Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why does CMS want to open charter schools?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has had an uneven relationship with the growing number of charter schools in the area. But within the district's legislative agenda approved Wednesday is a request that CMS be able to open charter schools of their own.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked the question: Why would the district want to do that?

Charter schools are public and operated with tax dollars. But they are exempt from a number of requirements that traditional public schools have. They're not required to provide transportation, for example, or meals.

CMS associate general counsel Jonathan Sink told the board that those things aren't what CMS is trying to avoid. What they want is the ability to tweak its calendar, or alter the curriculum in a way that's different from state mandates.

"We're looking for those pieces of educational innovation they were created to have," Sink said.

Board chairwoman Mary McCray said one concept they've looked at, by way of example, is an all-boys middle school.

The district has not yet come up with any specific programs or features it would want to have in a charter school should they be granted the ability to create one. It would require a major change to state law, Sink said.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark, who has assumed the duties of the top job after Heath Morrison resigned, said CMS will be bringing in Cindy Loe, former superintendent of schools in Fulton County, Ga., to help district leaders think through what they'd want to do.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hispanic CMS students ahead of other urban districts in math scores

Hispanic students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are posting higher math scores and progressing faster than their peers in big cities across the country, according to a new report.

Fourth-grade Hispanic students in CMS scored higher in national math exams than any other large urban district, the Child Trends report shows. And eighth graders improved their math scores by the equivalent of nearly two grade levels in the past decade.

The findings are significant for two reasons, the report's authors say: Hispanic students are becoming a larger percentage of the student body, meaning "the math achievement of Hispanic students today foreshadows our national performance tomorrow."

And second, these test score improvements come despite Hispanic students being disproportionately low-income in Charlotte and most other large districts.

All the data comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a benchmark math and reading test given to fourth and eighth graders.

Other top performing large districts cited in the report are Boston and Houston.

Nationally, about one in four elementary school students are Hispanic. CMS elementary schools mirror that ratio, state Department of Public Instruction figures show. About 20 percent of CMS students are Hispanic, according to data from the 2013-14 school year.

The Child Trends report tracks scores through 2013. I haven't seen the most recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But CMS touted gains in other measures of academic achievement among Hispanics earlier this year.

The graduation rate for Hispanics increased 20 percentage points in the last four years, hitting 74.6 percent. End-of-year test scores in math, English and science also increased slightly from the year before. Both still lagged well behind the rates for white students.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Should teachers give homework for the sake of giving homework?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is considering a two-word policy change that reflects a decade's worth of research and thought in the education world.

At its heart is a question students and parents have been asking for years: What's the point in giving homework?

Right now, the board has an instructional policy about homework. It reads, in part: "Homework is a necessary part of the learning process...."

A proposed change would change it slightly: "Homework can be a necessary part of the learning process..."

It seems like a small change. And it is. But board members said Thursday they saw how this could cause a lot of confusion from parents. Would homework now be optional?

Chief Academic Officer Brian Schultz said that's not really the case. Homework would continue to be a major part of many classes in CMS. But, "It needs to be meaningful homework," he said.

Afterward, Shultz told me that the initial policy was written around the year 2000, when the thinking in education circles was that homework was important no matter what. Teachers were encouraged to assign it even when it wasn't necessary. More recent research has shown that homework is only effective when it serves a specific purpose, he said.

So, should the policy be adopted, it likely won't make a huge difference in math and English classes. It could, however, mean changes in philosophy in some elective classes or in lower grades. Schultz said there hasn't been any research proving that homework is effective or not effective for children in kindergarten through third grade.

Another change being considered could be equally meaningful.

What it would do is remove "preparation for class" as a criterion that can factor into a student's grade. That means teachers would no longer be able to ding students for forgetting paper or pencil, or not having the right three-ring notebook.

Schultz said the thinking behind that is that preparation doesn't have anything to do with whether students are mastering the material.

Both changes were discussed at a meeting of the board's policy committee Thursday. It'll be presented to the full board for the first time in December, and is scheduled to be voted on sometime in the new year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Charlotte Post Foundation raising money for after-school programs

Looking to close the achievement gap between white and black students on standardized tests, The Charlotte Post Foundation has announced it will launch a program to raise $75,000 to fund after-school programs for underserved children.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools data released earlier this school year showed that 42.9 percent of black students were proficient on reading exams in elementary and middle school, compared with 81.4 percent of white students.

The Charlotte Post Foundation is dedicated to serving black youth in the city. Money raised will go toward African-American students in elementary schools, the foundation said. About $15,000 has been donated so far in the six-month drive.

Many CMS elementary schools already have after-school care programs, that run from $35 to $65 per week.

The district has also started putting some free, specialized after-school programs in underserved communities. For example, Bruns Academy in west Charlotte has brought in a South Carolina nonprofit, WINGS for Kids, to run a five-day-a-week program centered on emotional learning.

