Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Civil rights, school choice and closing plans

Tuesday's report on some of the first-year results of the 2011-12 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school closings is bound to provide fodder for some lively discussions around town this week.  Here are some of my observations:

* The report reminded me that several complaints were filed with the U.S. Education Department's office for  civil rights,  alleging that the closings discriminated on the basis of race and national origin.  A spokesman told me Tuesday that the case remains under investigation.  The department doesn't discuss ongoing investigations,  but offers this general information about how complaints are handled.

* CMS officials say one reason that enrollment outstripped projections at the new preK-8 schools is that the closings eliminated  "Title I choice"  for some families.  No Child Left Behind guaranteed the chance for students to opt out of some high-poverty,  low-performing schools,  including the closed Spaugh, Wilson and Williams middle schools.  But they didn't get that option at some of the preK-8s.  In 2013-14,  that opt-out guarantee vanishes in all schools because North Carolina got a waiver from No Child Left Behind.  That's likely to cause serious consternation in neighborhoods where the assigned school is considered unacceptable.

* Superintendent Heath Morrison says some of the questions and resistance to the closings,  which were approved after nine months of talks in 2010,  arose because CMS has no policy on closing schools.  He said he plans to bring a proposal to the board soon,  at a time when there's little likelihood it will be needed,  so the board and staff can plan a process without being under pressure.

* There was quite a bit of talk about expanding the combined elementary/middle model.  Morrison says he likes it in general because research shows transitions can create academic loss.  Board member Rhonda Lennon said Mountain Island Elementary in her district is eager to add grades 6-8.

* Are any other old-timers amused to see all the underfilled schools listed in the report?  (See pages 7 and 12.)  In past years, when CMS was trying to pass bonds for construction and renovation,  leaders took umbrage at talk of half-empty urban schools,  insisting that was a myth.  Now that there's a new crew looking at the cost-effectiveness of closing urban schools,  it appears there were plenty of unused classrooms.

* I think Morrison and Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes are wise in cautioning against trying to draw quick conclusions about what caused gains and losses.  But it is interesting to note that Reid Park,  which saw the biggest academic setbacks,  also got walloped by the biggest unanticipated surge of students last year.  The report shows Reid Park Elementary was 89 percent full with 434 students in 2010-11.  Reid Park PreK-8 was projected to have 536 students last year.  Instead it ended up with 714, and had to bring in 15 mobile classrooms.  That jibes with what Principal Mary Sturge told me in August,  when she talked about the difficulty of finding good teachers after classes began.

* I give Morrison and his crew props for crunching a lot of data and trying to make it clear and meaningful.  Barnes noted that the comparison of Harding's academic results in 2010-11 and 2011-12 didn't mean a lot,  since the student body had changed so much.  He's right.  But if CMS wanted to get some gauge on whether students were helped or harmed by the Harding-Waddell merger,  it would have been more enlightening to compare Harding's 2011-12 IB magnet students with the same magnet the prior year,  and to compare Harding's 2011-12 neighborhood students with Waddell's performance.

What are the rest of you thinking?


Rev. Mike said...

"*Are any other old-timers amused to see all the underfilled schools listed in the report?"

Amused? Hardly. But then looking the other way and ignoring the obvious in order to get the suburban kids what THEY needed was the price of admission.

Anonymous said...

Ann you don't get props for being sidetracked with this report.

Anonymous said...

Suburban kids are paying the price for urban failure. The top kids in CMS are sitting in classes with 40+ so urban kids can sit in classes or skip classes with 20 .

Anonymous said...

Can we talk about the numbers at SW Middle compared to Kennedy?

BolynMcClung said...


At the time of filing of the complaint against CMS, I found a similar suit in Biloxi, Mississippi. I called attorney Kim Duffy of the Mississippi Center for Justice. She told me that she had been advised the MCJ’s suit wouldn’t be acted upon in Washington because “no harm had been done” to the students in the opinion of the Civil Rights Division. This involved the closing of four black city schools.

Her comments were soon supported by a speech by Sec. Of Arne Duncan in which the Obama administration saw a need to close similar under utilized schools in like urban settings.

Not long after that I heard from a reliable source that the local NAACP had been told to back down. While it was just something I heard, the following months of silence have confirmed something changed the local organization’s public position on the closings.


As for Reid Park massive influx of students. It’s just around the corner from the today’s announced remodel of Boulevard Homes. I drove by there at noon. The construction is underway. 800 units. If the economy doesn’t improve then areas similar to Reid Park with cheap run down housing will cause more poverty schools to swell. Only positive here is that all those old schools are built on large plots – plenty of room for Learning Cottages(trailers).


