Helping Our 3rd Graders

There is no doubt that ensuring that 3rd graders read at grade level or above is a great goal. The recently revised Read to Achieve section of the Excellent Public Schools Act is North Carolina’s way to carry out that goal. Very much like other education policies that North Carolina has adopted (vouchers, repealing Common Core), Read to Achieve started in other states.

The most damaging part of Read to Achieve is the retention policy, particularly retention based on the results of high-stakes testing. If a 3rd grade student cannot show proficiency in reading, s/he will be left back. There are reams of paper of research that show how detrimental retention is for students. The website for Mecklenburg ACTS, a pro-public education organization contains a lot of information about Read to Achieve as well as the problems with high-stakes testing.

There are things that can be done to make Read to Achieve less punitive.

  • The best idea would be for North Carolina to do what Oklahoma did. Oklahoma repealed the retention section of its law to allow parents and educators to decide if the student should be promoted even if the student did not pass the high-stakes test. Unfortunately, that is unlikely since North Carolina just revised the law.
  • The reading portfolio described in the law should be a body of work over time. The portfolio allows for a student to show evidence of mastery of reading benchmarks. That mastery does not have to be done through testing.
  • Personal Education Plans (PEPs) must be used for struggling students. Students at-risk for failure must be offered interventions to help them succeed and all efforts must be provided free-of-charge, including transportation to and from the activities. It is important to note that PEPs are not just for reading but must be given for every class a student is at-risk of failing.
  • Adequately fund early childhood programs. A Duke study showed that 3rd grade reading scores were raised in jurisdictions with early childhood programs even for students who did not attend the programs. The rising tide of early childhood programs raised all 3rd grade reading boats.

Our youngest children should not fear school because of constant testing. When education is enjoyable, students will achieve. If students are struggling, we need to use all interventions at our disposal. That means having resources like textbooks and teaching assistants. Test anxiety will not bring reading achievement.

Students do not achieve because of copycat laws that punish students. We need to copy things that have already been successful like professionalizing and respecting teachers and treat learning as a lifelong goal not information to pass a high stakes test. Most importantly, students will have better chances at achievement when we not only provide not only reading interventions but intervene to provide adequate healthcare, safe and affordable housing and access to healthy food.

Recently elected Appeals Court judge fires troubling broadside at former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

Judge Jefferson Griffin (pictured at left) hasn’t served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals very long — he was only first elected last November along with several other Republicans swept in on Donald Trump’s coattails — but that doesn’t appear to be dissuading him from using his new platform to issue assertive statements that venture into politics and public policy.

Consider, for example, Griffin’s concurring opinion in the case of State of North Carolina v. Kevin Lee Johnson, that was issued yesterday. The case involved a search by an Iredell County Sheriff’s office lieutenant who found cocaine on an individual he stopped for allegedly failing to wear his seat belt. The defendant appealed his trial court conviction on the grounds that the bodily search the officer conducted was unlawful. By all indications, the officer was white and the suspect was Black.

In yesterday’s opinion, all three judges on the panel (including Griffin and fellow recently elected Republican Jeffery Carpenter) agreed that the search was unlawful and that the evidence obtained as a result of it should be suppressed.

What stood out from Griffin’s concurring opinion, however, was not his vote in the case, but a broadside on the issue of racially-biased law enforcement that Griffin decided to launch in the direction of former state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

Former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

Beasley, you may recall, spoke publicly, courageously and quite accurately last year in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd about the horrific and undeniable reality that has long confronted Americans of color — and, in particular, young Black men — when it comes to policing and criminal justice. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on June 3 in the aftermath of protests that rocked the nation:

“We must do better,” she said. “We must be better. Too many people believe that there are two kinds of justice. … In our courts, African-Americans are more harshly treated, more severely punished and more likely to be presumed guilty.”

Beasley later established a commission to examine the blatant racism that has long permeated the state’s criminal justice system.

Griffin it seems, however, was none to happy with this fact and has apparently been spoiling to vent about if for some time. And when the lawyers for the defendant in the illegal search case raised the issue of race, he seized on that as grounds to attack Beasley.

Indeed, in his concurring opinion — a locale usually reserved for fine legal distinctions — Griffin decided to republish several paragraphs of a speech Beasley delivered last June in which, among other things, she called for “a plan for accountability in our courts” and training judges to “recognize our biases.”

Weirdly and disturbingly, Griffin was and is bothered by such talk, and by the fact that lawyers for a Black defendant would raise it in his case. We know this because he then used the remainder of his opinion to attack Beasley for wrongfully venturing into public policy.

“The speech by the former Chief Justice states our justice system does not treat people equally based on the color of their skin. It also encourages and charges the courts to become an active body by involving our judicial branch in policy decisions. The judiciary should at all times practice judicial restraint….We are fortunate to live in the United States of America where the law is applied the same to all citizens.

To which all a body can say in reply is “what planet did this man grow up on?”

The bottom line: Word on the street is that Griffin is an ambitious politician who, despite being one of the youngest and least experienced judges on the Court of Appeals, is already planning a run for a Supreme Court seat in the near future.

