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CMS magnet schools no longer attract diversity
Campuses likely to lean to single ethnicity
 
Published Monday, September 20, 2010 5:00 pm
by Michaela L. Duckett, For The Charlotte Post

Thousands of students enter Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ magnet lottery annually, but data shows that in terms of ethnicity, those campuses are in general no more diverse than neighborhood schools.

CMS's overall enrollment is approximately one-third black, a third white, and a third other ethnicities. The average school is most likely to be predominantly black, white or Hispanic.

“We have very few schools that mirror the district average,” said board member Tom Tate. “We have schools that would be high in one area or another.”

The same general principle holds true for magnets.

In fact, according to CMS data, only four of the district’s 41 magnet school programs come close to reflecting the true diversity of the district as a whole: Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, Randolph Middle, East Mecklenburg High, and Northwest School of the Arts.

Magnet schools developed at a time when the district struggled to maintain desegregation in the midst of challenges to its busing program. The purpose was to create an alternative to homogenous neighborhood schools, but as district leaders continue their review of CMS operations, they say that purpose has evolved.

“We have moved away from that purpose at least to some degree… it’s not an absolute determination any longer,” said Tate. “It doesn’t matter why it began, this is the way it’s going to be done.”

During last week’s work session, board members applied the newly adopted guiding principles to their discussion of how to improve magnet schools.

Board member Kaye McGarry said district needs are changing, and addressing those needs is the purpose of the review. “It’s not as important as to why they started,” she said. “Those reasons may not still be relevant.”

The board no longer places a strong emphasis on using magnet schools to ensure ethnic diversity. Student diversity is only a small portion of the equation, and is not even a necessary criterion for magnet schools.

The guiding principles, adopted this summer, state that magnet schools must have three characteristics: A record of consistently high student achievement, narrowing achievement gaps at a faster rate than home schools and at least one of several traits that include academic distinctiveness, demonstrated innovations and diversity in the student enrollment.

Nine of the 41 magnet schools meet all of the criteria: Chantilly Montessori, Collinswood Language Academy, Idlewild Elementary, John M. Morehead STEM Academy, Statesville Road Elementary, Piedmont IB Middle, Smith Academy of International Languages, South Mecklenburg High and West Charlotte High.

Still, none of these nine provide the ethnic and economic diversity that many parents are seeking.

Instead, some are more polarized, in terms of ethnicity, than neighboring home schools. At Collinswood, nearly two-thirds of the student body is Hispanic. Only 12 percent are black. The average non-magnet elementary school in the district is 37 percent black, 34.6 percent white and 18.3 percent Hispanic. (Percentages were averaged across three years of data from 2007-2010).

At West Charlotte, more than 90 percent of students in the magnet program are black and about 4 percent Hispanic. Less than 1 percent of students are white. At the average non-magnet CMS high school, 43.1 percent of the student body is black, 37.6 percent is white and 12 percent is Hispanic.

As long as magnet schools demonstrate academic distinctiveness or innovation, student diversity will not likely be an issue to be addressed by the board.

At the Sept. 28 work session, CMS staff is expected to present more specific solutions to address other needs in individual home and magnet schools such as closing the achievement gap and relieving overcrowding. Solutions will likely include implementing year-round schedules, modifying programs, and closing or consolidating schools.

Superintendent Peter Gorman has emphasized that improving neighborhood schools remains a primary goal, stating that they are the “foundation of the district.”

He outlined specific initiatives being taken to increase student achievement, the graduation rate, and community participation. Other initiatives include improving school facilities and increasing the stability of student assignments.

“We have specifically targeted and tried to bring innovation to home schools,” said Gorman. “We are focused on improving home schools.”

Board member Joyce Waddell said it may not always require doing something new or different.

“We already know what works. We already know what we need to be doing,” she said. “We need to improve on what we already know.”

Waddell said that entails placing the finest teachers and principals at all schools to provide all students with the best opportunity for academic success.

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