One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Never Ending Dance with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Part One

By: Lindsey Engels

On August 5, 2013, following months of research and meetings, each of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (“CMS”) 22 Task Forces presented their recommendations for changes to CMS policies and practices to Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison. Dr. Morrison designed these task forces from the 22 largest identified concerns voiced at various public forums and town hall meetings and called for each task force to research and make recommendations based on one of the identified issues.[1] One of those task forces was the African-American Males Task Force.

The African-American Males Task Force was given the mission to “identify the drivers for African-American male academic achievement and recommend sustainable, systemic solutions to increase overall excellence,” specifically targeting how to increase focus on African-American males’ success, increasing their graduation rate, and opportunities for post-secondary education.[2] The Task Force looked to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”) data, as well as national studies, other school districts, and educational resources to develop their nine recommendations, which are: (1) provide funding for an in-depth report on the status of African-American males in CMS; (2) revise CMS policy on discretionary discipline practices; (3) provide mandated professional development focused on cultural competency, with a specific focus on working with African-American male students; (4) build an infrastructure for the community to support African-American male initiatives and therapeutic services in CMS;       (5) recruit a diverse teaching force for CMS schools; (6) increase academic opportunities in the curriculum for African-American males; (7) focus strategically on third through fifth-grade learning environments for African-American males; (8) begin the planning phase to open a K-12 African-American male school during the 2015-2016 school year; and (9) continue quarterly meetings of the African-American Males Task Force to assess and monitor progress toward recommendations.[3]

The most interesting of these recommendations is the task force’s recommendation for a separate school. Separating African-Americans or any other children of a different race from other students is segregation.[4] Segregation of schools was ruled unconstitutional in the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, where the Court specifically stated that separate is not equal because it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.[5] In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a momentous legislation enforcing the Equal Protection Clause and Brown, and officially declaring segregated schools illegal under Title IV of the Act.[6] Since that time, racial segregation in any setting is required to have a narrowly tailored, compelling government interest in order to be constitutional[7]. However, it is rare that any case survives such scrutiny[8].

However, the Task Force did not make an uninformed recommendation. The Task Force looked to the data published by CMS and DPI, as well as a study conducted by the National Education Association (“NEA”) on the benefits of single-gender schools for boys.[9]  The four-year cohort graduation rate[10] for those CMS students graduating in 2012-13 or earlier was 81%.[11] However, only 76.6% of the African-American population and only 75.9% of males graduated from CMS schools.[12] Further, CMS data revealed that in 2010-11, there was at a 23-32% ethnic or racial disparity among elementary and middle school End-of-Grade standardized test scores and a 16-24% ethnic or racial disparity amongst high school End-of Curriculum scores.[13] The NEA’s study revealed, “that when boys are in single-gender classrooms, they are more successful in school and more likely to pursue a wide range of interests and activities[14].” Further, it showed that males tend to be less competitive and feel less pressure in single-gendered environments.[15]

The Schott Foundation for Public Education’s biannual 50 State Report of Education and Black Males bolsters the Task Forces’ recommendations, calling for extreme reform of educational delivery to African-American males and identifying the need for many of the same reforms called for by the Task Force, such as disciplinary system changes and grade-level reading.[16] Its reports identified North Carolina as having graduation rates for Black male students below 50% in 2007-08 and at 58% in 2010.[17] The 2012 report went on to identify Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as having only a 44% graduation rate for Black Males in 2010.[18]

Despite its research, the Task Force did not cite to any studies exclusively on all African-American male schools.[19]. There are successful public and charter schools that serve all-male, all-minority, or all-black communities, such as Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, New Orleans’ Bethune Elementary, and Fayetteville, North Carolina’s Jack Britt High School.[20] In 2013, Urban Prep Academy was able to achieve 100% college acceptance for all of its graduating seniors in a community where the school system is failing and the crime rates are increasing.[21] Bethune Elementary and Jack Britt High School won the Dispelling the Myth Award in 2010 for their achievements in student performance in the areas of reading and increased graduation rates, where they serve areas with high minority populations and dropout rates.[22]  However, none of these schools explicitly serve an exclusive African-American male population.

