Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lucrative majors and governor prep

Gov. Pat McCrory's comments about getting public universities to focus on majors that provide the best job prospects has me wondering:  Will he discourage students from becoming teachers?

N.C. education majors with a bachelor's degree averaged an estimated $36,245 a year,  well under the average earnings for grads who got two-year degrees in health or STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields,  according to a recent national analysis of the economic benefits of college degrees.  If you want young people to get a lot of earning power for their tuition bucks,  it looks like you need to warn them off teaching  --  or make the profession pay better.

In fact,  we'll probably hear more about proposals to change the way universities prepare teachers and to revise the way teachers are paid.  But whether there will be more money in the pot remains to be seen.

McCrory's remarks about philosophy majors and gender studies also got me wondering what's the best major if you're aiming for the governor's mansion.  Turns out that's hard to say.  Here are the academic credentials of North Carolina's last five governors.

McCrory:  Education and political science degree from Catawba College, a private, church-affiliated liberal arts school in Salisbury.

Bev Perdue:  Bachelor's in history  (University of Kentucky),  master's in community college administration,  doctorate in education administration (both University of Florida).

Mike Easley:  Undergraduate degree in political science from UNC Chapel Hill,  law degree from N.C. Central.

Jim Hunt:  Bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture-related fields from N.C. State,  law degree from Chapel Hill.

Jim Martin:  Bachelor of science from Davidson College,  doctorate in chemistry from Princeton.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Education politics a-poppin'

Now that all the swearing-in is done,  the wrangling over education and politics is firing up.  New Gov. Pat McCrory grabbed the headlines and internet buzz with his on-air comments about liberal education at UNC Chapel Hill.  And consider some of the other developments just this week:

* The National School Boards Association is holding a conference in Washington, D.C.,  with Charlotte-Mecklenburg board members Ericka Elils-Stewart and Amelia Stinson-Wesley in attendance.  The group is pushing legislation that would,   in the words of the group's news release,  "protect local school district governance from unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion from the U.S. Department of Education."

* Darrell Allison,  president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina,  is making a media tour of the state,  touting school choice.  Not surprisingly,  he's excited about the opportunities created by having a Republican governor and a GOP-dominated state legislature.  PEFNC is pushing for a continued expansion of charter schools,  with a focus on quality as well as quantity,  and tax credits for businesses that donate to "opportunity scholarships,"  such as those offered by the Children's Scholarship Fund,  that help low- and middle-income families pay for private school.

Allison says his group doesn't want to undermine traditional public schools,   which he says are are likely to remain the option of choice even as the menu expands.  He says his group supports one key point being advocated by CMS and other school districts:  Greater flexibility for traditional public schools on such issues as hiring and firing teachers.  The CMS legislative agenda seeks "one set of rules for both charters and traditional public schools to follow."  Amen,  says Allison.

* Meanwhile,  Public Schools First North Carolina is voicing a counterpoint.  "North Carolina’s equitable, diverse, and thriving public school system is under siege. Privatization efforts such as vouchers and tax credits threaten to drain resources from our schools, as growing numbers of charter schools siphon off active families,"  says the introduction to the PSFNC video laying out the case for keeping resources focused on traditional public schools.

Read more about PSFNC and other coalitions gearing up for legislative action from the (Raleigh) News & Observer, along with details about PSFNC in the WakeEd blog.  Mecklenburg ACTS is among the groups that created PSFNC.

* Just today, I got a news release from the Durham-based N.C. Student Power Union saying they're mobilizing students "to oppose the far right agenda the new legislature will pursue."

* Political reporter Jim Morrill reports that CMS board Chairman Mary McCray and Vice Chairman Tim Morgan are in Raleigh meeting with legislators today.  I don't have any details,  though the afore-mentioned legislative agenda would be a pretty safe guess.

* And McCrory today nominated three people for the state Board of Education,  hoping to get them approved before next week's state board meeting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

CMS performance pay: Plan is coming

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is putting the final touches on a performance-pay proposal that will be sent to state officials by March 1.  On Thursday,  there's a public meeting from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at River Gate Elementary,  15340 Smith Road,  for people to get an update,  ask questions and make comments.

