A turnaround in the Queen City (CLT Observer)

 Schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are experiencing a turnaround. And Supt. Peter Gorman is leading the transformation (can you imagine what the Charlotte-area schools would be like if Grier actually took the job down there a couple of years ago)…

Today’s Charlotte Observer inks a story on what has contributed to the turnaround in test scores (note, test scores), particularly among students of color. The article also mentions several comparisons between CMS and Wake County Schools. There is no mention at all with Guilford County, currently the state’s third largest system.

This is a good case-study article…let’s piece-meal this, shall we:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students’ modest gains on state exams have come while scores are falling across the state.

After three years of scathing criticism from state and local officials, who lambasted CMS for failing to educate minority and low-income teens, data released this month offer a glint of hope.

Black and low-income high school students now pass exams at the same rate as those groups in Wake County, which just two years ago far outperformed CMS. White and non-poor students have also seen scores rise while peers across the state sagged.

CMS officials say state and local reforms are paying off. “It speaks to staying the course,” said Associate Superintendent Ann Clark. “It doesn’t take the urgency out of the equation.”

Indeed, with district pass rates for black and low-income students barely nudging past 50 percent, CMS remains far from its goals.

But N.C. school report cards, which make district comparisons easy, pose an intriguing question: How has CMS avoided the high school slump hitting other districts?

In Wake, tougher algebra and English exams knocked large numbers of disadvantaged students into the failing range.

“That really was an area where the bottom dropped out,” said Wake Assistant Superintendent David Holdzkom. “Our poor kids and our black kids and our Hispanic kids felt it.”

Compared with the state and Wake, CMS saw a smaller slump in algebra and bigger gains on exams that didn’t change, such as geometry, biology and history.


Another interesting tidbit from the article:

The furor over CMS high schools illustrates the virtues and flaws of America’s test-score obsession.The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to report scores by race, income, language proficiency and disability. The goal: Highlight students not getting a good education, even if overall scores look strong.

And it is an obsession. Remember folks, it didn’t always used to be like this. My philosophy is simple, if you haven’t figured out by now: it’s a child, not a test score.


In Charlotte, what emerged some five years ago was sobering. Despite much-touted gains by elementary and middle-school students, high schoolers performed below state averages. A new attendance plan that concentrated black and poor students in a handful of high schools made CMS’s weaknesses more obvious.

County commissioners pumped in millions of dollars, demanding quick change.

The governor sent advisors into several CMS high schools.

 Judge Howard Manning Jr., presiding over a lawsuit on state spending and education quality, issued a series of public scoldings. He accused CMS of committing “academic genocide” and threatened to close schools.

But here and nationwide, identifying academic problems has proved easier than fixing them.

Boy, this sounds strikingly familiar, doesn’t it.

Some more:

In CMS, reform efforts have come so fast they’ve sometimes left staff exhausted and confused: Principals and teachers have been replaced. Big schools have been split into small ones. Programs to improve reading and math skills have been launched.

Progress has been real but slow. In the last five years, pass rates for all black high school students in CMS have risen from 39 percent to 51 percent.

The high-poverty, mostly black West Charlotte High has gone from a 30 percent pass rate to 45 percent in those five years.

Sometimes folks, I feel that it has become a game of just test scores. Keep asking yourselves this question: are our children genuinely learning or are we merely just teaching them how to pass a two hour exam? Public schools in America have become test-taking factories and it is really taking away from the true academic experience.

Some more:

When CMS was compared unfavorably with Wake, Charlotte leaders were quick to note that Raleigh, with its economy rooted in technology, government and higher education, has more affluent and better-educated families.But Wake is looking more like Mecklenburg.

Both districts struggle to keep up with booming growth; Wake surpassed CMS as the state’s largest district this year.

Minority and low-income students make up a growing slice of both districts.

Many leaders in Raleigh view CMS’s high-poverty schools with dismay. Wake caps school-poverty levels, reassigning students to avoid concentrations. But this year it had to bump the cap from 40 percent to 50 percent because of rising poverty.

And Wake, like CMS, has experienced urban-suburban tension and leadership change.

“I think they are so distracted by school construction and politics that they have taken their eye off the student performance ball,” Dornan said.

Boy, that sounds familiar also. Politics and those with agendas easily get in the way of focusing attention on the kids…that’s why we’re here. I don’t think we need to name names.

Here’s the wrap-up:

The Charlotte Post Foundation is trying to raise $1.5 million to bring local experts together to identify barriers to African American academic success. Publisher Gerald Johnson said the foundation has given out scholarships, but he decided that wasn’t enough when so many black students are failing to master basic skills. His plan calls for meetings to start in January.

Details: (704) 376-0496, ext. 101, or www.thecharlottepost.com (click “Post Foundation” at the bottom).

See, the folks in Charlotte aren’t paying lip-service to the problem, they’re trying to do something about it. Talk is cheap, especially here in the People’s Republic of Guilford County. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to put words into action here, just like what’s going on 90 miles away.

E.C. 🙂


2 Responses

  1. Erik,

    Grier never had a shot at that job. Did you ever see a man sweat more bullets than Grier when he underwent hard questioning from the public? No, Terry Grier realized that staying in the comfort of Guilford County, where he never has to account for anything, was in the best interest of his career. The man has it made in the shade. He can do anything or nothing, and he is hailed as the innovator, even if our children fail to get an education.

  2. Stormy, that whole back-and-forth could not have been any more embarassing. And with all the fires and fights, this is a system that is continuing to fail our children in the worst way. In my opinion, he has not earned his raise.

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