Education

Senate bill would put the brakes on charter school expansion

State Sen. Dan Blue, (D-Wake), discusses Senate Bill 247 during a press conference on Wednesday.

After 25 years in the charter school business, North Carolina needs a “recess” from granting new charters while a proposed legislative committee studies their impact on traditional public schools, Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue said on Wednesday.

Describing himself as a strong supporter of charter schools, Blue said lawmakers must begin to hold charters accountable for how they spend public dollars.

Blue noted that state spending on charters grew from $16.5 million in 1997 to more than $580 million last year.

“When the legislature is directing that level of increased spending, it is our responsibility, first as legislators, but I think as protectors of the public purse, to make sure that those dollars are being spent wisely.”

Blue’s remarks came during a news conference Wednesday to discuss Senate Bill 247, which would prohibit the State Board of Education from granting final approval of any charter applications once the bill is approved.

SB 247 would also establish a 10-member Joint Legislative Study Committee to study the impact of charter schools on traditional public schools and student academic performance.

The SBE would presumably resume granting charters after the new committee issued its report and recommendations. Current charters in the pipeline would not be affected.

The bill’s primary sponsors are Blue and Senators Jay J. Chaudhuri (D-Wake) and Mujtaba Mohammed, (D-Mecklenburg).

Blue said state dollars available for education spending are at a premium due to Republican tax cuts that cost North Carolina $3.5 billion annually.

“So, now we have more schools vying for these resources and it’s our responsibility to make sure that every single public dollar that we spend, whether in education or elsewhere, is spent wisely,” Blue said. “Taxpayers expect it and students deserve it.”

Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools, said SB 247 makes several false assumptions.

She said charters already provide a “full accounting” of the state dollars they receive.

“These audits are conducted by an independent auditor approved by the Local Governance Commission and the findings must be published on the school’s website,” Dillingham said. “Schools that are considered non-compliant in any area are subject to potential closure.”

Dillingham said charter’s test scores are also readily available like those of traditional public schools.

She said SB 247 would deny families educational opportunities.

“There are over 50,000 students’ names on [charter school] waiting lists across the state,” Dillingham said. “These families are seeking an alternative to the public school assigned to them by their zip code.”

Christine Kushner, a member of the Wake County Board of Education, said her district passed through nearly $36 million year to area charters last year.

“That figure has been escalating,” Kushner said. “Last year’s increase alone was $5 million and there is no clear oversight for the spending of those local funds. That’s why I think we need a pause on charter school expansion so we can improve the oversight for these taxpayer dollars.”

When families enroll their children in charter schools, educational dollars follow them. They are passed to charters through local school districts.

Natalie Beyer, a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education, said Durham County had the foresight to merge its predominately white county schools and majority black city schools in the 1990s.

“Sadly, North Carolina’s charter school legislation is recreating a new separate and unequal system in our community,” Beyer said.

Since the cap on charters was removed in 2011, the number of charters in Durham has grown to 14, including two virtual charter schools.

Beyer said the increase in charters has reduced the level of services Durham Public Schools can provide students.

“As a taxpayer, I’m concerned about the rapid expansion of charter schools across our state,” Beyer said.

The number of charters across North Carolina exploded to 184 after lawmakers lifted the cap. And over a 10 year span, enrollment increased by 200 percent.

In 2017-2018, charter school enrollment accounted for 6.6 percent – 100,986 — of the state’s 1.43 million students

This year, the number of students enrolled in charters climbed to 109,389, which is about 7.3 percent of the state’s 1.5 million students.

Of the $8.93 billion in state funding for public education, 6.5 percent — $580 million — was allotted to charter schools.

School districts in rural parts of the state have been particularly hard hit by the growth in charters.

In Granville County, for example, the school district was forced to close and consolidate schools after losing hundreds of students to area charter schools.

