Monday, August 13, 2012

CMS diplomas: Earned or given?

Superintendent Heath Morrison says one of his top priorities for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is making sure students who graduate have the skills they need for a successful adult life.

If teachers are willing to speak candidly at his "listening and learning" forums,  I bet he'll get an earful about this.  For quite some time,  I've been hearing frustration with practices that some view as boosting graduation numbers at the expense of setting serious standards,  things like giving no grade lower than 50 percent,  regardless of how bad the student's work is or even whether it's done.  (In response to several recent reader questions, CMS says the district does not award principal bonuses based on graduation rates.)

I recently heard from a high school teacher who has concerns about the ethics and legality of the push to get some kids across the finish line.  He asked that his name not be published,  but he forwarded me an exchange of emails with a counselor who was asking that he create makeup work for two seniors at risk of failing to graduate.

The teacher replied that one student had 32 absences and was repeatedly removed from class because he is “consistently disruptive.”

“We need to come up with a plan that will allow for recovery,” the counselor replied.

The teacher was also asked to create a makeup plan for a student who had missed 21 days and done 28 of 63 written assignments.  The teacher told the counselor he would create a makeup packet under protest.

“(The student's)  effort has lacked significantly and I think we are sending the wrong message to these young people,”  the teacher wrote.  “A world without consequences does not exist beyond the doors of this school and I fear they may find that fact out in a very rude manner.”

This is not,  by the way,  at a low-performing high school,  but one that falls in the middle of the pack.

Just a couple of days later,  I got an email from a teacher resigning from a high school that lands near  the top of most achievement lists.  Although it wasn't the reason for her resignation,  she also mentioned that "teachers are being asked to pass seniors just to show passing rates."  When I asked for specifics,  this teacher said  "personalized education plans"  for students at risk of failing create a paperwork burden for teachers,  and when students fail anyway,  administrators urge teachers to give them a last-minute  "extra credit"  opportunity to pass.

My sense is that high schools in CMS,  and probably many other districts,  are trying balance the importance of sorting and supporting.

At one extreme,  schools would simply set standards to sort out who's qualified for what kind of opportunities.  All the responsibility falls on the student:  Do well and you can go to a good college. Fail and it's tough luck for you.  Correctly or not,  I think many of us older folks believe that was the approach used when we were in school.

At the other,  schools and teachers bear full responsibility for inspiring,  coaxing,  motivating and assisting teens to get their diplomas.  Every failure is a failure of the education system  --  a view that,  intentionally or not,  seems to be promoted by the accountability movement and its push to rate schools by student accomplishment.

I'm guessing most people believe in some sort of hybrid.  Folks like me who got our support and motivation from home can generally see the value of providing extra help to students who don't have that advantage.  But anyone who has spent time in the work force knows it's no favor to let students believe they'll be OK even if they don't show up and do the work.

Morrison's motto for CMS is  "every child,  every day for a better tomorrow."  In his public appearances he hammers home that point:  "Every child"  doesn't mean 90 percent,  it means every single student in a district that's expected to hit 140,000.  I'm pretty sure that means every CMS employee is expected to work every day to make sure every one of those kids has an opportunity to succeed.  But what happens when some students don't take it?


Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen!

Anonymous said...

The 50 percent rule is about to become district policy. Ask about it.

DMorrisPE said...

Teachers are not responsible for the assimilation of knowledge by the students. They are responsible for developing and carrying out a lesson plan for ALL of the students, not customized for EACH student. In too many cases, I suspect, the "lights are on, but nobody's home" and you can see it in the student's eyes. College is NOT for everyone, and it is not a "right" - it is an opportunity for those who are capable and eager to seek out knowledge. The others need to be taught how to earn a living using the skills they have or can acquire.

I was appalled, when we moved here in 1988, to hear the Governor make a statement to the effect that, with the recently enacted upgrades to the graduation requirements, North Carolina could now guarantee that every High School graduate would have at least a ninth-grade education!

I realize that the No Child Left Behind programs are designed to ensure that all children get the help needed to be successful in their learning, but some kids reject any and all help. I think that those "unreachables" need to be excluded from further efforts by "the system" so that resouces can be better utilized on those individuals making an effort.

Anonymous said...

Segregate the rable from those that want to learn. Teach those that are teachable and put the rest out in "working" schools where they learn the finer points of picking up trash, sorting recyclables, pulling weeds, trimming shrubs, sewer maintenance, peeling potatoes, etc.

