Education, News

On school psychologists, North Carolina doesn’t measure up

The National Association of School Psychologist recommends school districts employ one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.

Ellen Essick, a section chief for specialized instruction support at NC Healthy Schools, reports to the Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education.

In North Carolina, the ratio is one psychologist for every 2,008 students.

Let that sink in, and consider the mine-field of socio-economic and mental health issues children must navigate these days.

A higher percentage of teens report thinking about suicide. Incidents of bullying is on the rise. More children are living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. And they’re also struggling with sex and gender issues in ways that seem very foreign to many parents.

Meanwhile, academic studies show that students who are healthy, both mentally and physically, perform better in school.

“If you’ve ever seen a student with a tooth ache in school, then you know that they don’t make it through the day,” Ellen Essick, a section chief for specialized instruction support at NC Healthy Schools. “They’re not at all thinking about the test they’re taking or the class they’re in. All they’re thinking about is how that tooth hurts.”

NC Healthy Schools is a division of the N.C.  Department of Public Instruction that’s focused on improving student and staff health by providing resources within the context of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.

Here’s a link to reports state staffers shared with the commission: https://tinyurl.com/y7tsy4ee**

Essick made her remarks this week during a meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Access to a Sound Basic Education. The commission was formed in late 2017 to make recommendations for an ongoing court review of the state’s compliance with the 21-year-old Leandro ruling.

In that seminal case, a judge found North Carolina had failed to provide a “sound, basic” education for all students, regardless of the relative wealth in their local school districts.

Brad Wilson, the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield, who chairs the commission, said the commission is about half way through its work of gathering information to include in its report to the governor.

“We’re now beginning a level of detail of examination and analysis that will ultimately lead to our final report this year,” Wilson said.

The Leandro case sprang from a 1994 lawsuit filed by parents, children and K-12 administrators in five low-income counties, who argued that their districts weren’t receiving their fair share of public dollars.

In addition to the report about North Carolina badly missing the mark on school psychologists, the commission also learned that the state comes in staffing school counselors, school nurses and social workers.

The recommended ratio for school counselors is one for every 250 students. North Carolina has 4,137 school counselors for a ratio of one counselor for every 367 students.

For nurses, the recommendation is one per school. North Carolina has one nurse for every 1.7 schools.

And the recommendation for school social workers is one for every 250 students. North Carolina’s ratio is 1 for every 2,000 students.

Rick Glazier, executive director of the NC Justice Center, wondered how the state could possibly be abiding by the Leandro ruling when it’s so badly missing the mark for recommended levels of school support services.

“One would suggest that we’re devoting insufficient resources to school training, to school personnel, to psychologists, to social workers, guidance counselors and to school communities to be working with their children,” Glazier said.

Last year, NCDPI staffers reported that it would take roughly $688 million more in state funding to hire enough social workers, nurses, counselors, psychologist and school resource officers for North Carolina’s public schools to reach nationally recommended ratios.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators and commissioner member, noted that recent tax cuts approved by the Republican-led General Assembly leaves $3 billion on the table each year that could be used to improve public schools, health care and infrastructure across the state.

“Caring for the whole child is what public education is about,” Jewell said. “Our priority should not be tax cuts for corporations. It’s not the North Carolina way.”

Education

Federal shutdown prompts NC school district to provide only ‘minimum level’ lunches

Vance County Schools has announced that beginning Jan. 21, the school district will begin to provide students with “minimum level” school lunches to conserve funds in the wake of the federal government shutdown.

State nutrition officials say the directive to cut back on school lunches didn’t come from Raleigh.

“We have not advised LEAs [Local Education Authorities] in North Carolina to take measures to reduce their spending at this time, however, we respect that local school officials and boards of education must take the actions they believe to be in the best interest of their students, families and communities,” Lynn Harvey, section chief of school nutrition services with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said in a statement.

Vance County School administrators couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Here’s part of the message posted on the school district’s website:

Starting the week of January 21, minimum level means: one main dish, bread, two vegetables, one fruit and milk. No fresh produce will be included, except at elementary schools as part of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This program will be decreased to two days each week. No bottled drinks (water and juice) will be available after the current inventory in stock is used. No ice cream will be available.

Harvey said she shared a memo from federal officials with school districts explaining that enough federal funding is available to support schools at normal levels “well into the month of March.”

