CMS releases equity report, opens community participation in strategic plan

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released Breaking the Link, its first equity report since 2010, and opened the district's 2018-2024 strategic planning process to the public on Feb. 23. The report examines the links between poverty, race and achievement gaps in CMS schools. The report is available here and paths to participation by the public will be available on Monday, February 26 at cmsstrategy.org.

"This report comes at a critical time in our community and we look forward to people getting involved," said superintendent Dr. Clayton Wilcox. "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."

In Breaking the Link, CMS researchers looked at three broad questions: What are the racial and income demographics of CMS schools? What are CMS school outcomes? How do key levers linked to outcomes vary across the district? "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 that they will use the report as a base to develop a new strategic plan to address achievement gaps.  "Breaking the Link is an essential step for us," said Dr. Wilcox. "The report gives us clear direction on three important levers for change - time in school, highly effective teachers and access to rigor."

The three levers are identified in the report as important to academic outcomes. Breaking the Link found that schools with high poverty levels and high numbers of minorities are less likely to provide all three.

Breaking the Link researchers also looked at links between diversity and poverty in schools. The data showed that as poverty increased in CMS schools, so did the concentration of black and Hispanic students. "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."

After classifying schools by poverty level and racial diversity, the researchers looked at school outcomes, using state testing results for reading, math and science in middle and elementary schools. For high schools, 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 students in low-poverty schools consistently outperform their peers in moderate- and high-poverty schools.

The third section of the report examined three key levers linked to outcomes: time in school, highly effective teachers and access to rigor. "For nearly every measure analyzed, there were differences in performance in 2016-2017 by school poverty level and by race," said the report's summary. "Overall, data revealed that the links between school poverty level, race and academic performance persist."

"We need to be clear that these numbers are not about the failure of our kids. 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," said Dr. Wilcox.