Anonymous said...

No Data
No Peace

Anonymous said...

The new Project LIFT district within CMS should boost his numbers. Heath has not say these reverbarations are from donwtown as a result of the school closings. This road that CMS is on now is a dumby down affect. CMS provides no incentive or motivational goals for our brightest students.

Anonymous said...

We were hit with the "if the child is not passing, you must develop a PEP (Personal Education Plan). This for EACH student who is failing your class.

Now, lets just say that I teach 3 classes a day. A day and B day schedule. And I have roughly 35-40 students in my class (oh, please don't believe that we have rules about classroom size). So I have responsibilities for at least 210 young minds. And from that 210, if any of them is failing, I have to do a lot of paperwork per students and perform herculean feats to get each one to pass.

I call parents. I give the assignment over and over again. I offer to stay after and tutor.I make sure to the best of my ability that the student doesn't have any special needs or a learning disability. I schedule a conference with the parents. I go to my administration, the guidance counselor, etc. I use every technique and trick in the book.

And 9 times out of 10 neither the student nor the parents gives a darn about a PEP or being accountable.

I'm held accountable for the student not doing his/her work. I'm accountable and they refuse to be. And yet it's a reflection on me. THEN we come along with "well, you still have to give them at least a 50" and they get socially promoted anyway. 50% credit for work not even attempted?

Can you see where teachers would be tempted to just give the kid a passing grade to let them pass so that they don't have to do the burdensome paperwork and time involved? Time that is precious and could be used for the other students who ARE doing the work and want to learn?

Or that teachers find that they can protest a student being advanced to the next grade and find out that it doesn't matter because the administration will pass them? Or that the slack parents who didn't give a darn earlier will appeal to the zone superintendent or higher and get the student passed anyway.

We don't want to fail students. We want them to succeed. We who truly love teaching want to teach. We will do those herculean tasks in an effort to get students to learn. But when you bash the teachers for failure rates and we know that the core of the problem is that students will not accept responsibility and be accountable, can you blame us for throwing up our hands and giving up?

We need to go back to letting those who won't do anything fail. We learn from failure. I know I have failed at some things, and it always taught me a lesson.

Maybe if some students realize that they CAN and WILL fail if they make no effort, it would be a real wake up call!

Anonymous said...

Everything the teacher discussed with you for high school applies exponentially for middle school. Pressure from area supers, principals, EC, AVID, parents, and especially counselors, leads to the "Head'em up, move'em out" syndrome. Add that to the free 50% grade average and core teachers will do just about anything to avoid a PEP.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I could have written this exact post. Thank you for stating the truth.

BolynMcClung said...


Earlier this spring I was comparing the A A/B honor rolls of middle schools. The range among schools was between 8% and 53% of student population. That’s big.

When I discussed this with a school board member I was reminded that parents wanting their kids to get into name universities will put extreme pressure on principals and teachers to bump grades up. That probably accounts for some of the higher percentages.

So is there difference between grade inflation for graduation and for getting to a better college?

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

If you do not pass your grade - you go to a "special school" where you can get extra focus. How is that not fair? At least have "speacial classes" where you can put all the poor students. This is life and it needs to be taught as such. Success is earned.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn - middle school parents pressuring for higher grades? Those are some dedicated parents. How many colleges ask for middle school transcripts?

Anonymous said...

Memo to Dr. Anon 12:03. Here is the problem. As a volunteer I have seen this over and over and over again. There is no overwhelming racist problem that CMS teachers need special PD exercises to root out. What teachers need is permission to fail kids whatever color they are. It's called tough love not racism. Let them hit bottom. Let reality sink in to kids and parents alike. School's primary responsibility is to prepare them for the real world.

Anonymous said...

I teach in a CMS middle school. The pressure to move them through is as stated for high school. Same deal as high school. 50% credit, extra credit, jump through hoops to get anything out of the students when they don't want to work. Then deal with parents and administration who go over your head anyway.

We're preparing those students for high school and they are moving on not ready to handle the last 4 years of public school.

Anonymous said...

Ask the question again in a different way.

How many in CMS administration received a bonus over the last 4 years?

Caryn Long said...

