CMS board approves equity policy that aims to close racial, economic and ethnic gaps

A split Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board approved an equity policy Tuesday that aims to close the racial and economic disparities reflected in student achievement across the district.

The board and its policy committee, which approved a draft version in March, have wrestled with the policy for more than a year. It calls for ways to measure and monitor equity in the schools and creates a committee of up to 40 members to look over the district’s shoulder in tracking its progress.

The board approved three amendments to the draft policy, including one that requires an annual report to track changes in the composition of schools by socio-economic status. The report will include recommendations for increasing diversity by that measure.

District 6 member Sean Strain, who served on the policy committee but voted against approving the policy, complained that the amendment “elevates (socio-economic diversity) above all other goals.”

But others argued that the proportion of high or low social and economic status at a school is a key determinant of how well students perform.

While whites make up 28 percent of all CMS students this year, Albemarle Road Middle School, for example, is only 5 percent white but 85 percent black or Hispanic. Myers Park High, in contrast, is 62 percent white and 33 percent black or Hispanic.

Similarly, virtually all students at some schools come from families that rank low for indicators such as income and educational attainment. At other schools, nearly all students come from the opposite end of that spectrum.

Student achievement mirrors those divisions. White students in low-poverty schools have the best odds of getting top-notch teachers and graduating ready for college, CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox reported more than a year ago, while black and Hispanic students at high-poverty schools are left behind.

Other amendments approved Tuesday created a community equity committee to review CMS data and programs to monitor progress toward equity. Up to 40 people will serve on the committee, with members nominated by parent, student, educational, faith and community groups.

‘The focal point’

Some board members voiced misgivings over the size of the committee. Policy committee chair Ruby Jones of District 3 said it could lead to more words than action to reverse historic trends. “We know what needs to be done,” she said. “Let’s move from talk to doing.”

The board approved the policy on a 6-3 vote, with Jones, Strain and District 1’s Rhonda Cheek voting no.

The policy lays out six factors that will be reported on quarterly: student assignment; educational opportunities and expectations; student wellness; school facilities; human resources, leadership and staff; and family engagement.

At-large member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said the policy “should be the focal point for every decision by this board” and cited CMS’ failure over the years to correct racial and economic gaps. “Delay is the deadliest form of denial,” she said. “We know that now is the time.”

District 2 member Thelma Byers-Bailey urged her colleagues to take cues from CMS students, who she said “are the ones who really know what we’re missing in terms of equity. ...They are our end product and if we don’t include them in this, we have missed the mark.”

Some reports resulting from the equity policy will be data-heavy summaries on topics such as student participation in advanced curricula and challenges that plague low-performing schools, such as teacher absenteeism and staff turnover. Others would monitor progress in other ways, such as the level of family engagement in schools.