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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Charlotte's White Parents Leaving CMS, Don't Want Diversity

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Flight from CMS?

During the recent round of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student assignment talks, "white flight," "bright flight" and CMS's "market share" came up.

Every summer, I get tips that people are fleeing CMS in droves because of something the district has done wrong ("bright flight," the trendy term, refers to the notion that it's not just white families who opt out). At the same time, others assure me that students are flocking back to public schools because of something CMS has done right -- or, more recently, because the recession is making it tougher to afford private school.

Some neighborhoods or schools may see shifts in any given year, but overall, CMS's market share seems to be holding pretty steady at just over 80 percent of Mecklenburg's school-age kids.

That's a rough estimate calculated from CMS's official enrollment tally (133,664 last year) and the tallies of private, charter and home-schooled kids kept by the state. It's not a perfect measure; some reports are slow to update, and students can cross county lines for private and charter schools. But I come up with 81 percent in CMS for 2009-10, 11 percent in private schools and 4 percent each in charter and home schools.

The U.S. Census Bureau lists 85 percent of Mecklenburg kids in public schools (that would include charters) and 15 percent in private. That, too, is an estimate based on a 2008 sampling that includes a significant margin of error.

Update at 12:30 p.m.

I had noted in the original post that Superintendent Peter Gorman told the school board that the 2010 census will provide better details about who's opting in or out of CMS. He probably based that assumption on data that came from the 2000 census; I, too, had been looking forward to getting detailed breakdowns for this year. But as a commenter pointed out and a Census Bureau spokesman confirms, this year's census did not include the "long form" that asked more detailed questions of many households in 2000. Because of that, information about public and private choices will continue to come only from the American Community Survey sampling cited above.

Meanwhile, board member Tim Morgan made an interesting observation: A focus on winning back families who have chosen private or charter schools might drive a different approach to student assignment than focusing on equity and student achievement, the priorities the board ranked highest.

The board didn't explore his comment in any depth. But I suspect that's exactly the kind of deeper thought and analysis that looms when the assignment talks resume July 20.

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Charlotte Schools Block Black Kids From Attending AP Classes

Students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's high-poverty schools face an "opportunity gap" in access to college-level classes, says a report from a citizen advisory panel being presented today.

Students at several low-poverty suburban schools can choose from more than 20 Advanced Placement subjects this school year, while students at four high-poverty schools have fewer than 10, the report says.

The Equity Committee, appointed by the school board, spent the past year looking at Advanced Placement along with services for students who don't speak English well. The recommendations, designed to boost equal opportunity, are likely to clash with budget-cutting plans.

For instance, the panel recommends that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools do more to increase AP offerings at the high-poverty schools, where most students are Black or Hispanic. The panel also calls for more minority enrollment in AP courses at all schools. But a consultant advising CMS on the likelihood of budget cuts for 2010-11 has suggested cutting some AP classes with low enrollment to focus on boosting basic skills.

"We're just in challenging times right now," said board Vice Chair Tom Tate. "I think that the board is going to have some pretty interesting debate on this."

AP Challenge

AP offerings range from 25 subjects at South Mecklenburg High to seven at Waddell, the report says. Even at schools such as Mallard Creek High and Northwest School of the Arts, which have large numbers of middle-class black students, AP classes are disproportionately white.

Taking AP classes can help students get into competitive universities, and students who earn high scores on the exams can get college credit. "The lack of a diverse range of core and elective AP courses at all schools raises serious equity concerns," the report says.

CMS offers other college-level options, including classes hosted by Central Piedmont Community College and advanced classes in International Baccalaureate magnets. The report did not look at those.

High-poverty high schools tend to have lower enrollments and more students struggling to meet graduation requirements, both of which can make it challenging to fill AP classes. For instance, Waddell offered 10 options on its "enrollment card" last winter but ended up only teaching seven, the report says.

But those schools also have successful college-bound students. The equity panel recommends offering a set number of AP courses at each school, even if enrollment is low, and urges schools to "actively recruit and place students in those courses."

The report says white students make up 37 percent of CMS's high-school students but account for 62 percent those taking of AP exams. Minority students may be hindered by home support, peer culture or low expectations in lower grades, the report says. Recommendations range from recruiting AP teachers "of various ethnic backgrounds" to "cluster(ing) students of racial groups in AP courses in order to provide peer support."

Language Barrier

On students with limited English skills, the report notes that some schools have so many that students may not be immersed in spoken English, while others have so few that it's tough to provide adequate staff support for kids and families.

CMS has eliminated jobs for bilingual parent advocates, even as the number of students whose families speak Spanish and other languages has grown. The committee recommends restoring those jobs at schools with large numbers of families who need translation, noting that parent involvement is essential to student success.

The report describes a visit to Merry Oaks Elementary, where 19 languages are spoken, most children come from low-income homes, and some students "not only don't speak English but may not have any experience with indoor bathrooms or electricity." Committee members saw a woman arrive to enroll a young child, who did most of the translating between his mother and the school secretary. Two hours later, the child and his mother "were still trying to navigate the enrollment process," it says.

The report urges CMS to make sure schools make better use of available translation services and make it easier for families without cars to get to the Family Application Center south of uptown, where international students must register. City buses used to run along that road, the report says, but no longer do.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC, WCNC, Google Maps

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