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Let’s talk about what “social engineering” really is, Rep. Stone

Special to the Observer May 20, 2017

In response to “Lawmaker wants CMS boundary delay” (May 16):
N.C. Rep. Scott Stone issued a veiled threat last week against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials should they proceed with the pupil assignment plan. His and others’ call for delay is simply a tactic to undermine the entire pupil assignment plan. Rep. Stone admits that incoming CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s approval of the plan would not ensure his own support.

Despite decades of academic, peer-reviewed research showing the benefits of socioeconomically diverse schools, Stone invokes “social engineering” in objecting to the modest plan.

Let’s be clear, the long legacy of “social engineering” makes implementation of this plan essential.

Our sorted out, segregated community did not happen by accident. We live in enclaves defined by socioeconomic status and race because of active decisions by government and business interests made over decades. For example:

▪ Beginning in 1938, it was the “social engineering” of red-lining that deprived African-Americans of capital for purchasing homes.

▪ In the post-World War II housing boom, “social engineering” by the Federal Housing Administration and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs supported home ownership in new, whites-only suburbs.

▪ In the 1960’s, “social engineering” in the form of urban renewal used federal money to demolish African-American neighborhoods, churches and businesses.

▪ In the years leading up to the 2008 recession, subprime lenders “socially engineered” their predatory loans targeting minorities.

The cumulative result of this “social engineering” is disproportionate home ownership among whites. Lest you think that these policies are irrelevant today, consider how the mortgage interest tax credit perpetuates the advantages to whites whose homeownership rates got a boost from the “social engineering” of the previous decades.

So, to those who believe that affluent neighborhoods exist solely because of the work ethic of their neighbors, consider how social engineering has and continues to bestow advantage.

We have an opportunity, as a community, to embrace a CMS policy that takes a small step in offering more equitable educational opportunities to a small number of children. In the interest of moving toward a future that offers a real opportunity at economic mobility for all, we encourage the Board of Education to heed the recommendations of the Opportunity Task Force and be courageous in decreasing the numbers of schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty.

As the Observer has pointed out, the proposed plan is a conservative approach to a complex and volatile challenge, not the radical transformation Mr. Stone’s rhetoric would suggest. Such incendiary language and threats of repercussions are misleading and unhelpful.

Bob Simmons is executive director of Council for Children’s Rights. Carol Sawyer is a member of the OneMECK Steering Committee.

Students at K-8 Thomasboro Academy prepare to walk home in 2012. Parents have expressed concerns about having younger and older students together at school. Read more here.

K-8 has been a failure for CMS students

Special to the Observer, published March 9, 2017

In the fall of 2010, over community objections, the CMS Board of Education voted to close three westside middle schools and scatter their students among newly created K-8 schools (and preK-8).

Then-Superintendent Peter Gorman described the shift to K-8 schools as a way to save money, and to better meet the academic needs of struggling students.

Six years later, students at the schools continue to struggle. The shift has saved little if any money. Most troubling, it has become clear that students assigned to these K-8 schools do not have access to the same educational opportunities as their counterparts at the district’s traditional middle schools.

As Board of Education members consider a new pupil assignment plan, I urge them to dismantle the district’s non-magnet K-8 schools and eliminate non-magnet K-8 schools from future planning. Many K-8 parents and teachers voiced strong concerns about these schools, including: denying older students a true middle school experience; safety concerns for the younger children; and the gross lack of electives and extracurricular activities for the middle schoolers.

Traditional middle schools provide a wide range of experiences that allow adolescents to sample a variety of arts, languages, and sciences. The K-8 model limits those experiences. The relatively small number of sixth through eighth grade students at a K-8 means that classes only cover the basics.

Hence, students assigned to K-8 schools miss out on many other academic, athletic, and enrichment programs because the schools lack staff to create a choir, coach a team, or direct a play – let alone offer the multiple alternatives available at most traditional middle schools. The limited middle school opportunities available at non-magnet K-8s also make them far less attractive to families with the means to make other choices. Savvy parents avoid K-8 attendance zones or send their children to private or charter schools.

Despite repeated requests, CMS has failed to provide a comprehensive list of middle school course offerings for students at assigned K-8 schools. Therefore, parents cannot make informed choices and compare the educational opportunities available to their children with others. Anecdotally, I know that students at Bruns Academy have a choice of four electives: PE, band, Career Tech, and Spanish. Art for sixth and seventh graders was offered for the first time just this semester. There are no drama, debate, chorus, or other language options – all standard at most middle schools.

The K-8 structure also makes it more difficult to create diverse schools. The K-8 model presents a structural barrier in meeting the board’s Guiding Principles of Student Assignment – specifically, impeding the goal of reducing concentrations of poverty. The larger the grade span of a school, the smaller the attendance zone. Because a K-8 school’s attendance zone includes fewer neighborhoods than a traditional middle school, it is more difficult to create a diverse mix of students by bringing together students from a variety of different neighborhoods.

At the last board meeting, the superintendent asked board members to consider whether or not the K-8 model should be continued. I urge the Board of Education to abandon the K-8 model for assigned schools.

Sawyer is an education advocate who is a candidate for the District 4 seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education.