Thursday, November 11, 2010

School closings, the Democrats and other bits and pieces

A few thoughts as we all catch our breath after Tuesday's dramatic school board meeting:

Will the turmoil in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hobble Charlotte's chances at getting the Democratic convention in 2012?  That question is floating, with some protesters threatening to lobby against Charlotte's selection.  On the one hand, it can't be good to have African Americans, including some well-established Democratic leaders, saying school-closing decisions smack of racism.  On the other, school-board craziness in many big cities makes Charlotte look tame.  I don't know much about the specific situations in Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis, the competition.

Will school closings help CMS and North Carolina get federal Race to the Top money?  A savvy CMS observer* posed that question, and it's intriguing.  The Friday before the vote, CMS's chief accountability officer, Robert Avossa, sent board members an update on the $400 million NC is seeking, with CMS standing to pull in $15 million as its share over a four-year stretch.

As this person noted, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan generally considers it a sign of reform-minded seriousness when districts close low-performing schools.  And Avossa's report contains this interesting note: "Districts must submit a Race to the Top plan to the NC Department of Public Instruction by Nov. 8.   DPI granted our district’s request for a deadline extension to Nov. 10."

The vote to close schools was Nov. 9.

North Carolina must submit its proposal to the feds by Nov. 22, so we'll see what happens next.

*This conversation happened during the blur of Tuesday's meeting, and I can't recall whether it was a "keep my name out of this" proposition.  But the observer in question is a regular blog reader and may feel free to claim credit.

What challenges lie ahead as CMS merges current Waddell students and Harding IB students into a new version of Harding High next year? My colleague Eric Frazier is exploring that question. If you have experience with other high-school mergers (via boundary changes, for instance) or up-close knowledge of the Waddell-Harding situation and are willing to talk for a story, e-mail him at

Tuesday night's live coverage of the school board meeting on was a record-buster, drawing 3,748 viewers and 844 reader comments. (Read the record of the live chat here.) I was too busy writing for print to take part, but we're following up with a live chat at noon tomorrow.  Join in and I'll do my best to field your questions.


wiley coyote said...

Why would we or should we care one iota about what the Democratc Party is going to do about holding a convention here as related to OUR school issues?

The largest MAJORITY of students who makeup CMS are African American who traditionally and blindly support Democrats.

I say we make the best of the budget cuts using facts and logic and get over the race issue. Because in my opinion it is a non-issue.

Make the hard decisions and ensure we're doing everything humanly possible to ensure ALL kids get the tools to learn and be productive in society.

Larry said...

Ann, why are they not allowing the history of that discussion on the site? When I pull it up it is blank?

I have done a lot of those for other events and I always keep the history for people.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Bits and pieces. On the subject of jewels and gems mentioned by one speaker at Tuesday's BOE meeting.

"Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of this jewel; and, in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not".
- Mister Fred Rogers


Ann Doss Helms said...

Larry, one of our online guys is checking on that. I'd be curious to see it, too.

Anonymous said...


One of the reasons I follow local education issues is for that special moment when….well, just those special moments.

This comment in the blog is one of those moments.
”… The largest MAJORITY of students who makeup CMS are African American who traditionally and blindly support Democrats…”

It’s just really hard to make a point when your arguments’ strengths are the political leanings of a majority of 1st graders of any race.

In the recent election for County commissioner there were 64,000 straight ticket Democrats and 51,000 Republican straight tickets. The total vote was 220,000. Making the same generalization, a majority of all voters were blind.

Bolyn McClung

Ann Doss Helms said...