It's not clear to me how much detail will be disclosed about the work in progress.  The CMS announcement  talks about getting input on a compensation proposal,  but when I tried to get a copy of the draft proposal Chief Operating Officer Millard House answered that  "a plan does not yet exist, there are only ideas so we are unable to fulfill this request."  There's a Power Point presentation that was shown at a public meeting on the compensation proposal last week,  which I missed,  and House says a plan will be made public on Feb. 26.

We know the state's Race to the Top proposal,  which won a four-year federal grant of almost $400 million, calls for using student gains on test scores to help rate teacher effectiveness.  And we know state and CMS leaders are talking about using other measures as well,  such as student surveys and classroom observations.  Still to be seen is how CMS proposes to link this kind of evaluation to pay  --  and where the money might come from.

Plans created by CMS and other participating school districts will go from the state Board of Education through the state's Fiscal Research Division and various legislative groups.  I haven't been able to track down a clear answer about next steps, but it sounds like we're still quite a ways from changing the way teachers are paid.

The group that has been working on a CMS proposal since last fall is made up of teachers and principals,  including representatives of such groups at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators and the Classroom Teachers Association.  This group has been described as one of the 22 task forces Superintendent Heath Morrison announced in November,  but it's not listed on the rosters released earlier this month. That's because CMS plans to expand the task force in March to build on the work of the current group.

"The second phase focuses on the larger compensation piece that will be centered around how we pay ALL of our employees,"  House explained.  "This will include employees from other departments in the district, licensed employees from our schools (including teachers that were involved in phase one of this work), at least one student and community members that were recommended by our leadership or those community members who expressed an interest in this work. The work from phase 1 will inform part of the second phase of this work."

Friday, January 25, 2013

CMS early dismissal: Thanks for memories

When I asked you all to help figure out the last time Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools let out early for bad weather, I got a flood of winter memories.

Most of you seem to agree it was about 10 years ago, though individuals' memories vary about the details.  Turns out that's harder to verify than you might think.  Several of us tried checking archives,  using a variety of search terms and time frames.  We found a lot of stories about winter storms and school closings,  but none after 1987 that specified an early dismissal.

Late starts and early dismissals are common in surrounding school districts.  But CMS is so much bigger, with complex bus routes serving several schools on morning and afternoon runs,  that the standard wisdom has been that the only options are closing school or keeping to a normal schedule.

Most of the folks running CMS now are too new to be tied to those practices. They decided to try letting schools out two hours early. Unlike a closing,  that doesn't require a makeup day.

"It's going to be a nightmare.  No question,"  one local mom tweeted shortly after the decision.

But with all the buses back in the garage and all the kids home,  it seems to have been more of a minor inconvenience.  There was a glitch with the ConnectEd automated calls that sent people who hit callback buttons to Dilworth Elementary School's phone.  But from what I and the CMS folks have heard so far,  no wrecks and no major problems with the exodus.

Keep me posted  --  I realize there could still be developments.  Stay off the roads if you can,  drive safely if you can't,  and enjoy the latest blast of winter.

Cyberguide for parents

Do you know how SnapChat can protect your teens' privacy or lead them into trouble?
Do you have pass codes to your children's digital accounts?
Have you thought about setting up a cell-phone contract with your kids?

If any of those questions pique your interest,  you might benefit from the special "cyber awareness edition" of Bailey Middle School's Bronco Times.  The Huntersville school is one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's  "bring your own techology"  pioneers,  and Principal Chad Thomas and technology facilitator Chasidy Parker have been working hard to keep parents up to speed.

I learned a lot from the newsletter.  I'd never even heard of SnapChat,  an app that lets people share photos that are erased in a few seconds.  "Users can send time limited photos that might be embarrassing or just silly without a significant fear that it will find its way to other social media sites where it might live forever,"  according to an column included in the Bailey newsletter. But that can tempt teens to send explicit photos,  the article warns,  and recipients can capture a screen shot that survives after the photo "self-destructs."

The newsletter includes a sample cell-phone contract,  and this list of questions for parents to ponder:

1. Does my child's device have restrictions set with a second pass code that only I know?
2. Are my child's social media sites private or public?
3. Does my child have multiple social media accounts (some public and some hidden)?
4. Do I know all of my child's pass codes?
5. Do I limit the number of hours my child spends on a device or online daily?
6. Do I communicate with my child by phone or text more than in person?
7. Does my child communicate with others online through Xbox Live or other gaming ports?
8. Do you allow your child to load any apps (free or paid) or do you preview them first?
9. Do I have open access to my child's phone at any time?
10. What is "sexting" and does my child know about this activity?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mentors at Myers Park: Yes, there's a need

When Kimberly Roseboro tries to recruit mentors to work at Myers Park High, she knows she's likely to meet with incredulity.

