By James E. Ford
Presentation to CMS Board on April 12, 2016
I’ve written and spoken pretty extensively on issue of student assignment from the student and teacher perspective. But today I speak as a CMS parent and concerned Charlottean.
There once was a time when we could say that we didn’t know. We didn’t know that CMS had so many schools with concentrated poverty. That many of our schools had become so racially isolated. We didn’t know that fixating so many of these students in the same schools was so harmful and injurious to them. That our poorest most vulnerable residents were least likely to mobilize upward in comparison to our major municipal counterparts. Perhaps we could say that we didn’t know that schools and housing patterns were so delicately intertwined together. Or that our district had effectively resegregated along race and class lines in a way that has a deleterious effect on the life chances of our youth. There may have been a space in time when we could claim ignorance or naivety. But that day is over and that time has since expired.
We are now faced with putting to test the theory embodied in the saying, “if people knew better, they’d do better”. We are now in the know. What we know is there’s a half century of scholarly peer reviewed research supporting integrated schools as a means of closing achievement gaps and ensuring equity. We know that alleged “neighborhood schools” are not the byproduct of some sort of natural selection, but the result of careful crafted boundaries driven by politics and economics. That talk of “forced bussing”, even in it’s absence from conversations about student assignment, is an Atwaterian proxy for something else. That inclusive schools yield academic benefits for low income students, while allowing affluent students continue to thrive. That as emotionally attached as we may be to the concept of neighborhood schools, there’s virtually no academic literature showing it positively impacts student outcomes for all children. That separate, is STILL inherently unequal..
So now here we are, compelled to move from words and thoughts, to action. The state
constitution guarantees that students have the right to a sound basic education and “equal opportunities shall be provided for ALL students”. Schools are a common good, belong to the people so in truth, they are all our schools. While the problem is complex and cannot be solved entirely by schools, the education sector does have a role to play.
“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
Presented to the Board of Education February 9, 2016
Good evening, My name is Kayla Romero. I come to this podium wearing multiple hats…I was a former CMS teacher at Ranson IB Middle School, I’m a member of several community organizations, I’m a millennial who is currently debating if Charlotte will remain home and where I start a family, and I work for an organization called Students for Education Reform, which supports and trains local high school and college students as community organizers for education justice. The common thread between all of these is my deep investment in our community and education system.
The testimony I share tonight has been shaped by my student’s voices, lived experiences, and suppressed desires.
First, I want to ask the School Board to be courageous in undertaking a new student assignment plan. Take this opportunity to bring greater equity and justice across Charlotte by reducing the concentration of high poverty schools. I not only want to challenge you as a board to do this, but your constituents because I realize you are elected by our community. I want this community to consider that it takes privilege and advantage to choose the neighborhood you live in and that privilege has been denied to our communities of color in Charlotte and beyond. I don’t think a new student assignment plan will single handily solve all of our problems (teacher turnover, low performance, the opportunity gap), but I think it is one of the strategies we must employ to make progress. The drafted goals are solid first steps.
In order to do this, I believe it is important to reach a conclusion about the Superintendent Search that does not further alienate any of our communities and divide us. Often, we immediately take an either/or approach, but I believe there are other alternatives, such as keeping Superintendent Ann Clark while starting the search process.
With this time I also want to address the need to support our undocumented students and families in CMS. With recent ICE raids and deportation proceedings we have to take a stand and be informed on what we CAN DO. I hope school leaders including those of you serving on the Board will make public commitments to helping these students and ensuring that our schools, including bus stops are safe. None of our kids deserve to live in fear.
Last, but not least I want to echo what some students have said this evening. Our students (of all ages, race, religion, and zipcode) have rich perspective and valuable opinions. It is my hope that as a community and education system we figure out how to support them as thought partners and leaders in improving CMS.
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.