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A Glimpse At The CMS Board Debate On Student Assignment

Lisa Worf
CMS Policy Committee met Thursday.

CMS board members are a long way from coming up with a plan to draw new attendance zones for schools. In fact, they’re still deciding on the ideas to shape that process. The CMS policy committee met again Thursday to discuss them. They debated whether it’s possible to reduce concentrations of poverty at schools while protecting those schools that are doing well.

Board members agree they need to find a way to break up clusters of poverty in schools that make it harder for students to succeed. The committee’s chairman Tom Tate double checked this is indeed where the group stands. All five board members there nodded.

“We also had a goal of not, in the vernacular, messing up what today is working…do no harm,” said Tate. That got a few nods, before Tate offered his opinion. 

“I don’t know that I agree on that,” said Tate.    

Just over half of CMS students live in poverty. These kids make up more than three-quarters of the student body at 40 percent of the district’s schools, according to the most recent numbers from 2014.

“I don’t think that we’ll get a whole lot of extra students next year that we can just move around to reduce concentrations of poverty. We have the same students,” said Tate.  “How are we going to do that unless we’re going to cause someone to do something they may not have wanted to do?”

That “something” is possibly going to a school with more low-income students and lower test scores, or to one that’s further from home. Tate expressed another fear the board has.   

“Can we do something that will keep them from leaving the district altogether if they have other options to do that either charter schools, private schools, or home schools? So doing no harm sounds like doing nothing at all,” said Tate.    

Board member Eric Davis agreed there’s no way to please everyone. Some parents will be upset. But he said, he thinks they can find a way to improve the education of students CMS isn’t serving well, while not downgrading the education of those it is.   

“I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game,” said Davis.

It’s certainly not clear how the district can break up clusters of poverty without impacting a lot of other schools. Board members have suggested adding magnet programs to do this by choice. But Tate noted Thursday, many parents don’t even know about the existing options. Paul Bailey said they should set a goal that no child should be assigned to a series of failing schools.

“We should not be in situation like that in Charlotte if we’re really putting the right priorities on our education system,” agreed Erika Ellis-Stewart. 

The committee meets again next Thursday to further discuss their goals, go over a survey that will soon go out to the community, and set a timeline for coming up with a student assignment plan.  

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.