The memo was signed by Cynthia Long, a deputy administrator of Child Nutrition Programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long said the agency is aware of the concerns Food and Nutrition Services [FNS] customers have as a result of the government shutdown.

“To address such concerns, and ensure that programs can continue to operate without fear of disruption, FNS has provided State Agencies with additional available appropriated funding,” Long wrote.

Meanwhile, Harvey said North Carolina officials will continue to analyze data to determine possible options for LEAs if the government shutdown continues into February.

“We are communicating with school nutrition directors and other state and federal agencies, and we will be prepared to make recommendations during the first week of February,” Harvey said.

Education

Parent group ‘cautiously optimistic’ about new plan to reduce student testing

Reform advocates worry that A-F testing program for schools remains a big problem

Leaders of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform are “cautiously optimistic” about Superintendent Mark Johnson’s plan to reduce the amount of high stakes testing taking place in North Carolina Schools.

Susan Book told Policy Watch on Wednesday that she likes the part of Johnson’s plan that calls for reducing the amount of time students must sit for tests.

But she said other parts, such as the one calling for the use of technology to “personalize learning and eliminate testing,” is too vague.

“What does that look like?” Book asked. “We don’t understand that. It’s very vague at this point.”

Until testing is no longer tied to school letter grades, Book said it will continue to cause anxiety in parents, teachers and students.

“I really think some of it [Johnson’s plan] is meaningless if we don’t address the testing culture,” Book said. “We’re never going to get rid of that culture unless we address school grades.”

Since 2015, all North Carolina schools have received letter grades from A-F each year. A big chunk – 80 percent – of a school’s grade is tied to students’ performance on state tests. The other 20 percent of the grade is tied to how much academic growth students gained over one year of learning.

Suzanne Miller, also a leader of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform, said the organization hoped the superintendent would invite some of its members to help craft the plan.

“We feel parental input is important,” Miller said.

She said group’s goals are to reduce the overall amount of assessments, make sure assessments are fair and equitable for all students and ensure that testing results provide educators useful data that measures student growth.

Brad McMillen, the assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability for Wake County Public Schools, said Johnson’s plan looks like a good first step.

“The devil’s in the details, though,” McMillen said.

He said simply reducing the number of tests would help lower stress for students,  and also for school districts, which must mobilize hundreds of volunteers each year to serve as exam proctors.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators [NCAE], said Johnson’s plan is short on specifics.

“The superintendent had a major opportunity to significantly curb the use of standardized testing over the last two years when the state adopted it’s ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan, but the superintendent chose to side with the General Assembly to double-down on testing, not reduce it,” Jewell said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said the plan he released this week will allow educators to spend more time teaching.

“We will be working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing,” Johnson said in a news release. “We can give the teachers the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Here’s Johnson’s plan to reduce testing in North Carolina schools:

  • Reduce the number of questions on tests.
  • Reduce the time students must sit for tests.
  • Change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools around testing time.
  • Work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests.
  • Push to eliminate tests not required by Washington, D.C.
  • Give students other ways to show progress if they have a bad test day.
  • Use the appropriate amount of technology as a tool for students and teachers to personalize learning and eliminate tests.
Education

Former Teacher of the Year: Don’t blame teachers, students for reading failure

Lisa Godwin, the 2017 pick for state Teacher of the Year, said teachers and students aren’t to blame for the poor reading scores the State Board of Education discussed last week during its monthly business meeting.

Godwin, an Onslow County educator who sits on the board as an adviser, said North Carolina leaders must do more if they want reading scores to improve.

“There’s got to be accountability from above, and the fact is we don’t have what we need to move these kids,” said Godwin, who teaches at Dixon Elementary School.

Godwin’s remarks were in response to a report about the state’s Read to Achieve initiative. The report shows that 43.7 percent of third-graders tested statewide during the 2017-18 did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

She compared teaching a child to read to laying the foundation for a house.

N.C.’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, Lisa Godwin

“For whatever reason, we tend to skimp on the foundation that we’re pouring for our students and so in order to change outcomes we must begin to front-load and pour resources into those early years,” Godwin said.

North Carolina has spent more than $150 million on the program designed to ensure all third-graders are reading at or above grade level.

Under state law, those third-grade students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade will receive special help, including summer reading camp and other interventions to make sure that they can read well enough to be able to do fourth-grade work.

