Friday, March 7, 2014

Project LIFT site: Hello flash, goodbye substance

While finishing a weekend story,  I added a link to the Project LIFT web site.

I routinely link to groups mentioned in articles,  but in this case,  I cringed.

Once upon a time, that site was rich with information.  It described the emergence of a philanthropic group seeking school improvements, detailed the data they used to target West Charlotte High and its feeders,  reported on big donors and outlined how the group planned to spend its money and measure success.  The contract with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools giving the private donor board unique power to help operate public schools was there as well.

Then the site got a makeover.  It is,  as you can see at a glance,  "Bold.  Innovative.  Unconventional."

It's also almost entirely free of substance.

The closest thing I found to any kind of detail about what LIFT is doing was an infographic on first-year milestones.

You can see scrolling logos of big supporters,  but nothing about how much they're kicking in or why they're doing it.  There are catchy branding slogans like "Are you #READY2LIFT?" and   "Our approach to education:  (LIFT) 5 = 903."  But if you want any details about what that means, too bad.  How are they spending money?  How are they scrutinizing results?  Who's on the board that helps run public schools?  Not there.

I should note that Project LIFT staff have consistently been helpful about answering my questions. So I asked what had happened to all the great information that used to be available to the public at a click.

Community engagement coordinator Denada Jackson said the new site was designed to be  "for all visitors and fast.  Those docs slow it down."

Hmm.  I'm no web designer,  I'm pretty sure all the moving visuals on the new site are more taxing than a few links to PDFs.

Jackson promptly sent me all the documents that I asked for.  But I still wondered:  About two years into the five-year project,  am I the only one who still wants details?  Has the public stopped asking?

"No, I get inquiries weekly from a myriad of people,"  said Denise Watts, executive director and Project LIFT zone superintendent.  She said she's going to  "determine the capacity for the website."

These are the folks who drew national attention for finding a way to link big-money private donors with the power of a large public school district.  Here's hoping they can also find a way to wed style and substance.


Anonymous said...

To seem, rather than to be.

Wiley Coyote said...


What message does it send that the home page has and has had for months, a story and picture about all kids getting FREE dental care?

The (LIFT)5 = 90*3 is 5 (give us 5 of: Positive Comments, Volunteer Hours, Dollars to the Current High School Graduating, Business Contacts & School Supply Items = 90 percent or higher free or reduced lunch, 90 percent minority and 90 percent on grade level.

I can rewrite that equation: LIFT = FREE everything.

That's what a 90/90/90 school is.

Anonymous said...

LIFT is just a continuation of feel good programs from those needing the self esteem boost of the attention. We've all seen the reports of failed Head Start, no results CMS preK, and on and on. Teachers will tell you the issues and it is the family unit. This is just another case where the responsibility is being moved from the family to the "government".

Parenting is not easy. But you do not help parents be better parents by taking away the opportunities for them to learn.

Ann, I believe most folks with common sense see the handwriting on the wall about LIFT. And there is nothing they can do aboe the tidal wave of financial responsibility that will be heaped upon the fewer "good" families left in Mecklenburg County. Politicians better beware if the economy ever returns to pre-recession levels. I think that is what they have in mind as they continue to pass policies and laws to keep the American economy in a state of molasses for as long as they can.

Anonymous said...

why do you think there are almost 40,000 students in private, charter and homeschool in Meck county? Those are the few "good" families you are talking about. CMS is a mess, any way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, if "free everything" translates to making 90 percent of students at LIFT schools successful, a lot of people would say that's money well spent. The real challenge is tracking and documenting the link between spending and academics. Best I can tell, the LIFT folks are still serious about monitoring results and spending strategically. But you wouldn't know that from their site.

Anonymous said...

Ann, A lot of people might ask where the money for "free everything" comes from. "Free everything" has to be paid for by someone, and in Charlotte we know who those someones usually are--tax paying citizens. We've thrown an awful lot of free stuff at the problem over the years and we've yet to solve anything. But that doesn't stop the clamor for more, more, more.

Anonymous said...

Ann the problem with the 90% successful is that it is an arbitary measurement such as we saw with the state board yesterday lowering the standard so more students will not be held back. We saw it this last year with the jump in CMS's graduation rate due to the lowering of the hours required for a CMS high school diploma. Have we just watered down the value of the CMS diploma again?

