Sunday, November 13, 2011

At Harding, a protest rings familiar

Shortly before last week's election, a group of Harding High School parents met with Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chair Eric Davis about concerns they had with their school. The group was small - just a few parents, Davis says - but they came carrying worries from the larger Harding community.

Those concerns touched on safety issues this school year, the first since Harding's magnet program was eliminated while hundreds of students were added from now-closed Waddell High. But the parents' primary worry was academic - many of those new students, who come from low-income minority homes, were below grade level, demanding attention from teachers that inevitably held back the progress of Harding's traditionally higher-achieving students.

The concerns mirrored those that many Harding parents have voiced since CMS contemplated the change to Harding a year ago. Those parents, almost all of them black, predicted then that academics would suffer, and they are rightfully worried now.

And if they were white, they would be called racist for saying so.

For more than 40 years, CMS has struggled with the gap between its best and worst performing students, and for all that time the tug between the two has been splayed against the backdrop of race. It's suburban whites not wanting their kids in classrooms with urban blacks, people say. It's west Charlotte vs. south Charlotte.

But the worries that you hear at Harding? They're the same that many parents expressed when Charlotte decided to bus schoolchildren across town to achieve integration in the 1960s and beyond, and they're the same we've heard each time school officials have considered redrawing districts.

Did some white parents simply not want their child in a school with blacks? Certainly, especially 40 years ago. But for most, and more recently, it's been a simple calculation: their children might suffer from being in schools where students didn't perform as well. When given a choice of a classroom that was surging ahead or one that was catching up, which do you think most parents preferred?

Racist, they've been called.

Can we stop that now?

Harding's parents might argue that their case is different. CMS, they say, has gutted an historically strong program that was a model of how low-income and minority students could thrive. But the argument rings familiar, no matter the color of the anger: We had a good thing going. Then you forced new kids on us.

Know this: The goal here isn't to play gotcha with Harding's parents. They are justifiably mournful about a very real loss, and they rightfully want their children in a place that offers the best chance to excel.

In that, they share common ground with parents across our county - an understanding that children need help to overcome the socioeconomic disadvantages forced upon them, but an awareness that providing that help often comes with consequences to others.

It's not racist - at Harding or anywhere - to worry about those consequences. Is it selfish? Of course. But every good parent is - at least a little.

Last week, voters elected two new members to the CMS school board, including Ericka Ellis-Stewart, who also was one of the parents in that meeting with board chair Davis. Ellis-Stewart, whose son transferred from Harding to the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, did not return a call last week.

The new board will face the same challenges as the last - providing the best education to all its students, with resources that aren't growing as fast as the student population, and with that achievement gap still glaring back at them.

The differences are real, and the challenges are formidable. Perhaps we can ask together what we're going to do about it.

And maybe this time, at least, we can do so without the labels.


11 comments:

pstonge said...

Hi all,

I posted Sunday's column late this week on my blog, so some have left comments on the charlotteobserver.com version of the story.

Here's a link to that story:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/11/13/2770713/at-harding-a-protest-that-rings.html


Here are the comments:

7 Comments

Fear_Goober

The problem at Harding is black people that want to learn vs. black people that want to have a life of crime.

wasadriver

And, no one mentions discipline?

