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The Educate! Archive

Click above for archived editions of Educate!, the community journal on education in Charlotte-Mecklenburg published by the Fellowship between September 2000 and September 2005.

The Swann Fellowship
1510 E. 7th St
Charlotte, NC 2820

'Hot Topic' of the day is...


July 6, 2014 

“Welcome to my new page!” Heath Morrison wrote as he launched a “Heath’s Hot Topics” blog last year. “So much of my job has to do with communicating information….”

In a May 2013 communication, CMS said the superintendent would “share his observations, his thoughts on big issues and initiatives impacting our district, what inspires him and what he anticipates for the future.”
Morrison wrote that the blog “will allow me at least once or twice a week to share my observations….”

The Observer’s Ann Doss Helms took note of the new blog in May 2013. At that point, several posts no longer in the blog archive had already been posted. The archive now carries two posts in November 2013, one on December and two in March 2014. The series ends in March 2014 as the superintendent must have been working virtually nonstop on the budget.

I’ve noticed this pattern of broken public communications before. Peter Gorman’s speeches that were noteworthy enough to be posted on the CMS website fell by more than half in the second year of his superintendency, and continued to fall until he departed. What’s perhaps notable about the collapse of Morrison’s blog is how it came so much more rapidly.

What I miss about Morrison’s unfulfilled intentions is the window he promised on “what I see in the future.” The discipline of a deadline is always good, and to have something forcing our leaders to think – and communicate – a bit beyond the crisis of the day seems a public asset.

Success on the biggest issue facing CMS – how to make “educating every student” not just a slogan but a reality – won’t come without a revolutionary culture change in this community. And the community has precious few voices raised in support of that culture change.

I wish Morrison would lead that change. Or at least he could blog about it.

– Steve Johnston


'Don't ever, ever shy away from a good struggle'


"Science actually shows that when you’re struggling to solve a problem or to understand a concept, you’re forming new pathways and connections in your brain. 
So struggling isn’t a bad thing.  It is not a sign of weakness – in fact, it’s a sign of growth.  It’s a sign that you’re expanding your capacity to handle the hard challenges that you will inevitably face throughout your entire life.  So don’t ever, ever shy away from a good struggle.  Instead, I want you to seek it out and dive in head first, because that’s what truly successful people do."

– First Lady Michelle Obama, addressing the District of Columbia
College Access Program graduation celebration June 19
at Washington’s Wardman Park Mariott



Tribalism in CMS: An update


June 16, 2014 

In a school district in which no racial or ethnic group accounts for a majority of the students, more than half of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, and more than half of schools in each grade span, draw a majority of their students from one race.

CMS continues to be the district that made resegregation work.

About a third of K-5 schools have a white majority. Another third have a black majority, while 7% of the K-5s have an Hispanic majority.

About four-fifths of the K-8s have a black majority. Eight of those K-8s are 80% or more black.

High school programs include not just the big regional high schools, but lots of small programs within them. By program, 54% of the programs now are majority-black, 14% majority-white.

By grade structure, 61 of 87 K-5s have a majority race; 13 of 14 K-8s; 18 of 27 middle schools; and 19 of 29 high school programs.

Of greater interest than the schoolhouses is the toll on individual children: that is, how many or what percentage of them are going to schools where public policy has led to them being sorted out so thoroughly by race.

The results are in the adjoining tables, based on the recent release of CMS demographic data for the 3rd month of the 2013-14 school year, which is here.

Overall, 63% of white children attend majority-white schools; 59% of all CMS black children attend majority-black schools. Since there are only 8 majority-Hispanic schools, only 13% of Hispanic children attend majority-Hispanic schools.

So 34,677 of the 58,888 black students in CMS are in majority-black schools.

That’s because, when the school board succumbed to tribalism in 2002, it rewrote the legal system of school assignment to mostly mirror Mecklenburg’s racially and socio-economically segregated housing patterns. And that’s exactly what a lot of the board’s constituents demanded.

