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Knowing the Score 

School bureaucracy still mired in ineptness and hypocrisy

Last year, the taxpayers of this county suffered through a 10.6 percent property increase that no doubt pushed another round of elderly people on fixed incomes out of their homes.

We forked $26 million more over to the school system. We pumped millions into the high school challenge programs. All of this we did for the children, in the hope that school administrators could raise their test scores.

On Friday, those administrators delivered that much-heralded, highly anticipated test score jump they've been promising. Yes, test scores at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools did go up, just like outgoing Superintendent Frances Haithcock said they would on that speaking tour of hers before all the right groups in town, the town where she painted a picture of a media conspiracy against a high-achieving school system that is the envy of the nation.

The jump? Four-tenths of a point across the system. That's not four points, not four percent, but four-tenths of a point (all foreign mathematical concepts to some who have been educated by CMS, but stick with me here). That means, in terms of the tax increase alone, we paid $6.5 million for each tenth of a point gain in the kids' test scores. At that rate, a ten-point increase will take 25 years and bankrupt this community.

But there was good news. Black students' scores are up and they're closing the achievement gap, the school system says. Last year, 47.9 percent passed their tests. This year, a whopping 49.3 percent did. (That's what the school system refers to as "preparing for greatness.")

To the school system's credit, scores did go up slightly at nine low-performing high schools. At West Charlotte High School, for instance, 38.6 percent passed their tests this year, up from 35.7 last year. But the majority of students at every one of those nine schools still failed their tests. There are now only four high schools out of the 17 in the system where at least 70 percent of students pass their tests. Last year, there were five.

Meanwhile, over at the Mint Museum last Thursday night, the jazz band from Northwest School of the Arts fired up their instruments for the fawning shiny shoes crowd that had gathered to honor Haithcock's vast and unfathomable achievements.

School Board Chairman Joe White cited her many accomplishments and concluded on a personal note, saying Haithcock was his favorite of the 17 superintendents he has known. Plus, he added, it was really cool and all that everyone who had worked with her at CMS was now a part of school history since Haithcock was the first woman to become superintendent.

The deification process all CMS superintendents go through had begun. Haithcock had merely presided over the same stagnant, do-nothing, get-nowhere, lying, obfuscating, felon-loving, sex offender-coddling bureaucracy that has been choking the academic life out of our children since before the coming of former Superintendent Eric Smith, the academic deity of all deities of whom we never speak ill.

Given the tremendous obstacle she faced in getting success of any kind out of CMS' bloated middle management, Haithcock probably does deserve a pat on the head for not losing more test-score ground -- at least in the low-performing schools.

Still unreported until now, of course, is the rest of the story -- the ground we lost in the suburban high schools, the last refuge of both black and white middle-class parents who are giving this school system one final, fleeting chance.

This year, test scores inched down at the suburban refuge high schools, some of them for the first time, others as part of a continuing trend. Scores dropped slightly at Butler, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Hopewell and Northwest high schools. Only two high schools, Providence and Myers Park, continued their upward gains.

There is only one way to halt this downward trend. When he arrives from California, Peter Gorman must rip this system up by its roots, shake out all the dirt in the middle and replant it while not worrying about whose feelings he hurts in the process. Gorman can divide his system up, move people around and return all the phone calls he wants. But until heads roll, until principals can function free from the stranglehold of the entrenched bureaucracy in the middle that embraces idiocy and returns home invaders to the classroom, nothing will change.

Got a story idea? E-mail Tara at

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