Economic, racial gaps concern Gorman

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are making great strides academically, but still have work to do in eliminating racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, Superintendent Peter Gorman said Thursday.

In his second annual state of the schools report, Gorman told a packed audience of students, parents and school personnel that last school year, 77 percent of CMS schools met or exceeded academic improvement standards set by the state. In the 2005-06 school year, he said, 54 percent did. He also said CMS students' proficiency rates improved last school year on 12 of 14 state end-of-course and end-of-grade tests.

“Overall, this is a very positive trend,” he said. “I'm very pleased with that, but not satisfied. We have more work to do.”

He said the achievement gaps between minority and white students remain a problem. State testing results released earlier this year showed more than 85 percent of white students and 80 percent of Asian students passed math exams at all grade levels.

Pass rates for black students ranged from 47 to 58 percent by grade level. Low-income students' pass rates were similar. Hispanic students fared slightly better, with pass rates from 54 to 65 percent.

No major school system in the country has solved the achievement gap, Gorman said, and housing patterns make it hard to keep Charlotte's schools well-integrated.

CMS is focusing additional staff and resources on attacking the problem. He pointed to initiatives that have sent seven high-achieving principals onto struggling campuses, decentralized central office operations and allowed 50 principals more flexibility and freedom in confronting their schools' challenges.

Among other points he noted:

Two years ago, CMS scores on the SAT trailed the state by 17 points. Today, CMS has pulled even.

Schools opened this year with 16 teacher vacancies and no bus driver vacancies.

Six new schools opened this year, on time and within budget; six more will open next year.

The community must help in attacking the social problems underpinning the achievement gap, Gorman said.

“We can't do it alone,” he said. “The gaps remain and the social problems that cause them remain … I am concerned, and all of you should be concerned as well, because these problems affect all of us, and affect the future.”

School board chairman Joe White, following Gorman's speech, praised the superintendent as a workaholic educator who is laboring intently to improve local schools. He asked for a round of applause, and the audience gathered in an auditorium in Duke Energy's headquarters responded with a standing ovation.

Some who heard the speech said they felt Gorman was trying hard, but questioned some of the school system's priorities.

Judy Kidd, a teacher who heads a local teacher's group, the Classroom Teachers Association, criticized recent central office changes that gave some administrators higher salaries. She said more attention needs to be focused on classrooms.

“From where I sit teachers are working as hard as they can work. I'm just wondering how in touch Gorman is with what's actually going on in the schools,” she said.

Richard McElrath, a retired teacher, attended the speech. He commended Gorman for calling attention to local housing patterns that hinder racial diversity in schools.

He said local political bodies need to pass ordinances requiring real estate developers to put forth projects that promote mixed-income neighborhoods.

“Somebody's going to have to have the political will to stand up and say this is what's best for our community,” McElrath said. “These kids are not going to be successful as long as we keep isolating them in high-poverty schools.”