Myers Park is one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's most prestigious schools, with a well-earned reputation for helping high-fliers excel and get into the best colleges.  Why would such a school need help,  when so many other high schools face high poverty levels and low academic performance?

But that's precisely the challenge,  says Roseboro,  founder of the nonprofit Firm Foundations of the Carolinas.  A reputation never tells the full story.  Just as the lowest-performing schools always have outstanding students,  the highest-performing have students who struggle.

Consider Myers Park,  which has a poverty level of 33 percent  -- on the low side for CMS high schools.  But the school has more than 2,700 students,  so that represents just over 900 kids.  And as Roseboro discovered when she reviewed this year's school report cards,  those students aren't faring nearly as well as people might think.  The low-income students at Myers Park had a 59 percent pass rate on state exams,  well below CMS and state averages for low-income students and far beneath the 95 percent pass rate for Myers Park students who don't qualify for lunch subsidies.

That's been the case at Myers Park for as long as I've covered this beat.  Despite a strong overall performance and a thriving International Baccalaureate program,  the school's low-income,  black and Hispanic students,  on average,  trail their classmates by large margins.

Roseboro,  whose background is in nonprofit groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and YWCA,  says she decided to focus her mentoring program on Myers Park precisely because the school doesn't get the government and community support that higher-poverty schools do.  She's holding a  "lunch and learn" session at the school on Tuesday,  Jan. 29,  for people willing to commit to spending at least six hours a month providing support and career guidance to students  (RSVP by Sunday to

Roseboro gives Principal Tom Spivey credit for not trying to hide his school's weak spots.  She talked to him before going public with her plea,  she says,  and he and his administration thought it was more important to help the students than burnish the image.

It's recruiting season for a number of mentoring groups,  so if that time or place doesn't suit you,  there's also a Communities in Schools volunteer orientation coming up Feb. 11.  CIS places mentors and other volunteers in a long list of CMS schools,  from elementary to high school.  And the Mayor's Mentoring Alliance serves as a clearinghouse for about 50 groups that provide mentors to students in need.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New calendars raise new questions

Board members voiced enthusiasm for the year-round calendars they approved Tuesday for four Project LIFT schools,  but they also had questions about some of the details.

For instance:  Faculty at Druid Hills and Thomasboro will have their students for 19 extra days next year.  They'll get an extra month's pay,  spread out over 12 months instead of the standard 10.  Meanwhile,  those at Bruns and Byers will work the same number of days as other Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers but have their breaks redistributed to shorten the summer vacation.  Their pay will also be spread over 12 months.

As a Bruns teacher noted at Tuesday's public hearing,  that means they'll have smaller monthly paychecks and less opportunity for summer work to boost their income.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said CMS will work with teachers who have problems to try to place them in the five LIFT schools sticking with the traditional calendar for  2013-14.

LIFT Zone Superintendent Denise Watts said teachers at Bruns and Byers will have a chance to work for extra pay during  "intersessions,"  or breaks.  She said principals are especially interested in getting strong teachers to work with students during the three-week spring break,  which falls closest to end-of-grade exams.  But Watts said there are concerns that teachers working through those breaks will burn out without time off.

Board member Tom Tate asked about options for families who aren't happy with having their students report to class in July,  five weeks before the rest of the district starts the 2013-14 school year.  CMS is taking magnet applications through Feb. 11.  Watts said officials are still discussing whether there will be any additional options for those who want out and don't get seats in the magnet lottery.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked about absenteeism.  If students don't take the summer schedule seriously,  the benefits would be eroded.  Watts said her staff will be working constantly to make sure students and their families understand that the new July starting days are just as real as the Aug. 26 opening is for everyone else.

Bottom line:  A change like this is complicated.  But the Project LIFT donors are betting a little over $2 million a year that the challenge will pay off for about 2,700 kids who need an extra boost.  And board members say they're eager to see that bet pay off.

