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.


Anonymous said...

Gorman was out maneuvered and left. Are we surprised he lied?

Strategic staffing doesn't work. Val Williams doesn't work. Please cms, fire her.

Wiley Coyote said...

This is a perfect example of the "Who's on First" routine...

..or a circular firing squad.

Take your pick.

DistrictSix said...

As long as we don't compete with the rest of the world, we are in good shape.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone could check Gorman's calendar from 2006 to find out if/when he visited Cochrane. I'm sure they kept detailed records.

Anonymous said...

People need to remember that the principal is only the administrator. It's the teachers who are working in the trenches getting (or not getting) the job done based on what they have to work with.

You have to look at more than just the numbers and who the principal was. What was the make up of the school during those years? It's hard to believe test scores got worse without there being some other variables having an impact.

There has to be more to the story.

Anonymous said...

Let’s not focus on the Gorman quote. The issue is that this story was not published independent of CMS advance review. Cochrane was an awful place to be at the time Gorman is reported as visiting, no shocker here. Gorman's detailed schedule was posted on a daily basis. I am sure Gorman was not speaking about teachers at the time he allegedly made the visit. The Board of Education should ask who on CMS staff was under whose orders to be on spin duty for this story. This should not be executive session discussion, it is Public Information after all.

Anonymous said...

I visited Cochrane in the mid 2000s, before Dr. Gorman arrived in Charlotte. I was appalled at the physical condition of that school--would have agreed with the later quote from Dr. Gorman. The school obviously had been neglected for many, many years.

My questions are-- how did the school get to that state? And why had Cochran's school board rep (district 4 I believe--Louise Woods and then Tom Tate) not been screaming bloody murder about the state of the school?

Wiley Coyote said...

From the CMS website:

Cochrane Middle School ('02)
6200 Starhaven Drive Charlotte, NC 28215

Overall Budget: $16,523,940.54

CMS Project Manager: Mike Higgins

Architect: Morris Berg Architects
General Contractor: Godfrey Construction Company
HVAC: Cam-Ful Industries
Plumbing: Southeastern Plumbing and Heating
Electrical: Starr Electric Company

Scope of Work

Design and construction for complete renovation of existing buildings including plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. Building additions/renovations including classrooms, dining, kitchen, music, arts, and workforce development.


Phase II of this project is closed. The project continues to progress with work in the remote cafeteria. Completion expected by the end of October. The kitchen was completed and opened September 15, 2011.

Work in the locker rooms, mechanical rooms, entryways, and the security camera system are substantially complete.

Sooo..they have been working on this school since '02?

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 7:57..

Here is a snapshot of the mindset in 2005:

CMS’ denial of suburban growth also irked James, who has repeatedly criticized the school system and the board of education on his Web site,, where he runs streaming video of commissioners’ meetings.

He cited as an example of CMS’ misplaced priorities the new Marie G. Davis Elementary School, built at a cost of $18 million to serve inner-city students. The problem, James said, is the school is at only 50 percent to 70 percent capacity.

“There are numerous other examples of newly rebuilt schools half-empty,” James wrote. “CMS says it is a myth, but the numbers don’t lie.”

James was no less candid in an e-mail message following the commissioners’ vote.

“The question for voters is whether they choose to reward incompetent planning and political payoffs that have significantly increased the size of the package,” he wrote. “CMS consistently has mismanaged and wasted millions. They have money in this bond package to re-build and expand schools that are half empty.”

James also said he thinks CMS is less than candid when it comes to construction costs.

“For months the county commission asked for a ‘priority list’ from CMS. We never received one,” he wrote.

Puckett criticized the vote.

“When you allow politics and social engineering to guide your facilities program, you end up with the problem we face of debt service growing faster than tax revenues and students attending schools at twice the population for which they were designed, and other schools half full,” Puckett wrote. “CMS has gone to great lengths to cover the facts that that they continue to be irresponsible with bond dollars,” he wrote.

CMS has 17 million square feet of space and 4,000 acres of land. The system also had requested as part of the bond package an additional $80 million for land acquisition, bringing its total request to $510 million. Opponents of the construction bond were in favor of money for land purchase, although it was whittled to about $46 million, including land for libraries and park sites.

At least 61 percent of the bond money would be used to accommodate growth. CMS estimates an enrollment of 120,000 students now, and that number is expected to increase by 53,000 in the next 10 years

Do the math. Based on their projections, we should have 173,000 students by 2015. That's an average increase of 5,300 per year.

The problem is, since 2005, CMS has averaged an increase of only 3,412 per year. A difference of about 20,000 less.

Here we are in 2011 and CMS was able to close 10 schools and that 2005 bond vote failed.

