Education

Neighborhood schools outrank diversity with parents who answered CMS survey

The Feb. 9 meeting of the CMS board drew an overflow crowd to speak about student assignment and a superintendent search.
The Feb. 9 meeting of the CMS board drew an overflow crowd to speak about student assignment and a superintendent search. Mark Hames

Parents who answered a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools online poll rated schools close to home far more important than racial and income diversity, according to results released Thursday.

A total 27,453 people, including students and community members without kids, responded to the survey about student assignment during January and February. A school board committee reviewed the preliminary report Thursday, and staff will bring more detailed analyses in future meetings.

The results, which include opinions about a range of issues related to student assignment decisions, are designed to guide the board as it moves toward policy changes that could take effect as early as 2017-18.

When talk about the policy review began in 2015, many board members and community activists talked about increasing diversity and breaking up concentrations of poverty. But the survey indicates that is far less important to most parents who answered than having high-quality schools close to home.

When parents were asked to rate the importance of a dozen factors that could play into choosing schools, issues such as principals and teachers, teaching methods and school environment were rated as very or extremely important by more than 90 percent, topping the list.

Across the county, 86 percent rated schools close to home as very or extremely important, compared with fewer than 20 percent rating racial or income diversity that high. When parents were asked to choose the single most important factor, neighborhood schools rated highest, with 46 percent, compared with 3 percent and 1 percent for racial and income diversity.

The results come after weeks of mobilizing by parents urging the board not to undertake a massive assignment shuffle that would disrupt schools and put students on long bus rides. They have urged instead a combination of strong neighborhood schools and magnet options.

Administrators who handled the poll noted it’s not a random sampling that would offer a statistically valid snapshot of public opinion. Instead, it was completed by those who volunteered to do so. And CMS reversed an early decision to limit responses to one per computer, which made the poll more accessible to people who might use public computers in schools or libraries.

However, that also meant highly interested people could “vote” more than once, a possibility that was discussed in social media posts.

CMS staff monitored ZIP codes as responses came in and sent staff out with laptops, tablets and paper surveys to seek input in neighborhoods that weren’t participating.

“There were some ZIP codes that were way overrepresented,” said Lynne LaCaria, who created and oversaw the survey. “But all of the ZIP codes were represented.”

A more detailed analysis of results and participation is yet to come. But breakdowns by school board district showed close-to-home schools rated more important than diversity in all areas, though opinions were closest in the northeastern District 3. There, 69 percent said schools close to home were very or extremely important, while racial diversity got 67 percent and income diversity got 63 percent. But when asked to pick the most important factor, even District 3 residents picked proximity more than twice as often as they picked racial diversity.

The south suburban District 6, where much of the recent neighborhood school organizing has been based, showed the strongest preference for having a school close to home, with 92 percent of parents rating it very or extremely important. Fewer than 30 percent of the District 6 parents rated racial or income diversity that high.

The school board is preparing to choose a consultant and move closer to decisions about how to revamp its assignment plan. CMS staff said the survey was not intended to settle all questions.

“This is intended to be one data point,” said Superintendent Ann Clark, “one of many for the board.”

Some of the answers are likely to pose further questions. For instance, even though many neighborhood school supporters have resisted boundary changes, 55 percent of all respondents said boundaries affect academic achievement. And 48 percent named boundaries as a high priority for the board’s review, topping school choice, magnets and diversity. It was not clear, however, whether people ranking boundaries as a high priority for the board want to see change or stability.

Roughly two-thirds of CMS parents who answered said their children already are at racially and/or economically diverse schools. Yet 82 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they would “be OK with a longer bus ride if it meant my children attended a diverse school.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Factors in choosing schools

Here’s how parents of school-age or preschool children rated factors listed on the CMS survey.

Factor

Extremely

important

Very

important

Total

Principal and teachers

80%

17%

97%

School environment

75%

22%

97%

Teaching methods

61%

31%

92%

Class size

56%

34%

90%

Close to home

67%

19%

86%

Facility

46%

40%

86%

Test results

39%

36%

75%

Convenient schedule

27%

33%

60%

Friends attend

29%

28%

57%

Racial/ethnic diversity

16%

21%

37%

Income diversity

15%

19%

34%

Close to work

11%

15%

26%

Source: CMS

Most important factor

When parents were asked to rank the three most important factors in choosing schools, here’s the percent who chose select factors as No. 1.

Close to home

46%

Principal and teachers

16%

School environment

9%

Teaching methods

9%

Racial/ethnic diversity

3%

Income diversity

1%

Priorities by district

See a map of districts here.

District 1 (north)

▪ 81 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 37 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 43 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 5 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 42 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 2 percent chose that as the most important factor.

District 2 (west/southwest)

▪ 72 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 27 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 58 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 8 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 56 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 3 percent chose that as the most important factor.

District 3 (northeast)

▪ 69 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 20 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 67 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 9 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 63 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 3 percent chose that as the most important factor.

District 4 (east)

▪ 81 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 36 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 45 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 4 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 42 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 2 percent chose that as the most important factor.

District 5 (south/central)

▪ 88 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 46 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 33 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 2 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 30 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 1 percent chose that as the most important factor.

District 6 (south/southeast)

▪ 92 percent said schools close to home are very or extremely important; 57 percent chose that as the single most important factor.

▪ 28 percent said racial/ethnic diversity is very or extremely important; 1 percent chose that as the most important factor.

▪ 25 percent said socioeconomic diversity is very or extremely important; 1 percent chose that as the most important factor.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments