Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A call to help our schools and kids

Leonard Pitts, the Miami Herald's Pulitzer-winning columnist, is in town today. He spoke to a breakfast sponsored by the nonprofit group Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education, or MeckEd (http://www.mecked.org/ ). This afternoon he'll visit the staff at The Observer.

In 2007 Pitts wrote a series, "What Works," in which he highlighted more than a dozen successful efforts around the country to help children and schools. One was from Gaston, N.C. (a town near Roanoke Rapids on northeastern North Carolina, not nearby Gaston County) and featured a KIPP Academy.

"How do you change something many of us long ago learned to take for granted?" he asked the crowd. And, "If we know what works, why not just do it?"

He quoted an ancient Greek saying: "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in."

In other words, get involved where you can, doing what you can.

He's not the first to note this, but it's still true: A strong public education system is important for the local economy, for keeping businesses healthy and for the fiscally prudent goal of keeping local people engaged in productive lives and out of jail. It's not just a feel-good thing, Pitts said, but a common-sense mathematical calculation.

Yet if you read the comments section of this blog or many online sites, anytime the public schools emerge as a topic, and they're filled with hostility toward Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in particular and public schools in general. Which is, at bottom, incredibly counter-productive for the whole community. Nothing is perfect, but invective doesn't help anyone improve anything and indeed, tends to have the opposite effect.

Has my kid had some bad teachers at CMS? You bet. Been in class with a few deeply troubled kids? Yep. Do CMS administrators make occasionally silly decisions? Of course. Why should they be different from managers everywhere? (I say that as a former department head, where made my share of dumb decisions.) None of those problems is specific to CMS or even to public schools.

Yet there's a vein of what seems to approach hatred running through parts of Charlotte, toward its public schools that too often drowns out an equally strong vein of support.

MeckEd hopes to start a community discussion on public education. Here's a link to their new discussion board, being run with help from the Crossroads Charlotte initiative.

And don't forget DonorsChoose.org, where you can put your money to good use helping classroom teachers who really need the help.


Let's Get Going! said...

Let's really help our schools and the kids.

Force our government to establish vouchers allowing parents to have control of their children's education.

Force our schools to operate in a profit and loss operation just like private schools.

Finally realize that we need trade schools as not all students will or want to go to college.

barkomomma said...

"a town near roanoke (sic) Rapids"

"where (sic) made my share of dump (sic) decisions"

Is your braims going faster than your finglies can keep up or did you go to CMS, too?

Anonymous said...

"Is [sic] your braims [sic] going faster than your finglies can keep up or did you go to CMS, [sic] too?"

Same number of errors as Mary, many fewer words. And I'm giving you "finglies."

Anonymous said...

1:04, you're too dumb to recognize 12:28's sarcastic intentional misspellings.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the "hatred" some people feel towards CMS has been partially spawned by the lens through which The Observer examined our school system over the years. As you may recall once we changed assignment systems there were constant predictions that the system would fail and that the "haves" would forget about the "have nots". We were also constantly reminded that we were "resegregating" and that Wake County did a much better job since they assigned based on socio-economics (of course we know now that Wake was not doing a good job of educating its high poverty kids--oops!). It was incredibly difficult to find a positive story about CMS or its high performing students in the paper. And then there were the claims that suburbanites were "afraid of diversity" (can't remember which columnist said that). So it is no wonder that many in this community have a poor opinion of CMS. I do believe that things are now changing at the Observer--recently we're hearing the good things (often on the front page) and, remarkably, you are recognizing high performers (not just once a year at graduation). If we could end this us against them attitude, which the press seems to engage in much more than ordinary citizens, perhaps we'd all have a better attitude about our schools and our community.

Anonymous said...

1:04 IS Mary? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Mary says it's "counter-productive" to complain about CMS.

OK, so I guess we should just sit back, shut up, pay our $10K/pupil in taxes, and fiddle along as Gorman's Goobers get away with the low-education, high-violence antfarm they run.

Now I see how things work (or, more accurately, DON'T work) in MaryWorld. Sorry honey, some of us CARE.

just_asking said...

If we all go to DonorsChoose.org, where we can put ourmoney to good use helping classroom teachers who really need the help, can we abolish the BOE and that huge slice of pie that makes up the annual rap... I mean, County budget?

Jumper said...

I am so frenvious. Leonard Pitts is one of my favorite columnists.

The Five Minute Rule of Blogging states you are allowed a few typos if you clean them up in five minutes or less! Make a game of it: note your best time, and then try to beat that record!

Anonymous said...

Jumper should consider paying more in taxes voluntarily, because it seems to me he only loves gov't when they are raping you!

Rick said...

Mary, at tonight's MTC meeting Mayor McCrory pushed for increasing sales taxes for transit.

Don't you think that's an unwise fiscal move while we're laying off teachers?

What to do? What to do?

Molly Bloom said...

Mary, you make a fair point about the vitriol spewed at CMS, and I'll plead guilty to some of it. I grew up in CMS, and managed to learn how to read, write, add and spell -- well enough to go to college, where I graduated with a respectable GPA.

I think the frustration many of us in the system feel now is with overcrowding and curricula that is often either too simple or too difficult for the students' developmental level (particularly in elementary years). If you have a child with special needs, you have to fight tooth and nail to get that child evaluated -- and in the meantime, s/he has "lost" a year of school because s/he's fallen so far behind.

