Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Assignment apathy?

A handful of speakers turned out last night to issue dire warnings about the guiding principles for student assignment the board ultimately approved.

Most were African Americans concerned that the emphasis on schools close to home will leave schools serving black and impoverished kids stripped of support, clout and good teachers.

"Inner-city low-income neighborhoods should be afforded the same opportunities and rights to a first-class education as the suburbs," said Levester Flowers, one such speaker.

But Bolyn McClung, a white guy from suburban Pineville, also warned that the plan would be "the mistake of a lifetime" that "dooms CMS to an 'us vs. them' world."

McClung's point was not so much that neighborhood schools are bad as that making any new system of student assignment work requires massive community commitment. Before the meeting, he reminded me of the way Charlotte's best and brightest rallied to craft a workable system of desegregation after the Swann vs. Board of Education court order in the 1970s.

The last paragraph of the new document calls for the community to work with CMS to make sure all kids get a strong education. But McClung questioned whether that support is anywhere near reality.

The rows of empty seats behind him seemed to affirm his point. It was a stark contrast with Wake's Tuesday meeting. There, protests and arrests related to student assignment have become as routine as the pledge of allegiance at CMS meetings.

It's worth noting that hundreds turned out for CMS forums on the student assignment revamp in June and July. But the sense of anxiety and urgency that led business and political leaders to create task forces to help CMS just a few years ago does seem to have faded.

McClung told the board that at the very least, new student-assignment principles needed to be approved unanimously to signal real support. Instead, they squeaked by 5-3, the narrowest possible victory on a nine-member board. Trent Merchant, who was absent, has been critical of the whole process, and even some of the "yes" voters spent more time voicing reservations than applauding a new vision.

Board Chair Eric Davis, who's been the driving force behind this review, said the new document is "not perfect, (but) I think it's a movement in the right direction." He cited that final statement calling for community partnership as one of its most promising aspects.

So what lies ahead? I generally avoid predictions, but I'll make one: Once CMS staff rolls out plans for boundary changes and closings that hit specific schools, "apathy" will not be the operative word.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why folks do not realize that the Supreme Court ruled that CMS can not assign students by race anymore. You think you are so clever as to say it is now socioeconomic but you can not win at that game either. The numbers prove it is the same effect. What more do people wnat when the inner city schools ar ealready getting 2, 3, even 4 times the $ per pupil than the suburban schools are getting? Do you want the suburban students to just go away? The kids are still hearing the message they can not succeed unless they are sitting next to a student different from them. You are hindering them by the self fulfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the community did rally behind the integration plans in the 70's and was rightfully proud of doing that. However, when assignment changed due to the court case in the early 2000's, many of the same people who were so proud of what happened in the 70's, refused to support the new assignment plan. Instead of saying, "Okay, we're going to make this work", they predicted disaster and have continued to do so right up to this day, despite evidence that poor children now receive much more support than in the past. Interesting that right after the vote on priorities, with 3 board members decrying the state of education for minorities, a presentation was made on recent test scores--with CMS topping the state (and Wake County)in progress for blacks, Hispanics, and ED kids.
Perhaps there wasn't much interest at the board meeting last night because you reported last week that the priorities were a done deal. I suspect a vast majority of people supported those priorities, especially the home school based on proximity piece. Yes, there will probably be more angst when and if there are assignment changes. But right now I would bet that most just want to go about the business of getting their children educated in a good school close to home--most don't really want to be engaged in continual battles. I would disagree with Mr. McClung that this sets up an "us against them" world. That will only happen if local activists refuse to accept the board's decision.

Donna said...

I would be wary of reading "apathy" into low attendance this month. I attended two different meetings in June, said what I needed to say, sent emails to each board member, and spoke to a few of them in person about my concerns.
I couldn't go to any of the July meetings, and can't make any of the August meetings. But I don't know what difference I could have made at this point--they've heard what I personally have to say, before decisions are made. Once actual decisions are made, I can try to react as best I can.

wiley coyote said...

This sums up the past 40 plus years of public education mentality:

Most were African Americans concerned that the emphasis on schools close to home will leave schools serving black and impoverished kids stripped of support, clout and good teachers.

I've said it 100 times and will keep saying it, why have we NOT in the past 40 years "fixed" the perception stated above? Is a perception or reality?

Spend the money to ensure those schools DO have good teachers and support by supplying whatever funds are needed for remedial help and/or more teachers to limit class size.

