The snapshot of enrollment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this year presents a challenge for this community. But it's a challenge that can be met.
More than half of CMS's 154 schools now have minority enrollment of 75 percent or higher, and about two-thirds of the district's black and Hispanic students attend those high-minority schools.
Though officials haven't calculated the system's poverty rate yet, if history is a gauge, that has risen also. Last year, at least 47 percent of CMS students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
Those figures are cause for concern. High-minority, high-poverty schools tend to be academically struggling schools. Research shows all student groups tend to do better academically in more diverse settings. Students in diverse schools also get useful lessons in how to get along with people who come from a background or culture different from theirs.
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But in the short-term, changing the make-up of CMS schools won't happen. The system has more minority students than white students – 66 percent to 34 percent. The current assignment plan is a neighborhood schools plan.
The lack of diversity in many Charlotte neighborhoods is reflected in individual schools. Local governments can help change that through better land-use planning and housing policies. More public commitment than has been exhibited in the past is necessary to achieve that goal.
But mitigating many of the problems often associated with high-poverty, high-minority schools can start now. Studies show five qualities help: The school culture is focused on preparing students for college or careers. Educators set expectations that all students will meet their academic potential. Support is provided for struggling students, and partnerships with businesses, colleges and parents are forged to make sure students get that help. Teachers are assigned to schools to meet the needs of students. Struggling students get more time in class and resources.
These tactics require strategic use of resources, not extra resources. They also require more public commitment and involvement. We must push for more diversity. But right now, we must work harder to make those lacking diversity succeed.