Published in the Charlotte Observer October 31, 2015
From Barry Sherman and Justin Perry, co-chairs of OneMECK.org:
As the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board undertakes the formidable task of pupil reassignment, OneMECK urges the board to proceed quickly with three key steps: define simple, straightforward guiding principles; hire an experienced professional team to prepare plan options; and then engage the community in plan selection and adoption.
Over the course of many meetings, the CMS Policy Committee has attempted without success to arrive at consensus about guiding principles for pupil assignment. Inevitably, the discussions have migrated from identifying guiding principles to possible pupil assignment solutions (magnets, choice zones, etc.).
We urge the committee to adopt simple, general, guiding principles. We recommend (in no order of priority): maximization of student achievement, diversity of the student body (broadly defined), and students’ proximity to the school.
With those three guiding principles, the board can enlist the expertise of an experienced professional team to perform a comprehensive review of pupil assignment and craft plan options that seek to balance the three guiding principles. Creating a new pupil assignment plan balancing student achievement, diversity and proximity in order to make our schools stronger is a monumental task.
CMS staff need outside support from an experienced team. The consultant team can gather and analyze data, then present plans that include different strategies to satisfy the directive of the guiding principles. The range of options that satisfy the guiding principles can then be presented to the public for discussion.
The board has discussed preceding the reassignment process with a communitywide survey to gauge the preferences of CMS families. We believe that such public input will be more valuable later in the process, when concrete options are available for review.
As with so much education policy, the devil will be in the details, and community members need to see those details in order to have the most productive discussions.
Our greatest hope is that in the new pupil assignment planning process, our community will find the will to embrace the needs of all our children. And that in embracing a new pupil assignment plan, we will move toward student and school community integration.
Dear Parents of School-aged Children:
CMS needs your help and support. As you probably know, the Board of Education is in the beginning stages of revising our school district’s pupil assignment plan. This process will be challenging; not just for the school board, but for our entire Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. It will stir up painful memories for some and strong emotion for many.
CMS now operates under a plan that basically assigns students to schools according to where they live. As a result, reflecting neighborhood demographics, our children largely attend schools in which they’re separated according to family income and skin color. We have lots of schools attended by predominantly white, middle class and wealthier kids and many other schools filled largely with children of color living in poverty. You might disagree, but I believe all children are harmed – for different reasons and with different consequences – when educated in such isolated learning environments.
I’ve chosen to write this letter to you because your voice carries great power when it comes to the issue of pupil assignment. What you say matters. You, as the parent of a school-aged child, can be tremendously influential. So my message and plea are directed to you.
People often believe pupil assignment pits self-interest against the common good. This is a
false and distracting contrast. Parental and civic responsibilities go hand-in-hand. As a parent, your child needs you to advocate passionately for their self-interest. As a member of our shared Charlotte-Mecklenburg community, you’re needed to advocate just as passionately for the common good of all children.
For me, it all boils down to this question:
Does our current pupil assignment plan support what is educationally best for your child and what’s educationally best for all children and our community?
In posing this question to you, I don’t care about your skin color, ethnicity, political views, zip code, or income. What matters to me is that you hold yourself – and we hold each other – fully accountable to both parts of this question. In doing so we will establish solid common ground from which a mutual vision of pupil assignment can emerge.
Will the process seem impossible at times? Will there be disagreement and heated debate? Will compromise be required? Yes, of course. But if we stand united in our basic commitment to protect both the self-interest of each child and the common good of all children, our differing ideas and opinions will not divide us; instead, they will become the fuel that propels us forward to unforeseen possibilities and creative solutions.
No parent should ever feel guilty for promoting their child’s self-interest, just as no parent should ever rest easy or turn a blind eye when many children are subjected to high-poverty learning environments that prevent them from reaching their academic potential and limit their possibilities for success. Self-interest and the common good are two sides of the same golden coin. Let’s join together. For the sake of your child and all our CMS children.
Carol Sawyer to CMS Board of Education
October 13, 2015
But before we use ‘choice’ as a driver of pupil assignment, let’s examine why parents want choice:
We enrolled our first grader in 1999. From the beginning, we used ‘magnet choice’ to avoid schools with revolving door principals, inexperience staff, and meager course offerings. Yet, while my daughter attended schools with more experienced staff, wider course offerings, and extra curricular opportunities those who didn’t ‘win the lottery’ were denied those educational opportunities.
Our family’s participation in the magnet system was driven not by the desire for the EAST IB program, but because that was the only way we could attend a school with a full range of advanced classes. East Meck offered a dozen AP classes, half the number offered at more prosperous schools, but far more that our home school offered.
A parent’s demand for ‘Choice’ should not driven by the desire to escape a school with 80%+ students living in poverty, or for courses and activities that should be available at ALL schools.
Before CMS considers expanding the magnet program, the Board needs to complete a comprehensive pupil assignment program that ensures that all students have an assigned school that is economically diverse.
Once you’ve made ALL assigned schools places where you would happily send your OWN child, grandchild, niece, or nephew we can talk about magnets.
In the meantime, don’t let the magnet program be the tail that wags the dog of pupil assignment.
I stand with OneMECK in asking the Board to engage a consultant to review the entire district with an eye toward eliminating schools with high concentrations of poverty and wealth.
