Monday, December 2, 2013

Will Santa bring CMS demographic data?

About once a week someone asks if they've missed the story on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools demographics,  poverty levels and school-by-school enrollment.

Nope.  I haven't written that story because CMS hasn't produced those numbers, even though the school year is more than one-quarter over.

As they've explained and I've reported,  the delay is tied to the ongoing problems with PowerSchool, a new data system the state rolled out this school year.  But really  --  we still can't get enrollment and demographic numbers that were tallied in September and poverty numbers from October?

Just before the Thanksgiving break I badgered Scott McCully,  the CMS administrator in charge of that data:  Are you saying CMS doesn't yet know how many students are in each school?

McCully said that CMS does indeed track enrollment on a daily basis.  Those numbers are used for teacher allotments and other decisions.

What CMS doesn't have is the ability to generate the Principals Monthly Report,  at least not at all schools.  Despite weekly requests and multiple  "patches,"  some schools still can't make that system work,  McCully said.  And until they can all generate those reports,  CMS can't produce a districtwide report on the enrollment and racial composition at each school.  The poverty report,  which is based on eligibility for federal lunch subsidies, uses enrollment numbers from the Principals Monthly Report to do the calculations,  he said.

"We're all a little frustrated,"  added Tahira Stalberte from the public information staff.

It's not the most burning issue in public education,  but the delayed details do compound a serious challenge:  At a time when families are facing more choices than ever,  it's unusually difficult to get good data about schools.  Test scores that normally come out during the summer were deferred to November,  and changes in the testing system pose new questions about what the numbers mean.  School-by-school data reports from CMS and the state may not be out by the time the 2014-15 application season starts in January.

Meanwhile,  the PowerSchool problems are starting to seem like more than start-up glitches.  I checked the ongoing list of  "known issues"  the day before Thanksgiving,  and while I don't understand most of the techspeak,  it looks daunting.  I put in a request for an update from the Department of Public Instruction on Nov. 19 and haven't yet gotten a response from Chief Financial Officer Philip Price.

Here's hoping a new month brings some new answers.  McCully wasn't willing to make any predictions, though. "I think I've said  'next week'  for the last two months," he said.


Anonymous said...

How long until Wiley complains about FRL fraud?

Anonymous said...

How long until someone listens?

Anonymous said...

We are at the mercy of the state. DPI brought us PowerSchool and all the adjustments that DPI required for fed reporting. This has caused issues with the basics and now we are feeling the results. I hope Scott gets what he needs soon.

Shamash said...

Maybe they could ask someone in South Carolina to help them.

I'm pretty sure most of their schools use PowerSchool and have for a while.

Wiley Coyote said...

Here's Wiley Coyote's Yearly Christmas Prognostication regarding enrollment, poverty and FRL:

It's the same as last year, which was CMS hasn't a clue as to which children are in poverty and qualify for the NSLP.

Mr. McCully, if you don't have numbers, how can you run your business? How do you know which kids qualify for lunch subsidies and those who don't?

This proves without a doubt how pathetically inept CMS is....

Obamacare 2.0.

Anonymous said...

Typical operational procedures within CMS. They either have the data or they dont. If they dont then all their data is flawed. Great way to build trust with no data to support. Santa cannot fix a untrusted group ! Keith W. Hurley

Wiley Coyote said...


You and I both know they have the numbers.

Question: Who feeds the data TO PowerSchool from the districts?

Question: Okay, so you can't generate reports from principals through the system, WHAT DO YOU DO?

GENERATE THE REPORT MANUALLY!! Again, someone has to have the numbers to input!!!

And voters approved another $300 million in bonds for these yahoos.

Perhaps CMS should practice BYOT....

Pamela Grundy said...

The decision to go with PowerSchool was not a state decision; Pearson purchased the existing state system and shut it down, forcing the state to purchase a different system. The state did decide to try to save money by phasing in PowerSchool over one year rather than two, which was probably a mistake. But as with so much of education these days, the private search for profit is intimately connected with many of the decisions that lead to problems for our school systems and high bills for taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, as far as I know there has been no problem processing the FRL applications, so each school does know which kids get aid.

On your later comment, you're basically saying what I said last week when I started hounding for the numbers: If you've got them, it shouldn't be an insurmountable task to produce them. But this admin is adamant about only releasing state-vetted data, presumably to avoid a situation like the 2011 "on track to graduate" numbers (which were a CMS-only creation) that turned out to be bogus.

Shamash said...


All they ("the decision makers") had to do, though, was ask South Carolina how long it took them to implement PowerSchool and plan accordingly.

Unless they think they're smarter than everyone else, they should look at what others before them have done.

That's the whole point in not being on the bleeding edge of technology.

Learn from others mistakes and efforts.

Wiley Coyote said...


