Friday, December 30, 2011

Six for District 6 ... so far

Half a dozen people have applied for the District 6 school board seat left vacant when Tim Morgan was elected to an at-large seat in November,  with the application deadline looming at 3 p.m. Monday.  The eight current members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board plan to hear applicants' pitches at 1 p.m. Tuesday; if time allows, they'll discuss and possibly select an appointee that afternoon. If not, they'll meet again at 4 p.m. Thursday . Both special meetings are open to the public.

Here are the names so far:

Scott Babbidge of Matthews,  a Republican who filed to run for the at-large seat but withdrew when there were four Republicans seeking the three seats.

E. Thomas Bowers of Charlotte,  a Democrat and progressive political activist.

Larry Bumgarner of Mint Hill,  an unaffiliated voter who has frequently run for school board,  including this year.  His comments will be familiar to readers of this blog.

Angelica P. Castaneda-Noorbakhsh of Charlotte,  whom I've been told is a leader in the Latino networking and advocacy group Enlace Charlotte.  I can't find her under any variation of that name in voter records.

Michael Orlando Jones of Matthews,  a name that's new to me.  Voter records show a Michael Orlando Jones who's a Republican living in District 1 and a Michael O. Jones who's a Democrat living in District 2.  To be considered for the District 6 appointment,  applicants must be registered to vote there.

Bolyn McClung of Pineville,  a Republican who's also familiar to readers of blog comments.  He served on the panel led by former Gov. James Martin that advised CMS on construction strategies after a failed 2005 bond vote and is a regular at school board meetings.

I'll get the applications next week and learn more about these folks.  It'll be interesting to see if there's a last-minute surge of filing;  in recent years,  open seats have drawn big crowds of applicants.  Rumors have been floating that this vacancy,  which has two years left to serve,  might entice former board Chair Wilhelmenia Rembert , who served five years in an at-large post and lives in District 6.  Morgan says he knows of two more people who definitely plan to apply Monday and one who's considering it.

There's also been speculation about how the board will make a choice.  Will they pick someone similar to Morgan, a moderate Republican?  Will the Democrats who hold a majority push someone from their party,  even though the south suburban district is heavily GOP?  A look at other appointments indicates anything could happen.

The two most recent vacancies occurred at the end of 2008,  when Vilma Leake and George Dunlap became county commissioners and left openings in Districts 2 and 3,  respectively.  Nineteen people applied for District 2 and 22 for District 3,  though only 17 ended up making speeches for each opening  (some withdrew,  were deemed ineligible or just didn't follow through).  Democrats and African Americans make up a majority of both districts.  The board chose Kimberly Mitchell-Walker, a black Democrat,  for District 2.  James Ross, a black Republican, got the District 3 seat,  ruffling some Democratic feathers.  Both ran for office the following year and lost.

In 2006, unaffiliated at-large member Kit Cramer resigned and 40 people signed up to take her place. The board chose Trent Merchant, also an unaffiliated voter. I still grin when remembering the article I wrote to introduce him: An Observer researcher found a 2002 article describing him as a young Atlanta actor who got frustrated with noisy audience members.

"Get the f--- out!" Merchant yelled,  according to that clip.  "Either shut up or leave!"

Although he did earn a reputation for colorful commentary,  Merchant never used those particular phrases with his colleagues.  He was elected to the at-large seat the following year.

Finally,  the last time the board appointed a District 6 representative was in August 2005,  during an election season.  Republican Lee Kindberg resigned with four months left on her term and endorsed Democrat Liz Downing,  who was running for the seat,  as her fill-in.  Some board members balked at appointing someone who was campaigning,  but Downing got the nod over eight other applicants.  (She was defeated by Republican Ken Gjertsen in November.)  In one of the odder twists, Republican County Commissioner Bill James had offered to represent the district on both bodies to fill the gap before the election.

Hmm ... no word from James about the school board this time around. Then again, some commenters have suggested he's got his eye on becoming Mayor of Ballantyne now.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prepping for the Broad Prize

Guilford County Schools has paid a Denver consulting firm almost $40,000 to do a simulation of the Broad Prize for Urban Education judging,  according to a district news release.

The release says the researchers who did the Broad-based  "diagnostic report"  described Guilford as  "a rising district nationally,"  but noted that it  "still has more work to do before it can join the elite ranks of Broad Prize winners."

