Video: Charlotte shows support for CMS reforms, though some still question - The State of Mecklenburg | CLT Blog

Video: Charlotte shows support for CMS reforms, though some still question — The State of Mecklenburg

Posted on 11 Aug 2011 by Larry Shaheen Jr.

Yesterday, CMS School Board Representive from District 6, Tim Morgan (@TimMorganCMS), Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Director of Public Policy, Natalie English (@cltlobbyist), and Educating Change Steering Committee member, Joel D. Ford (@JoelDFord), joined me in a discussion on a recently released public opinion poll which showed broad-based community support for the reforms taking place within CMS. Also invited to take part in the discussion was Pamela Grundy of Mecklenburg Acts, who was unfortunately unable to take part at the last minute. Check it out on YouTube, or embedded above.

Results from a public opinion poll released on Tuesday, Aug 2, tended to show that local residents largely support Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ reform initiatives, including a performance-based compensation plan for teachers that is keyed in part on students’ academic achievement, smaller class sizes in low-achievement areas, and greater management autonomy for individual schools.

But the poll also showed ongoing public concern about the use of standardized testing.

The poll was commissioned by Educating Change, a public information campaign to inform Mecklenburg County residents about initiatives within CMS to accelerate academic gains, close achievement gaps, increase the graduation rate, and otherwise retool to improve public schools.

Key poll findings include:

  • 74% support the concept of a compensation plan for teachers that would allow for different pay based on how effective teachers are in helping students improve academically, but 86% believe such a plan should factor in more than student achievement.
  • 72% believe performance-based compensation for teachers will lead to greater student achievement.
  • 79% felt such a compensation plan is necessary to recruit and retain highly effective teachers.
  • 53% agreed that standardized tests are a proven indicator of academic achievement while 45% disagreed.

The poll comprised 500 telephone interviews conducted June 28 –July 13 by MarketWise, Inc., a Charlotte-based marketing research firm. The sampling error was  + 4.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

You can access complete and detailed poll results on Educating Change’s website.

Reform within CMS has been focused largely on enhancing classroom teaching by recruiting, developing and retaining highly effective teachers. But other measures include targeting additional resources in low achieving schools and deploying technology and other innovations to better meet the varied and evolving needs of all CMS students and teachers. Educating Change hopes to inform the public about all of the measures the system is using to achieve the academic and other goals defined in its Strategic Plan 2014.  Funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the informational campaign will be completed by mid-August.

While many within the community seem to support these reforms, teachers groups and advocates claimed bias within the poll and stated that the results were not in line with the broader sentiment of the community. You can find out more from a recent article in the Charlotte Observer by Eric Frazier:

Study found public support for merit pay for teachers and other reforms but a teacher group said poll was biased.

A new poll financed by the Gates Foundation shows broad support for merit pay for teachers and other reforms stirring controversy in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The head of a local teachers’ group, however, dismissed the $25,000 poll as biased and too generic to reflect the ongoing debate.

The research was commissioned by “Educating Change,” a $200,000 public relations campaign financed by the Gates Foundation and backed by the Charlotte Chamber. The poll found that 74 percent of those surveyed support paying teachers based on their effectiveness.

Intense debate flared across CMS last year over teacher evaluations and pay as teachers and parents pushed back against former Superintendent Peter Gorman’s drive for a new performance-based pay system. Bill Gates is one of several wealthy philanthropists pushing for such changes nationwide.

More than 50 new tests were developed to better gauge teacher effectiveness, and Gorman’s staff moved to block legislation that would have allowed teachers to vote on any new performance-pay plan. Outraged teachers protested at school board meetings and decried the new tests as expensive, time-consuming, ill-prepared and unnecessary.

The new poll didn’t explicitly ask about the new CMS tests or the outcry over the merit-pay legislation. Officials who worked on the poll said they asked broad questions about issues — rather than narrow questions about specific fights — because they wanted residents to set the agenda.

We were trying to be very unbiased,” said Nancy Burnap, an official with MarketWise, the Charlotte market-research firm that conducted the survey. “We didn’t want to … pick those topics apart. We wanted (people) to tell us what the topics were, not us tell them.”

Gorman resigned in June, but school board members have said they will press forward with the changes he started. Board chair Eric Davis said the poll reflects “the less vocal but pretty strong majority” of residents supporting ambitious school reforms.

There is broad recognition of the need to focus on the results of education — the academic achievement of our students,” he said, not just the resources pumped into schools.

Teachers’ groups and parent activists have decried the Gates Foundation’s role in the public relations blitz. They say Gates and other billionaires are trying to dominate the debate over the future of public schools.

Judy Kidd, head of the Classroom Teachers Association, said the survey’s questions about merit pay were too generic to represent any endorsement of Gorman’s efforts. She said those behind the PR campaign are using the results to drum up support.

Teachers generally support the ideal of merit pay, she added, but they believe the plans being crafted by Gorman’s staff rely too heavily on questionable tests.

Someone is taking a concept even teachers agree with and … putting it in the context of the ‘Gormanizing’ of pay for performance,” she said. “The survey was biased.”

The poll found that 86 percent of respondents said merit-pay plans should be based on more than student achievement. The poll found deep skepticism about testing: just 53 percent of residents agreed that standardized tests are a proven indicator of academic performance. Forty-five percent disagreed.

It also found that 72 percent believe performance-based pay plans for teachers will boost student achievement. Seventy-nine percent say such plans are needed to recruit and retain highly effective teachers.

The poll included 500 telephone interviews June 28-July 13 by MarketWise. The sampling error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The coordinators of the Educating Change campaign say the debate over school reform in Charlotte has centered on teachers, but they want to bring attention to the other measures CMS is using to encourage change, such as deploying new technology.

They contend they aren’t trying to influence public opinion. They say they are trying to help citizens learn about an important and evolving debate.


  1. David Edwards 14 Aug 2011 at 8:58 PM

    This show is full of lies. The questions were loaded and gave know information about how much it would cost and how it will be paid for by the School Board.

    This is full of BS.

    • Avatar of Justin Ruckman
      Justin Ruckman 19 Aug 2011 at 4:51 PM

      Good points, but it wasn’t intentional. We tried to stock the panel with viewpoints from distinctly opposite sides, but were unsuccessful.

      Aside from costs, is there anything else we should address when we talk about this in future stories?