Of the many things that struck me while reading the clutch of articles on CMS in the latest Charlotte magazine (the one with the movies and popcorn on the cover) is that CMS seems to go from very sure, certain goals and standards in the early grades to much more amorphous and hard-to-define targets in the upper grades.

The mag presents three day-in-a-life stories of an elementary, a middle, and a high school. The elementary, Billingsville, is all about building and re-enforcing good habits with immediate feedback on acceptable behavior. By Alexander Graham we have a teacher telling students she cares deeply about each and everyone of them and a class project which adopts a school in Ghana. At Olympic we have rather philosophical debates on whether the JROTC program belongs in the “Renaissance” campus, one of five campuses Olympic will split into next year in a last-ditch effort to improve test scores.

It may be reading too much into these snapshots, but I can’t help but recall that CMS’ performance across all its schools roughly goes from pretty good to just OK to pretty bad as you march up the grade levels. There is also a progressive tilt away from objective, consistently enforced standards of conduct and toward “meeting students half way.” In fact, by high school teachers are told non-stop to find ways to “engage” their students rather than expecting students might want to “engage” an education.

Might there be a connection here?

To find out, I’d love for one of CMS’ low-performing middle schools — perhaps one of the five that just bombed the No Child Left Behind metrics — to adopt a Billingsville-style approach to student conduct, expectations, and goals. It could hardly hurt and I continue to believe that turning around the middle schools is CMS’ only hope for long-term success with HS graduation rates and test-scores. Too many kids are entering HS without any chance of graduating let alone scoring above 70 on EOC exams.

Georgia, for example, recently told 30,000 eighth-graders to report to summer schools and re-take tests if they wanted to go to high school in the fall. That kind of hard performance standard is the only to get, well, performance.

Will CMS ever be as demanding?