Rattling off a list of concerns that sounded a lot like those voiced by teachers in Los Angeles who walked off the job Monday, Godwin said smaller class sizes with no option for waivers is critical if North Carolina expects better academic outcomes.

“I have a part-time assistant with 24 kids that vary in needs,” Godwin explained. “We need to be able to function and to be able to address student needs and on a more one-to-one basis.”

Godwin also called on the state to bridge the technology divide between rural and urban schools.

“There are inequities across this state and we need to address it,” Godwin said.

She added:  “I’m currently at 24 students in my classroom with a part-time assistant and I have no personal student devices for my students to use. That’s not OK, and this is the North Carolina Teacher of the Year.”

She urged state board members to keep students and teachers in mind when they begin to talk to members of the General Assembly about needs this year.

“We need to be able to lay that [reading] foundation and give teachers what they need to move forward, so the shaming of students and the shaming of teachers not making the scores, that’s got to stop.”

Education

State Board of Education okays Carver Heights “restart” without controversial private takeover

Without comment, the State Board of Education on Thursday approved a “restart application” that allows Carver Heights Elementary School to avoid a state takeover.

Under the “restart” school reform model, the struggling Wayne County school will be given “charter-like” flexibility to operate, meaning it will be free of some of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools.

The school must show academic improvement over the next year or risk being swallowed up by the controversial Innovative School District (ISD) beginning with 2021-2022 school year.

The ISD was created in 2016 to allow the state to place consistently low-performing schools under the control of private operators such as nonprofits.

“They have time now to implement and delay their entry into the Innovative School District,” said James Ellerbe, the state’s assistant director of district and regional support who oversees school transformation programs.

Wayne County Principal Michael Dunsmore told Policy Watch last week that the restart at Carver Heights has technically already begun.

The district has hired a new principal, Patrice Faison, a former Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year award recipient, who has gained a reputation for turning schools around.

“She’s known as a mover and a shaker,” Ellerbe told SBE members on Wednesday, noting that Faison, while principal at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, made 19.4 percent growth in composite score, which was the highest for both the district and the state.

Charter-like flexibility

In its “restart application, Wayne County Public Schools (WCPS) was granted calendar flexibility – the district plans to add 30 minutes to each school day beginning this month. And the school’s instructional staff will get five extra professional development days, beginning in the summer.

WCPS will also be granted licensure flexibility so the district can use “highly skilled” members of the military, arts and music communities in Carver Heights Classrooms.

“These community members have special skill sets (e.g., foreign language speakers, trade, and industry specialists, professional musicians and artists) but we can’t use them as classroom teachers because of licensure restrictions,” WCPS officials said in the restart application.

The district also has budget flexibility to enable Carver Heights to pay teacher performance and growth bonuses, master teacher stipends, professional development stipends and pay for extended day and extended year and other such cost.

The district requested and was granted curriculum flexibility to implement what is referred to as “Balanced Literacy” instructional blocks to allow teachers to integrate instruction across content areas to make learning more relevant and meaningful while emphasizing literacy, vocabulary, reading and writing.

It took approval of a state technical corrections bill passed during last month’s lame duck legislative session to pave the way for Carver Heights to resubmit its restart application.

The bill also repealed a requirement that the State Board select at least two qualifying schools to transfer to the Innovative School District no later than the 2019-2020 school year.

ISD must have five schools by 2021

The decision to allow Carver Heights to move ahead with its restart plan means the ISD must bring four more schools into the district by 2021 as required by state law.

Currently, the ISD has one school, Southpole Ashpole Elementary School in Rowan County.

LaTessa Allen, superintendent of the ISD, acknowledged Thursday that adding four more schools by 2021 will be a “bit of a challenge.”

The school district in Durham and others where schools where tapped for ISD have vigorously pushed back against state takeovers.

ISD Superintendent LaTeesa Allen

“We know it’s going to big task, but we know the greater task is going to be to move students forward, and that’s what we’re going to stay focused on,” Allen said.

When asked if ISD would try a different strategy to make the district more appealing, Allen said ISD strategies are led by legislation approved by the General Assembly.

“Of course we’re always looking at ways to improve what we do,” Allen said. “We want to ensure we’re working collaboratively with our State Board [of Education] and our districts, and communities as we’ve done before to make sure this process works for all of us and students.”