Friday, January 18, 2013

CMS names 350 to task forces

Who's been tapped to advise Superintendent Heath Morrison and the school board? We just got the names --  some 350 of them,  though it's hard to be precise since some students seem to be serving multiple assignments. (Read the list here.)

Some interesting names pop out on a quick scan.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe,  Project LIFT co-chair Stick Williams,  Sugar Creek Charter School head Cheryl Turner and West Charlotte High Principal John Wall seem to be among the panelists examining African American males  (because CMS didn't list titles or affiliations,  it's always possible there's someone else with the same name).

Howard Haworth,  a former state Board of Education chair and longtime scrutinizer of CMS data,  seems to be on the accountability task force,  along with Queens University researcher Cheryl Pulliam.

The group looking at community and faith partnerships  --  excuse me,  proactive community and faith partnerships  --  includes Scott Provancher,  president of the Arts & Science Council;  Kojo Nantambu,  president of the local NAACP branch;  and Molly Shaw,  executive director of the local Communities in Schools office.

And the folks working on cultural competence include Dorothy Counts Scoggins,  a pioneer in integrating CMS back in the day;  Ynez Olshausen,  principal of Waddell Language Academy;  Charlotte-Mecklenburg community relations director Willie Ratchford;  and possibly CMS diversity director Jose Hernandez-Paris  (CMS either spelled his name wrong or there's an unrelated Jose Hernandez-Perez serving).  Also tapped is Elisa Chinn-Gary,  whom I recently learned is a point person on court system's Race Matters for Juvenile Justice,  which folks have been telling me does some outstanding diversity and anti-racism work.

I'm leaving out a lot of folks I recognize  (a quick hat-tip to the hard-working students of Generation Nation/Mecklenburg Youth Voice,  who seem to be gung-ho about this work). And I'm especially intrigued by all the names that don't ring a bell  --  one always hopes this is a way to get fresh views on the table.

CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said the lists could still be revised.  "All task forces will launch in January excluding the compensation task force which will launch in March, building on the district's work to submit input to the state on compensation,"  she said in a news release.  "The initial organizing meeting for each task force will be open only to members, and all subsequent meetings will be open to the public."

What do y'all think of the rosters?  Remember, commentary about the makeup of panels and philosophy of individuals is fair game, but personal attacks will be zapped.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teeth, grades, links and causes

Suppose I did a study that demonstrated beyond all statistical doubt that children who are hospitalized are more likely to die before their 21st birthday than those who never enter a hospital.

My recommendation:  Save children's lives by refusing to admit them to hospitals.

I'd be hooted down, right?  In this case,  it's intuitively clear that even though one event is a strong predictor of another,  hospitalization is not the cause of death.  Instead,  both result from a complex array of illness and trauma.  It's smart to keep looking for ways to prevent early death,  but shutting down children's wards won't help.

In the world of education,  a lot of links look like causes.  Kids who fail in school are more likely than successful students to grow up to be adults in prison.  Heck, everybody knows that jail planners use third-grade reading scores to plot the number of cells they'll need.  (It's not actually true,  but everybody knows it.)  So if we stop social promotions and/or adopt someone's favorite reading program,  we'll keep young people out of jail.

Or  ... children who enter kindergarten lacking in basic skills are starting down that track to bad outcomes. So we can spend $1 on prekindergarten and save taxpayers $7 on jail and welfare costs down the road.  That ratio is based on a long-term study of children in a couple of high-quality preschool program decades ago  (read summaries of the Abcedarian Project and the Perry Preschool study).  But locally and in many other programs across the nation,  researchers have struggled to find measurable academic benefits that last past elementary school.

The most recent example to catch my attention was an Observer article about a Pew study on use of dental sealants to prevent tooth decay. “Oral health problems not only can be painful but are linked to lower academic scores and additional physical problems,”  said a Pew official arguing for better dental treatments in school.  Implicit was the suggestion that fixing kids' teeth would boost their scores.

Most people who are serious about education understand that the issues that cause academic failure and bad lives for adults are at least as complex as the physical ailments that send children to the hospital.  But when it comes time to sell a new program,  it's tempting to tout it as the thing that will break all these cycles and fix the future.

And when it comes time to oppose those programs,  it's tempting to shoot down the inflated claims and dismiss it all as a waste of time and money.