This year's winner is Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  where Guilford County Superintendent Maurice  "Mo"  Green got his start as an administrator.  He was Peter Gorman's second-in-command before taking the job in Greensboro in 2008.

Like real Broad Prize judges,  staff from RMC Research Corp.  analyzed data and did a three-day visit that included classroom visits and focus-group interviews.  The group rated Guilford on the Broad Prize Framework for School District Excellence and suggested improvements,  such as more rigorous curriculum and more support for teachers.

The $38,600 cost,  which includes follow-up services,  was split between a Broad Foundation grant and money raised by the local Businesses for Excellence in Education.

Guilford,  North Carolina's third-largest district after Wake and CMS,  was one of four in North Carolina that was eligible for this year's Broad Prize,  based on size and having at least 40 percent of students from minority groups and eligible for federal lunch aid to low-income families.  Wake,  with a 33 percent poverty level as measured by lunch subsidies,  was not eligible.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gorman: Close schools, pack your bags

Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman isn't talking to the Charlotte media anymore,  but he certainly has some interesting things to say as he makes the national rounds.

Lew Powell,  a former Observer colleague,  forwarded this recent item from City Beat,  a Memphis,  Tenn.,  blog.  It reports on a confab between Memphis officials and Gorman (who now works for the education division of News Corp.),  then-board Chair Eric Davis,  former board Chair Arthur Griffin and an unnamed former CMS principal.

"The system won a national award this year for excellence in urban education,  but this was not a butt-patting session,"  reports John Branston,  a senior editor for The Memphis Flyer.  Branston's report continues:

“Progress has been painfully slow,  and at the rate we are moving in Charlotte it will still be 15 years before the achievement gap is closed,”  said former superintendent Pete Gorman.

He urged the committee to  “build a bench”  of future principals and assistant principals from among promising young teachers;  move good principals and five teachers as a group to the toughest schools but not against their will;  give new leadership three years to turn around a school;  give good schools more autonomy;  measure improvement , not raw scores,  so that even college-prep schools must show improvement year over year;  pick a superintendent for the consolidated district sooner rather than later;  give the schools with the poorest students the most money,  and give the wealthiest schools the least money;  and expect to move on if you are the superintendent that has to close schools.

“You can’t close schools well,”  he said,  adding that "to do the job well,  I sometimes question if it's physically possible."

Gorman,  as most Charlotte readers know,  launched a push in fall 2010 to close about a dozen schools in 2011-12.  He announced his resignation in June,  just after the board approved a 2011-12 budget.  Many of the newly-merged schools are now dealing with discipline problems,  although the staff that remains to deal with aftermath still voices hope that there will be academic benefits.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Follow-up on Cochrane turnaround

I got an email today from David Markus,  the writer of the Edutopia package on Cochrane's "turnaround" that I wrote about yesterday.

I had re-messaged Markus,  the publication's editorial director,  to let him know former Cochrane Principal Terry Brown was challenging his account of then-Superintendent Peter Gorman visiting the east Charlotte middle school in 2006 and proclaiming,  "This may be the worst school I have ever seen."  Brown,  who ended a three-year stint as Cochrane's principal at the end of the 2006-07 school year,  says Gorman never visited the school while he was there.  Brown said he and Gorman had several conversations during the year that the two of them shared in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  and Gorman never gave him any indication that he held such dim views of Cochrane's academic performance.

Markus stands by his reporting: "In an email to me on November 2nd, Pete Gorman corroborated the 'worst' school quote and added that his visit to Cochrane was the most disheartening school visit of his career."  No word from Gorman;  I haven't been able to reach him since he announced his resignation in June.

I still don't know who pitched the Cochrane turnaround story,  which has gotten national and local attention,  or whether Markus realized that part of the proficiency gains he cited came from a change in N.C. testing rules that bumped up most low-scoring schools.  But on the general topic, Markus said:

"We believe it is a  'turnaround'  for the statistics we cite.  As a student of school turnarounds I am sure you know that when a school has fallen as low as Cochrane had,  it will take several years to dig out.  Cochrane is well on its way after only a few,  but as we make plain in our package,  their rise to excellence is not nearly complete.  Nor is it guaranteed.  That said I am very impressed with (Principal) Josh Bishop's team and the results they are achieving."