If SB 247 is approved, the new legislative study committee would exam and make recommendations on the following items:

  • The history of charter schools in North Carolina, including the original intention behind their authorization.
  • The impact of charter schools on local school administrative units and the benefits and harms of expanding charter schools.
  • Innovative ideas for improving local school administrative units.
  • Proposed transparency and accountability standards for charter schools, including, but not limited to, public audit procedures, compliance with open meetings laws, accessibility to meetings and minutes from the meetings of the boards of directors of charter schools.
  • Metrics used to measure academic success of students in charter schools and processes used to admit and reject students’ applications to charter schools.
  • Charter school student and teacher attrition rates and the impact of charter school student and teacher attrition on local school administrative units.
  • The extent to which charter schools are able to provide a sound basic education to their students and inhibit the ability of local school administrative units to provide a sound basic education to their students.
  • The State’s system of funding charter schools and a complete financial analysis of how State and local funds allocated to charter schools impact funds made available to local school administrative units.
  • The impact of the termination of a charter school’s charter on students.
  • The extent to which charter schools serve children with disabilities and students with other special needs.
  • The academic performance of all charter school students, as compared to students in local school administrative units, including children with disabilities.
  • The extent to which charter schools have an impact on segregation and racial isolation in local school administrative units and charter schools.
  • The extent to which charter schools employ best practices in teaching and administration.
  • Suspension and expulsion rates in charter schools as compared to local school administrative units.
Education

See why House leaders believe North Carolina should change how it hands down school letter grades

The growth versus student achievement debate took center stage Tuesday during a House Education Committee meeting

Under House bill 354, student achievement and growth would be given equal weight – 50 percent each — when North Carolina’s controversial school performance grades are determined.

Currently, student scores on state exams accounts for 80 percent of a school’s performance grade while growth makes up the other 20 percent.

Educators have long argued that a school’s performance grade should be weighted in favor of growth, which measures how much students learn from one year to the next. They believe growth more accurately reflects the quality of teaching and learning occurring in a school.

Critics of the current yard stick contend achievement, or proficiency as it’s often called, measures only how well students performed on state exams.

Growth is the ‘essence of education’

Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), one of the bill’s primary sponsors said schools that show students growing academically shouldn’t be penalized under the state grading scheme.

“My definition of education is growth,” Horn said. “That’s what we do. We move kids [academically] from here to there. That’s the very essence of education.”

Horn added that improving academic outcomes for a child who is not motivated, doesn’t care or is facing significant challenges is tough work.

“That’s why we think, in this bill, we’re suggesting that growth should have equal weight with performance,” Horn said.

Rep. Linda Johnson, (R-Cabarrus), also a committee co-chair, said HB 354 isn’t perfect but the current system needs to be changed to provide a more accurate picture of student achievement.

“If we don’t change these numbers or get a better system, all we’re ever going to know is that we have low-wealth schools,” Johnson said. “What we want to know is how many years are the children who are sent to us behind, how many years have they made up and how long is it going to take to get them to where they need to be.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth, (R-Forsyth), wanted to know if committee leaders have looked at best practices in other states that hand down letter grades.

“Or, is this just what you perceive or believe is the next best step,” Lambeth said. “I do trust your judgment on this but I do wonder what other states are doing.”

Brian Gwyn, a member of the Legislative Analysis Division, said that in most states that award school letter grades, growth is either weighted equally or more heavily than student achievement.

Separate grades for growth, achievement?

The bill received a favorable report from the committee and was referred to the House Rules Committee where it will be considered along with House Bill 266, which would create two separate grades, one for growth and another for proficiency or student achievement.

Rep. Dennis Riddell, (R-Alamance), a co-sponsor on HB 266, said growth is underrepresented in the current formula.

Riddell said HB 266 would establish a 0-100 grading scale for achievement with a 15 point spread between grades. A second grade for growth would be based on a 0-50 point scale with a 10 point spread between grades.

“What this does, it gives the public, it gives parents, it gives teachers, it gives everyone involved in public education in our state a much better picture, a more complete picture of what is actually taking place in a given school,” Riddell said.

State Rep. Graig Meyer, (D-Orange), said he appreciates the intent of HB 354 particularly since the State Senate has been unwilling to “budge” on the issue in recent sessions.

But Meyer said he believes the House must be more aggressive in its recommendation.

“I think that we can be more audacious than changing the formula to 50-50,” Meyer said.

