Champagne, or beer?

The CMS Policy Committee meeting on Oct. 15. Attending were board members Thelma Byers-Bailey, Eric Davis, Tom Tate, Ruby Jones and Tim Morgan. Participating by phone were Rhonda Lennon and Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

The CMS Policy Committee meeting on Oct. 15. Attending were board members Thelma Byers-Bailey, Eric Davis, Tom Tate, Ruby Jones and Tim Morgan. Participating by phone were Rhonda Lennon and Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

Oct. 15, 2015
Meeting materials here

It was Thelma Byers-Bailey who offered the CMS Policy Committee a headline metaphor that probably rings true for parents at a number of schools across CMS.

Under one school roof are two groups of students. One group sought out seats in the partial magnet housed at the school. The other group is from the cohort of children who live nearby in the school’s attendance area.

For many years, the two groups would routinely be kept apart. More recently, at least at some schools, the materials, curriculum and teaching expertise of the magnet have been shared with all children.

Byers-Bailey has in her district Palisades Park Elementary, a K-5 STEM partial magnet which she says is a success story of sharing the science, technology, engineering and math magnet program with with all children.

But what happens for middle school? That’s where the champagne and beer bubble up.

The children formally enrolled in the Palisades STEM magnet have a guarantee into the Kennedy Middle STEM magnet. Neighborhood children move on to Southwest Middle, which has no STEM program. Champagne and beer.


In 2001, CMS chose a new assignment plan that veneered choice atop a guaranteed “home school” assignment. Within two years, growth had gobbled up seats and the “choice” part of the plan collapsed. Ever since, there have been some magnet seats for those lucky in the lottery – and home schools. For many parents who want schools close to home and are served by a high-performing neighborhood school, the system works great. Champagne. For many parents who want schools close to home but are served by low-performing, struggling schools, nothing’s great, and there is little choice. Beer at best.

At Tuesday’s meeting, strong voices on the school board were relentless in their determination to maintain the home school assignment. Some of the same voices want to correct the errors of 2001 that leave parents with low-performing schools and effectively no way out. Trouble is, the home school guarantee to high-performing schools puts that second action out of reach.

CMS has spent one generation of schoolchildren showing that schools that concentrate high-needs children are nearly impervious to reform. By maintaining the home school guarantee, board members put themselves at risk of the wrath of an N.C. Superior Court judge riding herd on the State Constitution’s promise that every child will be afforded a sound basic education.

The board appears many moons from recognizing that their only effective solution to the inequities built into the 2001 plan is to guarantee parents a place in the program of their choice, not any one seat in any particular place. Take the STEM students at Palisades. If the parents in the Palisades attendance area find that the STEM program their children have been exposed to is a good fit, why shouldn’t they have the power to steer their children into the STEM continuation program in middle school? And why should CMS not be delighted to make the program available?

CMS’s business is education. Its tools are about education, not “race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and neighborhood viability.” It should offer every parent a choice of currricular programs that will meet the child’s learning style, life goals and such. When it makes that the mantra, it will be in a position to expand popular programs, move them to sites of high demand, and make other assignment decisions based on how best to educate children.

The Board of Education can label the choices however appropriate. But every child and every parent should be have a champagne track open to them.

The Policy Committee’s next meeting is Thursday, Nov. 12 at 10:30 a.m. at the Government Center.

• • •

For the first time in its months-long discussion, the CMS Policy Committee had before it today some words attemping to distinguish home schools from magnets.

On the ground, it’s been getting more difficult to understand the difference. Home schools have been adding themes. Magnets have base attendance areas. Are the differences real, or just marketing?

The existing guiding principles have a section, written in 2010, that lays down what a magnet is and what a home school is. Only, while the policy said home schools were paramount, the principles said a magnet could survive only if it had better academic outcoms than home schools.

One intriguing proposal uses neither term. Instead of “home” schools and “magnet” schools, every student would have access to a “choice” school. “Choice schools offer an array of attractive thematic instructional models geared toward students’ multiple intelligences and maximizes opportunities for students to learn together in a diverse environment.”

The proposal at this point doesn’t define how many such schools any one student would have access to. If a student were to pick from schools within a geographic zone, the zone is not defined. And while there is a pledge that a choice school would be “within proximity to where he/she lives,” proximity is not defined. Work yet to do.

– Steve Johnston

The Oct. 15 meeting garnered more than the usual media attention:

  • Dedrick Russell at WBTV wrote about OneMeck’s Carol Sawyer. Story here. Text cache here.
  • Lisa Pappas at News14 wrote about OneMeck’s Pam Grundy and about the upcoming parent survey. Story here. Text cache here.
  • Ann Doss Helms at the Charlotte Observer reviewed options the board was considering to give more parents more real choices among home schools and magnet programs. Story here. Text  cache here.
  • Adam Rhew wrote about the options in a piece for EdNC, the Triangle-based online journal on K-16 education, on Oct. 26. Story here. Text cache here.

Below is a window to the CMS video of the entire meeting.