Take the excuses away and let's move on because the statement made above was old when made in 1980, 1990 and 2000.

Anonymous said...

So if I understand this correctly, African Americans are concerned that if they aren't able to send their kids to schools where other students' parents contribute to the PTA and volunteer at the school, then their children won't receive a quality education. Did I get that right?

I went to an inner-city high school that was so weak it did not offer a single AP class. My family was just above the poverty line and it was a single-parent situation. I am one of 4 siblings. We were taught the value of education in our home and all 4 children graduated from college. Sometimes you have to put some effort in to get back the results you want. Relying on others to rescue you is a big risk.

We will never get out of this mess until we ALL have our priorities straight.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me after all this time that the majority of the folks in this community can not recognize the efforts and lenghts our officials are willing to go through to assure certain schools appear to be low performing. CMS goes out of it's way to create disparities yet pretends it is out of their control. I say to all teachers place a camera in your classroom.

Pamela Grundy said...

The difference between the 1970s and today is that back then a substantial number of parents determined that they needed to put their effort into making the school system work for everyone. Today, more people argue that the solution to CMS's problems is for all parents to focus their effort on making the system work for their own children. The problem with this is that in a system with many high-poverty and low-poverty schools, you have schools where parents can draw on deep educational and financial resources to support teachers and programs, and schools where those resources just aren't there, no matter how much the parents believe in education (which, despite the ugly stereotypes that so often fill these comment pages, most of them do). We're beyond the era where it was enough to ensure that your child behaved at school and did his/her homework (which, again, contrary to stereotype, most low-income parents still do). We can all make like Candide and claim that this is the "best of all possible worlds," but we would be as deluded as he was. What this community needs is a more expansive idea of what constitutes our garden. Boylan McClung is entirely right that no change will really work until there there is broad community support for making the whole system effective.

Finally, despite all the touting of progress, on this past year's tests, the performance gap between low-income and higher income students *increased.* Unless you assume that poor kids really can't learn as much as other kids, it's hard to see that as progress.

wiley coyote said...

Pamela Grundy said...

...The problem with this is that in a system with many high-poverty and low-poverty schools, you have schools where parents can draw on deep educational and financial resources to support teachers and programs, and schools where those resources just aren't there

I have a real easy solution. All donations or outside aid are to be given to the district as a whole and divided up on a per pupil basis, just like funding.

If that isn't feasible, then do not allow any outside financial support for any one school. If parents want to give their time to volunteer at schools that's fine.

The basic premise of education is to learn the curriculum from K-12; not whether you have a PTA, a chess club or sports.

All extracurricular activities are just that - extracurricular.

My comments may sound harsh, but it's time stop the same rhetoric we've heard for the past 40 years.

Pamela Grundy said...


Your comments don't sound harsh, just out-of-touch.

About your funding suggestion -- it's a lot easier said than done. As with teacher quality, when you figure out how to actually make it happen, I'd love to be the first to know. And it's not just money, it's parent actions and advocacy, which draw on non-financial resources like education and social and political connections.

If all that matters is the K-12 curriculum, why did you encourage your kid to learn all those languages?

Anonymous said...


Socialist education will be as effective as everything else socialist: It will fail.

It's utopian in concept and admirable that you want all to have the same benefits, but the truth of the matter is, we already are devoting vast more resources to the children in low-performing areas via tax dollars. Now, on top of the tax money we're already spending on ALL children, you'd steal our money right out of our hands that we want to give to our own children (Isn't it our responsibility? To educate our own kids?)

Anne: The temporary assignment apathy stems from the fact that for the first time in three decades, it appears things are headed in the right direction. It's not apathy, it's satisfaction of the 'whew, they finally got it right' crowd.

wiley coyote said...

Easier said than done? Just do it.

You're copping out when it comes to the teacher issue. Why is that so hard to do? If Gorman needs "quality teachers" at those schools and not at the other schools, assign them there. If they refuse to go, fire them. It's very simple, just like the private sector.

Prior to busing, (at least in Richland School District One where I went) a student was required to take a language before graduating. That was done away with with the sweeping changes that dumbed down public education for years.

Regarding my son and foreign languages, he had a knack for them, and became enamoured with the Japanese culture.

He still takes the required curriculum (which has also been dumbed down by CMS because students need fewer credits to graduate now)and Honors classes.

Pamela Grundy said...

Anonymous, dear (so personal!)