I also think CMS needs to stop assuming every child will go to college. As Let's Get Going so wisely pointed out, not everyone is college material, but everyone needs to make a living.

Anonymous said...

My frustration is in seeing all the social disruptions that have been made locally in the past 35-40 years in the hope that they will result in equal educational opportunities for all children. We’ve tried busing, magnet schools and everything else on the assumption that African-American kids really have the same initiative, aspirations, and academic ability as the white kids who score so high on all those end-of-grade tests. We’ve leveled the playing field in hopes that by tossing different groups together with access to the same facilities and same teachers, the mores of one will rub off on the other.

We’ve convinced ourselves that this melting pot will automatically cause black children to compete academically with children of other races to raise test scores, increase graduation rates, and prove to the rest of the nation that we have a well-educated work force for corporations willing to relocate here. I’ve supported all these changes all along. But my patience thins.

But tell me again, Mr. Pitts, why, after 36 years – three generations- of leveling the academic playing field so that all races have the same opportunity to compete, that test scores of African-American students still lag mightily? Why, after almost 40 years of social engineering to ensure that the races mix and have the same educational opportunities, have African-American kids let everyone down?

Why is it that the low-income immigrants who came to this country between 1880 and 1930 and who were isolated by mainstream whites still managed to get a public education and get ahead?

Please don’t tell me there is such a high failure rate because of the teachers or the administrators. If you can’t convince your kids to hop into that melting pot and adopt different values and goals, don’t expect any sympathy from this taxpayer.

Anonymous said...


Care to comment on your transit Nazi buddies pushing restaurants to the brink of closing for the sake of some dumbazz streetcar that nobody will ride:


consultant said...

To school or not to has been an ongoing argument in America every since the first public schools emerged in Massachusetts in the 1850s.

Real crusaders started the public school movement, but surprisingly large parts of the American people have been consistently apathetic about or hostile to the long term project of educating our children.

As I see it, some of the biggest polarizing issues are how we pay for public schools and race. The other issue that we talk about less is WHO gets an education in America.

The great University of Chicago Sociologist George Counts was the first to make the distinction between education and schooling. He and others have pointed out that we know "how" to educate children. By the 1930s, we had pretty much figured out how to do it. The question always left on the table has been, "whose" children will get that education?

That's where the conflict occurs.

consultant said...

A couple of education Sociologists once asked a group this question:

"What would happen if parents and schools did all the things that everyone says we want them to do regarding educating our children? What if parents turned off the television, read to their children every evening, engaged them in extended conversations? What if children did everything asked of them by their teachers and parents? What if every library was filled to capacity everyday with eager young leaders, studying furiously?

What would schools do? What would colleges do? What would employers do?

Would schools give A's to all the kids who could pass those Algebra tests (remember, many schools still grade on the curve)? What about colleges? With a 90 or 100% (or more) increase in the number of kids who have the grades to go to elite colleges, what would those colleges do? 40 years ago Harvard produced a study that showed a significant majority of the students they turned away were capable of doing Harvard level work, they just didn't have room for them. Think of MILLIONS of kids who are capable of elite college work being turned away.

What about employers? If the vast majority of the kids are truly learning and achieving, who among these kids are going to do the sh!t jobs in our society? Who?

We tell ourselves we are a society that is fair, that everyone has opportunity, and then we go out and construct an elaborate process that exposes it as a lie.

Again, the educational sociologists, which by the way, most "school people" hate, have a term for this. They call it the "cooling out" function of schools.

Our public schools, and even some private ones, are essentially set up to provide huge segments of the population the opportunity to "think" they have the chance to make something of themselves. In fact, an incredibly small number of people do. The vast majority however wind up exactly where they started. The poor remain poor (especially under Bush/Cheney policies), the middle-class remain middle-class (until Bush/Cheney came into office), and the rich, well the rich you'll notice don't send their kids to public school.

Welcome to schooling in capitalist America (the name of a great book by the way).

Anonymous said...

Schooling in the Socialists System is nothing more than PROPAGANDA.

Anonymous said...

Consultant, you have an excellent point.

The way things work in America, those who get an Ivy League education are guaranteed to end up wealthy and in control. I guess you could add a few other colleges to that group: Duke, Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, MIT, Case-Western Reserve, etc.

Even if you are just a "C" student after four years of college (i.e. George W. Bush), employers and the public automatically assume that your Yale diploma merits hiring you over the summa cum laude grad of North Carolina State.

We should accept the truth and streamline our higher education system, cutting out all the hundreds of minor universities. Those with the highest SAT scores should be sent to an Ivy-leage caliber college, and our research dollars should go with them. The ho-hum rest of the pack should be immediately conscripted into the military. We'd then have the numbers to really kick ass in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

Anonymous said...

The NBA, NFL and MLB need to do more to create high-paying jobs for low-performing students.

If they'd agree to place a two-year limit on players' stay in pro sports, our high school could push more poverty-level students into pro ranks. When you figure that most of those players would earn 2-3 million in just two years, they can leave, invest wisely, and never have to work - which would seem to match the goal of many of our poverty-level students.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:32 Do you believe in liberty? Sounds like you would love to go back to the golden years of NAZI GERMANY!!! Your ideas have been tried before with millions of people being killed.

Mary said...

Parents should be expected to motivate their kids to do well in school.