Sadly, it appears we already have a strong inkling as to what his campaign will look like.

Mecklenburg Co. Manager to suspended, unvaccinated employees: You put yourself in this situation. (with video)

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio didn’t mince words Tuesday when it came to the status of 86 employees who have failed to follow the county’s COVID protocol.

The county announced in August that government employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in September. As of last week, 322 of the more than 5,800 employees were not in compliance.

That number had dropped to 86 by Tuesday.

“And the people who got jammed-up are the people who didn’t read the information, didn’t follow-up, didn’t have a plan, and they got snagged,” Diorio told county commissioners.

Diorio said county workers who have submitted the appropriate documentation are no longer on the suspension list, but will not receive back pay for the time they were suspended. .

“There are people who have not submitted anything – who have not submitted a vaccination card, who have not submitted any information at all. Nothing. They have been silent,” Diorio said. “Those people are in trouble.”

Those employees who have failed to respond now risk termination.

“That’s an indication to me that they’re not going to follow the policy, and that not following the policy is more important than keeping your job.”

To date, 75% of the county’s employees have complied and received the COVID vaccine, according to Diorio. Countywide, 55% of residents are fully vaccinated.

More than 1,100 residents of the county have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Click below to hear an excerpt of Diorio’s remarks:

“None of this belongs in our public schools.”

NC Governor calls for civility as school boards continue to draw fire over COVID precautions

Governor Roy Cooper said he is troubled by the fevered pitch many school board meetings have reached in recent weeks with parents and politicians fighting mask mandates and COVID precautions.

“Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools particularly by adults,” said Cooper at a Tuesday press conference.

The governor said it is a small but vocal minority of adults showing up to fight mask requirements, and his administration is continuing to encourage all districts to keep the mask requirements in place while the spread of the coronavirus remains high.

“Being civil and respectful of others is more important than ever. Let’s behave the way we want our kids to act.”

North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been relatively level over the last few days. But the state is averaging 6,000 new cases each day with roughly 900 North Carolinians requiring intensive care unit beds for more than a month now.

Sec. Mandy Cohen

One-third of all COVID hospital admissions in the past week have been in North Carolinians under the age of 49.

“Our hospitals are strained. And in other states we’ve seen care is not readily available for people experiencing non-COVID life-threatening health crises,” cautioned Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen.

“We don’t want that to be the experience here.”

Secretary Cohen says vaccination remains the best tool for protection against the highly transmissible virus.

While 86% of North Carolinians 75 and older have now been vaccinated, that number drops down to 38% for the 12-17 age bracket.

“Those of us who interact with schools, need to get vaccinated if you are eligible, and need to wear a mask to prevent the spread of virus. Because the more virus that’s circulating, the more that’s going to end up in our schools,” warned Dr. Cohen.

While the focus remains on keeping students in the classroom for in-person learning during the pandemic, the governor said local districts can present a virtual option to the state school board before October 1st for consideration.

On Tuesday, Gov.Cooper also issued an open letter to the state’s faith community seeking their help in getting more people to roll-up their sleeves and get a COVID shot.

The letter encourages the faith community to sponsor events at their houses of worship and become “vaccine ambassadors.”

The letter reads in part:

Direct your congregation and faith community to trustworthy sources about COVID-19  vaccines, like doctors, other medical providers, and the NCDHHS website YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov. Good people are being misinformed. As a trusted spiritual leader, you can help those who have questions get accurate information. Help educate your community on why  and how to get vaccinated by:
• Posting and sharing vaccine information in common and highly visible areas in your house of
worship.
• Sending a letter or email to your congregants sharing resources that provide accurate
information about vaccines and encouraging people to avoid sharing misinformation on social
media.
• Talking to your congregation about why our faith calls upon us to protect our health and those
around us be getting vaccinated.
• Adding a message encouraging people to get vaccinated to your organization’s voicemail.

The appeal to churches comes as the latest CDC map still shows all North Carolina counties in the red zone with the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Breaking: U.S. Supreme Court schedules Dec. 1 oral arguments in major abortion case

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Dec. 1 in a case that threatens to overturn decades of abortion protections established under the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The upcoming case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, stems from a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. It has been blocked by a lower federal court.

The nation’s top court announced in May that it would take up the Mississippi case. Since that announcement, the justices also voted in a 5-4 decision against preventing a more-strict Texas law from taking effect.

That Texas law bans abortions once cardiac activity can be detected — typically around six weeks of pregnancy, and early enough that many women still do not know they are pregnant. It also allows private citizens to file lawsuits against abortion providers and anyone who aids an abortion.

Also on Monday, a coalition of attorneys general from 23 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to deny Mississippi’s request that it declare broadly that there is no constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

That coalition includes attorneys general from Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

They argue in the brief that the Roe v. Wade decision takes into consideration state interests, while also protecting the ability of individuals to “make one of the most consequential, intimate and properly private decisions” they will ever confront.

Congressional Democrats are taking up legislation as soon as this week to enshrine the legal protections from the Roe ruling in federal law. But even if that bill passes the U.S. House, where Democrats hold a slim majority, it’s unlikely to pass in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.