The achievement outcomes from this system are a topic for another day, but they are well known: The results clearly don’t work equally well for all tribes. Result? Equality under the law was thrown under the bus by the school board.

Is inequality under the law one of your cherished civic values? If not, have a chat with your school board members. An earlier generation depended on courts to intervene. This time, the solution may require electoral activism.

– Steve Johnston

Comments for publication are welcome by e-mail.



 Comments, responses on the Manning article


June 1, 2014 

Our May 15 article, “Judge Manning issues a report on ‘the reading problem’ ” prompted a few inquiries after a shorter version of it was published on the Viewpoint page of The Charlotte Observer on May 20.

We’ll share those inquiries and our responses below. None of the inquiries, however, even took notice of what we thought was the primary conclusion of the piece. That may have occurred because the Observer used its headline to focus on money. So we’ll try again in this space in a bit.

One response was not for publication, but it castigated us for being all wrong about the damage done by testing. It included the assertion that “many schools that sat at the heart of low-income neighborhoods have been closed as a direct result of this test-and-punish routine.”

A lawyer wrote, “I see so many clients who I believe would not be in the courtroom if their education had been better.”

There was a possibly snarky comment on the Observer site that read, “Tell me again, what was NC's achievement gap before teacher pay dropped from 27th?” Snark is fine, but perhaps data is finer. Here’s the response we shared online at the Observer site:

The oft-quoted teacher pay ranking appears to be from Chart C-9, Average Salaries of Public School Teachers, in the annual “Rankings of the States” series published by the National Education Association. The NEA website offers six years’ worth of reports, so here is that data:

2013 (11-12 data) – NC 46th
2012 (10-11 data) – NC 41st
2011 (09-10 data) – NC 35th
2010 (08-09 data) – NC 28th
2009 (07-08 data) – NC 26th
2008 (06-07 data) – NC 24th


For data from the same years, let’s set aside the changes in the N.C. tests that occurred during this period, and use, from the ncpublicschools.org site, the math/reading composite score for CMS 3rd-graders, percentage of whites and blacks on or above grade level, and compute the gap:

11-12 White 87.9 Black 51.7 – Gap 36.2
10-11 White 87.1 Black 49.4 – Gap 37.7
09-10 White 87.5 Black 51.0 – Gap 36.5
08-09 White 87.0 Black 47.2 – Gap 39.8
07-08 White 78.5 Black 34.4 – Gap 44.1
06-07 White 88.4 Black 48.8 – Gap 39.6

Apologies for any data collection or computation errors.

This gap data may suggest that as teacher pay declined in rank, the test-score gap also declined. But let’s point out the gyrations during the period as a cautionary warning, along with the reality that North Carolina test administrators control the gap, and the scores, by defining each year what will be considered at or above grade level.

As for the general point about connections between teacher pay and student outcomes, we’ve been following test-score data for more than 30 years and in most of that time the white-black gap has remained at 30-some points, irrespective of test, cut scores, test difficulty and other factors.

We as citizens of North Carolina have long ignored the number of kids not leaving childhood with the skills that they should have mastered in K-12. Teachers alone cannot succeed in that venture. Parents alone cannot. Children alone cannot. Taxpayers alone cannot. Uniting all those groups around a relatively easily understood goal, like giving every child a sound basic education, might succeed but it will not be easy or cheap.

The most intriguing conversation created by the article was with a fellow who once lived in Charlotte. The exchange began predictably enough: “Education outcome is based NOT on the politicians, or political parties, or whatever petty squabbles (over power and money, NOT the kids) that are presented. Rather, it is based on the health of the community that they serve. Talk to any teacher, and they'll tell you.”

We agreed, and soon began to learn about the teachers who made a difference in his life, and encouraged him as a child to stretch beyond the limited expectations for him that many in his small Midwest town had for him.

At one point, he said, “Unless/until we change the values of the communities that kids grow up in, we're just grabbing at money and power.”

Good teachers. Committed parents. Students eager for the counsel of mentors. Resources commensurate with the task. These are all part of the answer.

– Steve Johnston

Comments for publication are welcome by e-mail.







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