He said states with the best grading scales have more complex systems.

“There are a lot of state’s that what they do is add a specific component about how quickly are you moving your bottom 25 percent of students, so they get double weighted in the formula, for instance, so that school really has to pay attention to the most struggling kids,” Meyer said. “We haven’t done hardly anything for the lowest performing schools in our states, schools that are full of those kids.”

Meyer said Florida, considered a leader in school grades, has 11 factors in its school-grading scale.

“We’re just punishing poverty, but if we can figure out how to use public policy in a grading scale in the way that a state like Florida and other states have  to incentive schools to do what we want, we could do a heck of a lot better in North Carolina,” Meyer said, endorsing HB 266 as a good start.

The bill received a favorable report and was referred to the House Rules Committee. The committee will decide whether to let the full House vote on the bill.

A bill to reward growth

Also, on Tuesday, the committee referred HB 276 to the House Rules Committee. Under the bill, schools that receive a “D” or “F” letter grade would no longer carry the stigma of low-performing if the school meets growth targets.

“To tag a school as low-performing when there is growth taking place, measurable growth, that’s meeting or exceeding [growth], is unfair to the teachers, unfair to the students, unfair to the parents and the leadership at the school,” Riddell said, a primary sponsor of the bill. “What this bill seeks to do is to bring a little more equity to the definitions.”

If the bill becomes law, Riddell said there would be fewer schools identified as low-performing. Last year, 476 schools were identified as low-performing schools.

Corporal punishment ban

The committee ended its busy meeting by backing legislation that would end corporal punishment in North Carolina.

Under HB 295, spanking and paddling would be banned in all of the state’s traditional public schools and charters schools. Private schools would still have the option to use corporal punishment.

None of the state’s 115 school districts currently use the practice.

“What this bill would do is clean up our statues to affirm that fact,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, (D-Buncombe), one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

Education

Imagine children thinking they’re ‘dumb’ because they performed poorly on standardized tests. One teacher said it happened at her school.

Meredith Pinckney, a Wake County middle school teacher, said excessive testing harms students.

“I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I’m dumb.”

That’s how Wake County teacher Meredith Pinckney said some students reacted after learning they’d performed poorly on end-of-grade tests last year.

“I teach at a school that is low-performing, and last year was my first year there, and we got our test scores and we gave them to our students, it was the worst day of my teaching career,” Pinckney said. “We had students standing in the hallway sobbing because they’d gotten 1s and they felt like they were inadequate.”

Pinckney was one of several dozen teachers who attended a “community conversation” Saturday to discuss the impact excessive testing has on students and teachers.

She spoke candidly with N.C. Policy Watch about how some students reacted last year after receiving their scores on state end-of-grade tests.

“They kept saying I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I’m dumb,” Pinckney said. “I told them you’re not dumb because you did bad on a standardized test, you just did bad on a standardized test.”

In North Carolina, scoring Level 1 on end-of-grade tests shows a student has limited command of the subject area, while a Level 2 shows partial command. Levels 3, 4 and 5 show sufficient, solid and superior command of subjects respectively.

Pinckney teaches middle school agriculture and biotechnology, an elective, so students don’t take end-of-grade tests in the subjects she teaches.

But as a test administrator, she sees first-hand how standardized tests impact students and teachers.

“In the weeks leading up to the testing, you feel the tension in the building just rising and rising and rising, then it’s finally test day and we do that and it’s over and you would think we’d feel better, but then we get test scores,” Pinckney said.

Teachers from across the state attended a community conversation to discuss the impact excessive testing has on teachers and students.

Dane West, a middle schools social studies teacher from Lee County also attended the community conversation on excessive testing.

West said testing “weighs” heavily on students.

“It shows up in how the view school,” West said. “They’ve been told since they were very young that testing was important and that in order to succeed they have to pass the test.”

Both Pinckney and West are realist when it comes to testing. They acknowledge that some testing is needed, but agree steps can be taken to streamline it and to reduce student and teacher anxiety.

“We can remove some of the pressure and some of the consequences that go along with it,” West said. “Make it less stressful, not like it’s determining the rest of your life.”

