Easley demands help for schools

By: - August 5, 2005 5:20 am

Charlotte Observer
Governor wants state teams sent to 44 struggling high schools
Staff Writers

Saying Charlotte-Mecklenburg has failed to improve its struggling high schools, Gov. Mike Easley called Wednesday for sending state teams into 10 of the district’s lowest performers.

Easley also wants teams sent to 34 other high schools throughout the state, which — like the ones in Charlotte — had pass rates of less than 60 percent on state exams.

The teams will analyze how schools spend money and whether they’re using the best ways to improve student performance.

Some hailed the move as a sign the state will assume more responsibility for providing all kids a high quality education. CMS leaders welcomed the "partnership."

But others see it as the latest blow to the district’s reputation, just as it enters a pivotal year to recapture community support.

Margaret Carnes, a Charlotte school advocate, said the district should welcome any help.

But she said the governor’s description of the 10 high schools as poor performers could create "shock, alarm and panic."

Some analysts and CMS school board chairman Joe White questioned the teams’ effectiveness unless schools get more money.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. has ordered CMS leaders and the state into his court next week to explain how they will boost test scores. Easley’s request will likely be presented to the judge.

"These schools have consistently performed poorly, and I want to know why," Easley said in a written statement. "Mediocrity in education is no longer an option."

The State Board of Education will likely approve Easley’s request, and state teams would be in schools within two months, said Chairman Howard Lee.

"This is our way of saying we will force it," Lee said. "We can’t afford to keep losing these kids."

Interim CMS Superintendent Frances Haithcock said Easley’s announcement was expected and welcomed.

She said the district has been meeting with the state since June about improving its high schools, a struggle faced by communities nationwide. "Any type of interest and partnership with the state is extremely positive."

CMS and the county have launched several reform efforts, including a "high school challenge" that offered $6 million to three schools if they raised scores.

Manning said Wednesday he wanted to know more about Easley’s plan. But he said he is glad the state is starting to meet more of its responsibility to students.

State teams have had mixed success. The ones working with the lowest-ranking schools — including CMS’s Berry high school last year — typically helped increase scores.

But Berry Principal David Baldaia said Wednesday his staff had more to do with the improvements than the state.

In 2002, Manning ordered a team to Hoke County, one of five poor counties that sued North Carolina for more school money.

Bob Spearman, who helped file what is known as the Leandro case, said the team spent two years in the district before stating the "obvious: Hoke simply needed more money and more resources."

That led to a new pot of state money for disadvantaged students.

Easley’s announcement may not yield that result, said John Dornan of the Raleigh-based Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonprofit group that studies state education issues.

Dornan said state lawmakers seem likely to make education cuts that will offset any extra money provided for high school reform and disadvantaged students.

It won’t do much good to send experts swooping in to identify problems, Dornan said, if the state doesn’t provide money to solve them.


— PETER SMOLOWITZ: (704) 358-5249; [email protected]

Targeted Schools

These are the 10 high schools, and their preliminary pass rates on state exams, that would receive state turnaround teams:

West Charlotte: 36%

Garinger: 42%

West Mecklenburg: 47%

Berry Academy: 47%

Waddell: 47%

Olympic: 54%

Vance: 54%

Independence: 56%

Harding: 57%

East Mecklenburg: 58%

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066