We're certainly in agreement that turnarounds are complex and slow.  This got me curious enough to do my own walk down memory lane ... actually, the N.C. school report cards. Here's what the numbers show, with some context.

At the end of 2006-07,  the year Gorman may or may not have proclaimed Cochrane the worst,  67 percent of its students passed the reading exam and 37 percent passed math.  The school fell short of the state target for growth,  generally described as an average of one year's academic gain per student.

In 2007-08,  after Brown's retirement,  Valarie Williams was hired to lead Cochrane.  State officials also introduced an eighth-grade science exam,  and bumped up the number of correct answers needed to pass the reading test.  Most educators agreed the old cut-off was too low,  but the change brought a plunge in pass rates across the state,  especially for minority and low-income students and the schools (such as  Cochrane) that served them.  In 2008, Cochrane's pass rates were 32 percent in reading, 34 percent in math and 14 percent in science.  Cochrane again failed to make the growth target.

In 2008-09,  North Carolina started requiring students who failed state exams to try again,  boosting pass rates across the state.  That year Cochrane hit 47 percent in reading,  54 percent in math and 35 percent in science,  and it met the "expected growth" target.

In February 2010,  Gorman reassigned Williams to Vance High School as part of his "strategic staffing" plan to improve that school.  Josh Bishop became interim principal (he got the permanent job at the start of 2010-11).  That year ended with Cochrane at 52 percent passing reading, 67 percent passing math and  61 percent passing science. The school made "high growth."

Last year Cochrane held steady at 52 percent passing reading, declined to 59 percent passing math and rose to 63 percent passing science,  with an "expected growth" rating.  It was a year when many CMS schools saw some slump in scores.

The gains in math and science are impressive, even with the retesting boost.  Still,  it's worth noting that Cochrane continues to hover around 50 percent proficiency on reading.  In 2011,  only 43 percent of students passed both reading and math exams,  a mark that signals readiness to move on to the tougher high school courses.  And the black,  Hispanic and low-income students who make up the majority of Cochrane's students had pass rates about 10 percentage points lower than the average for those same groups in CMS and statewide.

CMS is state's No. 8 employer

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is North Carolina's eighth-largest employer,  down from seventh in 2002,  the Triangle Business Journal reports.  The 2011 list puts CMS just ahead of Wake County Schools,  even though Wake has more students.

Spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte says CMS has 18,120 employees this school year, including 8,890 full-time teachers. (Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh and former school board Chair Eric Davis have both told public groups this month that CMS has 9,300 teachers; I couldn't get an immediate explanation for the 400-teacher gain.)

Public bodies hold four of the top nine spots on the N.C. employer list, with state and federal governments in the No. 1 and 2 spots, respectively.  Charlotte's Carolinas Medical Center is fifth -- up from No. 9 on the old list.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cochrane turnaround tale ... really?

The contrast between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools'  glowing national image and the controversy that surrounds it at home is a source of much discussion.

I suspect those of us in the thick of things do tend to fixate on problems.  Up close,  bumps in the road can look like mountains.

But if problems get exaggerated locally,  I've also seen success exaggerated nationally.  Most recent case in point:  The Edutopia package on Cochrane's  "turnaround"  that's been widely circulated.  I first saw it on the ASCD Smartbrief,  a national roundup of education reporting,  early this month.  CMS officials played the video portion at the conclusion of a Dec.  13 report on schools in transition.

My first reaction was confusion.  Cochrane,  an east Charlotte middle school that's starting to add high school grades this year,  hasn't been on my  "success story"  radar.  Had I missed something?

A look at my data sheets said no.  Cochrane ended 2011 with a composite pass rate of 58 percent on state exams.  Of 35 CMS middle schools,  only four scored lower  --  and two of those,  Spaugh and Williams, closed this year.  More telling,  only two middle schools earned a lower growth rating,  a measure designed to make sure schools are judged on how much their students gain,  not just how well prepared they are when they arrive.

So why is one of the district's weakest middle schools being highlighted as a school that  "beats the odds every day"?  David Markus,  Edutopia's editorial director and the writer of the main article,  hasn't responded to my message asking who suggested the story.  In another part of the package,  an endnote thanks The Broad Foundation for sharing research about top urban districts.

