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CMS poll: Most parents like their schools, say they’re diverse

Parents in the southern suburbs say they’re happy with schools such as Community House Middle School.
Parents in the southern suburbs say they’re happy with schools such as Community House Middle School. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Most of the parents and students who answered the recent Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools online poll are highly satisfied with their current schools and believe they are racially and economically diverse.

That holds true regardless of what part of the county they live in, breakdowns by voting district show, though self-reported satisfaction is highest in the southern suburbs and lowest in the northeastern District 3 (see accompanying chart).

The tally comes as officials in several suburban towns are talking about efforts to split from CMS, driven by fears about how student assignment changes could affect their schools. The survey was intended as an early step to gather public views about priorities and goals.

There are a lot of caveats that needed to be added: This isn’t a random sampling, but a tally based on 27,453 people who chose to respond. It was possible for people to answer more than once, a possibility that was bandied about on social media when the polling was open in January and February.

The early report doesn’t list the number who replied to any given question. Some questions went to parents, students and community members, for instance. The school satisfaction query went only to CMS students and parents, while questions about whether kids already attend diverse schools went only to CMS parents.

And responses were coded by ZIP code, which meant some were tallied in two voting districts. When Lynne LaCaria gave the school board district totals last week, they added up to more than 42,000, with south suburban District 6 and south/central District 5 accounting for the largest numbers.

(A side note: On Monday CMS revised its online report to correct an error on parent responses regarding busing for diversity, which was detected after the district released survey results Thursday.)

Still, as a rough snapshot of public opinion the results are interesting. Board members, who are about to hire a consultant to start crafting changes that could take effect as early as 2017, have to decide how much change the public will tolerate. With charters and private schools offering competition, unpopular decisions could lead to flight.

There is, of course, some irony in what might be called a strong vote of confidence coming at a time of angst and controversy.

In early talks, board members and community activists have focused on the need to break up concentrations of poverty in urban schools. Schools with very high poverty levels often have the lowest performance on standardized exams, and face challenges in recruiting teachers and creating a climate focused on academics.

In Districts 2 and 3, where most of the high-poverty, low-performing schools are concentrated, roughly half the parents who answered described themselves as very or extremely satisfied with their child’s school. And while many of those schools have few white or nonpoor students, at least 70 percent of parents in those districts called their schools racially and economically diverse.

In District 6, where hundreds of parents have mobilized to protect their neighborhood schools, satisfaction hit 85 percent, and more than three-quarters said the schools are diverse.

There’s no objective way to say whether parent perceptions of diversity are right or wrong. The board has yet to define diversity, let alone decide how to use it in student assignment. And while it’s clear that many schools have very high poverty levels, CMS has not posted school poverty tallies since 2013. That’s because changes in the subsidized school lunch program, traditionally used to gauge student poverty, have made such numbers inconsistent.

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

What CMS parents say

Based on responses to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools online survey, here’s the percentage of current CMS students and parents in each voting district who said they are very or extremely satisfied with their current assignment, along with the percentage of parents who agreed or strongly agreed that those schools are racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse.

District

Highly satisfied

Diverse by income

Diverse by race

1 (north)

65 percent

74 percent

75 percent

2 (west/southwest)

52 percent

74 percent

75 percent

3 (northeast)

50 percent

71 percent

72 percent

4 (east)

72 percent

80 percent

84 percent

5 (south/central)

83 percent

80 percent

85 percent

6 (south/southeast)

85 percent

76 percent

88 percent

Source: CMS

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