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CMS Officials Seek Solutions To Dismal Student Racial And Economic Data

Gwendolyn Glenn
Frank Barnes, chief accountability and equity officer for CMS.

The second “Breaking the Link” report which looks at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as it relates to race, poverty and achievement, was released Tuesday without the fanfare of the initial report. The findings for last year are just as dismal as the year before. 

The majority of CMS schools, 66, are high poverty; 40% of black students and 47% of Hispanics attend high-poverty schools. Only 6% of white students attend low-income schools. The AP passage rate for students at high-income schools is 10 times higher than those at low-income schools and large gaps still exist between white students and students of color overall in terms of achievement.

School officials held a lengthy meeting Tuesday to not just look at these results but to mainly talk about solutions. Frank Barnes, the district’s chief accountability and equity officer says they were not surprised by the report’s findings.

Frank Barnes: We never anticipated that the data would look substantially different and it was not. We still see disparities based on the concentration of poverty as the concentration of poverty increased our results declined and access to some resources declined. We also saw that regardless of the level of concentration of poverty, low poverty school, moderate poverty school, or a high poverty school there were racial gaps. African Americans or Hispanic students were outperformed by their white peers. And we saw that at low poverty schools white students, Hispanic students and black students outperformed their racial peers. Stated otherwise, if you are a white student at a low poverty school you did better than other white students at moderate poverty and high poverty schools and the same can be said for black and Hispanic students.

Gwendolyn Glenn: What kinds of solutions are you guys looking at to make things different?

Barnes: Our focus for last year and moving forward is multifold - focus on great teaching and increasing access to advanced coursework. What we see is that there is no substitute for both a great teacher but really great teaching and some of the things we talked about are hallmarks of having a standards aligned lesson, that's well taught culturally responsive with differentiation for where students are. We need to make sure that we create that rich instructional diet in every school, in every classroom every day.

Glenn: Now, I was looking at some of the documents and it said that a lot of students are spending the majority of their time on lessons that are not grade appropriate. Was that disturbing to find out that say three quarters of their time is being spent in not grade appropriate instruction?

Barnes: What we see as an industry, not just in CMS or not just in North Carolina, is that we're grappling as a industry making sure that we're teaching up to the level of the new standards we adopted a few years ago. So the first place we go is making sure that our teachers are being provided with a standards aligned written curriculum. Teachers are spending way too much time and energy curating, going out and looking for curriculum and applying that, that districts are providing them with a curriculum that's up where the standards have risen to.

Sometimes even the curriculum that some districts are providing are where the standards used to be not where they are now. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is to make sure that teachers when they get that curriculum are prepared -the training you mentioned - are prepared to teach that curriculum at the level it's intended, to not water it down, not lower their expectations even inadvertently or unconsciously that the taught curriculum is at the same height of the written curriculum. And then, also, to focus on making sure that we are not getting in the way, that our own biases. Things that could make us lower our standards for kids aren't getting in the way of what kids experience.

Glenn: I was listening to Dr. Wilcox in that meeting and he used the word unholy in terms of instruction. What were your thoughts when you heard him say that?

Barnes: I think what Dr. Wilcox was referring to is that we need to make sure that we're living up to the expectations of our community and the commitment we made as professionals and we haven't done enough to put our teachers in a place for them to bring their best and do their best. So we're focusing on what we can do to support our teachers, support our principals, and support our students to make sure that they're getting what they need. A rich instructional experience so they can perform at the heights of their capabilities.

Glenn: In terms of the racial economic part of this. What are the solutions in terms of making schools more diverse, in terms of getting students into these higher level classes?

Barnes: First thing we want to do is to make sure we address supply, that there are at least 10 advanced placement courses in every one of our comprehensive high schools. And we're doing that right now so that when we open next year there'll be a minimum of 10 and make an active invitation for them to take advantage of extra opportunities.

Glenn: The diversity side of it?

Barnes: School diversity is a priority for us, but the efforts that we're trying to do to increase access to advanced coursework and school diversity though they're not mutually exclusive. They're not dependent on the other. No matter what the demographics of our schools are we want to make sure there's a rich instructional diet and there's access to advanced coursework no matter what your background is at every one of our schools.

Glenn: Frank Barnes is the equity and accountability officer for CMS.