Until we completely ignore political pandering, race and income as factors as to where we build schools, nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

2011-Close Smith Language Academy on Tyvola.
2011-Renovate Smith for "administrative usage."
2011-Hear sucking sound of wasted funds on facility that should be leveled and sold as land for upscale condos or budget apartments to match next door.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 6:43...

You get no argument from me.

I've been to Smith many times and wondered how much of the paint flaking from the breezeways contained lead.

...and those "budget apartments" next door? No comment needed.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, I couldn't agree with you more about the political pandering in decision making. When we arrived here in 1994 we were shocked by the condition of many schools (and the utter lack of schools in fast growing outlying areas). Apparently, though, all was well as long as CMS had the reputation of being at the forefront of the busing movement. Many friends have told me that the board was perfectly happy to bus suburban children into crumbling inner city schools during that time period, so little maintenance or updating was done. And of course we can recall Arthur Griffin in the late 90's declaring that he would never allow another school to be built south of highway 51 (that'll teach all those newcomers moving into the outskirts of Charlotte). By the way, it is interesting that Arthur is now offering his "expertise" to the new board to help with assignment and building issues.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all crazy ! You want accountability from CMS or that trader Gorman. He is such a sellout in 10 years you will find out just how much he "took" from the community and cost CMS children. I put my trust in the teachers and administrators LONG before I wait for a qoute from the "crook" Gorman. And we are renovating Smith for offices such a waste as you told the parents it would be leased with huge revenue. Your quickly finding out what the value is for a used school buidling in a lease transaction! And thats if you can get someone to lease them. I say lease them too the county as homeless shelters thats the best use for the community. If our education system does not turn around quickly we are going to fill alot more of those shelters as well .

Anonymous said...

Louise Woods what a prime example of a idiot that one is. She is so outdated with her thinking its incredible. I think she still thinks Gorman is in charge. I am sure Gorman got that Chamber Christmas card with his bonus as well.

Wiley Coyote said...

Gorman is gone.

At least he had the guts to call some things as he saw them; Bright Beginnings as a waste of $22 million, the need for budget cuts based on all information he had at the time to work with and greater accountability.

Was he perfect? No, but the Gorman Derrangement Syndrome continues...

As far as "costing children", Gorman did nothing any more or less than prior educrats and busing didn't "cost" them...

Anonymous said...

Of Course Pete Gorman was not perfect...and. He did more than camouflaged the budget, the need to close schools, and the pretence of the need for high salary area superintendents. He left us depleted of experienced highly effective Teachers, which will haunt CMS for years and years to come. You darn tootin he wasn’t perfect!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right about "Gorman derangement", Wiley. Unbelievable, especially if you look back at news articles when he was arriving. He was treated like royalty (or a rock star), which was absolutely ridiculous (and I think he agreed)! But that is the Charlotte way, apparently.
Education in general and CMS in particular have (for many years) been so politicized by the media, ed advocates, and politicians that common sense seemingly has gone by the wayside.

Ann Doss Helms said...

10:44, I have to agree -- and I was the one doing a lot of that coverage. I think it's important to help people understand who the new superintendent is and what his plans are. And in 2006, there was a real sense that CMS needed a leader who could restore public confidence, so that was part of the dynamic. Still, after awhile I started feeling like a stalker or paparazzi; I was ready to stop focusing on Gorman long before our editors/readers were. We'll be doing the new supe shuffle again before long; we'll all see how it plays out in a very different media environment.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 10:22...

You have to quantify all of those "quality teachers" who left soley because of Gorman.

Public education is no different today than it was 20 years ago and in my opinion, it's about to get worse.

As Ann stated, people fall all over themselves for the next big thing and when a certain faction doesn't like what they see, the sniping starts.

We needed Gorman. We needed to close schools. We needed someone in charge to make the statement "there is no data to support Bright Beginnings", which everyone knows but many refuse to acknowledge is a waste of $22 million a year. We need someone to work with what they have, which is really very little, since the Feds and state (let's not forget those activist judges who legislate from the bench) pretty much dictate what the LEAs can do and not do.

I've said it a dozen times and will say it again.

It won't matter who the next Superintendent is. The faction that loved Gorman may hate this person or vice cersa.

The whole culture and mindset of public education has to change before any real change comes to the system.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyoone will be brave enough to suggest forgoing federal money to get out from under the "strings" that come with it. It would allow the situation where we could actually operate a public education system.

Anonymous said...

Most teachers I know want OUT


Anonymous said...

We will be filling the halls now not with teachers, but TFA's and Veterans and latteral entry. This is an injustice for our children!