Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CMS 'bang for buck' report coming

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will roll out its annual school progress reports on Monday, with more details than ever.   Numbers on per-pupil spending and "return on investment,"  a CMS gauge of how much academic growth each school gets for the taxpayers' bucks,  generally garner a lot of interest.

The school board got a preview Tuesday night, and members'  discussion previewed some of the back-and-forth likely to happen in the community.  At the end of the long presentation, you'll find maps plotting spending and returns  --  plotted in red, yellow and green  --  for each neighborhood school.  Red signals a school that's not getting as much academic growth on test scores as officials would expect for the amount of spending,  while green schools are doing better than expected.  Not surprisingly,  large, suburban schools with relatively low spending are the most likely to land in the green.

Board member Tom Tate, who represents an east Charlotte district with many high-poverty schools,   questioned the value of such labels.  Parents are likely to believe that red is bad,  he said,  when it may just signal high need and a lot of expensive support programs.  Chief Information Officer Scott Muri agreed,  citing the small,  high-poverty Reid Park Elementary as a "red" school that's serving children and families well.

Rhonda Lennon,  who represents the north suburbs,  took the opposite tack.  A green rating may signal overcrowded schools that aren't getting enough money,  despite strong achievement,  she said:  "To me the green light should send up a red flag for parents. ... There's very little money being spent on a tremendous number of kids."

Ericka Ellis-Stewart,  the newly elected board chair,  said CMS has done a better job of spelling out what it does to help urban schools than suburban ones.  "I'm not hearing what is necessary to meet the needs of suburban schools,"  she said.  Muri said it's up to each school to use its data to create a plan that top administrators and the board can support.

Hattabaugh told the board he recommends keeping current programs, such as extra teachers and money based on student poverty,  but acknowledged that as poverty numbers rise,  it's more challenging to provide enough support.

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