Friday, August 17, 2012

CMS 'Shark Week' concludes

OK, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools isn't really participating in the Discovery Channel's annual feeding frenzy. But ever since the state released the 2012 test results and graduation rates last week, I've been diving in and finding scary things that lurk beneath the surface of this nationally acclaimed district.

Shark Week!
The best and worst of the accountability movement have been on display.

The flaws in North Carolina's testing and rating system  --  and in CMS' execution of it -- are as numerous as,  well,  fish in the sea.

But on Wednesday,  the school board held a somber, thoughtful public discussion of how to make things better.  They didn't point fingers.  Several members noted the hard work of teachers and principals,  even at schools where the numbers didn't look good.  They asked serious questions about programs that didn't turn out like they'd hoped they would,  and they talked about how to learn from stumbles as well as successes.  There was hardly anyone in the audience,  which was a shame.  If you care about education and you weren't watching live,  consider checking out the archived video (the academic report starts at the 1:01 mark).

Contrast that with the celebratory tone Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark struck when summarizing the district's strategic staffing plan for a national publication. Or with the midyear report interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh gave the board on the schools that saw dramatic changes in the wake of closings.  That report included raw data that indicated serious discipline issues at newly created preK-8 schools,  but those numbers weren't mentioned at the public presentation,  and several board members seemed surprised when I raised questions later.  Instead,  the board heard from one preK-8 principal who talked about good things happening in her school.  Based on that,  some board members began referring to those schools as a proven success.

I don't know how candid board members and top staff are behind closed doors, or how deep they'd have delved if the press and the public weren't asking questions.  But if we hadn't had hard numbers forcing everyone to acknowledge problems,  I wonder if the public discussion would have been another round of "Everything's fine!"

Instead,  we can expect an in-depth report on strategic staffing, the preK-8 schools and the Harding/Waddell merger  (and maybe the Alexander Middle/Davidson IB merger,  per board member Rhonda Lennon's request).   My hope is that Superintendent Heath Morrison and the board invite principals, teachers, parents and students to hold a frank public talk about what went well, what went sour and how to make 2012-13 more successful.  That won't be easy.  Board members might have to acknowledge that some of their decisions went awry.  Employees would have to be convinced such a meeting is neither a public flogging nor a PR fest.

But Morrison has vowed to rebuild public trust. This might be a chance to show how he handles rough seas.


Anonymous said...

If CMeS is "nationally acclaimed", then God help our country and our schools.There is nothing but smoke and lies that come out of the data from past and present administrations. There is rampant distrust in our nation regarding education. Until there is an unbiased audit of CMeS and the data (just like UNC) there will be no puppetmaster gifted enough to smooze and coddle this county into the belief that we are one of the best in the nation. Ann Clark PLEASE? BROAD PRIZE PLEASE? There are still taxpayers in this town that have common sense.

Anonymous said...

There is no loyality to teachers or principal in CMS. Teachers are leaving CMS in large numbers. Ann, that would be a great story to find out the total number. Cabarrus, Gaston, Union, Mooresville, and surrounding counties are hiring some of the best teachers.

Wiley Coyote said...


I think you finally hit the nail on the head.

Educrats don't want to deal with the "facts". I put facts in quotes because education facts/data are many times suspect and elusive.

How many times over the past decade have you heard "we're closing the achievement gap"?

How many BOE members said a word when Gorman stated at the present rate, it will take another 15 to 21 years to close it? (He stated 21 years back in 2007 and 15 years in 2011)

I can't wait to see comments from the BOE in 5 years on the outcome of Project LIFT.

...the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round....

Anonymous said...

There was an old CMS principal who once shared with me his theory of leadership in education. If an educator is in their leadership position for more that three years, they better think about moving into a new position. He believed it took three years for folks to figure out just how much the leader doesn't know. At that point, the lies become more obvious! There seems to be much truth to his thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I was just having this conversation at the breakfast table. I was wondering if the tech pilot school project is chaos and/or a dismal failure will we actually be told the truth, or will it be business as usual-total denial. Then when wireless is everywhere and all schools give the go ahead it will be chaos times 100. Honesty is the best policy.

Anonymous said...

The dismanlting of CMS can not start too soon!

Christine Mast said...