As a new superintendent gears up his vision,  we can expect to hear a lot of pitches and rebuttals.  I'm thinking back to what Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp wrote about one-percent solutions. She cautions that no one program can be expected to transform children's lives  --  but doesn't see that as an excuse to stop seeking the right combination of measures to make a real difference.

We Americans like quick fixes and easy "gotchas."  As citizens,  politicians and educators delve into preK and reading programs and cultural competency and new technology,  I'm hoping for a serious,  thoughtful discussion of what it takes to give Mecklenburg's kids their best shot at the future. Though I have to admit,  I kind of hope there's not a CMS task force on tooth decay looming.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Change the bells? Don't bet on it

With the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet lottery ramping up, a parent emailed to ask if CMS would be announcing any changes in school hours,  known as bell schedules.

I asked Superintendent Heath Morrison.  He wasn't ready to give a final answer,  but there was a lot of  "no"  between the lines of his reply.

The background:  During the recession,  CMS added 45 minutes to the time elementary students spend in class and moved some schools to a late schedule, 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.  Those changes let the district rearrange bus routes and save $4 million a year,  with some buses serving four schools on staggered schedules.

This happened before Morrison was hired in April.  He says he started hearing about those changes right away,  and learned that while some like the changes,  the parents and teachers who don't like them really dislike them.  He tapped a group of parents and staff to talk about the issue,  and because they're still working,  Morrison said he isn't ready to close the door on the possibility of 2013-14 bell schedule changes. (Update 6:15 p.m.: Read the minutes of the group's first formal meeting on Paper Trail.)

But Morrison noted that not only would his staff have to put back the $4 million saved,  but the cost for restoring the old hours and bus routes could be $7 million to $11 million in county money.  That's because reducing the efficiency of busing reduces the state reimbursement.  In other words:  Add back the routes at your own expense.

So the question becomes:  Is that the priority for Morrison and the school board if they can get a few million extra dollars from county commissioners?  Morrison may be keeping his options open,  but I'd place a bet on "no."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steps toward teacher performance pay

The quest to identify and reward the most effective teachers marches on,  in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and nationally.

This week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released results of a three-year study of effective teaching,  which relied on volunteers from CMS and six other districts (read the report here).  Researchers set out to test the belief that teacher ratings based on student test scores can provide meaningful predictions about teachers' ability to help students learn.

The conclusion was yes  --  but that such  "value-added"  ratings should count for only one-third to one-half of the overall evaluation.  Classroom observations  (preferably done by more than one person)  and student surveys should account for the rest, according to the Measures of Effective Teaching study.

The researchers used test-score ratings to identify top teachers in 2009-10,  then randomly assigned students to participating teachers in 2010-11.  Sure enough,   teachers with higher ratings got better results with a different batch of students,  not just on the state exams used to calculate the ratings but on  "more cognitively challenging assessments."  The researchers discovered that they got the best predictions of success on the tougher exams when they added the other factors.

None of this will come as a surprise to the educators and policy-makers who are working on new evaluations in CMS and North Carolina.  The state is moving toward evaluations that include all of those measures,  and CMS is drafting a proposal to submit in the coming weeks.  The district has signed a $57,630 contract with the nonprofit Battelle for Kids to help design "a thoughtful and sustainable compensation program,"  says CMS Chief Operations Officer Millard House.

State lawmakers invited all districts to submit such plans,  House said.  Since November,  he said,  CMS has had 40 to 50 teachers and principals working on proposal.  At this point,  House said,  it's unclear whether those proposals will be simply be taken under advisement by state officials or might be approved as district pilots.

This is the third time in three years CMS has recruited teachers to offer advice on transforming evaluations and rewards.  Former Superintendent Peter Gorman had teacher panels advising him on pay for performance,  which met with significant resistance from faculty and families.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh rounded up more volunteers to work on what he dubbed the Talent Effectiveness Project,  which moved the focus away from pay  (in part because there was no money available).

Now Superintendent Heath Morrison has created a Compensation Task Force as one of 22 panels that will advise him in the next six months.  House said the employee volunteers who are already at work will be joined by community members.

For all the discussions,  research and renaming,  this remains a thorny topic.  I heard about Battelle's involvement from a teacher who got a copy of an online teacher survey the group just completed.  This teacher was wary of an Ohio-based group that seems to be pushing  "teacher effectiveness"  and  "strategic compensation,"  which struck her as the latest names for performance pay.