Isn’t strange that today’s CMS is set to make Mountain Island parents happy with their own K-8 when the district forever darkened its reputation with urban parents by essentially turning its back on their multiple K-8 complaints.


It rubbed me the wrong way to hear that I could have the data but couldn’t do anything with it other than appreciate the transparency. I’ll go along for now but if I can’t do anything with it, I’m expecting CMS to.


District 2 board member Richard McElrath, a retired middle school math teacher, supported preK-8s for one reason. His classroom experience with 7th and 8th graders was that too many students had severe reading problems that left them unequipped to solve written math questions. He said Ann Clark had told them that the reading instructors from the 3rd through 5th grade section of a K-8 would be available to help the struggling middle schoolers. That sold Richard. I agree!

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...

How many times over the years have I called BS on school utilization numbers?

More than I can count.

Also, Rhonda?

Where does MIE plan on putting all those extra students? Are we planning on adding a couple of stories to the school?

Civil rights, discrimination? CMS is 32.5% White. We should repeat this every week to remind them the school district is overwhelmingly minority.

Anonymous said...

The IB program at Davidson IB DID NOT move to J M Alexander. IB certification is site specific - at this time, JM Alexander is trying to earn certification~

Anonymous said...

Wow, a school is 89% full. Aren't they supposed to be full?

Anonymous said...

I was at Davidson IB during the transition and parents were told the program was moving over to JM Alexander as a partial IB magnet. Unfortunately the program has lost a lot of it's integrity due to the lack of understanding the impacts of moving the program. Yes the school is trying to become IB certified but this will not be an easy task with the current student population and the lack of teachers with experience teaching the IB curriculumn.

Christine Mast said...

I attended the meeting last night and heard all the conversations.

PRO: I enjoyed the video and listening to Jan McIver, principal at Thomasboro Academy. This is the first time I can recall that we were able to put a "face and a name" with all the data. Kudos (I'm guessing to Dr. Morrison) for having her speak at the meeting. It brought a human side to the Board's decisions.

CON: I thought it was a bit disingenuous to quote a cost avoidance of $138 million on page 15 of the presentation. $107.6 million of the cost avoidance relates to NON-FUNDED 10-year capital plan projects.

FYI: They did mention it once, but I wanted to mention it again. They spent $6.9 million as a "one time investment." This first year, they "saved" $5.2 million. So within this first year, we're still at a net loss of $1.7 million.

By the end of the second year, we will have "saved" a total project net of $3.5 million.

For the third year and beyond, we'll get the full $5.2 million yearly savings.

One other point of confusion for me... if some of the schools that remain open used to be under-utilized, but now are up to 30% over utilized, are we really saving any money? While one school got closed, another school needs more mobiles. Guess I'm just wondering what the net effect of those issues are across the entire project.

Anonymous said...

The data on the improvement of performance at JM Alexander is highly misleading. DIB had EOG scores of well over 95%. A true data comparison would have shown the breakdown between the IB students and traditional students. My bet is that the addition of the "IB" (no longer certified) students did not improve the scores of the traditional students at all. I also suspect that the average scores of IB students went down. However because we don't have the data breakdown, we will never know.

Anonymous said...

I don't see any mention of the high quality, experienced teachers lost with the closings and consolidation. Many teachers from the DIB faculty (the ones that propelled that school to win national awards) retired or quit after a short time at JM Alexander. I wonder if the same is true for Harding teachers or other schools?

Anonymous said...

As s perk parent, I am very concerned with the transition. The schools aren't that safe already. The children need their own environment away from the older kids dilemma.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Christine, I totally agree that the real voices from the schools are great, but they've been doing that for quite awhile. It's not a Heath Morrison thing.

Karen Elizabeth said...

Interested in the K-8 change at Collinswood. They were not part of the school closing issue so their scores aren't here. They are a full magnet, but I still think their info would provide another piece of the picture of K-8 effectiveness. And noteworthy that they changed by adding a grade each year, rather than bringing kids back from middle schools.

Anonymous said...

And we continue to sacrifice the education of our best in order to prop up our worst.

That's going to make us global winners for sure.

Against Mexico, perhaps...

Ann Doss Helms said...

Karen, Morrison says it's pretty clear that it's better to add one grade per year, rather than do it all at once and bring kids out of other middle schools. Deputy Supt. Ann Clark said all K-8 principals, magnet and neighborhood, are going to start meeting together this year to look at issues for those schools.

Bill Stevens said...

Karen, I've lstened to too many of these school leaders in person "sugarcoat" the situations of their schools in this public forum. In private conversations, they are more candid.

Bill Stevens said...

Sorry I meant to direct that last one to Chirstine.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I've encountered something I didn't like, I've always practiced my CIVIL RIGHT to MOVE AWAY from the problem.

