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.
The text below was submitted to the Charlotte Observer, an edited version was published in the Observer on August 8, 2015.
From Barry Sherman, a social worker at Bruns Academy:
The time is now for our community to rally behind CMS in the creation of a pupil assignment plan that promotes fair, equal and excellent educational opportunity for all children.
I wear several hats. I am a concerned citizen. I am a long-time CMS school social worker currently assigned to Bruns Academy. I am a member of the Opportunity Task Force that was recently launched to address Charlotte’s challenges with upward mobility. I am also part of the rapidly expanding “OneMECK Coalition,” a group of Mecklenburg County individuals and organizations who have come together to address the racial and class segregation that is keeping our community from reaching its full potential.
While my comments are a mingled expression of these various roles, the unifying factor is my deep concern for our community – especially the children we are charged with educating.
As my school social work career progresses, I find myself evermore committed to the work of CMS and evermore passionate in my advocacy for public education.
On the other hand, my concern and sense of urgency are also growing more intense. Of particular concern to me are the national trends resulting in an increasingly two-tiered system of education. The re-segregation of our schools – especially the socioeconomic segregation that places extreme concentrations of poverty under one schoolhouse roof – is particularly devastating in its impact on students and teachers.
In my work with the Opportunity Task Force, I recently heard Mayor Clodfelter speak about Charlotte’s “unsustainable contradiction” – the “tale of two cities” that increasingly defines the reality of our community. CMS, like urban school districts across our nation, finds itself at the very center of such contradiction.
As a citizen who has dedicated his life to serving children and families in high needs schools, I’d like to share a bit of my hard-earned perspective.
First, teachers and staff are NOT the problem at high-poverty schools. My God-daughter attends a school in the SouthPark area. The center of gravity at a school like hers quite naturally constellates around academic achievement, good behavior and positive social relations.
At high-poverty schools, because of the highly-skewed challenges that accompany an extreme concentration of poverty, we have to work each and every day to manufacture a center of gravity that allows learning to occur. This is one of the first ways in which inequity rears its ugly head. On a daily basis, the “starting line” for learning is tragically pushed back at high-poverty schools.
Second, there is no amount of money, professional development for teachers, or infusions of classroom technology, etc. that will fix high-poverty schools. School-based interventions alone cannot solve the problem. Painting and remodeling a house is futile if a rotting foundation is left untreated.
Third, while there might not be anything magical about sitting children of color next to white children in a classroom, something quite incredible most definitely occurs when poor children are given access to a middle-class learning environment.
Fourth, it’s not just poor children of color I’m concerned about. Diverse, mixed-income learning environments benefit all children. I recently heard john a. powell point out that given the ever-increasing diversity in the world, any child educated in a segregated school is being mis-educated.
I say again: the time is now for our entire community to step up, accept our shared responsibility and support the CMS Board of Education in taking on the very difficult and highly sensitive challenge of a reimagined pupil assignment plan. The time is now to move beyond our divisiveness and find the common ground that will allow us to do what’s best for all children and, in turn, move our community one-step closer to world-class greatness.