"The survey seems skewed to make a traditional step-and-level pay system seem unfair,"  the teacher emailed.  "I don't think that is true. I like the pay-scale system because it guarantees that you will make [x] amount of money whether you are having an awesome year teaching or not. As teachers we have good years and bad years. It would be nice to have some kind of bonus for years that you have an exceptional year. However those years can be due to so many independent variables. With 'strategic compensation' I don't think those variables are appreciated enough."

If you've got ideas about teacher compensation or any of the other topics that are being tackled by the CMS task forces,  the district has launched an online suggestion form to channel the ideas.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Charlotte-area charter surge continues

The Charlotte area continues to be a magnet for would-be charter-school operators, a new round of pre-applications shows.

People interested in seeking charters for 2014-15 had to file a letter of intent by Jan. 4.  The state got 154 letters,  with 33 seeking charters in Mecklenburg County and 17 in surrounding counties (seven in Cabarrus,  five in Union,  three in Iredell and two in Gaston).  You can get the list at the N.C. Office of Charter Schools web site; detailed applications are due March 1.

The letters don't mean all 50 schools will open in 2014.  An advisory board and the state Board of Education review business and educational plans before deciding which proposals will be approved for charters,  which grant public money to schools run by independent nonprofit boards.  Last year there were 59 applications,  with 25 getting the nod to open in 2013-14.

Charter schools tend to cluster around cities,  which offer a bigger pool of prospective students.  But the Charlotte region is drawing interest out of proportion to its population.  Wake County,  for instance,  got only 12 letters of intent.

Eddie Goodall of Union County,  who runs the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association and hopes to open a charter school in Mecklenburg or Cabarrus county in 2014,  says he isn't sure why this area has so much pull.  The former state senator does note that his group has been marketing the opportunities to operators and families. The association plans to hold a charter fair in Charlotte Jan. 30;  check the web site for details.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

'White Like Me' author speaking

Educators aren't the only people talking about racism and white privilege.  As Superintendent Heath Morrison gears up to get Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools talking about how race shapes academic success, Mecklenburg Ministries is capping up a seven-year  "Souls of White Folks"  project with a public forum that will launch book studies on  "White Like Me."

Author Tim Wise will speak at a lunch event Jan. 17 at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 E. Morehead Street.  The event is open to the public,  with lunch available for $6;  email by tomorrow  (Jan. 9)  to save a spot.  Trinity Episcopal School,  750 E. Ninth St.,  is also hosting a free event with Wise at 7 p.m. Jan. 17;  RSVP at this link.

To back up a bit:  Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith alliance,  has been bringing white clergy together for eight-week study groups to talk about how their race and often-unnoticed privilege affect their own spiritual lives and that of their congregations.  Some corporate and lay people have also taken part,  but religious leaders have been the target audience,  says Executive Director Maria Hanlin.

This effort hasn't been as visible as the group's other "Souls of ..."  projects,  including  "Souls of Our Teachers"  and  "Souls of Our Students."  But Wise's talk is designed to bring the discussion into the broader community  --  something that meshes well with similar talk in CMS.

I haven't read Wise's book,  but Amazon describes it as "a personal examination of the way in which racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm: employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and elsewhere. ...  He explores the ways in which whites can challenge their unjust privileges, and explains in clear and convincing language why it is in the best interest of whites themselves to do so."

At the Mecklenburg Ministries lunch,  Wise is scheduled to talk about racial disparities in schools,  communities and houses of worship and suggest ways to challenge institutional racism and privilege.  "The public is invited to understand the impact of racism on their lives and in our cities,  no matter what their skin color,  and then work together to dismantle racism in our community,"  Hanlin said.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More CMS schools to get BYOT

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is about to clear the way for students and teachers at 33 more schools to start using their own tablets,  phones and other digital devices at school.

In October the district picked 21 schools to pilot the Bring Your Own Technology program. This week CMS will notify 33 more that their buildings now have the wifi capability to allow widespread use of personal devices, Chief Information Officer Valerie Truesdale said. She said the list will be posted soon after schools get the word.