There is never a problem "processing" school lunch forms because no one is checking them.

In my yearly (actually ongoing) prognostication, I have to point out the fact CMS has no clue as to who truly qualifies for NSLP, which is comical in a way because here we are discussing overall enrollment, poverty, testing and demographic data that we're supposed to put faith in, but not in the NSLP numbers because the USDA gives them a pass.

It's about time the state start vetting the NSLP numbers as they do other data.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, Certainly they have the data and Mr. McCully should never disclose if they dont. (in true CMS fashion) CMS should know about every child in every room at every school. I dont think for a moment that they dont. Once again their trust takes a big HIT which is no surprise to many. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

What's to be gained by hiding the numbers? The bond vote is over. So, why hide? Is the embarrassment of misstating numbers greater than begin hounded by Ann? Is it really hubris? Or is there some deadline coming up which is beneficial for them to drag their feet? Maybe even bigger issues with Pearson and Powerschool? Maybe Pearson is like hey you know if you kind of forget about these problems for a while we'll give you a discount on the maintenance contract.

Looking at Pearson's Performance by business docs textbook sales down double digits, Powerschool and Schoolnet up. Where's the revenue stream? Powerschool and Schoolnet. Enormous pressure there to deliver numbers and good press.

Anonymous said...

The state of South Carolina implemented PowerSchool over three years! NC is trying it in one year. Strike One.
The state of North Carolina requires customizations that go far beyond the version of PowerSchool that the state of SC requires. Strike Two.
This is where we stand right now. CMS is still in the batter's box but they are standing on the edge with reports and data that won't talk back and forth. Hence the lack of data for Scott!

Anonymous said...

Pearson states that Powerschool was implemented for over 1 million SC students. Odd, SC shows just 700,000 or so students.

Looking at the powerschool implementation for NC. Double the statewide student population, 2 school districts twice as large as the nearest SC district. Comparison to SC is not the best choice.

Then looking at the number of reboots and reports of slowness without resolution comments says Pearson does not know what is causing the problem.

For what its worth said...

Maybe we should just believe in the Easter Bunny instead of Santa Claus!

Wiley Coyote said...

Since political correctness must be followed in public education, all references to the Easter Bunny and Santa must be stricken from the conversation.

If data is to be brought by an entity, it will come from the Happy Human.

Shamash said...

Yes, and NC says, "We can implement the system for two times as many students in one third the time."

Big DUH!

Comparison to SC for some idea of how much longer it might take to implement the same system in NC just might have been a good idea, though.

It just makes them look that much dumber for rushing through this.

Anonymous said...

NC DPI is following in the pathetic footsteps of CMeS:


Ann, follow the money and find answers. Do you have any other job to do at the C.O. ?

Anonymous said...

Just another joke in how CMS and NC spend millions on technology and wasted tests. Millions spent on programs and testing that is at best skewed data. More millions spent on how to measure the perfomance of teachers without any pay increase.


Anonymous said...

Isn't Pearson the same company that will be making even more "Moo"-la out the wazzo after convincing our state to switch from the Praxis series to the Massachusetts MTEL for NC teacher licensure? Pearson designed the latest new and improved testing marvel that's been successful in a state with one of the highest number of citizens with college degrees and one of the highest teacher salaries in the country, correct? Higher Massachusetts standards to teach in North Carolina - ranked 48th in teacher pay? Not that I'm against higher teaching standards but did I miss something?

B.A., UMass/Amherst

Anonymous said...

States with the highest level of educational attainment.

# 1 - Washington D.C.
# 2 - Massachusetts

Average teacher salary:

Massachusetts - $70,752
North Carolina - $46,605

So, you mean to tell me that Pearson's MTEL is going to miraculously cure the "deplorable" state of teaching in NC?


Anonymous said...

A school system can't tally up numbers but they are the ones that are educating children? REALLY??? This is absurd!

Anonymous said...

On the bright side: I'll take late accurate numbers versus historically fanciful McCully Squad "projected" numbers any day.


Anonymous said...

Mass. is one of 15 states in the U.S. that is now moving away from Common Core.

NC is a follower state in regards to education. When will they stop groveling at the feet of the Feds and ashew their money?

All MOrrison and the BofE care about is that race to the top $.

Anonymous said...

Dangle a few federal $$$ in front of educrats and watch the show begin!!!

Anonymous said...

Thats all CMS is, A SHOW

Smoke and mirrors and rearange the chairs as they waste millions of more state and federal dollars.

Anonymous said...

Open some area centers for district schools at CMS showing how much CMS wants to change to make the public happy... oh wait they did that and then closed them all.

Uh... let's ask for more money... oh wait CMS did that already

Blame something like a computer glitch in a time when thousands could go up and write a query to produce these reports.