Dave23

When given a choice of a classroom that was surging ahead or one that was catching up, which do you think most parents preferred?
~~~~~~~~~~
True, but the sad fact is that by high school there's no "catching up" taking place. They're being babysat until such time as they can matriculate out of the public schools and onto the streets with no skills that make them employable.

limeblue

Thoughtful commentary. Harding is still a partial magnet. The IB portion has entrance requirements. Students must be on grade level and able to take and pass academically challenging courses (really smart students).

They are separated from the general population in core courses (just like other IB programs). The Harding parents are complaining about mixing with the general population (students not on grade level) in the cafeteria, hallways and athletic field. That is the same situation for students at SMeck, NMeck and EMeck. Parents at these schools have the same concerns. This is a countywide issue, not limited to Harding.

ta1900

Well said. The crime reports at Harding this year are well below many other high schools. No, this does not make it acceptable, but unfortunately this is reality.

kantstanzya

Peter..Peter...now this is the guy we were hoping for. Good editorial. I was screaming as I read "and if they were white they would be called racist for saying so." And then...there were the words on the page! Wow.

The key is to stop thinking we have to educate every kid. We have to give every kid the opportunity but we do not owe them chance after chance after chance just because of a silly graduation statistic if they are going to be disruptive. It is the middle class that has abandoned CMS not just the whites. They are doing whatever they can to get a better education for their children. If CMS didn't operate a few South Charlotte high schools as quasi private schools it would be even worse.

Get rid of the problem kids early and quickly. Improve the learning environment for the kids who do want to be there. By trying to save everyone CMS is sacrificing far too many and maintaining a hostile learning environment for students and teachers. Public education should be a privaledge everyone has a right to participate in but not to abuse.

Nomorefreespeech01

Two words - white flight and now it is going to get much worse with the BPC in control besides, the plantation voters just moved the school board farther left if that was possible.

Wiley Coyote said...

an understanding that children need help to overcome the socioeconomic disadvantages forced upon them

Forced upon them? Get real Peter.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what school you attend, what your skin color or economic status is, all kids still have to learn the same answers to the same questions.

The "concerns" these parents have are no different than the ones I had the past 13 years with my son at West Meck or my brother being one if 16 Whites in his class of almost 300 at a traditional all Black high school back in 1977. My brother at best graduated with an 11th grade education, taking courses in the 10th grade he already had in the 8th and 9th grades before being "racially bused".

Busing failed.

The current attempt to start "economic busing" due to areas with high concentrations of low income students will meet the same fate.

It's time to eliminate excuses, put the product in place, help those who TRULY need the help and move on.

If they don't get it, too bad.

therestofthestory said...

I have said before, you can clear out 3 to 5% of the "unmotivated" kids and save 20 to 25% of the others instead of losing all 30%.

Anonymous said...

If the parents don't care about education, neither will their spawn. Problem is, no one one the school board (old or new) has the cajones to propose setting up more alternative schools for the disruptive kids to give them a place to do while the ones that want to learn can.

Alternaive schools run by retired military DIs would be perfect...at least the kids would get some sort of discipline (like they don't get at home).

The new school board will more of the same BS we have endured for years. They will hire another educrat as a superintendent and things will remain the same.

Anonymous said...

There are many teachers out there that know very well what the problem is. I too know from being personally ivolved in the school system what is the root of all this. Of course, it's been repeated many times.

There is no discipline or respect for elders in the home for some of these 'disadvantaged' kids/students. That's a fact. No parental involvement, and probably not much supervision. Ok, I will not blame the child/student. It may very well not be their fault. However, that means they must learn it somehow and from someone.

Why the schools are afraid to enforce discipline and respect is beyond me. If you cannot abide by our rules, then you are out. That means expelled. Not time out, not suspended, but out. It's a shame because they have never been taught responsibility or the fear of consequences for their actions. Calling the 'mother' won't do much good these days. Therein lies the root of this tragedy. Something has to happen though, or it's going to be really ugly, really quick.

Anonymous said...

What will communities say when alternative schools are filled with high populations of minority students? Think this story highlights that it's not a racial issue, but because poverty and racial lines are blurred in CMS, it can appear to be a racial issue.
Don't think it's a lack of backbone from the BOE, it's the reality of lawsuits.

Baixiong said...

The schools are afraid to enforce respect and discipline due to what is called "disparate impact" in Civil Rights jargon.

What it basically means is that you can't discipline in a way that affects one race (and we know who that usually is) more than another.

It is basically "racial balancing" in punishment. Quotas if you will.

So, you can't just base your discipline on behavior, you have to be aware whether or not that "behavior" exists more in one race than another and compensate for it so the misbehaving kids aren't being "discriminated" against.

That's one legal obstacle to school discipline.

It's catering to the lowest common denominator. And some community leaders just love that because that is their bread and butter.

Even Obama has come out in favor of it with his policies.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/20/the-dangers-of-disparate-impact-policy/

Anonymous said...

Schools are afraid to enforce discipline and respect for one simple reason. They're afraid of legal action being initiated against them.

When I was a kid, the principal sent me home for arguing with her about whether it was grains of rice or white flakes of wax from a milk carton that had fallen to the floor around my lunch table. My dad spanked me for contradicting the word of an adult.

Julian Cuthbertson said...

CMS should have just taken the IB program out of the school as well considering the number of students who participate in the program. More students enroll in the gifted and Advanced Placement course because they are more closely in line with what colleges accept when a student is going for college credit.

The article makes interesting points but this issue is not one of parents who are doing things that are in line with racist act. It is more along the lines of parents of a racial group, that historically has lagged, in education wanting to give their children the best chance because they actually care. And no reasonable person would want a school that has the lowest performing students to come and merge with the students of best performing. Not a good mix.

Anonymous said...

A move probably was considered. But where would you have relocated the IB program?

Anonymous said...

Interesting CNN special the other night. I however disagree with Bill Gates when he wants to put it all off on the teachers. Notice the comments the Finish teacher made whom they brought over to evaluate an American class.

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/05/gps-special-fixing-education/

I liked the story about the Korean boy who gets up every morning and juumps rope as he watches the sun come up and then his mother has him eat a big breakfast she has prepared for him. Not many in the world are going to beat him for attention span and brain energy for the day. And yes they go to school 25 more days a year than the US kids from 8 to 4.