NC has always had a weak curriculum. While I am glad a tougher curriculum has come along, I am concerned the state board has lowered the requirements for passing. Seems we are back to social promotion again now blessed by the government.

Anonymous said...

Will someone please define "success". Is success just getting the kids to graduate or do they actually learn stuff & graduate?

Wiley Coyote said...


The state is about to dumb down 3rd grade again by lowering reading standards.

High school credits were lowered to snare even more to be able to graduate.

That 90% graduation rate will be as bogus as the school lunch program. (even the current 81%)

Pick a number, any number and you can rework programs to meet that number.

Just because 90% graduate doesn't mean they can read "See Spot Run".

How about this equation:


What that says is take the LIFT equation that applies to about 9,000 kids and multiply that by the other 136,000 students who don't get free dental care, school supplies, etc. etc. and you come up with a number that is not attainable under the LIFT program.

Educrats and those involved with LIFT will most certainly call it a complete success in another three years due to standards being lowered.

How many of those "at risk" 3rd graders are in LIFT schools? Any data on that? Is the percentage higher than other schools or the same, lower?

The botton line still is the fact no one can verify who really should be getting all that free stuff.

Maybe you have a deep pocketbook and willing to keep throwing money at the problem.

I'm not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone who says passing a test isn't necessarily the same as true academic/life success, especially with the way NC keeps tinkering with exams and scoring.

Wiley, I haven't seen school numbers on this year's at-risk third-graders, and I would imagine those numbers changed with yesterday's "lower the bar" vote. You can see the percent of third-graders who passed last year's reading test at each school at I'd feel pretty safe predicting that LIFT schools had higher-than-average failure rates, though not necessarily higher than other schools with similar demographics. For instance, about 21 percent of Ashley Park's third graders passed the reading test last year.

Anonymous said...

9:46, the whole thing about LIFT is that some big corporate/foundation donors agreed to spend their money providing a lot of extras for these schools. The idea is that if you can show that you get serious, measurable results by spending X amount of money on specific things, then we can have an informed debate on whether taxpayers want to spend that money districtwide.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you what 90 90 90 is....I can give you first hand accounts. It's more money dumped into the schools with the pressure on the teachers in the classroom, and no responsibility given to the kids. You can't get the parents involved, who should be the ultimate provider of an education, but they are not. Teachers spend more time making data, yes making it, because it's impossible to create substantial data with the case load, and putting on a dog and pony show for the people coming through the building looking for the latest strategy that is taking place in the classroom. In the end, you can throw all the money in the world to the problem....but you cant make people value education.

Wiley Coyote said...

We definitely need lobbyists and Zumba classes districtwide.

I want every child to succeed.

I want every child who truly and verifiably needs help with tutoring, mentoring, free lunches, free school supplies, free dental or medical services donated in kind, etc. to get them. Doing so eliminates any of those as excuses for not learning.

What I don't like is the scattergun approach that's been going on for years trying to fix education. It's like taking a sawed-off shotgun to a turkey shoot.

You'll never win a turkey.

CMS is the turkey and until we take a zero in approach on the basics to fix this thing, the turkey lives another day.

Susan B. Harden said...

The website is a metaphor for today’s educational reform movement focused on public/private partnerships like LIFT. The private part of the initiative requires constantly asking donors for money and donors like clear messages and direct solutions i.e. (LIFT) 5 = 90 3. The website is a fundraising tool rather than a source of information. Unfortunately, as the corporate educational reform movement supported by private philanthropy is discovering, the work of educating children, especially poor, highly mobile, children with complex special needs is extremely difficult, especially if success is defined by 90% of children performing on grade level.
Public interest in LIFT has waned because there is no magic bullet or secret sauce to improving the lives of children living in poverty. The work is long-term and painstakingly incremental. Traditional public schools have been at it for 150 years now. It is hard, hard work.
The LIFT partnership is also fading because the initiative impacts a small subset of the community. In my view, it was a weakness of the initiative to concentrate effort in one area of the public school district. There are poor children in every corner of Mecklenburg County who need the supplemental services that LIFT provides. LIFT was pitched as a West Charlotte project, which by design disengaged 90% of the public schools in the county. I believe the broader community would be much more engaged if they felt like they had a larger stake in the outcome.
What makes CMS work is that we have a unified school district with the aim of educating every child in Mecklenburg County. The mission is inclusive. Every child in CMS deserves the services provided by LIFT.