Concentrating poverty is inefficient. As a result, it costs a lot more to have any kind of chance at equal opportunity. But it seems to be what a lot of people want.

I'm not actually that excited about redistributing PTA money. It's the other resources that make the biggest difference. I'm just tired of having wiley propose "simple" solutions that just happen to be politically impossible.

wiley coyote said...

politically impossible.

You'll have to explain that one!!

THAT is what the problem has been all these years. Take the politics out of it.

Anonymous said...

"no change will really work until there there is broad community support for making the whole system effective." So Pamela, what does that mean? Everyone should just give up and agree with you, Tom Tate, Richard McElrath, and Joyce Waddell and then everything would be fine? Was everything fine after 30 years of busing?
It appears to me that the majority on the board believes their ideas are what is now best for the whole system (a very different system from that of the 1970s). Yet you seem to believe that you should be the arbiter of what will work for CMS and you seem unwilling to support the majority's proposals. Would you consider leaving off the divisive rhetoric (segregation, resegregation, "making things work for your own child", etc) for awhile and give the majority's ideas a chance?

wiley coyote said...

It's the other resources that make the biggest difference.

Explain "other resources".

Top 3.

Pamela Grundy said...

I call things as I see them, and I do it in public, not in anonoymous comments or cowardly letters sent to school board members behind people's backs.

As Joe White and Kaye McGarry pointed out, the new guidelines are essentially the same as the guidelines the board has been working under. There is nothing new to wait and see about.

I'm not sure why deciding to dedicate oneself to making a school system effective for an entire community is "giving up."

wiley coyote said...

I can assure you present and former board members have heard from me with my real name, address and phone number.

Pamela Grundy said...

1. A college education, so you know what's required to succeed in college and in the professional world beyond, and can insist that your child's school provide it.

2. The time, tools and funds to help organize and finance enrichment activities such as Science Olympiad and trips to Washington D.C. Don't bother complaining about this one -- we disagree and that's that.

3. The time, tools and resources to effectively advocate for your child's school on a district level, both publicly and behind the scenes.

I'm not saying that every parent has to have all these things for their children to succeed. But when you have schools where the vast majority of parents have them, and schools where the vast majority of parents don't, the quality of education is going to be very different.

Pamela Grundy said...


Regarding anonymity, I wasn't addressing you directly, although if you use your name in Observer comments I haven't noticed.

wiley coyote said...

Pamela Grundy said...

Regarding anonymity, I wasn't addressing you directly, although if you use your name in Observer comments I haven't noticed.

Pam, one thing I learned back in 1990 when I got on the net was that you NEVER EVER reveal your real name or who you on the NET unless otherwise required.

I have no social media pages whatsoever and never will.

The Observer has an email addy for me and can get in touch with me if there is an issue.

My opinions are mine and mine alone, as are yours. I respect your opinion(s) even though I may disagree with them.

My opinions related to public education are based on my personal experiences over the past 40 years, from my time as a student and going through integration, being married to a teacher for 12 years and as a parent to senior in CMS.

Anonymous said...

Ann, Immediately following the vote last night Tom Tate stated that he wanted everyone to know that the new priorities would probably lead to some changes in policy--that they were being looked at already by himself (I assume as chair of the Policy committee) and a CMS staff member (can't remember her name). He said this rather ominously. What did he mean?

Ann Doss Helms said...

I'm not sure exactly what Tom meant. But you may recall early on how Rhonda Lennon held up the big sheaf of student assignment regulations and policies and said how crazy they were (go to this link and click "BOE policies, exhibitions and regulations"). The board hasn't even STARTED to discuss those. The guiding principles they've been laboring over are just the framework for such specific decisions.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I was not at this meeting along with the many others who are extremely interested in this endeavor because, as stated, there is strong support for this neighborhood schools outcome and people are awaiting the final word to get things done. Do not read that my support is for everything as prioritized, just for the message that a school's immediate community needs to focus energy on that school for it to be successful. Whether the community is rich or poor, if there is pride and participation there is potential for improvement. It is a disservice to any at risk group to marginalize their potential by saying the only hope the kids have is to be bused to the "better" school.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank the community for joining this conversation. Ann has presented my feelings perfectly. Here's a little more of it.

The Board and Dr. Gorman's approach to upping the ante on achievement has been productive. It will continue. I expect that CMS staff will take the 2010 Guidelines and craft 170+ top notch campuses.

These policies don't differ greatly from the 2005 set with three exceptions.