I left CMS in 2004 upset with edicts from the central office on how to teach students when I knew what they were insisting that educators do was pedagogically incorrect for children - ideas that were driven by a flawed No Child Left Behind driven by high stakes testing. Instead of thinking of what is best for the child, education had turned to be focused on what was best for the school system in order to "look good" for statistics founded not by professional educators but by politicians with no formal training in educating our kids. I had hoped that things would change after 8 years. I can see that it clearly has not - in fact it has steadily gotten worse. Reading Ann's article has sadly solidified my decision to leave the classroom.

Bill Stevens said...

Bravo 12:03, 12:17, and 12:22!

What this school system needs is a mechanism for teachers to report these imbecile adminstrators and the students they think they are doing a favor for and moving them all to "special schools".

Teacher sin our school system need a complaint board so they will not fear retribution by these adminstrators.

I see no better case for dismantling CMS.

Jeff Wise said...

I think it starts well before high school. If students are struggling in elementary school it will only persist through later grades. Why not consider letting elementary students learn at their own pace? If a child needs 15 months to master 2nd grade math, then give them 15 months. If a 6-year old can read at the 3rd grade level, put them in a 3rd grade reading class.

I understand that restructures elementary classes and that it's a sea-change in social development, but wouldn't we find the majority of students would still hit middle school around the same age anyhow?

Once they get to 6th grade start customizing their education to their strengths and let the students do instead of sit and listen. Less paper and book learning and more project, hands-on learning.

Then see how many remain engaged in high school. It won't fix every problem student, but it'd sure make a difference.

To get from good to great, CMS is going to have to change processes one way or another, there simply is no path to get to great with the current processes. You can have the right people on the bus, but you might as well call them all Sisyphus. It's all about finding the right hedgehog concept and in a district this big and far flung, that's going to be a challenge.

Wiley Coyote said...

I've been hearing frustration with practices that some view as boosting graduation numbers at the expense of setting serious standards, things like giving no grade lower than 50 percent, regardless of how bad the student's work is or even whether it's done.

You left out dropping the required credits from 28 to 24. Why not just go on down to 20?

In 2013, graduation rates could get a bump when the credits required for a CMS diploma drop from 28 to 24. The state requires 20, but most districts add to that.

Read more here:

Wiley Coyote said...

It used to drive us nuts when our son would forget to turn in an assigment (even though he had done it) or the few times he just didn't do one that we did not know about it until progress reports came home.

I would tell him all he had to do was put his name on a sheet of paper, turn it in and get 50 points instead of a zero.

He finally got the point after a few zeros and restriction as a result.

Personally, I believe all kids should be graded on what they turn in. My son deserved every zero he got because it was his mistake for not doing the work or not turning in the work he did do when he was supposed to.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn , I think in about 4-5 years its very possible any college would question any grades from CMS transcripts. Same could be said for Fulton County in Atlanta were some other CMS downtown folks have gone to work. The data compiled and historic lying that comes out of downtown CMS is/should always be under question. This is not new to anyone in the region.

Anonymous said...

I was instructed by Dr. K. Gwaltney, when she was my principal, to "pass" a student that had 36 absences and a virtually 0% in my class.The way I was told to pass him was to waive his absences if he worked 8 hours on campus after the last day of school helping the custodians, and if he passed the state exam, which he did. I also did this under protest, and required HER to sign off on it, for my documentation. She of course is in one of our wonderful learning centers now, telling other principals to tell other teachers to do the same thing, I am sure.

Anonymous said...

I teach middle school in a different county, and entered teaching about six years ago as a lateral entry teacher. When I first started, I was amazed that students were passed on who clearly could not do the required work. Administrators told me we have to take into account factors such as the likelihood of the student dropping out of school if held back, the physical size of the student and retention's effect on social development, and behavior issues. Are we doing students (or their teachers in the grade that they clearly are not ready for) any favors?

Bill Stevens said...

Recall too that last year, 1200 of the 1600 CMS graduates that applied to CPCC were required to take one or more remedial courses before they could start earning college credit.

And Wiley you are right too about CMS's graduation rate will probably jump next year because the credits to gradute will go down. I am sure LIFT will take all the credit that can.

Lastly, while it is not well known, you can essentially skip CMS after the age of 16, go to CPCC and get your CMS high school diploma. I thought all you could get was a GED or maybe an NC high school diploma but a coworker had their son do it so they would not be in a CMS high school any longer than possible.