The package focuses mostly on Cochrane's significant gains in pass rates from 2008 to 2011.  What's not  mentioned is that the same can be said for most struggling schools in North Carolina,  thanks to a change in testing that took effect in 2009.  In 2008,  students took the test once.  Starting in 2009,  those who fell below the "passing" line were required to try again,  and be counted as passing if they met the mark on the second test.  Generally,  the more failing students a school had,  the bigger the  "retest"  bump it showed.  As CMS superintendent,  Peter Gorman frequently blasted the retesting system as giving schools an artificial inflation in pass rates.

Gorman, who left CMS in June to work with education technology for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.,  is featured in a dramatic opening to Markus'  story.  It describes Gorman visiting Cochrane in 2006,  the year he started as superintendent: "Known for his no-nonsense determination to turn around the district's failing schools, Gorman minces no words in describing Cochrane: 'This may be the worst school I have ever seen.' "  Gorman is later quoted as saying, five years later, "There was no instructional focus. It was the most disheartening school visit of my career."

Terry Brown,  Cochrane's principal in 2006-07,  called me after reading the first version of this post.  While I had noted that Gorman certainly wasn't saying such things publicly at that time,  and that administrators tend to give their most vivid  "bad schools"  accounts in hindsight,  Brown, who retired in 2007, says this goes beyond dramatic reconstruction.

"Gorman never visited Cochrane the first year he was there.  Not one time,"  Brown said.  "He was scheduled and canceled.  I'm appalled.  None of this is true."

Bottom line:  Edutopia, a publication of the George Lucas Educational Foundation,  is dedicated to highlighting academic solutions that include technology, teacher development and "comprehensive assessment."  CMS is well known for those approaches,  and Cochrane,  as noted prominently in the story,  is working with Texas Instruments to use technology in math instruction.  One sign that it's helping,  from my spreadsheets:  CMS reported that last year only 49 percent of Cochrane sixth-graders were proficient on math exams,  while 65 percent of eighth-graders were.  One troubling signal:  That's down from 75 percent of Cochrane eighth-graders proficient in math the previous year.

I don't want to detract from the hard work and high aspirations of the faculty and students at Cochrane.  I'd love to write their turnaround story sometime down the road,  when I see solid evidence that it's justified.  All this is just to say that improving education is complicated business,  and it's wise to scrutinize naysayers and cheerleaders alike.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Charter costs and West Meck suspensions

A caller raised a good question about this morning's story on per-pupil costs at charter schools serving Mecklenburg students.  He correctly noted that charters don't get public money for buildings,  while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools gets construction and renovation money through county-issued bonds.  The caller suspected that would skew the per-pupil spending reported on the N.C. school report cards.

I'm not sure there's ever a perfect apples-to-apples comparison,  but the state does not include capital expenses   --  that is, building and renovation  --  in the per-pupil tally for charters or traditional public schools,  so it should be a reasonably close comparison of spending on education  (or at least school operating expenses).

While we're scrutinizing numbers,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has issued a correction to some eye-popping suspension numbers from West Mecklenburg High that were reported at last week's school board meeting.

As part of a staff report on discipline and other issues at schools that saw major changes in enrollment,  CMS initially said West Meck had 2,452 suspensions during the first half of 2010-11  --  with an enrollment just under 2,200  --  and 1,482 with a slightly smaller student body this year.  A corrected report issued last week  (while I was taking a few days off, thus the delay in reporting)  amends that to 1,226 last year and 741 this year, exactly half of what was presented to the board.

The email from CMS Communications Director Tahira Stalberte noting the revisions does not address the source of the error.

Monday, December 12, 2011

CMS search: The novel

A full report on what the public said about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent search is on the agenda for Tuesday's school board meeting.

The Cliff Notes version of the online survey report has been out for more than a week,  but the full version is posing a challenge,  according to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute researchers who conducted the poll.  It seems the open-ended question at the end got a lot of responses.  Of the 9,300 who took the survey,  about 3,600 wrote more about what they wanted  --  and brevity was not the defining characteristic.

"The number of words in those responses rivaled full-length novels,"  a member of the research team said last week.  "For instance,  'The Grapes of Wrath.' "

As of last week's forums,  the researchers seemed unsure of how to proceed.  Clearly they realized people who took the time to write deserved more than the very brief synopses in the preliminary report,  such as "teacher needs,"  "communications"  and  "equity/diversity."  But it's also unlikely that board members want to read hundreds of pages of unedited comments.

