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Flawed priorities 

Improvements to poorer schools skipped the most important factor in a child's education: good, experienced teachers

Six years ago, for the first time, this community was forced to confront the toll that years of neglect had taken on inner-city schools as school system leaders testified in the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education desegregation court battle.

Now, three-quarters of a billion dollars in voter-approved bonds later, things look starkly different at most inner-city schools. Gone are the leaky pipes, faulty thermostats and stench of old, rotting carpet. The hundreds of millions in bond and other monies we've spent so far have bought us over 20 new or restored inner-city schools, and much more.

CMS Teacher Experience and
Turnover Percentages
High Schools 2002-2003 2003-2004
Teacher Experience 0-3 years 0-4 years
Equity 32% 40%
Non-equity 22% 24%
Majority Black 29% 38%
Majority White 20% 20%
Middle Schools 2002-2003 2003-2004
Teacher Experience 0-3 years 0-4 years
Equity 43.5% 48.1%
Non-equity 30.5% 30%
Majority Black 47% 52%
Majority White 28% 28.4%
Elementary Schools 2002-2003 2003-2004
Teacher Experience 0-3 years 0-4 years
Equity 35% 37%
Non-equity 26% 27%
Majority Black 38% 35%
Majority White 23% 24%
High Schools
Teacher Turnover
Equity 25%  
Non-equity 18%  
Majority Black 26%  
Majority White 14%  
Middle Schools
Teacher Turnover
Equity 36%  
Non-equity 26%  
Majority Black 43%  
Majority White 22%  
Elementary Schools
Teacher Turnover
Equity 28%  
Non-equity 20%  
Majority Black 34%  
Majority White 19%  
But a study by Creative Loafing found that the one factor experts agree is the real key to providing equity for poorer schools -- good, experienced teachers -- has been neglected. In addition, our study found that all the window dressing still hides a systematic educational disparity so stark it surprised and disturbed most of the school board members we talked to.

The study found that in terms of teachers, Mecklenburg's is a caste-like, three-tiered school system that breaks down with surprising predictability along class and racial lines. White majority suburban schools are stacked with the system's most experienced teachers, and have the greatest number of teachers with the much sought-after National Board Certification. Today, the schools with the highest concentrations of minority and poor children, called EquityPlus II schools by the school system, are teacher turnover mills with much higher numbers of inexperienced teachers who leave in a seemingly endless stream, only to be replaced by more just like them. The rest of the system, which includes schools with more balanced populations in terms of race and socio-economics, lags behind the majority-white suburban schools in the county's highest-income zip codes, but not as far behind, on average, as the county's majority black schools.

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