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Report links race, income and disparity across CMS campuses
Low-poverty schools outperform poor
Published Friday, February 23, 2018 4:24 pm
by Herbert L. White

Equity is still elusive at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ poorest campuses, according to a report commissioned by the district.

The survey, “Breaking the Link,” CMS’s first district-wide equity research since 2010, laid bare ties between poverty, race and student achievement in the county’s public schools. The report, which examined data from the 2016-17 academic year, is the first step in the district's 2018-24 strategic planning initiatives.

“This report comes at a critical time in our community and we look forward to people getting involved,” Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. “The recent study that ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 cities in economic mobility, as well as the Leading on Opportunity Council work, have demonstrated that if you’re born poor in Charlotte, you’re probably going to stay poor. That is not acceptable. Our schools are one critical tool to build economic ladders, but not the only one, and the entire community has a role to play.”

District researchers looked at three issues: Racial and income demographics, school outcomes and how links to outcomes vary across the district. The report found that poverty is split in thirds: of CMS’s 164 campuses, 57, or 33.5 percent, are low-poverty; 57 (33.5 percent) moderate poverty and 56, or 33 percent, is high poverty. Income levels, the researchers found, often directly impact academic offerings, teacher experience levels and student achievement. The district enrolled 147,157 students in 2016-17, with blacks and Hispanics making up 62 percent of enrollment. Whites make up 29 percent of enrollment.

“Any challenging effort for meaningful change must begin with acknowledgement of hard truths,” the report said. “Thus, this report … seeks to provide a solid, data-based picture of our schools with the most recent data available.”

District leaders said the report would be used as a baseline to develop a strategic plan to address achievement gaps. 

“Breaking the Link is an essential step for us,” said Wilcox, who is in his first year as superintendent. “The report gives us clear direction on three important levers for change - time in school, highly effective teachers and access to rigor.”

The report found schools with high poverty levels and high numbers of black and Latino students are less likely to provide all three than campuses where whites are the dominant enrollment demographic. As poverty rises, so do disparities.

“Overall, as the poverty level of schools increases, schools become less racially diverse,” the report said. “In high-poverty schools, nearly nine of every ten students are black or Hispanic.”

Students in low-poverty schools outperform their peers in moderate- and low-poverty campuses across the district. Researchers evaluated outcomes using state testing data for reading, math and science in middle and elementary schools. High school outcomes were evaluated by test results on Math I, English II and biology. The researchers also looked at schools’ academic growth, performance on the ACT college-admissions test and graduation rates. The data showed that

The report also examined keys linked to academic achievement: time in school, effective teachers and academic rigor. Again, students from low-poverty campuses outperformed their less-affluent peers.

“For nearly every measure analyzed, there were differences in performance in 2016-2017 by school poverty level and by race,” the researchers wrote. “Overall, data revealed that the links between school poverty level, race and academic performance persist.”

Wilcox cautioned the report isn’t an indictment of students; rather it’s a snapshot of what CMS needs to do to improve access to equity.

“We need to be clear that these numbers are not about the failure of our kids,” he said. “These numbers tell the story about failures in community systems, structures and institutions. We believe strongly that all children can succeed and achieve. As adults, we can and must do better by them.”
The report is available at www.cms.k12.nc.us/Pages/default.aspx and paths to participation by the public will be available on Feb. 26 at cmsstrategy.org.


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