Typically, though, I've moved away from others who just sit on their rears and complain about how THEIR "civil rights" are being violated.

So far that has worked very well.

Anonymous said...

K-8 schools used to be fairly common with very few problems.

When I was in elementary school, that was the only option we had, only it was 1-8 without all the free lunches and breakfasts.

It wasn't until we had so many problems with young thugs that it has become a real issue.

But it does make sense to have access to remedial reading staff, for those who can't read.

And might also reduce the tendency to just put the trash out at the end of sixth grade if you know you'll be dealing with the same kids through the eighth grade (or even higher).

In fact, that is a good argument for K-12 as well if those SAT scores can be believed.

Let them keep repeating the fourth grade reading until they get that reading down pat.

Anonymous said...


What would it take to get the truth behind those "sugarcoated" conversations out in the open?

It seems to me that any honest inquiry should start with that in mind.

Truth Seeker said...

Partial magnets don't work as well as full magnets. Teachers who are effective with advanced and gifted are not necessarily effective with academically challenged students and vice versa. Cost vs academic loss is probably not easy to calculate and without seeing how the numbers were derived then you have to just trust the accuracy. Not many people are all that trusting, not yet anyway.

Anonymous said...

A nearby school system is proclaiming success - they went from 61% to 88% graduation rate. They also lowered the required credits from 28 to 21.
Another option is hire the recently disgraced AAS professor from UNC. He knows how to graduate everyone.

Anonymous said...

Ann, was it not 4 months ago that Hugh paraded 3 staff members from some pre K-8 schools to say what a minor disciplinary issue their was at the schools? Low and behold TRUE data came out showing HUGE increases in problems. This is not new news we the parents all know this. You know this press Heath or the board for the TRUTH. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

2:16, the problem is most of the teachers and administrators the last 4 years have been living under the umbrella of fear. Typically through a long association with a few schools, you can get a close associate to introduce you to most anyone else that will open that conversation. It is a human relations thing and if you carry yourself with that respectful inquiring attitude, most folks will open up. Now getting some issues into the open that the higher ups do not want to hear is the next challenge. And beware if you get on a subject that crosses the CO editorial staff.

For example, a couple of us challenged the effectiveness of strategic staffing. We used CMS's own data from like schools that had strategic staffing but did not. We found numerous examples of as much or more improvement in some schools without any extra financial incentives for the principals or the teachers. But no one would listen to us. CMS was determined to tell the story their way as shown in the latest issue of Education Week.

Anonymous said...

The merging of Harding really irked parents which in my opinion is where the civil rights complaints came from. Black families seeking a great school for their children were given fewer options especially if you consider the transportation issue that occurred the year before. Some students had to attend their home school when CMS no longer provided transportation to the magnets. At least the parents in the North have Hough.

Anonymous said...

7:28- thats your opinion. I still stick to mine EES and Kojo made them bring this to the table while they rambled about nothing last night. EES is Kojo the female version. Kojo is still beating his chest about getting her and Mary elected. Remeber their are no issues at Harding ( hah !) the BOE and Eric Davis told me so. Of coure thats why EES took her son out of CMS this year and sent him out of the area. Your leader wont use the schools she chairs? Really report that CO get real take the tough road. Dont be LaTarzan.

Anonymous said...

As a straight white male, I am the MINORIY in CMS.

Anonymous said...

“it would have been more enlightening to compare Harding's 2011-12 IB magnet students with the same magnet the prior year, and to compare Harding's 2011-12 neighborhood students with Waddell's performance.”
Let’s be clear…If this were a legitimate investigation, this information would be included. Truth is great teachers left in all schools that were a part of this debacle. The students lost all the way around. Many of these schools are now “Project Lift” . They now have over crowed classrooms, especially for their particular population, and too few experience teachers to handle it. WHAT A MESS.

Anonymous said...

With planning strategy for the next bond issue developing ... now that we know even after 10 school closings and growth CMS is still under capacity...next thing you know CMS will be trying to tell us kids can't breathe in their classrooms to get the next half billion of bond slush fund money. Morrison needs to figure out that some of the grey hairs sleeping in his meetings are just BSer's who make a living covering up the truth. There are a few good leaders at CMS, but the BSer's muck it up for everyone. Out with the old and in with the new. Someone should tell the CMS planning Department about the excess capcity. Do the thousand or more trailer classrooms count in baseline numbers? CMS has some real junk in our collective backyard.

Anonymous said...