I'll be among the group listening to how they handle it Tuesday  ...  and keeping my fingers crossed that the new board's first meeting doesn't turn into a deadline-buster.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time for an insider?

One of the themes that bubbled up in this week's superintendent-search forums is a resistance to reform ideas handed down by philanthropists,  the federal government and national experts.

Over and over,  speakers said they want someone who understands and is committed to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  someone willing to work out local solutions before looking to the national grant-makers who can bestow millions to test their ideas in Charlotte.  Some explicitly urged the school board and search firm to look inside CMS for leadership.

It's an interesting dynamic.  When James Pughsley resigned in 2005,  disappointment with CMS leadership expressed itself in a push to hire from outside.  Some board members thought insider Frances Haithcock, the interim superintendent and one of three finalists for the permanent post,  would have been an excellent choice,  but they ended up agreeing that the public wanted fresh eyes on CMS' challenges.  The result,  as we all know,  was Peter Gorman,  who was leading the much smaller district in Tustin,  Calif.,  and made a strong impression as a finalist.

There's plenty of frustration in 2011,  despite the fact that CMS is basking in national acclaim and making gains on test scores.  But many seem to blame the worst of recent years  --  massive layoffs,  school closings,  an increase in testing and a heavy-handed rollout of teacher performance pay  --  on Gorman's connections with The Broad Foundation, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other national  agenda-setters.

The name that comes up most often as an internal successor to Gorman is Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark  (Hugh Hattabaugh agreed not to apply when he became interim superintendent).  She has a long history with CMS as a teacher, principal and central-office administrator.  She has also won national awards and graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy. Some will see that as the best of all worlds  ...  and some may see it as the worst.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Eighth-graders: Phooey on reading!

I suppose it's no shock in this wired generation,  but fewer than one in five eighth-graders in Charlotte and nationwide say they read for fun almost every day.  And about one-third say they never read when they don't have to.

That's a tidbit from the latest "nation's report card" report on reading and math results for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and 20 other large urban districts.  The sampling of students who took the 2011 eighth-grade reading test were asked some background questions , including how often they read for fun on their own time.  Eighteen percent of CMS students said  "almost every day,"  matching the national average.  Only Chicago;  Washington,  D.C.;  and Louisville,  Ky.,  were higher,  at 19 percent.  Dallas had the fewest daily readers at 9 percent.

Non-readers made up 33 percent of the national test-takers and 30 percent in CMS.  Other cities ranged from 40 percent choosing  "almost never"  in Fresno,  Calif.,  to 17 percent in Chicago.

Not surprisingly,  the report says students who read more frequently for pleasure scored higher on the reading tests.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Davis: Charlotte's hard on superintendents

At Tuesday night's superintendent search forum,  the talk was as much about keeping a superintendent as hiring one.

In one classroom at Myers Park High,  half a dozen people talked about what it would take to break the pattern of superintendents spending three to five years,  rolling out reforms and moving on.  One woman noted that when Gorman arrived in 2006,  he said he expected to be superintendent until his daughter graduated from high school  (somewhere around 2017).  She speculated that he meant it at the time,  but the job wore him down.

In the next room,  the group was larger and the comments edgier.  Several people asked board Chair Eric Davis about the search process.  He said he was just there to listen,  but eventually he joined in.

When Keith Hurley,  who ran for school board this year,  said the superintendent had been getting bonuses without accountability,  Davis told him he was just plain wrong.  Peter Gorman had specific performance goals,  Davis said,  and during the years of budget cuts Gorman declined a bonus even when he met them.

When retired counselor Dee Williams said the new superintendent needs to make eye contact when people address the school board,  Davis and board member Richard McElrath talked about looking at monitors to get a better view of speakers.

Near the end,  David Phillips talked about marketing Charlotte to superintendent candidates:  "They have to select us, too.  We have a house to sell.  We have to put our best foot forward."

That's when Davis really dived in.

"I don't think we have trouble winning someone,"  he said.  "We have trouble keeping them.  Pete came with all this energy and openness and eye contact.  Then he made some mistakes and we got mad."

Davis said CMS "made two terrible missteps last spring: That darn house bill and all the tests."

He was referring to dozens of new CMS tests created as part of performance pay,  and to House Bill 546, drafted by CMS staff and introduced in the state legislature to let CMS launch performance pay without teacher approval.  Both created backlash from teachers and parents, who complained that Gorman was overtesting students and eroding teachers' trust.

