Report Cites Disparity in CMS Spending

Ann Doss Helms, Charlotte Observer, January 27, 2010

Per-pupil spending is highest in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s small, high-poverty schools and lowest in large suburban ones, a report released Tuesday shows.

The school board heard a staff report designed to gauge whether students in high-poverty schools are getting an equal shot at a good education. The report looks at such measures as extracurricular activities, faculty credentials, technology and library books.

Following up on a discussion at a weekend retreat, many said they need to figure out a better way of measuring results.

“We’re meeting the standards on so many of these issues, yet we’re still not meeting the student achievement goals,” said board member Rhonda Lennon. “It doesn’t seem to matter how many widgets and gidgets and gadgets are in the school. It matters what we’re doing with the students.”

The 2010 report, which is posted on the district’s Web site, will provide information for parents who are trying to choose 2010-11 assignments. It lists details on all schools, regardless of poverty level.

The report indicates CMS is meeting most of its goals and making progress toward the others. However, the higher-poverty schools remain less likely to offer a full slate of activities, such as chess, Odyssey of the Mind or Battle of the Books.

They also have teachers with lower average time on the job and fewer advanced degrees, and have significantly fewer teachers with National Board Certification.

Superintendent Peter Gorman says research shows teacher experience and advanced degrees have little effect on student achievement, but CMS students with board-certified teachers outperform peers with teachers who don’t hold that credential.

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And member Tom Tate said that since CMS has never provided the high-poverty schools an equal level of experienced teachers with advanced degrees, he’s not convinced that isn’t part of the problem. Gorman said next month he’ll present Harvard University research on CMS students that will provide more detail on what makes a difference.

The report breaks down per-pupil spending for 2008-09. (Because the current year isn’t over, those numbers aren’t in yet).

The average was $6,156 per elementary student, $5,624 per middle-school student and $5,836 per high-school student. The elementary figures include some schools that have Bright Beginnings prekindergarten classes; CMS spends an average of $8,000 per child at its pre-K centers.

Many small, high-poverty schools were thousands above average–almost $12,500 at the alternative Hawthorne High and almost $11,000 at Shamrock Elementary.

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Schools where at least 75 percent of kids are poor get extra federal Title I money.

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Community House, a south suburban middle school with almost 1,500 students, had the lowest per-pupil cost, under $4,300.

Lennon and Kaye McGarry said CMS should start looking at other factors that influence student success, including absenteeism and parent involvement.

“It’s clearly not the dollars,” Lennon said.

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