rates but rather the necessity for people, especially children, from different socioeconomic classes and races or ethnicity to come into contact with each other. This hardly happens in adulthood. We shouldn't deprive our children from such an opportunity to learn about the kid "across the river" and to realize that he or she is not as different as one may think.

This doesn't happen on the "community" or neighborhood level because due to a history, and definitely not too distant one, of racial housing policy.

We have to realize that it is our duty to make small sacrifices,like getting on the school bus at 6 a.m, if it means that it will give a poor child, regardless of race, an opportunity to fall in love with education and to find a passion in life.


Posted by: LovePeople | January 21, 2011 10:27 PM | Report abuse

As a graduate of the Wake County Public School System, I can attest to the excellent education I received throughout my grade school years. My classmates were from all backgrounds, and it wasn't until I reached college that I could appreciate the diversity of Wake County schools. Students from racially and economically diverse schools tend to be far more tolerant than those from schools of homogeneous populations.

To state that spreading out the rich kids among the public schools boosts tests scores is incredibly ignorant. Wealth has nothing to do with intelligence or test performance. The affluent students at my schools scored all across the board, just like everyone else.

Posted by: visforvisceral | January 25, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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