The CMS errors were compounded by negative public reaction,  Davis said:  "If we want someone who's going to stay with us, we have to support them when they screw up.  ...  We don't gain anything when we tear down our school system and when we bludgeon our superintendent at the public comment period."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools gears up its search for a new leader,  the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority is hiring its new chief this week.

Tom Murray, whose hiring will be voted on Wednesday,  has been offered a $275,000 salary,  an $8,000 car allowance and a yet-unspecified bonus opportunity starting in 2013.

The CMS board will negotiate a compensation package when it hires a superintendent this spring.  Expect it to be in the $300,000 range,  around what Peter Gorman was making when he left.  And expect howls from struggling taxpayers,  along with educators who make a fraction of that and have been without raises and bonuses for three years.

I'm not going to argue that the head educator should make more.  But I was struck by the contrast in responsibility between the two similarly-paid public jobs.

"The CRVA,  with a budget of $50 million and 200 employees,  manages the NASCAR Hall of Fame,   Bojangles' Coliseum,  Ovens Auditorium and the Charlotte Convention Center,"  April Bethea and Steve Harrison report.  "The authority also works on marketing and new business development programs."

CMS has a budget of over $1 billion and almost 18,000 employees.  It oversees about 170 schools educating more than 140,000 kids,  along with numerous other office and support buildings.

The school district's budget comes primarily from state,  county and federal money.  The CRVA's comes from taxes on hotel and motel rooms and a 1 percent tax on prepared food and drinks.

It takes a crisis

Consider the throngs that met repeatedly in Mint Hill a couple of years ago to counter proposed Rocky River High boundaries.  Or the folks who packed school board meetings and marched in the street last year when the board was preparing to close and merge westside schools.

Then consider last night's ho-hum turnout for the first two forums on hiring a new superintendent:  about 20 at Butler High in Matthews,  40 at Johnson C. Smith University in west Charlotte. Weed out the school board members, moderators and presenters and you've got well under 50 combined.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that it takes a crisis to mobilize people around public education  --  or at least it takes a specific change that affects them personally.

That's an ongoing challenge for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders,  who are inevitably accused of failing to communicate once an issue explodes into public consciousness. (One odd omission: There were no signs directing people to the discussion sites last night -- people were on their own to navigate a college campus and a large high school.)

There are four more forums this week. It will be interesting to see who shows up. Will the people trying to create a stronger voice for Spanish-speaking families turn out for tonight's east Charlotte session?  Will the Huntersville folks who got blindsided by Hough High boundary decisions be at North Meck on Thursday?

Whether or not you agree with their philosophy and style,  you've got to respect the dedication of the "regulars" who turn out for all these evening sessions.  At JSCU I saw Kojo Nantambu of the local NAACP;  Elyse Dashew,  a magnet parent who just ran for school board;  and Blanche Penn,  who's a speaker at most school board meetings.  At Butler,  my colleague Elisabeth Arriero spoke with Aidan McConnell, a Providence High senior whose work with Mecklenburg Youth Voice is immersing him in CMS politics and policy.

Board member Richard McElrath has his own idea about who needs to get motivated: Men.

The online survey about the superintendent search drew four female responses to every one from a male.  The turnout at JCSU was even more skewed than that.  When the gathering split into two discussion groups,   McElrath found himself the only guy at the table.

"We need some men,"  he said.  "The community needs to see males out there working hard."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What do people want for CMS?

Trustworthy,  reliable,  intelligent and fair.  Those are top characteristics Mecklenburg residents are seeking in the next superintendent,  according to a preliminary report on what students, teachers and other adults said in an online survey.

This week the search for a new leader of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools moves into the face-to-face phase of engaging the public in a decision that will shape the region for years to come.  Read the plan here  --  and if you want to speak up,  attend one of the six forums taking place Monday,  Tuesday and Thursday.

The school board and its search firm plan to use the input to craft a profile that will help the board choose the right person for the job  --  and help candidates figure out what kind of community they're looking at.  The goal is to hire a superintendent in the spring,  with two or three finalists meeting the public before the board picks one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Civil rights groups laud diversity plan

Friday afternoon the federal Justice and Education departments issued a joint advisory on how "educational institutions can lawfully pursue voluntary policies to achieve diversity or avoid racial isolation," overturning a 2008 directive issued under the Bush administration. Read it here.