1. Home Schools which are clearly a response to the recent forums.
2. Proximity which is a hybrid of forum input and CMS staff not wanting to be tied down.
3. Call to the community. This is the stamp of Chairman Davis and it is needed.

In 2014 when the expected 100% graduation rate is attained, will Mecklenburg be 170 neighborhoods that are strangers to each other? Will the uptown skyline be a wall between the Southern Districts and Districts 2, 3 and 4? Will each neighborhood have real boundaries which no one can cross from either direction.

Those worries are what I call the the "mistake of a lifetime". But it won't be by the board - they just set the process in motion. If the mistake comes to pass it will be because we are so relieved not to have to deal with busing, cross-busing or satelites that we fail to take the opportunity to see how alike 170 well performing schools have made us. It would be shameful and maybe irreversible to all be strangers in a promise-land.

Bolyn McClung

Larry said...

I volunteer at the challenged schools and have noticed that they get more resources than many of the suburban schools.

But you know what really concerns me?

Why are these African Americans not so upset about the Gangs not practicing diversity?

Mike said...

So folks, what would be your response if we go back to quota busing and the achievement for high poverty does not improve? Does it give the warm, righteous feeling that it did not matter that it caused so much anguish in this communtiy that even more low poverty, high performing kids leave the school system. Will you be just as happy if all schools are Title 1 and the subgroup of low poverty kids are so low that it would not be reported and the gap does not exist?

Anonymous said...

It's not apathy it's indifference as the average person in Charlotte is intelligent enough to know that no matter how CMS rewords or rearranges their Guiding Principals (every 5 years), they mean absolutely NOTHING until the the school board actually DOES something. Most of the time, the board does nothing. When the board does decide to do something, the public won't respond with apathy they'll respond with anarchy. At which point, each Guiding Principal will take on new significance depending on the majority party's agenda of the day and, once again, the Government Center will house overflow crowds of "American Gothic" citizens carrying pitchforks.

Next board (bored) item, please?

Anonymous said...

Someone said "do they want the suburban kids to just go away?"

They are going away. There are over 40 private schools in the county they are going there they are leaving the county they are home schooling.

Some call it "white flight". I call it "flight from stupidity".

Anonymous said...

Neighborhood schools are the way to go. Even the poor kids don't want to be bused across town. CMS REALLY doesn't want all students to achieve. They are running off white kids and are glossing over everyone else; giving these students mostly inexperienced and unqualified principals and teachers. The BOE is asleep at the wheel. All while Gorman pretends he's doing great things. He treats teachers like incompetent imbeciles and strips away their autonomy and creativity. CMS is really in dire straights because our students are not being taught how to think for themselves. Prescribed formulas for teaching are being shoved down teachers' throats stripping away from them the art and love of teaching.
If I were a member of City Council, I would be demanding more from the board of education and the superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Why assume that parents are apathetic? I'm sure that many others feel like I do and see some potentially positive outcomes in the future. Social engineering schools by race and later by socio-economic status has NOT fixed the problem of underperforming students.

Anonymous said...

In the midst of all the race and assignment discussion, the Pizza people came in and made a great impression.

Nutrition is an important issue in school, and helping children at school grow their vegetables sounds like a learning experience. meanwhile, it sounds like those people really do have healthy pizza and a good school program.

I missed who they were.

Anonymous said...

Neighborhood schools are best for students and families - regardless of color! If people don't like their community - CHANGE IT! Don't force other people to be dragged into your misery. Better yourself. Get involved. Climb up. Improve your life. Take personal responsibility. It's a free country - stop the entitlement mentality. We're tired of it!

Anonymous said...

By the logic I read, children are just out of luck if they live in neighborhoods with schools that have less academic opportunity or have classes where problems reduce the amount of teaching time.

What have I done to deserve better schools other than have money? I would not want my children to go to the neighborhood schools in poor neighborhoods? I'm not surprised many parents who live in those neighborhoods feel the same way. What did their children do to deserve a school that I would not want for mine?

I sort of feel like I have an entitlement to the school in my neighborhood, but I can't explain why. Its not like they gave me some kind of deed to the school just because I moved near it.

All of this is before we get to the fact that when we fail at whatever it takes to teach children in poor neighborhoods, we cost ourselves a lot of money and reduce our own quality of life because those kids are going to be doing something when they get out of school, and if they are not prepared to be doing something productive, they absolutely will be doing something that costs us.