Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC: The Common Core as Lever for Advancing Equity and Excellence

Posted 09/11/14
Last updated 09/12/14

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Will implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) intensify inequities that the North Carolina district has been working for years to overcome, or will it provide leverage for advancing equity, as well as excellence, in student outcomes?

“The opportunity is tremendous,” says CMS Zone Executive Director Brian Schultz. “It could widen the gap or close it. We will equip the teacher, and that is what it’s going to take to narrow that gap. The rich, rich reading libraries in the classroom will need to be there, and it’s got to be at an interest level for the students.” In Charlotte, many of these students are living in poverty, learning English as a second language, or are students of color. What content is culturally relevant for these children and young people? “At the same time,” Schultz adds, “we need to show them the expectations of the Common Core.” In other words, cultural relevance is part of a larger context that includes rigorous standards for all students.

Early childhood education is “the easiest and best opportunity to eliminate the achievement gap,” according to Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark, because that’s when the gap is narrowest. “Pre-kindergarten programs that position kids to be ready for kindergarten go a long way toward starting kids on the right pathway, addressing that gap. We’ve historically had a very strong pre-kindergarten program, not only in Charlotte but also in the state. Governor James Hunt led that charge decades ago, and it has stood the test of time.” In 2009, North Carolina was found to have one of the two top programs nationally for state prekindergarten quality according to a report from the National Center for Early Education Research. (Read press release for the 2009 NCEER report here.)

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools comprises more than 141,000 students attending 159 schools. The student population is 42 percent African American, 32 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and 3 percent American Indian or multiracial. Fifty-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Read more “fast facts” about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District here. CMS is far larger than most districts in the United States, but it offers lessons and learning on preparing for and implementing CCSS to promote equity and excellence that could be instructive for districts of all sizes.

A good deal of attention has been paid to the literacy and math shifts that CCSS is bringing to classrooms across the United States. What educational leaders and practitioners who are deep into this work are learning is that those shifts in the instructional core require shifts in structure, culture, and leadership throughout the school system—at every level and in every corner. Without systemic shifts, the capacity to meet these internationally benchmarked standards and assessments will never be built, much less sustained. There can be no question that a piecemeal response to the Common Core will result in intensified and unacceptable inequities for the children and young people upon whose shoulders our future will rest.