The goal is to have all schools ready for BYOT by the start of school next year,  a year later than originally announced.  Truesdale said the holdup is installing enough routers to provide good coverage,  which will take more money than CMS currently has budgeted.

CMS has also launched a Transforming Digital Teaching and Learning web page,  designed to help educators share what they're learning.  Anyone can click in,  and it may be a good resource for parents trying to keep up with the fast-changing world of cyberschool.

Speaking of sharing ideas:  Trish Cloud,  technology instructor at Torrence Creek Elementary,  introduced me to the concept of augmented reality while she was talking to me about using video games in education. While the more familiar virtual reality uses only computer-generated experiences,  augmented reality combines those images with real-world views seen through the screen of a digital device.  To illustrate,  Cloud used NASA's Spacecraft 3D app to make a small-scale Curiosity rover pop up on a desk in her computer lab (see a video demonstration here).

Of course,  a quick Google search made it clear this concept may be new to me,  but it's not really new.  But if you're like me and just getting up to speed,  here's another video on how augmented reality might be used in classrooms.  Meanwhile,  I'm going to search the Apple store for an AR app to impress my friends.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Safety changes coming for CMS?

Superintendent Heath Morrison and his staff have been reviewing safety in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School three weeks ago.  A report could come as early as next week,  says spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte.

Just before the break, Morrison said he's looking at "facilities, planning and people."  For instance,  do some or all of the district's 159 schools need to add cameras,  buzz-in entry systems or fencing?  Are the right emergency plans in place,  and is everyone doing the expected drills?  Are more security staff needed,  and if so,  where will the money come from?

School resource officers are stationed in all CMS middle,  high and K-8 schools  (Oaklawn and Berryhill K-8s share one officer),  Stalberte said.  Those are sworn police officers who "carry the same equipment as patrol officers:  Firearm,  taser,  baton and (pepper) spray,"  according to Sgt. David Schwob of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department,  who oversees school officers.

Morrison noted that CMS is spending more just to keep that staffing at the same level.  The City of Charlotte shifted $2 million in costs for school resource officers to CMS this year,  and the district will have to find another $700,000 in next year's budget  "just to keep what we have,"  Morrison said.

CMS also has unarmed  "security associates"  in schools,  though their ranks were scaled back during recent budget cuts.

Morrison said he understands the fear that follows a violent incident.  He was a high school principal in Montgomery County,  Md.,  when snipers terrorized the Washington,  D.C.,  area in 2002.  A student was gunned down outside a school about 20 minutes from his,  and Morrison recalls that he and his staff lined the perimeter of the bus lots as students arrived and departed.   "I've never lived in a community where people were as paralyzed,"  he recalled.  "If you saw a white van, your heart dropped."

So Morrison says he wants to provide reassurance to families who are understandably spooked by the horrific images from Newton,  Conn.  But he says you also have to be honest: "You can't with 100 percent certainty say that you can keep a dangerous individual, armed at the level that of some of these individuals we've seen,  from getting into your school."

No Charlotte-area schools have faced an armed assault,  thank goodness.  What does happen is students showing up with guns or other weapons.  Morrison made an observation I've heard repeatedly from administrators,  teachers and school law enforcement:  In those cases,  the best defense is trusting relationships between students and faculty.  Most weapons are found because another student reports the situation.  And they're generally confiscated without chaos and injury because adults in the school can approach the armed student in a calm,  safe manner.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Open or closed: Does it matter?

Soon after I wrote about Superintendent Heath Morrison's decision to keep the meetings of 22 CMS advisory task forces private,  I got a voice mail from retired Col. Thomas P. Graham of Spindale.

"Sometimes,  as a matter of common sense,  meetings should be closed to the public,"  he said.  He added that when I wrote about the meetings being open or closed to the public,  I clearly meant "as a code word  'to reporters.'  "

I understand what the colonel is getting at.  Public attendance at meetings of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools advisory panels and committees is almost always sparse.  Sometimes a reporter or two are the only folks in the audience.  I think we reporters would contend we're there as surrogates for other members of the public, though.  If there's no interest in what the panel is doing,  journalists earn no brownie points for warming a seat.

In this specific case,  Graham is wrong about my  "coded"  message.  I don't want to cover meetings of 22 panels,  even if they're publicized and open,  as two UNC Chapel Hill School of Government professors say the law requires.  The amount of time that would require is mind-boggling.  Covering even a healthy sampling would seriously cut into other projects I'm working on.