Wiley Coyote said...


7,500 LIFT students
142,612 CMS students
135,112 Non-LIFT students
$55,000,000 LIFT donated dollars
$7,333 per LIFT student for 5 years

$990,821,333 = 135,112 Remaining CMS Students X $7,333 per student for 5 years

Do we know any philanthropists willing to donate nearly $1 BILLION dollars over the next 5 years for the remaining 94.7% CMS students?

Anonymous said...

Well written, Susan. I wonder how much of the Lift funding was written off by the donors?

Anonymous said...

A take on "free everything" (and this could happen anywhere that "free everything" is provided but happens to have taken place in west Charlotte): I helped make and serve a once a month free dinner in a low income area provided by suburban churches. Anyone in the neighborhood is welcome--lots of nice people come, eat, and sit around and talk--the idea is to have a community gathering and that does indeed happen. However, I couldn't help but note the two little girls who came with their Auntie and said they lived with her in the neighborhood. After dinner one of the little girls said "Oh look, there's daddy". A shiny new black Mercedes had driven up. The girls ran over, got in the car and rode off. If daddy is driving a new Mercedes why are his daughters living in a high poverty area and needing the "free stuff"? Unfortunately incidents like this make many of us cynical.

Wiley Coyote said...


Excellent comment.

As you noted, at the time LIFT was announced, West Meck and Waddell had almost the same stats as West Charlotte, yet they didn't get a dime.

Anonymous said...

CMS is a jobs factory for the otherwise largely unemployable.

The primary objective of the bureaucracy is to protect the bureaucracy.

Objective Two: Distract public opinion to avoid scrutiny. Find willing pawns like liberal journalists to assist in obfuscating any accurate metrics.

Objective Three: Redirect blame. Blame funding. Blame parents. Blame teachers. Blame racism. Blame the Dept of Public Instruction.

The last two objectives are optional. Just protect your job first, then protect the jobs of your cronies. Punch out at 4:30 and pat yourself on the back.

Rinse and repeat.

Anonymous said...

The "village" people are back.

Anonymous said...


Are any of the Project LIFT initiatives focused on providing kids skills training that would allow them to get a job out of high school? Not necessarily vocational training (although nothing is wrong with that), just not college prep. It seems like most of our public education system is focused on training kids to go to college, when in reality only 29% of the kids in NC actually complete a 4yr degree. If the goal of education is to provide a means to reduce/eliminate poverty, then when you graduate shouldn't you have the skill set necessary to allow you to get a job that provides a liveable wage. I'd thinks kids would be more interested in learning if they knew that when they were done with school, they'd be able to get a job where they could support themselves. That they were actually learning something that could help them now.

Susan B. Harden said...

Another aspect of LIFT which makes it difficult is the supplemental teacher pay for teaching in a LIFT school. There are amazing teachers working with high poverty students in almost every classroom in CMS. We need to move away from the idea that only some CMS teachers deserve incentive pay because they teach in a LIFT school. What about the teacher with a class size of 40? What about a teacher with a considerable number of special needs students? What about the teacher in the trailer? What about the floating teacher with no classroom? All kids need great teachers – poor kids, middle class kids, rich kids. And each group of kids has its challenges, and it changes from year to year. The supplemental pay at LIFT ends up being divisive for the non-LIFT teachers.

Anonymous said...

Welcome To The New Normal.

NO ONE is guaranteed a job when they graduate. Not even from college.

These kids who don't see the value of school(especially High School) were just ahead of their times.

Meanwhile the Chamber of Commerce wants MORE eighth-grade dropout illegal immigrants in our country.

Because that's where the true need is.

Unskilled, illegal immigrant labor. As cheap as you can get it.

Susan B. Harden said...

The last thing I want to say about LIFT is that I believe LIFT folks and the benefactors care deeply about children. Their hearts are in the right place and they are trying to do the right thing for the kids in West Charlotte. I just believe that more of the public would be invested if more of the public were included - more "public" engaged in the public/private partnership.

Anonymous said...

More evidence,
It's not the money or teachers. It's the family and work ethic. Socialism and some warped sence of equality

Unknown said...

Three CMS students walked into a bar.

The NCDPI lowered it.

Bolyn McClung

Unknown said...