“It’s time to put our money where our mouth is," said Gerald Johnson, president of the foundation and publisher of The Charlotte Post. "The reality is that if these students fail, our entire community fails.  And we cannot afford for that to happen.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

CMS early college is off to a good start, principal says

Ever since the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools early college high school at UNC Charlotte was linked to Superintendent Heath Morrison's resignation, we've heard some concern and confusion from parents who were hoping to enroll their kids there.

Would the fact that the school board was concerned that Morrison (allegedly) misled them about the costs of the project impact the program?

Principal Will Leach says not to worry.

The school -- formally known as Charlotte Engineering Early College -- opened this fall with 100 students, all in ninth grade. The winter lottery will give them 100 more students for next year's freshman class.

The school is based out of a 12-classroom modular building on the UNCC campus. The students aren't taking college classes yet. But they have gone to see Nobel laureates speak and used the campus library.

As the students progress, they'll begin taking more college-level classes. By the end of the five-year program, they can earn up to 60 hours of college credit. That's roughly two full years worth.

"We're open. We're operating," Leach said. "Teaching and learning continues. It's just been an amazing opportunity."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Here are the CMS schools that grew the most

It's been kind of hard to tear attention away from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison's sudden departure this week (Here's the latest, in case you're not up to speed).

But students are still in classrooms and issues that faced the district in September and October are still relevant now. One of those is school overcrowding and enrollment growth. You'll recall that this issue reared its head just a few weeks ago when CMS put out its early projections for the 20th day of school. The district said it had thousands more students than it expected to have. The district as a whole grew by about 2,500.

I was able to dig up school-by-school data to find out where the growth in CMS occurred. I compared the official 20th day numbers the district posted recently with the first principal's monthly report from the last school year.

Here are the five schools that had the largest increase in students by percentage, and the five schools that lost the most. I chose percentage because the schools that had the largest increases in number of students all tended to be high schools (since they have more students in general).

Largest increases:

1) Garinger High, up 365 students, or 26%
2) Allenbrook Elementary, up 77 students, or 16%
3) Dilworth Elementary, up 89 students, or 15%
4) Sterling Elementary, up 78 students, or 13%
5) Sedgefield Middle, up 84 students, or 13%

Garinger grew significantly after the board voted in February to send most traditional high school students at the Cochrane Collegiate Academy to Garinger to create the iMeck magnet program. Allenbrook Elementary is in west Charlotte, and Sterling Elementary is at the intersection of South Boulevard and I-485.

Largest decreases:

1) Winget Park Elementary, down 535 students, or 54 percent.
2) Cochrane Collegiate Academy, down 275 students, or 28 percent.
3) Hawthorne High, down 43 students, or 24 percent.
4) Cato Middle College High, down 40 students, or 20 percent.
5) Berewick Elementary, down 102 students, or 15 percent

Palisades Park Elementary opened this fall in the Steele Creek area to relieve the overcrowded Winget Park. For the explanation on Cochrane, see above. Hawthorne High transitioned from being an alternative high school to a medical career magnet.

Here's the full spreadsheet.

Overall, 90 schools grew, and four were new. You'll notice that Olympic High's schools are a little funky because they changed up some classifications.

Friday, October 31, 2014

How can CMS get parents more involved in schools?

Karen Mapp
When Arlene Ackerman would be hired as a superintendent in a new district, she would often dress up in jeans and sneakers and walk into a school, say she was new to the neighborhood, and ask how she could learn about enrolling her child.

The response Ackerman got would tell her a lot about why parents might not be getting involved in their child's school.

"One school said, 'Who are you and what do you want? You can't just walk up here like that. You have to make an appointment,'" related Karen Mapp, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies family engagement, this week.

I heard from Mapp when I got the chance to sit in on a professional development workshop this week for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff who work to increase family involvement in the school.

Many were counselors, others had specific family engagement titles, and there were a few assistant principals or others mixed in. Senior leaders had gone through a similar training earlier in the day.

One of Mapp's main points: Increasing involvement in schooling starts with training for everyone in the school, not just counselors.

"If you don't have a system for greeting families, you are behind," Mapp said. "You are leaving it to chance."

The seminar was an enlightening look at some of the challenges CMS faces in getting families involved in the school community.

Staff members offered a variety of issues: Parents without transportation to the school, language barriers, and parents who had a bad school experience of their own growing up.

Mapp encouraged the group to attack the problem from both sides, rather than just counting on parents to change behavior. Teachers and staff, for example, could be trained in ways to make the school more inviting for parents, and gear communication more toward learning.

She suggested things like home visits, or an open house that focuses on two things each child should be able to do by the end of the semester, rather than one that harps on attendance policy and dress code.

Mapp also asked the group to expand their view of engagement. "Parental involvement" typically means mom or dad showing up to a school event; "family engagement" could mean an uncle or close neighbor advocating for school work, or a parent showing a child a rough life of manual labor because he doesn't have an education.

Mapp showed research from the University of Chicago that showed that increased parent engagement is a crucial element to lasting academic improvement.

"It has to be intentional," Mapp said. "Your schools cannot improve without it. Full stop."