Larry, you should be able to get that history here:
I'll also post the link from the blog item.
I got a chuckle out of the proposals for a school-board drinking game, but have to admit I didn't have the energy to relive that by reading the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

One of the comments re: the BOE decisions was that only 5% of the students impacted by closures, etc. are white. That is such a narrow view of this complex issue. What percentage of the tax dollars come from each ethnic group? How many students are crammed into an AP Stats class at Waddell? Do they struggle with 45 students per class or with the 1.3 student adjustment are they able to have 30 students or less? To all those who think any particular race is not bearing their share of the burden, you need to stand back and look at the BIG PICTURE. Myopia will get you nowhere no matter what race you are blaming for YOUR problems. It's very easy to cry racism when you are looking for a handout or a bailout.

Anonymous said...

Folks, you really need to understand the national school reform context within which Dr. Gorman is a well-known figure. For example, closing and reorganizing schools in poor neighborhoods is a common strategy to fuzz the numbers when citing test score increases. So, is it really about the CMS budget??? I really wish the Observer would provide some balance by reporting on the national scene. A good way to start would be to republish Dr. Diane Ravitch's definitive review of Waiting for Superman. She's thoroughly researched the issues presented in the film and her review will open some eyes. It was published in the NY Review of Books and is available at

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the person who included the link to the Ravitch article. It did provide a good balance to what was portrayed in the movie and I would recommend both that article as well as the one she wrote on merit pay (sorry I don't have the link to post). I was also curious about the Race to the Top situation, very interesting point made about the timing.

pamela said...

Nice quote, snoopy.

wiley coyote said...


You missed the gist of my post.

Part of the article is about the Democrat Party holding a convention here while AA claim charges of racism.

You also misread the statement The largest MAJORITY of students who makeup CMS are African American who traditionally and blindly support Democrats. I believe I know the legal voting age.

My statement above is a factual ststement about Blacks blindly pulling one lever - JUST like many Republicans do. Sheep are sheep, no matter what party affiliation.

I'm a registered Independent and wouldn't be caught dead subscribing to eith party platform.

Factoid:As of April 28, the North Carolina State Board of Elections put the total number of registered voters in North Carolina at 5.8 million. African Americans make up 21 percent of those voters and 38 percent of all Democratic voters. (The vast majority – 84 percent – of African American voters are registered as Democrats.)

Factoid: Your numbers regarding straight party voting are incorrect as related to the BOCC races. Those numbers represent straight party voting in Mecklenburg County TOTAL.

195 of 195 Precincts Reporting
Democratic (DEM) 55.47% 64,795
Republican (REP) 44.11% 51,528
Libertarian (LIB) 0.42% 490

Over 642,000 "votes" were cast in the BOCC at-large race, where voters could select 3. That comes out at about the same number of people who actually voted in the election; 227,648 or 37.8%.

Anonymous said...

I knew the school closings was not about the money they were saying it was. Too bad the report of this convienent timing isn't hidden in this blog. I totally agree with the poster about more reporting on the national scene and the larger picture.

Anonymous said...

I went to see Waiting for Superman yesterday and I read Ravitch's review. First of all, I did not think the movie was telling me that all the blame is on the teachers. I did not think the movie was telling me that charter schools were the only answer. In my opinion (and mine only) Guggenheim was telling us that public schools have a lot of bureaucracy that limits what changes they can try. Charter schools do not have the same limitations and that has allowed them to try a lot of ideas that cannot be done in today's public schools (a lot of those ideas fail, but some succeed). The message I heard was that we need to tear down the bureaucracy that prevents public schools from implementing learnings from those top 5% of charter schools that work [now I start laughing at the idea of that ever happening]. I did not read into the movie that public school teachers are bad. In fact, it was the AMAZING teachers that were getting results despite being handtied by the incredible amounts of bureaucracy that the founders of such schools as KIPP wanted to learn from and emulate. I DID read into the movie that many public school teachers have limited choices in how they teach based on the fact they have to use certain textbooks, they have no say in the number of kids in their class, every school has the same number of hours in a day and teachers get the same contracts/pay no matter where they teach [and the paperwork at public schools is INSANE - ask any CMS teacher or principal]. Yes, Harlem Success, SEEDS, and KIPP work. And what do they have in common? They realize that sometimes kids need more hours in a day at school than what they would get in a public school setting. They know ED kids do not have parents that can pay for Kumon or other tutoring. They know that some families need help that goes beyond classroom instruction. Those who think this is a call to turn every school into a charter school are crazy. But it would be nice if school districts had the option of lengthening school days for certain schools, paying teachers more if they are working in a school with longer days and giving teachers and schools more flexibility on how curriculum should be taught. The discussion in the film about tracking was interesting - not sure yet on my opinion with that.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks for the link to Ravitch's review! I found her book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," to be great national context for a lot of what's going on locally.

