Opinion

Diversity is no elixir, and how would you achieve it?

Bill Capacchione and daughter Cristina, then age 6, in 1997. Capacchione’s lawsuit was combined with another and ultimately led to the end of court-ordered busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Bill Capacchione and daughter Cristina, then age 6, in 1997. Capacchione’s lawsuit was combined with another and ultimately led to the end of court-ordered busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. 1997 File Photo

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools’ stated mission is “to maximize academic achievement by every student in every school.” Any student assignment plan must singularly advance that mission. Let us be equally clear, diversity is and will always remain a core value and must be championed.

Those pushing to use student assignment to break concentrations of poverty accept as gospel that greater diversity will raise student achievement of all students. They accept this diversity panacea as both empirical truth and an article of faith, invoking civil rights and social justice, involving ordained clergy and now frequent speakers among local celebrities. Academia merges into advocacy like tobacco-funded cancer research. Panel discussions feature no diversity of thought; support for neighborhood schools is cast as xenophobic; and so postured, any questioning is heretical.

Do they truly plan to tell parents of Elizabeth Lane Elementary, at 98 percent student proficiency, that their kids would be better off elsewhere, dispersed into diversity? The CMS mission is “academic achievement,” but Justin Perry, co-chair of OneMeck, said the purpose of school is not merely test scores or proficiency, but to experience life’s rich tapestry. University admissions officers, employers and most parents do not agree.

Volunteering as a pro bono attorney with the Council for Children’s Rights for eight years, I see children in poverty experiencing truancy and attendance problems, as well as changing residences, shifting school assignments, even complex custody arrangements. How does a student assignment plan focused on breaking concentrations of poverty address those significant issues?

The push to use student assignment to break concentrations of poverty never once honestly asks why such children are underperforming academically, parochially judging there to be nobody within those communities able to educate such children. The only solution offered is to separate them from their peers. Ironically, the loudest advocates for diversity are not themselves working parents of potentially affected children, whose voices matter most.

Some suggest teacher quality and expectations drop in high-poverty schools. I have met many CMS teachers from our poorest schools. They face enormous challenges, and are bright, talented and highly motivated. We must not accept any argument blaming teachers. They deserve our complete support.

Ultimately, such advocates offer no suggestion of how diversity could be accomplished, ending the call to the faithful with “hire a consultant.” Recently Board of Education members acknowledge that “Swann” styled busing is not practical or affordable, and would likely push away the very parents it most needs to entice back into its schools. How, then, can this be done? Until and unless that is articulated, the public will be rightfully concerned.

Worst of all, such advocates ignore best practices that are already working. Judge Howard Manning in the Leandro case referred to Olympic High School, among others, as committing “educational genocide.” Last year, Olympic reached almost 90 percent proficiency scores through enthusiastic public-private partnerships. This week Olympic’s “Career Readiness Speed Networking” connected 200 students with 100 area professionals, where students learned about education and career paths, and the professionals learned about the prepared, articulate, impressive students with bright futures ahead. CMS graduation rates rose from 69 percent in 2010 to 88 percent in 2015, the biggest gains in the poorest schools. Things quickly are getting better, an inconvenient truth for some.

CMS needs all the credibility and goodwill it can muster, for teacher pay increases, construction bonds, calendar flexibility and a permanent superintendent. This highly divisive student assignment review, with a publicly divided board and poorly handled outreach, once again leaves us shaking our heads trying not to lose confidence. Our children deserve better. Our children deserve the very best.

Stephenson is a Charlotte lawyer who ran for school board last year.

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