Let's add the rezoning of North Mecklenburg High School (b/c Hough HS opened) to the discussion, too, Rhonda. Let's start acknowledging what you all did to N. Meck.

I WAS in the audience for this Board meeting. I remember gasping out loud when I saw some schools with a former 3rd grade reading EOG pass rate in the mid-30's. I was left speechless.

Perhaps Dr. Morrison has a taste now of why CMS is renowned on a national level, but the locals know better, and for good and valid reasons.

I'm probably beating a dead horse, but it was so irritating to listen to all of them discuss how we can't be satisfied with "good" so we need to strive for "great." While at the same time, the graduation requirements policy is taking our requirements from 28 credits down to 24.

And yes, I may be naive about the number of credits... when I made this complaint, I guess I made a big mistake and assumed that the actual courses involved were quality courses. If I can't even make THAT assumption, then yes, I guess it will never matter how many credits the kids are required to take.

Ann, I have to disagree a bit with your assessment of how the Board members reacted. Richard most certainly DID point fingers, and his desire to return to busing was quite evident in his request to Ann Clark. He expressed his disappointment that he didn't see a particular statistic within the report. So he asked her to include it next time... he wants to see the difference in performance between two groups of kids. The first group of kids are economically disadvantaged (ED) kids in a majority-ED-school VERSUS ED kids in a minority-ED school. His words went something like "... that answer will tell us everything."

Rhonda and Richard pointed fingers at the community. That the schools can't do this alone. I have to agree. But to make it sound like this is an epiphany? Please. It's not rocket science to admit out loud that the home environment has a direct impact on student achievement.

Tim pointed fingers at the NC General Assembly, for allowing football practice to start before school actually starts. Good to know that this is your biggest concern, Tim.

Can everyone see now that the sheer behemoth size of CMS is at the very heart of why we don't have a handle on anything? There are so many moving parts to this district, that's it's virtually impossible to manage.

If you throw all your resources at the lower end of the spectrum, you're automatically allowing the higher end of the spectrum to "just get by." Then the middle gets ignored, too.

When are we going to have real discussions about how to start "fixing" our district? When are we going to allow the school-level staff to have input and tell us what they need to do their job?

Bill Stevens said...

Ah, Christine and you know you will never see any nahd wringing from any BOE member about the declining performance of our white students.

Richard is lost in the 60's. With CMS as a majority minority school district, busing only irritates the few suburban middle class black and white families. He incorrectly believes that a black student sitting next to a white student will make the black student smarter. Secondly he needs a math lesson. Most all majority white schools have few to any seats available. If you turned this district on its head and attempted to redraw busing lines, the exodus of good teachers, families and students will only accelerate. The state school board is agressively stopping any charter school in Mecklenburg County that could draw more suburban families away from CMS.

Bottom line, what does bringing in 3rd grade reading level kids to an 8th grade accomplish for them or anybody?

With al lthe new subgroup test reporting, we are still going to see how far behind these kids are. The BOE is only interested in how to keep certain urban schools from looking too bad. One thing they do not realize. They will probably lose a good bit of Title 1 funds if they bus too well.

Anonymous said...

Ann, I would normally be excited to attend BOE meetings and I did a lot during the 1990's. But as I see it, my time is more important for a second job so I can send my kid to a private school and the BOE meetings just like when Leake and Dunlap were there are simply a case of:


Anonymous said...

Is that shark in the tank Kojo? I see alot of similar traits. Get all the LIFT kids to go see Kojo in the tank run now.

Wiley Coyote said...

If you want to understand why change won't happen anytime soon, read Fannie Flono's op-ed piece today.

Her mindset is pervasive throughout this community....

...blaming everyone and everything else but where the true blame lies - personal and parental responsibility.

Truth Seeker said...

Quality courses - probably wouldn't include the online recovery kind that kids can knock out in a week or so. Nor would they include the courses you can pass based only on collaborative class work even with failing test scores. Some students graduate based on "portfolios" because they can't pass the end of course test. This would be fine if the portfolios showed quality work on all the standards. But there are not consistent portfolio requirements from school to school . Some probably couldnt show you completed portfolios because there is no audit.

Anonymous said...

Learned helplessness. Let's talk about this.

Anonymous said...

Wiley is 100% correct , in that todays society just wants to make excuses. Parents need to take responsibility and "ownership" the role education has on a childs future. Problem with that is when you get a active parent who questions CMS wrongs they lie. Then they hide. Then parent gets frustrated. Then parent leaves CMS going to charter/private/home. CMS needs to "open its books" and earn trust real soon or the exodus will continue. If the rain does not stop the mud will continue to ruin the hill. I agree with Wiley in that we need less parent swith excuses , but in the same scenario less lies from CMS. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

Board meeting.

In order to view the video streams you must have either Windows Media Player (version 9 or higher) or the Silverlight plug-in embedded in your web browser.

Oh, well.

BolynMcClung said...


I was very disappointed in the portion of Wednesday’s board meeting where CMS and the board found it in their hearts to blame parents for the report. I didn’t hear them getting credit for the miniscule .4 increases. That was all professional development.

By the end of the night I could see that believing any reported number was useless. Old numbers weren’t relevant. Lack of participation by whole high school graduating classes. Retests clouded all. And that AMO “crap” tells me that next year’s End-of-Grade reports will be a feeding frenzy.

Let me give an example of the worthlessness of the report.

Walter G. Byers was listed gloriously as a 17 something improvement over the previous year. For the past several years, Byers has been the Race-to-the-Bottom champion of elementary schools. Its prior performance was 38. Providence Springs Elem. in the previous year was 60 points higher. HIGHER! Doesn’t CMS need a mercy rule?

My conclusion, which I had not come to prior to Wednesday night, is that there is a perception problem. But now I’m wondering who has it?

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

There is NO TRUST in the community with CMeS because when you talk to any frontline teacher in this system in PRIVATE they will tell you how much disorder is going on. How the system is top heavy with individuals that know nothing about how to teach the masses within a classroom. The current market adjustment slap in their faces will olny make matters worse. Over 40 students now in the classroom with support that sometimes is borderline brutality will only produce a continued exodus. Payroll will be reduced because it will be full of teachers with less than 5 years of experience. You thought that 1/3 of principals leaving CMeS was a lot. The other poster was right. Find the number of teachers and especially verteran teachers that have left. Better yet take a survey of those teachers and ask what they think of our system and why are they leaving.


Bill Stevens said...

Boyln, welcome to the world of "we are the government and we are herre to help you". Most of cringe when we hear that. Many however are being lead into the worship of big government and thus they do not have to take responsibility for their consequences because it will not be up to themselves to help themselves out of it. Big government is now their god.

Lastly, as for comparing data year after year, this is common educrat strategy to keep moving anything around, difficulty of tests, student makeup of schools, etc. to keep accusations at bay. This is stuff masters degrees in education is made from.

For me, when I see kids out on the street at 1:00 at night as Dr. Murphy first talked about when he was here, I see no problem throwing up my hands and telling this community that they have self inflicted their future upon themselves. I would still work to get good teachers inthe schools, but cut the per pupil spending back to the point they would still get more per pupil than other schools but it would only be by the amount of Title 1 and the special NC lottery money.

BolynMcClung said...


Don’t include me in that world.

I’m not at all sure you will find the late President there either on this local issue.

When The Great Communicator spoke of someone being there to offer unwanted help, he was speaking of Washington. Reagan believed in of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and state governments. He would have been critical of CMS but he wouldn’t have been there with an axe to cut them off at the knees.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is a big government/small government/no government issue. I come from (and taught in) a county school system that is larger than CMS. The difference between that school system and CMS is that many of the educational leaders, at both the central and school levels, as well as many of the workers in central administration here in CMS are not very competent at their jobs.

Lack of competence usually leads to having to cover up for one's mistakes (or passing the blame to someone else). This leads to lack of transparency. Ann Clark's article hailing the success of the Strategic Staffing Initiative is a prime example. The school board glossing over major problems at Wednesday's meeting is another.

I have seen a big county school system do it right, because most people in the system were the model of competence. Of course, if you want competent people, you have to being willing to pay for them. This school system pay it's employees 20-30% less than where I came from. You get what you pay for.

CMS wastes a lot of money because they have incompetent people at the central administrative level and many incompetent school level administrators. The programs themselves may have merit, but we will never know until the people of Charlotte and North Carolina are willing to pay for competence.