Another in a long line of examples where executive staff knowingly manipulate the facts to establish perception. Insiders suggest the real cost of school redesign is closer to 12-15 million dollars than 6. I suppose by specifying "school redesign" CMS can legitimately separate costs of administrative moves and other costs related to the original decision to close schools while keeping a straight face. But this is an act of deception through omission in that the original decision and costs being questioned are not specific to school redesign. It all depends on if you include expenses across multiple funding pools. Costs have been intentionally buried to keep obvious poor decisions away from Board and public scrutiny. Middle management were told a number by executive staff and then basically reverse engineered a report to support the company $ line. The math is not flawed, it’s the formula…the equation. You who willingly do this to the taxpayer and your neighbors are dirty.

Anonymous said...

What is the rationale for CMS featuring school building utilization without trailer classrooms, but not capacity with trailers? This omission creates awful looking capacity numbers. CMS sets school boundaries and where CMS places mobile classrooms. A school's utilization percentage is predominantly a result of CMS decision making and taxpayer funds thrown at trailers that has little educational value on the school's bottom line.

Wiley Coyote said...


Half a billion?

Try $1.86 BILLION...

Plans need to be made now to stop this dead in its tracks.


Wiley Coyote said...

School capacity numbers are what each LEA wants them to be, based on criteria they setup, which can change like the wind.

For CMS:

How is the building capacity calculated for elementary, middle and high?

Building capacity is calculated as a ratio of classroom teachers allotted versus total students assigned. This is based on, but different from, building utilization. Capacity will vary from school to school, and from year to year, as a result of student-weighted staffing ratios.

Building utilization is based on the number of classroom teachers assigned to a school and the number of classrooms available. Since elementary students remain with one teacher all day, when there are 39 classroom teachers assigned (100% utilization) the school is considered to be fully utilized.

At the middle and high school levels, teachers have students three periods out of four each day, with one planning period. The planning period allows another teacher to “float” into the classroom that otherwise would have been unoccupied by students. Floating allows four teachers to share three classrooms, and ensures that each classroom is used by students each period of the day.

- A baseline middle school has 54 classrooms; the school is not fully utilized until there are 72 classroom teachers

- A baseline high school has 100 classrooms; the school is not fully utilized until there are 133 classroom teachers

In both these cases, this represents 100% utilization. Capacity is therefore a function of dividing the number of assigned students by the number of allotted classroom teachers to determine an average ratio. This average is then multiplied by the number of available teaching stations. While it is understood that not every classroom will be at the average number of students, this method allows for consideration of the diverse offerings and placements within a given school.

Anonymous said...

Its gumbo math what they presented the other night. It wont win trust and it wont matter. Seems nobody on BOE wants to hold Heath accountable reminds me of the last boy wonder Sweet Pete. Remember folks how that one turned out.

Anonymous said...

My GoD

It is just a continuation of smoke,mirrors and stat math in whatever pattern you want to make it. New boss same as the old boss.

What a waste of our $

Anonymous said...

4:15 Anon- Your correct and who loses in the equation? The children of our community. The tax payers who are FLEECED by the lackey's involved in education. You show me 25 of those downtown CMS crack pot executives and not 5 of them could last in a corporate job were they hard to earn their keep. They could not fabricate the results of their lazy efforts in a corporate job. Its really sick and I hate sending my kids to CMS and maybe wont continue too if this does not stop.

Anonymous said...

I for one believe that Superintendents come to offer positive change. The problem is that they are feed loads upon loads of false data designed to deceive. Until one superintendents breaks the chain of BS ...they will all continue to end up the mouth piece of a flawed system that will continue to operate now matter how flawed. Heath should admit there are boondogglers in CMS and take the time to cancel their contracts. Then real healing might begin.

Anonymous said...

A number of these CMS executive people think the Board is the enemy to be deceived at all cost. They think even less of parents,teachers and the press. They know CMS will roll forward and there is no one to challenge their royal booties. Is there any other truth than CMS does not know how to manage the public's investments in CMS? Keep bringing forward powder puff reports to divert attention from the real problem. It shows just how simple these high dollar educrats really are. How smart can CMS be to create such awful conditions and then act like they didn't plan it this way.

Anonymous said...

Goodbye to Tata because of politics.

There is not a teacher in CMS smart enough to know that a strike is your only option to get your salary , benefits and retirement back. If you are dumb enough to keep taking it, they will be dumb enough to keep sticking it to you as they do the taxpayer.

You are reeping what you have sowed.

Anonymous said...

Enough of this diversity crap. Our minority white students are being financially discriminated against by Project LIFT. Thats a complete snow job by Kojo and crew. We the white parents aleady over fund the majority african american/latino students. Enough throwing money at losers and their parents. At some point its go to end.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:37pm
Don't hold your breath. The method of electing CMS BOE is discriminatory so we will continue to have the Ericka's of the world chair the BOE. Not much hope of overall improvement with this group,