Back to School Series

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6)

Our Back to School series ends today just like the first or second week of school will for millions of North Carolina public school students. If there is anything that should be taken from this series it is that in the light of what seem to be tremendous problems, we still see success.

It would be foolish to say that we see the success that we all want to see. We still have problems with a school-to-prison pipeline that takes too many students out of an educational environment and, worse, puts mostly minority students in contact with the criminal justice system. Too many immigrant students are not being enrolled in school based on their perceived status. As you may note from this very series, the state has not invested in the programs that help students to achieve.

If there is a takeaway, it should be that our school personnel and our students are resilient. In the last few months students have seen: Read More

Back to School Series

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)

It’s that time of year when school starts and the very next week Labor Day is here. It seems to make sense that Back to School week and Labor Day are so close together. It provides the opportunity to discuss those that labor in our public schools. Although, the truth is, there has been a lot of talk about people who work in our public schools.

Most of the discussion is about the pay raise teachers supposedly received. The truth is that many teachers are simply getting their longevity pay that they have already earned. New teachers will see some benefit of the use of the longevity pay but the teachers who have actually put in years will not be getting what they deserve.

New teachers may have higher starting salaries but it comes at a cost. They will not have career status protection which provides teachers with due process rights. Losing due process rights is a heavy price to pay. These teachers will also be working on one year contracts. These one year contracts assure, some say — including people at NCAE, that teachers are now being treated as temporary workers.

It is not only the teachers that will suffer with the one year contracts. School administrators like superintendents and principals will have to deal with the logistical nightmare of having to manage a slew of one year contracts.

Of course, the job of teaching has not become any easier since there will be fewer teacher assistants. Although it was promised that teacher assistants would not be cut in the budget, the truth is that they have.

Perhaps, the most galling thing that has happened to school personnel Read More

Back to School Series

For most North Carolina public school students, the bell chimed and they will start the school year. The students will return to school this academic year after a summer break where public education discussions seemed to dominate the legislative session, the courtroom and the news.

Here of a few of questions that North Carolina public school students may ask as they return to school:

  • I heard that my teachers got a raise but I hear that it may not be true – did they get a raise or not?
  • Where are my textbooks?
  • I need to take the bus to school – Is it safe?
  • Is it true that vouchers are unconstitutional? Why?
  • I am going to get free lunch even though my parents did not fill out an application – How is that possible?
  • Why does it seem like my school has fewer resources each time I start a new year?
  • Will I still be learning from the Common Core State Standards?

There are many more questions to answer, which is why there will be a Back to School blog series. For the next two weeks, several writers will contribute pieces about what is happening in and to North Carolina public schools.

 

 

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This week, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education will require states to make a comparison between students with special needs and their counterparts who have not been so-identified.

In the past, the United States Department of Education only asked that schools districts follow timelines and procedures by ensuring that correct paperwork was filed when it came to identifying and serving special needs children. Under those standards, most states and territories were in compliance. The new standards demand more.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) jurisdictions fall in one of four categories Meets Requirements, Needs Assistance, Needs Intervention and Needs Substantial Intervention. The new framework means that only 18 states or territories received the label of Meets Requirements. North Carolina is in the Needs Assistance group.

The importance of ensuring that special needs children receive a quality education should, of course, go without saying. Because students may have special needs does not mean that they should be relegated to classrooms in which they are not educated with the same fervor as their non-special needs classmates. It’s good that Duncan seems to want to advance this cause.

Unfortunately, his plan includes a major flaw in that the measure of proficiency used for both exceptional children and students without special needs under the new standards is a standardized test. Simply put, it is hard to think of any recent educational policy that succeeded based on high-stakes testing. For instance:

  • No Child Left Behind failed because of the unrealistic proposition that there could be 100% proficiency demonstrated through testing.
  • Merit pay” for teachers is based on grades on standardized tests. There is little evidence, however, to show that teachers are more successful in raising test scores because they will receive extra pay.
  • Charter schools become less likely to be the “laboratories of innovation” they were supposed to be because their accountability is measured by the same high-stakes tests that traditional public schools are.
  • North Carolina’s Excellent Public Schools Act (ESPA), which passed in 2012, is rife with problems of high-stakes testing and over-testing – most notably the scheme to retain 3rd grade students who do not show reading proficiency on the End-of-Grade test. Indeed, the “Read to Achieve” section of the (ESPA) sent parents of 3rd graders and students themselves into a frenzy because students were being over-tested by mini-quizzes.

Fortunately, there are better models out there. Even under the flawed North Carolina law, the grades from the quizzes go into a portfolio that can show a child is proficient in reading if they do not pass the 3rd grade test. As noted previously in this space, a portfolio that includes a body of work over time would be the best way to assess and identify children for the services they need.

The students in North Carolina – both exceptional children and those without identified disabilities – should not be subjected to constant testing. All students should have a portfolio that will be evidence of proficiency with a body of work over time. While it is not only admirable but necessary that we investigate whether exceptional children are getting the same level of education as their classmates without identified disabilities, no child is done any favors by being subject to high-stakes standardized tests.

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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.