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37 CMS schools, nine Mecklenburg charters get NC seal of disapproval

North Carolina’s low-performing list includes schools that earned D’s and F’s based on test scores.
North Carolina’s low-performing list includes schools that earned D’s and F’s based on test scores.

The drumbeat of shame for North Carolina’s struggling schools – almost always those serving the highest number of impoverished students – continues with the release of the state’s 2015 list of low-performing schools.

As T. Keung Hui with the News and Observer recently reported, the General Assembly slipped a new definition of “low performing” into the latest state budget, expanding the number of schools that qualified. Last year schools that earned D’s and F’s based on test scores could escape the label if they met the state’s goal for student growth. This year they had to exceed that goal to be exempt.

That pushed the state list to 581, including 37 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and nine charter schools in Mecklenburg County. Those schools overwhelmingly serve students who come from poverty or face other academic risks.

Wake, the state’s largest school district, has only 20 schools on the list. As I discussed in a recent post, such comparisons tend to reflect demographic differences.

Guilford County Schools, the state’s third-largest district after CMS, had 42 low-performing schools, along with two charter schools in that county.

Despite the large number of low-performing schools in Guilford and CMS, neither was among the 15 districts labeled low-performing because more than half of their schools made the list. CMS, for instance, has 168 schools, which means about 23 percent were deemed low-performing.

The school label means parents get letters, but beyond that there’s no penalty or extra support. Low-performing schools are expected to craft plans for improvement. But in CMS – and I suspect in every other district – there have been plenty of efforts to turn around the schools that keep landing on such lists.

The notion that spotlighting failure will somehow prod everyone to work harder and do better hasn’t demonstrated much success, either. Anyone remember how No Child Left Behind was going to make all children proficient by 2014?

So the question remains: What to make of this list?

The lawmakers who rewrote the rules might argue that 581 low-performing schools prove that local boards and administrators are far too tolerant of ongoing failure.

The folks who want CMS to break up the concentrations of poverty and racial isolation that characterize most of the low-performing schools may say the list helps make their case.

And people who believe N.C. legislators and their allies are out to destroy public schools and privatize education may see this as one more piece of evidence.

Personally, I’m ready for the test-score season to be over. But we’ve still got “nation’s report card” scores coming out later this week. So brace yourself for one more round of what the numbers say about CMS and North Carolina.

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