Bill Stevens said...

I believe in local public schools. However local control went away as the feds kept stepping up their interference. There are enough federal laws in place to provide the necessary legal protections. However when you get a mindset in control of your local board that wants to guarantee success versus opportunity, we have a huge problem. Especially when they refuse to look at issues with how their decisions are deterimental to most other students.

I think the question of whether CMS is on the right path or not is answered by the analysis of the exodus.

Unknown said...

CMS is so MASSive that it cannot move forward, there is only inertia.

Bill Stevens said...

3:07, I used to have that mindset also till I had to go nose to nose with may of the CMS officals in the late 90's. You do not pay incompetent people more to make them competent. That is CMS's model. You do not bring in politcally trained educrats. I saw back then that many CMS adminstrative jobs where being held by the buddy buddy system and by skin color. Incompetence festers in that environement. I have seen it at my company, a Fortune 500 company.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right. Paying incompetent peope more does not make them competent. I suggest offering more money for a position when it is posted. This usually results in having more competent applicants from which to choose.

CMS would have to do some massive firing and then some massive hiring to begin making the changes that are necessary to make this a quality school system. I pulled my own tow kids out of CMS two years ago to send them to private school, because the schools are not run well and they put too much emphasis on testing.

Anonymous said...

Agree thanks to Time Morgan, Eric Davis, Rhonda Lemmon, Joyce, Richard we have class rooms with 40 students in them and over worked teachers who just got blessed with a $800 raise. Wow great job BOE general public needs to remember this and vote next election. Anybody , but Davis , Lemmon , Joyce and Richard will be better for the community. A sweeping change of accountability is needed then some trust can be earned.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the press is asking questions but one does have to wonder where CMS might be today if the proper questions had been asked during the 90's and early 2000's. Perhaps if they had dived into test results they might have informed the public that the same achievement gap existed in wake county as here in Charlotte. Instead we continually heard that Wake was superior to CMS because they bused based on income. Perhaps there would be less animosity towards the suburbs if the community had early on seen the facts about spending. Instead the public didn't have a clue about differences in per pupil spending or the number of schools built in the burbs versus those built or totally refurbished in urban areas. And did anyone ever see a critique in the paper of the decision to build Waddell? So it's great we're seeing due diligence now, but where was it when it could have prevented some of the mess we have today.

Anonymous said...

Waddell HIgh School was a colossal mistake. Can't blame the Gormanator for this. However, it's time to put this forced busing era school board decision to rest. At least a good K-8 magnet school is now housed in the building.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 4:59...

Do you think 40 per classroom just started in the past two years?

Do you think teachers have been "overworked" in the same two years?

I notice you didn't mention Tom Tate, the logest serving panderer on the CMS BOE.

CMS was in a sorry state before any of them were elected to the Board...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to read an article about the disastrous long-term effects of forced busing in Charlotte, Boston, Chicago, and everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Funny. How American's have an aversion to forced government intrusion.

Anonymous said...

never going to happen in this paper, 5:20. It would be too hard to explain why they supported busing for so long (and meck acts would hate it).

Bill Stevens said...

3:33, the answer to the question is to eliminate 80% of the ivory tower at CMS and replace 60% or so of the schoolhouse leadership. Essentially, turn schoolhouse leadership back to the teachers and few administrators. Too many administrators have no clue about the real world classroom issues and thus their mission really needs to be how to help the teacher, how to support the teacher, how to create an image at the school to the students that they are expected to be engaged and prepared to be the best they can be every day.

The problem is our sleazy politicians have made it nearly impossible for the students to have any interest in being better. The saying is "you can lead a horse to water but you can not make it drink". Well today's politicians, educrats, urban leaders do not recognize the point. The horse has to be thirsty to drink. Most of these kids will not get thirsty.

Anonymous said...

Wake Up Latarza

We need some more positive smoke spin this afternoon!

Anonymous said...

LaTarza WAKE UP !

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work, CMS.

We need a permanent underclass.

Anonymous said...

CMS could help itself and the students by changing the ridiculous 7:15am high school start time.

Anonymous said...

9:53, CMS tried that a couple of years ago with 2 high schools. It was a miserable failure.

Anonymous said...

3 in 3!
(3 districts within 3 years).