The Observer asked all nine candidates for the three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to select a top priority for student assignment and explain their views in 500 words or less (get links to the others here). This statement is unedited.
In order to find a cure, we must first acknowledge a cause. While we were once a model for desegregation, our current reality looks much different. As CMS develops a new student assignment process, we must prioritize a system that reduces concentrations of poverty while increasing diversity and opportunity. Too often in America, in North Carolina, and in Charlotte, geography is destiny. Your level of means and your geographic location determine your potential for achievement. For more affluent households, that correlation is usually positive. For those who are not “more affluent,” the correlation is usually the opposite.
When looking at a published set of maps examining the area CMS serves, it is no secret that the majority of schools with 85% percent student proficiency are located in the southern (and wealthiest) portion of the county. We must address the issue of social mobility in Charlotte. Education is one way in which we do that. We can’t approach school assignment without acknowledging that there is a correlation between poverty and school performance. In 2011, Stanford University reported that the average academic achievement difference between a child from a family at the 90th percentile of the family income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap. High-poverty, high minority schools have climbed dramatically since the district stopped mandatory busing in 2001. According to reports published by UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, the number of schools with populations over 80 percent minority and applying for free or reduced lunch went from 10 in 2001 to 42 in 2008.
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Our community is at a breaking point. How long are we going to allow certain schools to underperform while schools only a few miles away outperform? If we are truly committed to equal opportunity and the belief that every child has the right and the ability to succeed, then we need a school assignment process that ensures that zip codes do not determine outcomes. If we are truly committed to “every child, every day”, we need to be confident in the ability of all our schools to provide an excellent education, not only those in the most affluent parts of our county.
The time is now. As we revamp a broken system, we need to commit to reducing concentrations of poverty so that we have a real chance at equity for all students and families. Commitment will mean having the moral and policy-based courage to boldly call for the reversal of race and income based re-segregation. Commitment will mean looking for successful models so that we don’t reinvent the wheel. Charlotte was ahead of the curve when we led the nation after the Swann decision. We have a critical opportunity now to examine models of similar-sized school systems in order to develop an innovative plan that will offer the best academic experience for all students and put us ahead of the curve once again. The status quo is simply not acceptable.
Janeen Bryant: www.JaneenBryant.com