"The elementary and secondary guidance discusses school districts’ options in areas such as student assignment, student transfers, school siting, feeder patterns, and school zoning. Similarly, the postsecondary guidance provides examples of how colleges and universities can further diversity in contexts including admissions, pipeline programs, recruitment and outreach, and mentoring, tutoring, retention, and support programs," the letter says.

The news landed too late for official Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reaction, but national civil rights groups were quick to applaud the statement.

“This thoughtfully crafted guidance affirms, as a majority of Supreme Court justices have recognized, that K-12 schools, colleges, and universities have compelling interests in ensuring integration and alleviating racial and economic isolation in our schools," says a statement sent Friday evening by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition on School Diversity, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other groups. "Racial segregation and concentrated poverty are increasing in our nation’s schools, suggesting that we are backtracking on the successes of the civil rights movement. Many schools are more racially isolated today than they were in the 1970s. Today’s guidance recognizes the harms of resegregation and the benefits of diversity."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's race-based assignment plan, which included drawing boundaries to increase diversity and offering magnet seats based partly on race, was overturned after a long legal battle. Since then, some have lamented the increasing isolation of African American, Hispanic and low-income students in CMS schools.

"Racial isolation remains far too common in America's classrooms today and it is increasing," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says in a press release. "This denies our children the experiences they need to succeed in a global economy, where employers, coworkers and customers will be increasingly diverse. It also breeds educational inequity, which is inconsistent with America's core values."

Face time on CMS search

After an online survey that drew more than 9,300 responses,  the folks helping Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools find a new superintendent are ready to spend some face time with local residents.

Next week local moderators and professionals from PROACT Search will hold a series of open discussion forums around Mecklenburg County,  as well as invitation-only small-group discussions with ministers,  business leaders,  teachers,  principals,  neighborhood groups,  representatives of African American and Latino groups and others.  There will also be one-on-one interviews with elected officials,  senior CMS staff and other selected leaders.  In all sessions,  participants will be asked to talk about CMS' strengths and challenges , what they'd like to see in a superintendent and how they can support the search.

Read details of the community engagement plan here  (I'm also keeping a list of links related to the search in the right rail of this blog).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

High-poverty schools shortchanged?

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that more than 40 percent of the nation's high-poverty schools are getting short shrift on local and state education money.

As many blog readers know,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spends significantly more per student at schools with the highest levels of student poverty,  in part because the federal Title I program pumps in millions of dollars in aid.  The Ed Department set out to see whether school districts are using that money to supplant state and local spending,  shifting money to wealthier schools.  They pulled federal money out of the equation and recalculated 2008-09 per-pupil spending for schools in more than 13,000 districts.

According to the news release,  more than 40 percent of Title I schools spent less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than more affluent schools in the same district.

“Educators across the country understand that low-income students need extra support and resources to succeed,  but in far too many places policies for assigning teachers and allocating resources are perpetuating the problem rather than solving it,”  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says in the release.  “The good news in this report is that it is feasible for districts to address this problem and it will have a significant impact on educational opportunities for our nation’s poorest children.”

I downloaded their data from CMS (go here for the raw data),  and it doesn't look like high-poverty schools are coming up short,  even without the federal aid factored in.  Not surprisingly,  size and need seem to be the biggest factors in high per-pupil spending;  at very small schools,  administrative,  support and building costs are divided among fewer students.  Small alternative schools had the highest state and local totals,  led by $15,545 at Derita,  which served students with severe behavioral problems.

Garinger High was the highest regular school at $7,462.   At that time,  no CMS high schools had hit the 75 percent poverty mark that CMS uses to distribute Title I aid,  but it's a high-poverty neighborhood school getting lots of extra support from CMS.  In general,  the high-spending list was dominated by small high-poverty elementary schools,  such as Shamrock Gardens and Thomasboro,  and small magnets such as the Montessori schools,  Davis Military/Leadership and Davidson IB.

The lowest per-pupil state and local spending was at large suburban schools with low poverty levels,  according to the federal tally.  Alexander Graham Middle was lowest at $2,907,  followed by Community House Middle at $3,039.  Wilson Middle,  which closed this year,  was the Title I school that landed lowest on the spending list,  95th of 167 schools.