As we work to find ways to boost economic mobility in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, we are listening and learning from the collective wisdom of the community as well as local and national experts. While our comprehensive report with recommendations in areas such as housing, employment, family planning, vocational development, preschool and personal accountability will not be published for several months, the immediacy of the student assignment issue, combined with overwhelming evidence of the impact of education on mobility, compel us to write this.
We now know that school quality, segregation, and social capital are highly correlated to mobility and that these factors intersect with decisions now being discussed about our schools and our communities. We call on the CMS Board of Education, parents, students and the broader community to consider four points as the student assignment process continues forward.
1. Education and economic opportunity are strongly connected.
Experts from both conservative and progressive schools of thought point to reams of data that demonstrate this. In addition to these experts, what we have heard from you, the community, in our listening tours is that the quality of K-12 education is of the utmost importance. Community members from all socioeconomic backgrounds have expressed their desire to have education play a critical role in addressing economic mobility. Furthermore, research demonstrates that children of means and children from lean economic backgrounds both do better in school and find greater success later in life when they begin learning, side-by-side, in economically integrated classrooms.
2. Look to our past to inform our future.
The evidence linking high levels of segregation to lower levels of economic mobility is strong, a disturbing fact as we look at our current reality of highly segregated neighborhoods and schools. The current CMS student assignment has resulted in an unacceptable increase in the number of high-poverty schools over the past decade. Some would suggest a specific goal of having no schools with more than 70 percent concentration of poor students. We would recommend that specific targets be considered as part of the overall plan.
3. Listen and learn from those most affected. Then do it again.
We applaud the school board for asking the community for input and the over 27,000 people who completed the recent student assignment survey. We believe the results provide useful insights into the values and assignment choices ahead.
Beyond the survey, we encourage the board and the community to continue to engage in open and thoughtful discussions. We encourage dialogue that seeks to understand what parents truly want and why. We encourage all involved to find creative student assignment solutions beyond the overly simplified and polarizing debate about busing vs. neighborhood schools.
4. Think about our community’s schools, our kids and our values together.
The values that drive decisions about our public schools aren’t just about our schools, they reflect who we are as a community of people and our shared intent for the future. What solutions might emerge if we thought of ourselves not only as loving parents of our own kids, but as shared stewards of all of our community’s children?
This is not just a question for parents of kids in public schools. It is up to all of us to participate in the process, support our Board of Education, engage with each other and arrive at the right decisions for the community as a whole. We urge people without children, people with children being educated outside public schools, and people whose children have passed school age to participate in this important discussion.
Our success in building economic mobility in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will be directly related to our ability to work together across ideologies, points of view, backgrounds and perspectives. Let’s prove to each other that we can do it. The dialogue around providing great schools for all children is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment.
The authors are co-chairs of the Opportunity Task Force. To learn more, go to www.opportunitycharmeck