What I would like to do is make sure the rest of you know how to attend.

Most of you wouldn't want to.  A few would.  Those few might include people who asked to be appointed but didn't get a spot.  They'd almost surely include people who are passionate  -- some might say obsessed -- with the topics, which include special ed,  gifted students,  African American males,  teacher compensation,  technology and public trust  (read more about the task forces here).

You might find a few devoted CMS boosters in the audience,  and you might find the district's harshest critics.  People who are concerned that Morrison won't listen to the right people,  or that he's setting up the task forces to rubber-stamp what he already plans to do,  might sit in and decide for themselves.

Open meetings don't mean that non-members get to jump in and disrupt discussions.  They do mean any discussion or remark can be reported,  sent online and commented on almost instantaneously.  I understand that might be intimidating to volunteers undertaking a challenging task.  Presumably,  that's what Morrison was thinking of when he said he and the task force leaders agreed the work will be more effective in private.

Morrison also says he'll have CMS staff taking notes and posting summaries.  There will be town hall meetings that allow anyone to meet with task force members,  and opinion surveys for people to weigh in on specific issues.

That's certainly tidier.  But is it democracy?

Morrison has noted  (correctly)  that any report filtered through a journalist is not the whole story.  That's equally true of observations reported by members of the public -- and CMS employees.  The more voices and perspectives,  the fuller the story and the greater the chance that distortions from any source will be challenged.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

More on race and education

My forecast for 2013:  Conversations about race and achievement will be a defining issue for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and perhaps the entire community.

Just before Christmas,  Superintendent Heath Morrison brought consultant Glenn Singleton with Pacific Educational Group to Charlotte for preliminary conversations with community leaders.  Morrison is exploring the prospect of hiring Singleton,  author of  "Courageous Conversations About Race,"  to do cultural competency training for CMS leaders and educators.

As you might guess,  early reactions range from acclaim to dismay  (I'll be reporting more on that as folks return from their holidays).  Belinda Cauthen,  education chair for the local NAACP branch,  says such a conversation is long overdue.  She shared a couple of articles designed to help people understand how educational traditions and unconscious biases can damage students' prospects for success, even when intentions are good.

One is an Educational Leadership article by Julie Landsman,  author of  "A White Teacher Talks About Race."  First published in 2004,  the article is right on track with talks that will help shape CMS in 2013,  focusing on factors that keep too many children of color out of advanced classes and programs for gifted students.

"For too long I have heard educators say that to keep white students in a particular school district,  we must provide more gifted programs,"  Landsman writes.  "The racism behind this assumption is astounding:  It implies that only white kids are gifted,  or that we should tailor our definition of giftedness to white culture."

Landsman doesn't argue that white parents shouldn't expect the best for their kids.  She does urge advocates for gifted students to work with groups representing low-income and minority students,  aware that those students bring the same high potential.

The other article is a report on a 2012 American Reading Co. conference on educating black and Latino males.  The group of  "scholars,  educators and thought leaders"  laid out a point-by-point analysis of problems and potential solutions.  The report says it aims to  "move beyond the false dichotomies in which the discussion is often simplistically framed:  the hopelessness arising from variations on the  'demographics are destiny'  argument or variations on the  'pull yourself up by your bootstraps'  position."

"A complete effort to improve public schools,  in which the majority of Black and Latino males are educated,  would have to address educational issues in concert with other issues such as poverty,  joblessness,  inadequate health care,  and the lack of public services,"  the authors write.  "However, we are also aware of the extent to which this larger problematic is often used by both educators and the public as an excuse for paralysis and inaction or for the casting of blame  --  on parents,  on neighborhoods,  on popular culture and,  mostly,  on students."

Both articles strike me as helpful for people trying to understand what kind of discussion Morrison is trying to launch.  For really ambitious readers,  Singleton has recently released a follow-up book,  "More Courageous Conversations About Race."  He says data in that book will help make the case that his work can help all CMS students achieve at higher levels.

Morrison says he hasn't made a final decision about hiring Singleton,  but he's sure it's time for CMS to take a deep look at the role of race, culture and expectations in classroom achievement.  "If not now, when?"  he asked just before the break.  "I think it's really critical that we start this."