They should make Dr. Benjamin Carson's biography required reading.

Anonymous said...

11:21 a.m., I don't know. In my ideal world, I'd have spent as much time with this year's WC freshmen as I spent with the Ashley Park eighth-graders last year. In reality, that hasn't happened.

Anonymous said...

There is no FREE anything and corporate money is still "our" money. Corporate donations come from corporation who sell to the public or the government or.... WE ALL PAY!

Anonymous said...

CMS still has four more credits then the NC mandate. Getting rid of 4 elective classes was smart. I am not a fan of the downtown CMS crowd but holding students back for art was stupid.

Wiley Coyote said...

Perhaps we should add one more mandatory credit back.

1/2 semester of sex education and 1/2 semester of basic personal finance.

Anonymous said...

Is "high poverty" the latest moniker used to describe black folk?

erica smith said...

CMS should check out the example of Leadership Public schools in CA. Great public schools, high schoolers attend 10:30am - 2:50pm everyday with 5 -45 minute classes, 20 minute break after Period 3.

This makes so much more sense than what CMS is doing. Why would an innovative school district (like CMS?) start high school at 7:15am with 90 minute blocks? Makes no sense to some of us who are new to this area.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a 3rd grade child, I do appreciate the intent of the "Read to Achieve" legislation. What I don't care for was the manner in which it was rolled out.
This is not merely just reading and comprehension, otherwise neither my wife or I would be spending hours during the week helping our son to be prepared to take his reading passage test, to build his portfolio. The ignorance that is displayed by some of the people who post on this blog is astounding!

Anonymous said...

As a former Project LIFT parent, the change in the website does not surprise me. Why post goals that are probably not being achieved, and if they were achieved, how many standards were lowered to achieve those goals. For example, my nieces who both attend Project LIFT schools, one in elementary, one in middle school both received the EXACT same science worksheet for homework last week.

@11:21- You are absolutely correct!

@9:51- Success by Project LIFT standards is getting them to graduate, anything beyond that is asking for too much from them. They reached their numbers quota- their job is done.

@ Susan B. Harden: While this particular portion of the school district needed extra help and support, the wrong people are doing the job. This initiative should be expanded across CMS, however, who would want it based on the current model Project LIFT is providing. Also, in regards to the need for public engagement, the parental involvement has to be there first. Zumba Classes, Parent Prom Night and other social activities are not activities that positively affect your child's education. If I want exercise, I will walk around the corner, if I want to dance, I will go out .

@Wiley Coyote: While the majority of the students do receive free lunches, free dental exams, and school supplies, my son did not during his unfortunate year at a Project LIFT school. Fortunately, I am able to provide for my son and because I could I was not privileged nor received the technical services provided by them such as laptops and discounted internet service. I never asked for them, but found it ironic that for some of the services that were offered to me by Project LIFT included asking for my healthcare information or for donations that weren't asked of other parents. So LIFT does not equal FREE everything.

Lastly, (and I am sure anyone from the Project LIFT administration do not want to hear or read this) but my son is a charter school. Best choice and sacrifice I have ever made! My son is in his correct grade, however after meeting with his new teachers and school personnel, we discovered that he was behind his grade level. The work he did at the Project LIFT school was so "dumbed down" to achieve a passing grade, he has learned double the amount of information in almost 1 school year's time. This happened because I was an involved parent ( I was also one at the Project LIFT school) but the response from the teachers were different and their priorities are where they should be.

Shamash said...

Anon 3:19.

Amazing what a difference an involved parent can make in a child's education. Good for you for getting out of that loser pit and challenging your kids.

And good for them for rising to the challenge.

Anonymous said...

I would love to get a teaching job in a CA.. Have you seen the pay?

Unknown said...

TO: ANON 3:19


First, thanks for your well-organized rebuttal. It’s the best I’ve seen on any of these blog subjects.

I agree that the change in the website was a step backwards. In keeping with your thoughts that L.I.F.T. should be for all of CMS, I agree. When a website becomes useless, it stops the flow of information that could help the program spread.

Probably the biggest reason for failure of previous CMS programs in those ZIPCODES has been lack of parental support. Mrs. Watts has been clear that when she wins over parents, kids begin showing up at school. I don’t even know what “Zumbia” is. But I know a little about its cost. Price seems low for what it accomplishes.

