Saturday, November 29, 2014

At least 8 big school districts are looking for a superintendent

Just last week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board chairwoman Mary McCray speculated that the reason Heath Morrison left his role as superintendent without a fight is because he saw "a future out there" for himself.

And if that future is in leading a public school district, there are certainly plenty of large districts looking for a new leader.

The job leading Los Angeles schools is clearly the plum position on the list. Morrison's name has already been linked to the search by websites covering the school system.

For his part, Morrison -- who is 48 -- has said there will certainly be lots of rumors about him pursuing this job or that job, but has declined to comment on any positions in particular.

And of course, there's no guarantee he'd go back into a superintendent's job. Morrison's predecessor at CMS, Peter Gorman, left for a job in the private sector in the educational division of News Corp.

Here's a sampling of big school districts looking for a new superintendent:

  • Los Angeles Unified School District (California), 670,000 students
  • Albuquerque Public Schools (New Mexico), 94,318 students
  • Austin Independent School District (Texas), 85,355 students
  • Fort Worth Independent School District (Texas), 84,588 students
  • Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (Tennessee), 80,393 students
  • Elk Grove Unified Public Schools (California), 62,000 students
  • Boston Public Schools (Massachusetts), 57,000 students
  • Seattle Public Schools (Washington), 49.269 students
The list was compiled by PROACT Search,  a school leadership search firm that works across the country. CMS contracted with PROACT in the 2012 search that resulted in Morrison's hire. The list was made in November. It's possible that one of these slots has since been filled and I didn't hear about it, though I did double check. It's also possible that the list leaves out another big district. Please let me know in the comments if that is the case.

And by the way, Washoe County in Nevada is looking for a new superintendent now, too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Charlotteans rally for private school voucher program

North Carolina's plan to use public money to issue private school vouchers was nearly dealt a fatal blow this summer, but now its advocates are rallying support ahead of a final decision on its fate.

The program, known as "Opportunity Scholarships," gave about 2,000 students vouchers worth $4,200 toward tuition at a private or religious school in its first year this fall. But it was almost struck down even as it was getting off the ground. A judge in August declared the arrangement unconstitutional. The courts later allowed students already in the program for this school year to continue.

Opponents say the plan represents the abandonment of the state's responsibility to fund public schools. The N.C.  Supreme Court will make a final determination on the Opportunity Scholarships in the coming months.

But in the meantime, a chief advocate for the private school vouchers is holding rallies around the state to build public support. One held in the Charlotte area brought nearly 200 parents and educators to the Embassy Suites near Concord.

"So much of the discussion surrounding the Opportunity Scholarships has unfortunately centered around the legal battles, if you will," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which sponsored the rallies. "We thought it would be a great idea to ... hear directly from the parents themselves on how impactful the program has been."

One of those parents is Jacquelyn Davis of Charlotte. Her third-grade son is attending the Male Leadership Academy on Nations Ford Road on a private school voucher. He has attended Sedgefield Elementary in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools before that.

Davis said she is unemployed after being laid off from being a security guard at CMS, but said her son benefits from the smaller environment at a private school. She said this semester he is bringing home straight A's for the first time.

"The scholarship has helped a whole lot," Davis said. "I'm praying they keep it going."

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.