Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has posted new school diversity ratings that will shape which students get into magnet programs – and probably play into which schools see boundary changes in the coming months.
In November, the school board approved a system that uses Census data on family income, single-parent homes, English as a second language, parent education level and home ownership to balance schools by socioeconomic status, or SES. It replaces school poverty levels as a gauge of school diversity or isolation.
The theory has been known for months, but no one had seen how it plays out for schools until CMS quietly posted the list this week. Those ratings are already shaping admission to magnet schools for 2017-18 and will likely influence boundary decisions for 2018-19.
Twenty-three schools have at least 90 percent of their students coming from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and 16 have no students from highly advantaged areas. For instance, Devonshire Elementary, a neighborhood school in northeast Charlotte, has 623 students from low SES areas and only one from a medium area.
36 percent of CMS students come from low SES areas
35 percent come from medium SES areas
29 percent come from high SES areas
Eight suburban neighborhood schools have at least 90 percent of their students coming from the highest socioeconomic group, and three of those have no students from the most disadvantaged areas. Providence Spring Elementary, a south Charlotte school that had a 4 percent poverty level under the old system, is rated at 99.78 percent high socioeconomic status under the new one, with only two medium SES students and none from the low group.
One of the school board’s goals in revising school boundaries is to break up concentrations of disadvantaged students. The next step is deciding how much emphasis the board will put on that quest, compared with other goals of preserving successful schools and making sure buildings aren’t overfilled or underused.
The consultants who helped shape the system, Alves Educational Consultants Group, hailed the CMS system as a national model, using more sophisticated measures than most districts do to gauge which students face conditions that are likely to boost or hobble their academic success. But it’s not perfect.
Because ratings are based on averages for Census block groups, which encompass 600 to 3,000 people, the data may not be accurate for any individual student, especially in changing neighborhoods.
CMS generated the numbers based on where students actually live, rather than just using the Census groups within attendance boundaries. Thus a school like McClintock Middle, which has a diverse mix of neighborhoods within its zone but struggles to attract the more affluent families, is listed as 71 percent low SES under the new system (it had an 82 percent poverty level under the old one).
Some neighborhood schools, such as North and South Mecklenburg high schools and Matthews and Smithfield elementaries, reflect a fairly even balance of all three groups. So do several popular magnet schools, such as Randolph and Piedmont IB middle schools, Northwest School of the Arts and Collinswood and Waddell language academies.
Diverse schools in CMS
Here are some of the most balanced schools, based on a new list that breaks down students by low, medium and high socioeconomic status.
Harper Middle College
Myers Park Traditional
North Meck High
Piedmont IB Middle
Randolph IB Middle
South Meck High