CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG SCHOOL DISTRICT
Charlotte, North Carolina
Students at Highland Renaissance Academy take a test in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg is an example of successful district-wide reform promoted
by the standards movement and carried out by an innovative school superintendent
who used the pressures of state standards to obtain the resources needed to lift
achievement among poor and minority students. Pushed in the 1990s by Presidents
Bush and Clinton, and applied by states like North Carolina and Texas, the standards
movement held school districts accountable for showing clear improvement among
all categories of students, not just the fortunate minority in affluent schools.
Charlotte, with 148 schools and 121,000 children, became one of the movement's
first major success stories after Eric Smith took over as superintendent in 1996.
At the same time, suburban sprawl and the district's 30-year-old court ordered
busing ruling was about to end, presenting a serious challenge of integration
and equity among students and schools. The district had an unusual melding of
urban and suburban schools with approximately 40% low income and a near balance
of minority and white students. The busing had kept the schools integrated, leveling
the playing field at most schools.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg under Smith took a centralized approach to reform, adopting
a district-wide curriculum, incentives for school staff, and a stiff accountability
system. They instituted pacing guides, frequent testing, and constant monitoring
of progress or failure at the student level, classroom level, school level and
district level, to push for constant improvement. Eric Smith and his staff set
high expectations for all students and then promoted Equity-plus, a
concept that insured low-performing inner city schools were given sufficient
resources to lift their students to district-wide levels of achievement.
After eight years of system-wide reform, Charlotte-Mecklenburg shot to the
top on NAEP tests in early 2004, with each ethnic group outperforming its peers
in nine other major urban school districts in reading and math. Moreover, from
1995 to 2001, the number of African American students in Charlotte schools reading
on grade level more than doubled, rising from 35% to 70%. What is especially
significant is that Charlotte maintained educational momentum and continuity
after Eric Smiths left the district in 2002. The new team, headed by his former
deputy superintendent, James Pughsley, pursued the original goals, thereby sustaining
and building on the current reforms.
701 East 2 nd Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Some Research Articles and Evaluations
“Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems
Improve Student Achievement,” (2002), by Jason Snipes, Fred Doolittle, Corinne
Herlihy, Council of the Great City Schools and
the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC)
Charlotte-Mecklenburg is one of three large urban school districts highlighted
in this report for its relatively rapid improvement in overall student achievement,
and a narrowing of the gap between white and minority student performance. Key
findings are presented along with contextual factors that affect reform. The
detailed case study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg can be found in Appendix A
http://www.mdrc.org/publications/47/full.pdf (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)
“The Academic Consequences of Desegregation and Segregation: Evidence from
the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System,” (2003), by Roslyn Mickelson,
University of North Carolina–Charlotte.
This article takes a close look at the connection between racial segregation/desegregation
and academic achievement. It addresses the question: how can educators make good
on the promise to educate all children equally? Conclusive evidence shows that
children in desegregated schools benefit academically. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg
school district is presented as a case study.
http://www.uncc.edu/rmicklsn/images/nclawfinal.pdf (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)
“School-Base Performance Awards Programs, Teacher Motivation and School
Performance: Findings from a Study of Three Programs,” (2000), by Carolyn
Kelly, Herbert Heneman III, Anthony Milanowski, Consortium for Policy Research
Charlotte is one of a number of districts that adopted performance based accountability
as part of its overall reform strategy. This report provides an overview of the
findings of the standards-based performance awards (SBPA) program in Charlotte
and two other school districts in Kentucky and Maryland. It provides comprehensive
information about the SBPA program and the connection between teacher incentives
and school success. Overall, findings indicate success with the SBPA program.
http://www.cpre.org/Publications/rr44.pdf (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)
“Exploring Rapid Achievement Gains in North Carolina and Texas”, (1998) by
David Grissmer and Ann Flanagan, National Education Goals Panel
This report focuses on how North Carolina and Texas were making more rapid
gains than other states in the early 1990s. It examines the critical policies
in place at the state level – the main one being statewide standards by grade.
While this article is a bit dated, it sets the stage for what was taking place
in North Carolina to help facilitate the reforms in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg
school district under Eric Smith.
http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/negp/reports/grissmer.pdf (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)