Don’t know what this is but I know that tonight Dilworth ES is having a Father-Daughter dance. Sounds similar. Just another way to connect family, student and school.

I was one of millions of kids in the 1950’s who lined-up for polio shots and then later sugar cubes. I didn’t know I needed glasses until a wonderful doctor on my newspaper route took an interest in me. I got sports physicals but somehow missed the sex education. I’m not in favor of Daddy Government. However, these in-kind contributions, that don’t cost CMS, are OK by me.

It is impossible to impose the expectations of a Ballantyne family on a child living on Kentucky Ave. The goals are clear. Keep them in school. Graduate them. Along the way make sure that reading skills are good. Every year there is a new kindergarten class. Every year my hope is notched-up a bit.

It was with much amusement that I read about how the charter school advised you about your son being behind. This is exactly the same argument that Dr. Morrison uses. Except, he says there a chance that when a charter school student returns to CMS, they might be behind.

I’m a supporter of L.I.F.T. The nine school approach is the right idea. However, I well remember the reasons the Board approved the contract with L.I.F.T. I was there for the discussions and the vote. Save for one Board member, the justification was “what else is there to do?” Even the L.I.F.T. staff making the presentation that day were fearful that even if the contract with CMS were signed, that the task was daunting.

I remain cautious about its success. When I meet L.I.F.T personal there is always seriousness about the task. The best way to describe it is they are going 100mph with one foot on the break. Also, everyone of them has an eye on the calendar.

Bolyn McClung

Shamash said...



"It was with much amusement that I read about how the charter school advised you about your son being behind. This is exactly the same argument that Dr. Morrison uses. Except, he says there a chance that when a charter school student returns to CMS, they might be behind."

This is EXACTLY why I say you cannot trust what the schools tell you with their tests.

Because everyone wants to game the system any way they can.

You NEED those external, nationally-normed tests (such as MAP) which compare you to other kids outside the state.

Educrats would gladly lie out of three sides of their mouths if they had them.

As for Project LIFT, I'll be not be impressed until their graduates can solve THIS lift formula:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree about this website. Flash but no important information. This is par for the course for PR and community engagement. I don't think it is deliberate smoke and mirrors. The the community has had plenty of other big events and initiatives that were splashy but with no lasting impact. That's how you communicate it to focus on the splash, not the facts and data about the sponsors, impact, nonprofit funding partners, etc. They know that people are already working on the next big thing and don't care about the details here.

Wiley Coyote said...

LIFT will never be replicated unless you can find more philanthropists with extremely deep pockets.

Also, nothing has been said about the five years after LIFT.

Anonymous said...

Project LIFT will crumble just like any association that receives money from donors and is then sketchy in transparency. Ann, the public is not stupid, it just the no one is saying anything because it is the same old same. It will come out that the money is going into the pockets of those in charge of LIFT just like most programs that proclaim they are "changing" the type of society these children are in. Dear Project lift: It comes down to one thing, single parents who don't care=children that don't care=grandchildren that don't care=great great children who don't care (especially if all those generations all live under one roof). Until everyone admits that it is the family structure (two parents regardless of sex) is the base of a strong student. That should be your equation motto. Project lift should only teach one class: don't procreate unless you are in stable relationship and make enough money to support everyone.

Anonymous said...

Wiley 1:13
All 10th graders take personal financial literacy now. It is now a big part of Civics and Economics. NC state standard and graduation requirement. Good idea, but should be standalone elective, not take away from the one civics class kids get in their entire 12 years of school.

Anonymous said...

Wiley E. Coyote = Shamash

Shamash said...

Nope. I'm the better speller.

Wiley Coyote said...

That's true... I don't use spell check.

Shamash said...

Me either. It's just natural.

Sometimes I even make up my own words, too, so spell check is annoying.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with NC? Why are we so bad at this? Why does my kids school have 5 or more new teachers, every year? I can't wait to move to SC!!

Anonymous said...


Same dance with a different song. Trillions spend by the Feds and now Private money going down the black hole never to return.

Follow the money ANN !

Anonymous said...

If teachers are the most important common factor. Why don't they see any of this money? Parents really and a students work ethic is really the most important factor but according to the talking heads teachers are. Why don't they study the students who do well inspite of school or home life. I would like to see the data on that. Smash, do you know of any such studies?