I had a similar reaction to "Superman" as the most recent poster. I think charter lotteries provided a great dramatic hook, but I thought the movie acknowledged that great teachers make the difference, including some in traditional public schools.

Nancy Guzman, principal of CMS's Sterling Elementary, told me she went into "Superman" prepared for public-school bashing and was pleasantly surprised. She ended up agreeing with a lot of the message -- including that there are often bureaucratic barriers to beating the odds.

Anonymous said...

If anyone takes the time to actually look up the numbers, they would find that Waddell and Harding to be closer together than we've been lead to believe. Sure the overall test scores are lower at Waddell(they don't get the extra money and more experienced teachers that go with a magnet program). But Waddell scores have improved dramatically since getting a new Principal several years ago. No longer do the gang mentality and apathy of the students hang over this school, the surrounding neighborhood has become a decent place to live and property values have risen-All because we have(or had) a school that we could be proud of. Just look at the students fighting to keep THEIR school-bet none of the ones you see want any more than a good education from a neighborhood school.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that in the discussion of supporting the ED (economically disadvantaged) that there needs to be some discussion as to how Title I works. Until this year I had heard about it but hadn't personally encountered it until University Park was designated a Title I school. These funds have a lot of strings attached to it and they have to take the money and comply. I believe that money is also rolled into the cost per pupil so, of course, their numbers are going to be higher and it is not something that takes away from other CMS schools. From what I observed in the process, there was not a lot of direction given and when I talked briefly at a forum to someone who worked in the Title I group I only received a comment that it will be good for the school because it is extra money but there was not substance to the answer. Has any a study been done to track the accountability and achievement associated with those funds? I write this in response to the post about the need for flexibility and funding of teachers and school hours to meet the needs of students. I also agree that principals need to be given more autonomy to meet the needs of their specific students.

Anonymous said...

To 12:01, yes there are as with all federal money strings attached and thus cause the school system to spend some extra money, like compliance reporting when they take these federal funds. I have said for years that it may be best now for CMS to stop taking federal money and they may actually save money in doing that.

As for Title 1 resources, a child of mine student-taught in a Title 1 school, in a different county and Title 1 had helped the school to stock a great library of "leveled" books so my child could quickly go to the room and find appropriate books for each of the students for their reading challenge. Also, Title 1 provided for an extra reading teacher. Now I am not sure how Title 1 resources are used in CMS. My child is teaching at a "non Title 1" school in CMS but has come to learn that they are Title 1 under the feds definition so the feds send that money to CMS. However CMS does not "apparently" let the 50% to 74.99% schools have that money. They instead shift it around the over 75% schools. Of course the difference could be too that this is a suburban school and CMS only wants to focus on the inner city schools. But as I said, they are "qualified" by the feds to be Title 1.

Ann Doss Helms said...

My understanding of Title I rules (and I haven't checked this recently) is that the feds require any school with 75 percent or more qualifying for lunch subsidies to be a Title I school, but districts can choose to set a lower cutoff. Many districts have few or no schools over 75 percent. CMS has a lot (I'll be curious to see the latest count when this years numbers are released). CMS decided not to set a lower cutoff because it would have to spread the money among an even larger number of schools.

Anonymous said...

Well Ann, that is what my child was told by a "fed" about their classification. The principal added the part as to how CMS defines and uses Title 1 money.