Diversity in school assignment should be our No. 1 priority — period

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Editor’s note: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board is scheduled to take a key vote Tuesday evening on how it will move forward with a plan to assign students to schools. This piece is one of two op-eds the Agenda is publishing today on the issue.

I’ve watched the events of the last few weeks, and I have been amazed at what I’ve witnessed. A conversation about what’s best for our children has been turned into a very disheartening debate about race and politics that is threatening to polarize our community and create an atmosphere were poor black and brown children suffer.

The facts are very clear: Diversity is what’s best for all students, maybe even more so for those students who aren’t living in poverty.

Educators love to cite research. Well, the research is very clear on this topic. Amy Hawn Nelson at UNC Charlotte has researched diversity and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Her research shows that diversity is what’s best for students and that we are doing more busing now than we did at the height of forced busing in the 1970s and 80s. The difference? Families of privilege are using the current magnet system to keep their students out of the high-poverty schools where they are zoned.

She’s not the only one who has found this to be true.

Nikole Hannah Jones has also studied segregation in schools. She has found that turnaround school projects tend to not work. When they do, it’s usually in elementary schools with strong principals. They have also worked in some middle schools, but rarely is the success replicable and they often reach a point of diminishing marginal return.

Our own turnaround projects have proven this point. [Agenda story: 5 ways Charlotte has tried to improve struggling schools in the past decade]

The Achievement Zone and Project L.I.F.T. have both failed. As a former employee with Project L.I.F.T. I can testify to the fact that this project has failed our students because of poor leadership. This can only be changed if we have a superintendent who is willing to investigate root cause issues and deconstruct the system to create equity and fairness for all families.

There are too many people in CMS who are making decisions based on what is best for their careers and not what is best for students and families.

There is no systemic way to deal with common issues. Everything from curriculum to discipline is handled differently at each school.

There is a huge lack of will to cooperate and collaborate with those outside the establishment. Internal collaboration is also poor.

Will our current superintendent be able to make those changes? Will she be willing to undo many of the policies she put in place? I don’t believe she can and I also believe it’s unfair to ask her to undo policies she put into place.

A final thought: Charlotte takes great pride in its reputation. We want the nation to believe we are a quality city, one that cares about its citizens. Lately, all they’ve proved is we love those who have means. I’ve been told (and agree) that your true character is revealed in times of adversity. Charlotte is showing our character right now. Are you happy with what we are displaying? I am not.

Let’s make the right decision for the students in our city.

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Bea Williams
Charlotte Agenda Writer