Bill Stevens said...

1:29, you are correct but I think it is already happening. But I think it is happening with most all urban districts already.

Somehow what we know for a fact and what Dr. Morrison says that CMS is "good" already, does not jive.

John said...

Ann, while I understand the need to backup what you are reporting, I'm afraid you've likely published more than enough of the email exchange verbatim to make it very easy for CMS to identify and retaliate against your source.

John said...

Caryn Long,

No Child Left Behind isn't the problem... NCLB was an attempt, successful or not, at trying to fix the problems that already long existed in public education... social promotion.

There have to be objective standards to measure both student and teacher performance. We all have them in our jobs. It's part of real life. The problem is that schools simply chose to cheat on the standards rather than work to meet them!

Blaming NCLB is like blaming radar guns for speeding!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all this reporting on the realities of schools in Charlotte.

Nothing grows our home values here in Union County like the truth about CMS getting published.

Bill Steven said...

See LTE today by Barry Marshall. It is spot on!

Much government assistance while nobel in its beginning, has become the most addictive drug with no cure and politicans standing on the street "pushing" the addiction for votes.

Anonymous said...

Children shouldn't experience any conseaquences for their behavior until they're old enough to be put in jail.

Let it be a surprise...

Anonymous said...

So Dr M...are you getting the point? It is not the teachers who are racist (not treating everyone equal). I suggest that only admin and up take the Professional Development for racists. Apparently they are the ones who think people of color are incapable of playing on a level playing field. Not the teachers. 1965 is 2 generations ago, almost 50 years. If special training, etc. and exceptions haven't made a difference in all that time, why do you think one more training session will do the trick?

Anonymous said...

I don't know all the answers to this problem, but I do know that teachers spend far too much time trying to keep order in the classroom, time that they can't spend teaching.

When I was in high school, I remember in Latin class a big football player sassing the teacher. Mr. Lutz went to the next classroom and got that teacher to step into the hall to witness the discipline. He then took the football player out there, had him grab his ankles, and applied the board of education to the seat of learning.

That young man came back into the classroom with tears running down his cheeks. He was very quiet and respectful after that. I'm sure the experience helped his grade, too, because he was actually paying attention.

These days Mr Lutz would probably do time for assaulting that student.

The root of most of the problems in the classroom is discipline. Solve that problem and the rest become much easier to deal with.

Anonymous said...

The communications department nazi patrol is already on the case looking at all those emails to pinpoint this teacher. They however wanted you to pay for the EES emails.


Anonymous said...

This issue of only being allowed to assign a 50% regardless of quality or quantity of work is a travesty. What I don't understand is why this isn't on the front page of the Observer in screaming headlines! Why isn't this being discussed throughout the community? Most importantly: how on Earth does that stupidity prepare kids for the adult world???

How many companies would be willing to pay an employee 50% of his or her pay even if no work was done??? Yeah....I thought so.

Anonymous said...

LaTarza is a lost cause. She is along for the ride as long as it can last and she can milk the taxpayers just like EES, Denise, and Kojo. And don't try to convince me that CMS is not paying Kojo under the table somehow just like they did for Swann for so long.

Anonymous said...

First, I hope that the "source" is now safely in another district. Secondly, Anon 12:03 is spot on.
Thirdly, with the hope that the "urban" middle and high schools have many resource officers standing by...teachers are gong to be challenged to teach the students HOW to learn for leaarning sake rather than for grades. We are going to be challenged to be "Edutainers" and find ways to connect our content to THEIR realities. For those students who are "High", Stoned or psychotic due to environmental issues and CHOOSE to cause disruptions, regardless of multiple attempts to bring them their actions and call the resource officers. Now raise you hand IF YOU wish to become a teacher.

Christine Mast said...

I'm obviously coming late to this party... why is CMS lowering the graduation credits from 28 to 24?

Only because they can?

Ann Doss Helms said...

12:26, I asked if principals get bonuses based on graduation rates or any other measure of student achievement. The answer was no (except, I believe, principals were eligible along with other staff for some performance-based bonuses through the federal TIF-LEAP pilot, which ends this year).

If I understand it right, the premise of the questions was that CMS was using bonuses to motivate principals to boost their graduation rates. The absence of bonuses doesn't mean principals are not under pressure to boost the rates, and I think most people would say rising rates are a good thing. The question remains: How do they do it?