Katie Hughes, PhD to the CMS Board of Education
October 13, 2015
Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the school board.
I am here tonight to voice my opinion about the upcoming student assignment plan that is going to take place next year.
I live in Huntersville and I do not want my son to go to a school where everyone around him is from the same social and socio-economic background. I want him to grow up in a school system that makes him do group work with other students who don’t look like he does and whose parents make more money and less money than my husband and I do. He has to learn how to be familiar with and get along with kids who aren’t from his same social class because he is not in a society where everyone is the same. If not in school, when will he learn it?
Some parents in my situation would be afraid that having his classmates be from poorer upbringings might lower their child’s academic experience and career ambitions. I know that not to be the case because of my own experience. I grew up in Charlotte and attended very racially and socioeconomically diverse schools. I attended Irwin, Piedmont and West Charlotte, graduating in 1999. After a chemistry scholarship took me to NCSU, I went to Princeton to earn my masters and PhD in Chemistry. Princeton, like many of its peer institutions, recognizes the value of a diverse student body and actively works to create that environment.
I know that attending a diverse school was far from a limiting factor in my own education and I am happy I did not go to a racially or socio economically isolated school. When my son gets older, I want a neighborhood school for him. No one wants their child to be on the bus for hours. However, if it meant some more time on the school bus to attend a school that wasn’t lopsided in its socioeconomic make- up and gave my son a chance to have friends who aren’t exactly like him, I would welcome that because I am certain his social education would benefit dramatically while his academic achievement and career ambitions wouldn’t suffer.
While I’d be willing to let my kid go on a bus further, I am not saying this is the only or even a primary way to achieve diversity. There are a lot of other alternatives that I would like the school board to explore that do not include longer bus rides, as many of our neighborhoods and communities have potential for natural diversity if we make the schools more widely attractive to parents and high quality teachers. We shouldn’t have to win the lottery at a magnet school to get our kids exposed to great teachers, great programs and a diverse student body.
While I attended a diverse school, I also had great teachers. I’m concerned about the outstanding teachers, who have a huge part to play in a child’s education, and their presence in ALL schools in Charlotte Mecklenburg. The turnover rate at high free and reduced lunch schools is, I’m sure, higher than the average in CMS schools which is probably costing a lot of money, let alone descent test scores. Having more balanced schools, socioeconomically, would make keeping around good teachers, like the ones who made my education so good, easier too.
In short, I agree with the OneMeck platform that we should do everything we can to promote socio economically mixed communities and schools for the benefit of every member of our society and its children. The health of our community depends on you, the school board, making choices that make our community stronger for years to come.
Presented to the Board of Education August 11, 2015
I come to you tonight to request a serious time of reflection and open-mindedness with regard to the hot topic of student assignment.
In a tribute to the late President John F. Kennedy, a writer described President Kennedy by saying, “He was like a good teacher, instructing us in the realities and suggesting dreams.” This is what we are called to do now – instruct in realities, recognizing that true effort will inevitably involve an examination of some of the clearly unpleasant realities that plague our society. At the same time, we are to suggest dreams – the possibility of hope and change. We preach the idea of education being the key to a better future, especially now when an individual’s level of education is directly tied to the quality of his or her own life.
The problem with this business of dream-selling comes with the realities in which we often find ourselves delivering the message of education as a savior. I have worked with schools across this district and state. I have yet to see the benefits in any regard – academically, socially, emotionally, or psychologically – of hypersegregated schools.
As a former teacher in hypersegregated, high poverty schools, I always found myself begging the questions:
How can my students believe that education equals power when they have never been exposed to evidence of such? How can they even enter the pool of competition for post-secondary opportunities, be it college or career, when often the courses they need to do so may not even be offered to them? We know that poverty exists and will continue to exist in every public school. But, when 86% or more of a student population is living in this survival mode, the vicious cycle of poverty becomes nearly impossible to break. Every day is a test of the survival of the fittest.
Delivering a reality of equity has become a broken promise.
The reality is that students at schools hypersegregated along the lines of poverty are subject not just to fewer resources or less qualified instructors, but more importantly, fewer opportunities and a significantly lower standard of achievement.
The reality is that students of all socioeconomic classes intuitively understand when high expectations are held of them and when they are truly believed in by their teachers, leaders, and school culture.
The reality is that the world now, more than ever, is incredibly interconnected. This interconnectedness outlines the skills demanded of ALL students.
The reality is that segregated schools along any lines are inherently unequal. The very nature of our democracy is being threatened.
The reality is that integrated schools benefit students of all socioeconomic classes, where diversity isn’t just accepted, but embraced.
Complacency has become a greater sin than malevolence. There will never be a perfect time, setting, or situation to begin to discuss how to truly ensure the equity that every child deserves. Every day, hundreds of thousands of children’s futures lie in our hands. I encourage us to do the tough work of striking a balance between self-interest and investment in our future, to embrace an understanding of common humanity, and to truly investigate the best ways in which we can create equity of opportunity for EVERY child to be successful not just now, but as long-term contributors to a better future.
We know that this is a national problem, but let’s chart a different trajectory for our kids. How will Charlotte-Mecklenburg evaluate its current realities to suggest dreams of an even better future? Are we, as individuals, willing to embrace the realities of others and use that new understanding to serve today’s children? NOW is the time to decide.