In fact CMS let us know if you want some of us to come and do that for you.

You said you had access to the info. Are your people just incapable of doing a small task, like getting it reporting, with out a prepackaged out of the box software program handed to them.

Anonymous said...

So NC purchased the entire package from Pearson, including project management services and now it's the NC fault the project has problems? Pearson came in estimated the changes, said sure we can do that in that amount of time for that money just sign here. Then delivered NC unstable, unscalable product.

Yet, no drama, no hearings, no compelling Pearson to testify as to why the product they delivered is unable to scale for NC. To why they forced NC off of the old software when as we can see the results of the new software shows they had not done scalability and stability testing. Only the sound of crickets from the NC legislature.

So why is it in the best interest of the NC legislature so quick and vocal on other educational topics to remain silent on this?

Shamash said...

Considering that Massachusetts is (and has been) the highest performing state in education (according to all those tests), they probably should keep doing what they're doing as long as their kids keep performing above the others.

However, they have been slipping a bit lately, so are on the watch to change what they're doing, which is smart.

If their kids can pass the same tests, and leave HS ready for college and/or work, then who cares what "standard" they followed to get there?

As for the rest of the laggards, I suspect Common Core is a step up for their standards and accountability for reaching certain goals.

We really do have a lot of people in our society who know nearly nothing after receiving their HS diploma and that is sad.

My wife recently encountered a stereotypical cashier who couldn't give change for $2.03 from a $5 when her cash register was on the blink.

That's NOT rocket science (or Rigid Geometry).

I'm still not sure exactly what (aside from the testing) gets the goat of all the Common Core opponents. Some of it sounds like crackpot conspiracy stuff.

I read the summary article in todays paper and checked a few of the supposed problems (like "Rigid Geometry") and don't see a BIG PROBLEM with THAT.


For critics of Common Core, educational folly

I suspect the opposition is mostly political and not educational, but, I'll keep looking.

Of course, with the typical bungling from our federal government lately, I can see why people would be skeptical.

Shamash said...

IT is a lot like Education, in that the policy makers and decision makers usually don't have any real experience in the subject.

But don't the "decision makers" share some blame for swallowing the tall tale they were sold by Pearson?

Why would anyone believe what a software vendor told them without doing some investigation, benchmarking, or SOME vetting?

A reality check is always a good idea when someone claims to deliver something twice as complex (as a somewhat similar implementation in a nearby state) in half the time.

That's poor management and deserves at least partial blame for the failure.

But this is just probably another example of how government in general often fails to deliver.

Anonymous said...

and there's the problem the failure of pearson and powerschool is a ready made, bow wrapped narrative for this nc legislature.

we are left with:
1) nc isn't culpable. thus it doesn't fit the private good, government bad narrative
2) there is financial interest in the legislature to ensure Pearson looks good.
3) the nc ga common core committee will use the powerschool problems to bolster fails and by proxy do will common core. also see #1

Anonymous said...

Maybe Satan will bring us that CMS demongraphic data.

Wiley Coyote said...


The Obama administration has the lowest level of private sector experience since Teddy Roosevelt.

The debacle we are living today with Obamacare is a perfect example of how ineptness, idiocy and narcissism can destroy any simple idea, including public education.

Shamash said...


My scariest Obama quote:

“Did you know aluminum is not magnetic? I learned something today.”

So, yeah, I know what you mean.

I'd prefer a president who was smarter than a fifth grader in science.

I suspect that even Dubya knew that aluminum wasn't magnetic.

But, he wasn't elected based on his practical knowledge as we all know.

Same's true for most politicians.

Wiley Coyote said...


Give him some credit, afterall, he's visited 57 of the 60 states....

Shamash said...

On Massachusetts vs. The World...

The latest PISA results show:

‘Room for Improvement’

In Massachusetts, about one in five students were “top performers” in math, scoring at levels 5 and 6 (on a scale with six levels of performance). The same proportion scored below level 2, or the “baseline proficiency” level. By comparison, more than half of Shanghai 15-year-olds scored at the top two levels in math and just 4 percent scored at the bottom level.

“One of the things that concerns me is the gap between our top and bottom performers,” said Mr. Chester of Massachusetts. “While our aggregate results are very strong, there’s much room for improvement in bringing up our scores in the bottom.”


So the rising tide in Massachusetts still hasn't done much for all the boats.

I suspect it's the "usual suspects" who are at the bottom.

And for those who shout "poverty" as their excuse, there's always Korea to explain.

We definitely need something. If not new standards, then at least a new attitude towards education.

Anonymous said...

Also, CMS has still not given out security badges to all of the schools--- it has now been over 3 months... Of course these badges are a complete and utter waste of money because they serve no security purpose whatsoever and the money could be spent to help the students/teacher in their educational pursuit instead.