Superintendent Ann Clark is quick to note that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has yet to vote on any specifics of its revised plan for school options, including a new track for students to leave low-performing schools.
Many of the details have yet to be revealed, but the staff and board have roughed in some broad strokes in recent meetings. Here’s what we know ... and what we don’t.
Which schools are considered low-performing?
That’s not clear yet. The goals approved in February say CMS will provide options for students assigned to schools that aren’t meeting state performance standards, which is ambiguous. The guiding principles approved in April say those options will apply to schools that are labeled low-performing for three consecutive years.
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Six schools – Cochrane, Eastway, McClintock and Sedgefield middle schools and Sterling and Tuckaseegee elementaries – meet that description, which is based on proficiency and student growth on state exams. They served about 4,700 students last year.
However, the board has also discussed using the state’s “recurring low-performing list,” which includes schools labeled low-performing for two of the last three years. That list includes 22 CMS schools with almost 18,000 students.
Clark said Thursday she wants to go back to the board for another round of discussion on this issue.
What options do those students have?
Like all students, they can apply for up to three magnet programs in the January options lottery for 2017-18. It’s not clear whether their “school performance priority” will bump them ahead of other applicants.
In addition, the draft policy released in September gives students from the low-performing schools a chance to request assignment to three nonmagnet schools, for a total of six potential options. Students assigned to a nonmagnet school through this method would continue with their classmates through all grade levels if they want to, rather than being forced to return to their neighborhood school for middle and/or high school. They would get transportation the whole time.
How will priorities based on socioeconomic status work?
That’s the big question, and answers should emerge on Monday and Tuesday.
We know that each student will be assigned a socioeconomic status – high, medium or low – based on where they live. CMS has labeled each Census block, using data on average household income, adult educational attainment, single-parent families, home ownership and English language proficiency. It’s not clear whether families will be told their level, though CMS says they can look at the district’s map.
In addition, when students apply for the options lottery families can list their individual household income and parents’ education level. That could be important in changing neighborhoods, where Census data may not reflect the reality for current residents.
District leaders and the Alves Educational Consultants Group say they’ll merge that information and use it to set lottery priorities that will help create socioeconomic balance at schools with magnet programs.
The real question for many parents is whether this will improve or reduce their children’s odds of getting into popular programs. At this point, there’s no way to answer that.
Also not clear is whether CMS will release socioeconomic status percentages at each school, the way it used to do with poverty levels. “We’re really trying to shift the focus from the schools to the individual students,” Clark said.
Will current students be moved to balance demographics?
No. The new lottery priorities would affect only students entering magnet schools or seeking a transfer out of low-performing schools.
Will admission requirements for magnet schools change?
Probably, but specifics haven’t been decided. And that won’t be part of the policy discussion in the coming week. That will be a staff decision later, Clark said.
The context: In summer of 2015, a Magnet Schools of America report questioned whether some of the existing requirements limit access and squelch diversity. Requirements include auditions for arts magnets and grade-level test scores for admission to International Baccalaureate and other advanced academic programs.
CMS leaders have voiced skepticism about maintaining admission requirements based on test scores. That’s a source of anxiety for some IB parents, who say the assurance of a rigorous program with high-achieving classmates is what helps them attract students from across the county.
The proposed policy also eliminates the provision for magnet schools to send students back to their assigned neighborhood school for discipline and attendance violations. CMS leaders have said magnet administrators and faculty should be expected to deal with those problems just as their counterparts in other schools are.
Magnet students can be removed if they fail to meet the terms of the program – for instance, refusing to take classes that are required for the theme – or if their parents repeatedly fail to bring them to school or pick them up afterward. CMS says in some cases students fall behind because they aren’t getting to school, or end up waiting for hours after school is out, creating safety risks and extra demands on staff. Students could be reassigned to their neighborhood school, where they’d be assured of bus transportation, only if principals tried and failed to resolve the problem with the family.
How can people keep up with all this?
Clark urges parents to take their questions to principals and CMS administrators, rather than reacting to rumors: “Don’t assume that someone who’s telling you something is telling you facts.”
The district has held several public forums to discuss student assignment changes and will continue doing so. Once the magnet plan is approved Nov. 9, the district plans to hold a series of sessions around the county to help families understand how to participate. Staff will also visit all high-poverty schools to make sure families understand their options and have computer access to sign up.