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Berger’s Excellent Public Schools Act Moves Forward

Today the Senate Education Committee passed Sen. Phil Berger’s (R-Rockingham) SB 361 – the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013. The bill is similar in scope to the Senator’s 2012 legislation and calls for the end of teacher tenure and further specifications on the A-F school grading system and teacher licensure (see my previous post on the breakdown of the bill).

Sen. Josh Stein pressed Berger on his A-F school grading system, pointing out the fact that the changes made to how schools are graded still do not account for student growth on test scores. Instead, there is a separate measure that is not factored into a school’s grade but instead stands next to it.

Stein noted that 12 other states employ the A-F grading system, including Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Ten of those 12 states factor a school’s growth into their grades. “In Florida, two-thirds of the grade comes from school improvement,” Stein said. “Can we adjust to Florida’s model,” Stein asked?

Berger explained that the growth score was a “subjective analysis” and that two separate scores would be more transparent for parents.

Under Berger’s proposal, 73 percent of North Carolina’s schools would receive a grade of D or F. Modifications have been made to the grade calculation process, according to legislative staff, that would improve the grades of many schools. How many would receive higher scores is not yet known.

Sen. Robinson expressed concern about what would happen to students who leave failing schools and go to charter schools, where there would be no requirements for teacher certification if pending legislation becomes law.

“It comes down to a choice,” said Berger. “If parents feel a child is not receiving good instruction in a charter school, they can go back to a traditional public school…or elsewhere.”

It was unclear whether or not the per pupil funding that goes with a child to a charter school would then go back to the public school.

Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of the year from Mooresville, lauded the legislation but pushed for the school growth component to be added to a school’s grade. Jackie Cole, school board member from Alamance also called for the school growth component as well as grandfathering in those who have already received career status.

Dr. Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the bill was not the most efficient way to handle the dismissal of ineffective teachers.

General Counsel for NCAE, Ann McColl, explained that there are mechanisms in place to dismiss poor performing teachers. Those mechanisms include a robust evaluation process, action plans and a process for hearings.

“We can dismiss teachers,” said McColl. “We need teachers to be advocates for kids. That means they need good job protections.”

The bill moves on to the appropriations committee.

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