All of this data begs the question: what can the school system do to reach this population? Is it constitutional to have a separate school segregating students on race and sex, so long as CMS can present evidence of a compelling state interest? Moreover, if a separate school isn’t the answer, what can CMS do to help these young Black men become successful students and graduates?  Recently, Dr. Heath Morrison, CMS Superintendent, revealed his Strategic Plan 2018, based upon the identified needs in his entry plan, The Way Forward; numerous town hall meetings; 3 independent administrative audits; and the 22 task force recommendations[23]. However, Dr. Morrison did not expressly address this issue even though the disparity between African-American males and other students was identified as a major issue when the task forces were established. Instead, Dr. Morrison set forth 6 goals that focus on the Task Force’s other concerns: (1) maximize student performance using other educational methods; (2) provide more therapeutic services for students; (3) hire the best educational professionals and provide them with proper educational and cultural training; (4) promote to the public the competency of the district; (5) build system strength through the use of data; and (6) redevelop their programs and schools to better use technology.[24]  As a former teacher, citizen of Charlotte, and a future parent of a CMS student, I am worried that the disparities between our student populations will grow if each concern is not directly addressed. All children have the right to a free public education, and it is my hope that Dr. Morrison has a plan he has yet to reveal for this group of struggling young African-American men that have the potential to be great and productive citizens.

Stay turned for the next installation in this series, which will focus on the Task Force’s recommendations related to school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline.


[1] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent, 1 (August 2013), available at http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/taskforce/Documents/22_Task_Force_Recommendations%20online%203.pdf

[2] Id. at 10.

[3] Id at 10-16.

[4] “Segregation.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2013), http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/segregation (6 Nov. 2013).

[5] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

[6] 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000c (1964).

[7] Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200, 227 (1995).

[8]  Adam Winkler, Fatal in Theory and Strict in Fact: An Empirical Analysis of Strict Scrutiny in the Federal Courts, Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 59, p. 793 (2006).

[9] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent at 15.

[10] The North Carolina Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rate reflects the percentage of ninth graders (their cohort) who graduated from high school four years later. The Message: Graduate! Statistics (2013), available at http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/graduate/statistics/.

[11] 4-Year Cohort Graduation Rate Report: 2009-10 Entering 9th Graders Graduating in 2012-13 or Earlier, available at http://accrpt.ncpublicschools.org/app/2013/cgr/; see also Longitudinal Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rate: 2006 through 2013 (4 Sept. 2013), available at http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/accountability/reporting/cohortgradrate.

[12] Id. Demographic data for African-American males as a group was not included.

[14] Research Spotlight on Single-Gender Education: NEA Reviews on the Best Practices in Education, available at http://www.nea.org/tools/17061.htm.

[15] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent at 15.

[16] The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State report on Public Education and Black Males 2012, 30, available at http://blackboysreport.org/urgency-of-now.pdf.

[17] Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State report on Public Education and Black Males 2010, 8, available at http://www.blackboysreport.org/bbreport.pdf; The Urgency of Now at 8, 12.

[18] The Urgency of Now at 25.

[19] Id. at 10-16.

[20] Award-winning Schools Lifting Black Male Achievement (2010), available at http://www.edtrust.org/dc/press-room/news/award-winning-schools-lifting-black-male-achievement.

[21] 100% Urban Prep Academies Graduating Seniors College-Bound (2013), available at http://www.urbanprep.org//about/newsroom/news/100-urban-prep-academies-graduating-seniors-college-bound.

[22] Dispelling the Myth: Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School (2010), available at http://www.edtrust.org/dc/success-stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-elementary-school; Dispelling the Myth: Jack Britt High School (2010), available at http://www.edtrust.org/dc/success-stories/jack-britt-high-school-1.

[23] Heath Morrison, 2018 Strategic Plan, 6 (2013), available at http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/strategicplan2018/Pages/StrategicPlan2018.aspx.

[24] Id. at 5.

One Response to One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Never Ending Dance with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Part One

  1. […] previously stated in part one of this blog series, the African-American Males Task Force was given the mission to “identify the drivers for […]

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