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One of the things people rightfully dislike about their government is when they are not told the truth. Sadly, in the ongoing debate about North Carolina’s new school voucher plan many politicians have been doing just that.

In an apparent effort to lessen the controversy, some legislators have been claiming that that it is “essentially a pilot program.” It is not. The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” is a full-blown government program similar to ones that have failed miserably in several jurisdictions. It has no expiration date and its sponsors have made plain their intention to expand it.

In explaining the education budget, one state senator wrote:

In regards to the Opportunity Scholarship Act, this is a pilot program for low income families.  Many children in low income families are forced to attend low-performing schools because they do not have the opportunity that wealthier families have to move to better schools.  We simply want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity to succeed; it is by no means a sign that lawmakers lack confidence in our public schools.

At least four obvious responses deserve mention: Read More

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The North Carolina General Assembly released its compromised budget on Sunday night.  A look at the budget shows that public education is no longer a priority for this legislature.  While there are several things that are problematic about this budget, there one issue in particular that we wish to highlight. The legislature created a volunteer school safety resource program.  While there were bills that concerned school safety, including a volunteer marshal program, this provision coming in the budget is somewhat surprising.

In a reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the General Assembly created a volunteer school safety resource officer program.  Research demonstrates that school resources officers escalate adolescent behavior into criminal behavior.  Paid school resource officers do not receive enough training.  There is no reason to believe that volunteer officers will be better trained than their salaried counterparts.  When law enforcement is involved the likelihood of suspensions or expulsions expand.  If a student is 16 or 17 years old, an adolescent schoolyard fight can lead to adult consequences since North Carolina is one of two states that send 16 and 17 years old to the adult court system.  The evidence also shows us that children of color will have disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system.

This provision is also troubling because it smacks of the posses of the Wild West.  But this is not an old Western movie because students become a part of the very real school-to-prison pipeline.  Even though the volunteers are required to have a law enforcement background, work as a police officer is different from work as a school resource officer.  The job requires an understanding of brain development and why children and adolescents do some of the things they do.  Volunteers may also have a background as military police.  Military training is different than law enforcement training.  The effort and time that it would take to train volunteer school resource officer could be better used to safety issues that we know work like positive behavioral intervention and supports.

The truth is that we cannot stop random unpredictable people who wish to harm our children.  We can, however, protect our children from the overcriminalization of their conduct by preventing the very predictable possibilities of volunteer school resources officers.

This is by no means the only troubling issue in this budget but it certainly needs to be addressed.  Although this budget is likely to pass, we cannot allow matters as important as this to go through without dissent.

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Few things are more nerve racking than the first day of school.  Children worry about their new classmates.  They wonder if the teacher is mean or tough.  They worry if they can do the work that is asked of them when advancing a grade.  Of course, parents worry too.  They move into Wake County for the excellent educational reputation (which has lost some of its luster in recent years).  Still, they are anxious about turning their children over to another new school year.

The concerns of students and their parents assume that the child can get to school.  On the first day of school, Wake County Public Schools System’s (WCPSS) transportation plan was, to put it plainly, a mess.  Even though the legislature cut funding for transportation, Wake parents and students should not have suffered through this.

According to an article in the News & Observer, Wake County reduced the number of buses to obtain state funding in yet another confusing formula where schools receive a benefit for efficiency.

If the state sees what happened on the first day of school, there is not anyway that Wake County could possibly receive funding for efficiency.  Parents and students were at bus stops waiting for buses that were late or that never came at all.  School transportation is not mass transit, yet parents were asking where buses were going as if they were at Moore Square Bus Station. Read More

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A recent op-ed in the New York Times discusses the importance of paying teachers well. North Carolina should heed some of the suggestions made by the authors. In order to make teaching an attractive option for recent college graduates, it must not seem like a low-paying, high-stress job. Rather, it has to be a career where they are well-compensated for being caretakers of the state’s students. Teaching needs to be professionalized rather than marginalized. We are not going to do that with meager salaries, larger student to teacher ratios and no teacher assistants. Thus far, it appears that closing a budget gap is more important than opening a child’s mind.

We are also not going to professionalize the occupation by using students’ test scores as the primary measure of instructional success. We ask teachers to make students better citizens who are prepared for college and employment but that cannot be done if all of the teacher’s (and student’s) worth is tied up in a test score.

Teaching will not be professionalized in the state if traditional public school teachers all have to be college graduates with teaching certification while public charter schools only require 75% of their elementary school teachers to be certified and a mere 50% of middle school and high school teachers need to be certified. The only teachers that must possess college degrees in a public charter school are those who teach core courses in sixth through twelve grades. Different standards are not going to professionalize teaching.

We are fortunate to have great teachers in North Carolina including Zebetta King and Amanda Northrup who are 2010 Awardees for The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. North Carolina has true teaching professionals. We will not elevate teaching to the point where we can recruit and retain the best and brightest until we make it a true profession.

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As she has done for the past few years, Superintendent June Atkinson celebrated the school districts and the high schools with the highest graduation rates for the last academic year. Dr. Atkinson, as well as Governor Bev Perdue attended the ceremony and both stressed the importance of having districts graduate their students.

Dr. Atkinson also mentioned that more work must be done to ensure all students graduate from high school.

It is interesting to note that several of the high schools with 100% graduation rates are schools with a specialized programs like art, science or early college. It is even more interesting to discover that for every county on the list their high schools are amongst the most socioeconomic integrated in the state.

The information about the schools and districts that were celebrated can be found here.