Changes to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: What You Need to Know

Posted by Trent Corbin on Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 at 9:30am.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools changes

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced substantial border changes only a few weeks ago, on April 25th, and the vote on it is coming up soon, on May 24th. As the community has learned about these changes and the impacts they will have on their kids' educations, there has been a mixture of excitement and concern, with proponents arguing that the changes will improve socioeconomic diversity among schools, and some critics going so far as to suggest that the redistricting might motivate a lot of families to move.

Here's what you need to know these changes and how they might impact your family.

The Changes

Before we get into the reasons behind the changes, here are the main details of what those changes are.

75 home schools will have changes to their borders in 2018

More than half of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's 138 schools will have changes to their borders starting in the autumn of 2018. This means that you have over a year to prepare for the new borders.

Six schools will be paired

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is pairing Nathaniel Alexander and Morehead, which are already sister schools. It's also pairing Dillworth with Sedgefield, and Billingsworth with Cotsdale. All the students that would normally go to either of the schools will go to one of them for K–2 and the other for 3–5, so the schools become like a single school with two locations. These three pairings are the biggest changes.

Magnet school lotteries will change

Basically, when deciding which students go to magnet schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will try to choose more students with lower socioeconomic status (SES). The school board will also prioritize students who currently go to a home school that performs badly according to state standards. Basically, this change tries to make it so that the students at bad schools have a better chance of going to good schools instead.

Students will be allowed to finish at their current schools

This one's big: if your child is starting grade 5, 8, 11, or 12 in 2018, then they will have the option to stay at their current school instead of changing. This is great, because kids who only have one more year of elementary or middle school get more continuity, and high school students get to have their junior and senior years to focus on getting into college instead of adjusting to a new location.

So those are the changes, but what's the reason behind them, and why are some people worried?

The Purpose: Improving Diversity Using Choice

In the school board's presentation in April, they stated that their goals were to use school choice to improve socioeconomic diversity in schools, with the goal of improving equity in education. This idea is simple enough. When you have concentrations of disadvantaged students at the same school, those schools tend to underperform. They just have fewer resources. That's not fair, because it means that low-SES students won't have as good of an opportunity to get a good education and work their way to a better life.

On the other hand, at schools with a mixture of high-SES and low-SES students, everyone gets the same education, and people can succeed or fail based on their abilities and hard work rather than the circumstances of their birth. It's the American Dream.

So the border changes are meant to create a better mixture of high- and low-SES students. The school pairings involve combining the high-SES students from one school with the low-SES students from another school. And magnet schools will be more likely to accept low-SES students and those from weaker schools. Altogether, these changes should help education to be more equal in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The changes also should increase efficiency, since students from overcrowded schools will move to schools that are under capacity, better using the school board's resources.

So why are these changes controversial? Well, it turns out that similar strategies were used back in the 70s to end racial segregation. And they didn't work. In fact, they made things worse.

Magnet Schools and School Pairing

In 2017, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is concerned with getting high- and low-SES students in the same classrooms. In the 1970s, though, they had a bigger problem: ending racial segregation in the school system.

School boards throughout America had to try to undo a century of "separate but equal" education that had white students at some schools and black students and black students at others. Two of the main strategies they invented were magnet schools and school pairing.

Magnet schools, by drawing students from different home districts, would naturally end up with a diverse student body. Meanwhile, pairing white schools with black schools forced students together. It's this second change that caused the most trouble, especially since students often had to travel long distances by bus to go to the school that was paired with their home school. Frustration with the long bus rides led to an "anti-busing" movement.

But these changes didn't just annoy people. A lot of white families, concerned that the quality of their children's education would drop, moved to other neighborhoods or sent their kids to private schools. Their concern was misguided—according to anti-busing expert David J. Armor's 1996 book, the education of white children who stayed in the system didn't get any worse. But right or wrong, white families moved, and segregation by law was replaced with segregation by neighborhood.

So why are the current changes controversial? Because they're based on strategies that failed. People who saw the expensive and frustrating efforts of the school board fail once are afraid to see it happen again, even though the problem—socioeconomic inequality—is very different from the racial segregation of the last century.

Should You Be Worried?

Probably not. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools border changes may resemble the failed strategies of the past, but they aren't as extreme. For example, the school board is only creating three pairs of schools, and each of those pairs have only a ten-minute drive between them, so there shouldn't be a huge busing problem. As for magnet schools, they'll keep doing what magnet schools do, creating diversity by drawing in students from different areas.

Actually, if there's a reason to worry, it's that these changes might not work. The Charlotte Observer pointed out that these changes don't affect many of the schools with the worst socioeconomic imbalance. So this might all be much ado about nothing in the end.

The Takeaway

  • Many students will start going to new schools. This happens every few years, so it's not a big deal.
  • There will be some school-pairing, but not over great distances.
  • Magnet schools will prioritize students with low SES and weak home schools.
  • The changes probably won't cause major problems, but they might not achieve their goals, either. This one's disappointing—if the school board was going to propose major, controversial changes, why didn't they target the schools that needed them the most?
  • Most importantly, your kids' education will not get worse. Just as desegregation didn't hurt white students, these changes are unlikely to damage the education of higher-SES students.

So what's the takeaway, in the end? You have nothing to worry about! Just make sure your children work hard, and they'll be off to college before you know it.

If you need specific advice about how your neighborhood's school borders are changing, contact Charlotte real estate expert and REALTOR® Trent Corbin today!

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