Ann Doss Helms said...

Christine, we wrote a lot about this in 2009, when the board took this vote. Idea was to avoid denying students a diploma based on number of credits that might not mean a lot. All kids still have to meet the basic requirements. Kids headed for four-year universities will still need to rack up 32 credits (passing all classes all four years) or something pretty close to that. I think you can find grad requirements on CMS web site.

Anonymous said...

Ann, how about doing a hard-hitting expose on the policy that teachers can only give a 50%? CMS deserves to squirm under hard ball questions.

Ann Doss Helms said...

6:06, I'm adding it to my to-do list.

Anonymous said...

Ask about APEX. I understand that it is used as credit recovery. The F still shows up on the transcript, but they get the credit needed to graduate. APEX can be done all at once, with books, one could google the information or have a friend/parent sit next to you or do it for you! It is done at home. This could be good if it measured actual learning, but the way it is?

Anonymous said...

Here's an "extra Credit" plan. Take any or all if you like assignments that weren't done, and DO THEM! Why are teachers being asked to make even mre work that isn't being done. Just give them the assignment again!

Bill Stevens said...

High school graduation requirements (Also notice there is a Core track and an Occupational track and CMS does not recognize it.)

NC only requires 22 hours for an NC high school diploma. LEA's have the right to add more requirements as they see fit. As Ann said, this was a big source of contention in this community in 2009 when certain school board members campaigned for lowering the hours for graduation so students would be less likely to drop out if they failed a course, which of course had unofficially been halted anyway. So as we see this phenomenon ever increasing at CMS, City of Charlotte and NC motto, "to seem rather than to be". So instead of graduating a world ready student (theoretically), it was deemed more important to get CMS's graduation rate up so as to look better than other urban districts and get higher consideration for the Broad Awards.

CMS's high school diplomas should come with a big asterisk on them anyway. So much science, history, social studies, etc. has been cut over the years to spend more time cajoling students to read that CMS's high school diploma means almost nothing coming from certain high schools.

Another poster is correct in that it is CMS's ivory tower and adminstrators that need the racist training because they are the ones who have already lowered the expectations of the urban students. Anyone with a little bit of common sense knows that students will perform to the level of expectation. The one caveat to that thinking now is they will only perform to the level that does not get their government checks cut off. And we all know that will not happen. Ha, accountability from the government! What a joke! Administrators do not even fill out the paperwork when a student drops out to pull their drivers license.

Anonymous said...

I have had a middle school parent do her child's work and not understand why I would not grade it. Thank you for posting this. There are policies set without teacher input it seems that require us to question our ethics.

Anonymous said...

How can it be given?

We are spending over $50,000 for a student to graduate from West Charlotte in 4 years.

Anonymous said...

In the real world this would really be a funny article because we would all know this is rediculous. I find it amazing that this is the actual real world we live in. Diplomas to kids who skip 20% of classes? In what world would that type of attendance allow them to keep their jobs? Entitlement mentality has taken over.

Bill Stevens said...

9:21, I think there are 2 things to learn from this. Spending more and more money is not the answer though most of the urban leaders believe it is. However, their judgement is clouded because all they know is income redistribution.

Second, the urban culture is not compatible with educational and modern society success. So until the value system is changed, increased success is minimal. As we have seen in most cases, this improvement is a game of numbers and adjustments. Those that have broken out, is because they have decided that their success is up to them as it should be. The current government programs are nothing more than getting more and more "hooked on" this drug stronger than crack cocaine, government entitlement.

In conclusion, this analogy may tell the story. We all believed that those in poverty needed a hand up to help them up this hill of society. The thought was they were willing and just needed the little boost. Most of us grew up technically in poverty but it has become a mindset of excuses due to the elitists and liberal thinkers of the last few decades. So now it seems to be the case of pulling/dragging them up the hill, they simply were not trying and expected it to be brought to them. But much like, you can lead a horse to water but you can not make it drink, our sleazy politicians have made it too lucrative to not be part of the productive class. Thus we have no other mechanism to make the horse "thirsty". So now as we have seen with the public demonstrations upon the school closing issues last year, not only do they fight being carried, they want it only their way. So as a past superintendent Dr. Murphy learned, they were going to insist on their right to do as they wish, students out till 3 or 4 in the mornings of school days and suffer no consequences.