He said students’ mental health is harmed by the pressure of excessive testing.

“I know the mental health of my students is more important than the numbers that they get on those tests, and right now it’s affecting their mental health,” West said.

Pinckney said there is “value” in testing students, but the state’s needs to rethink how it’s done.

“I would like to see our testing cut down to a minimum,” Pinckney said. “It’s just too much. The tests are too long and they’re written in a way that many of my students are having a hard time even comprehending what the questions are even asking.”

The community conversation was hosted by N.C. Families for School Testing Reform (NCFSTR), Save our Schools NC and Jen Mangrum, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Noted educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch weighed in via Skype.

Ravitch said federal and state leaders have given too much weight to standardized tests. She said such tests are often flawed and shouldn’t be used to measure student and teacher success.

“The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic,” Ravitch said. “Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.”

Jen Mangrum, (Left) a UNC-Greensboro education professor who is running for State Superintendent, chats with State Sen. Floyd McKissick (Right), a Democrat who represents Durham, during Saturday’s community conversation.

In North Carolina, State Superintendent Mark Johnson has announced new initiatives to reduce the amount of testing currently required of students in North Carolina’s public schools.

Johnson has pledged to reduce the number of questions on tests, reduce the time students must sit for tests, change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools, work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests and push to eliminate tests not required by the federal government.

A survey about testing conducted by Johnson’s office found that 78 percent of the roughly 42,000 parents who responded said their child takes too many tests. Seventy-six percent of teachers who responded said North Carolina’s public school students were being tested too much.

And the State Board of Education is weighing the elimination of the state’s fourth grade exams in science and social studies and the fifth-grade exam in social studies as way to reduce the amount of testing in North Carolina Schools.

Education

Diane Ravitch: Family income often determines how well students perform on standardized tests

Diane Ravitch

Celebrated educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch told a group of North Carolina educators and public school advocates Saturday that standardized tests scores often reflect family income, with wealthier students outperforming their poorer counterparts.

But Ravitch, noting the recent academic scandal involving wealthy parents who paid millions of dollars so their children could gain admission to a top university, said that isn’t always the case.

“Now we saw with the recent cheating scandal for the college boards, there are lot of dumb kids whose parents are rich,” quipped Ravitch.

The scandal to which Ravitch referred involved more than 33 parents, including Hollywood stars and wealthy CEOS, who took part in a scheme to cheat on the SAT and ACT to help their children gain admission to top universities.

Ravitch made her comments via Skype during a “community conversation” in Raleigh to discuss the toll excessive testing has on teachers and students.

Dane West, a Lee County teacher, said the culture of testing can destroy a child’s dream as early as third-grade.

West said children in the third-grade who don’t pass end-of-grade tests are being told they’re not on a path that will lead to college or a meaningful career.

“You have a generation of kids growing up who are being told they are failures and have no future,” West said. “It weighs on them and it shows up in how the view school.”

Suzanne Miiler, founder of NC. Families for School Testing Reform, poses for a photo during a March 16 community conversation about the toll of excessive testing on students and teachers.

Meredith Pinckney, a Wake County agricultural science teacher, said her students aren’t tested but she sees the impact excessive testing has on them.

“The anxiety is real,” Pinckney said. “We literally have kids who skip test days because they don’t want to be there. That’s unfortunate that’s where we are.”

Saturday’s event was hosted by N.C. Families for School Testing Reform (NCFSTR), Save our Schools NC and Jen Mangrum, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Several dozen educators attended the community conversation as well as a handful of elected officials, some of who later sat on a panel to discuss the state of education in North Carolina.

Ravitch said students from low-income households who perform poorly on standardized tests don’t do so because they don’t have the brains to score well.

“Children who grow up in poverty are likely to have low test scores, not because they’re not smart but because they’re hungry, or they haven’t had decent medical care, they’re growing up in situations that are disadvantageous to their health and well-being and that affects their test scores,” Ravitch said.

Federal and state leaders have given too much weight to standardized tests, Ravitch said.

She said the tests are often flawed and shouldn’t be used to measure student and teacher success.

“The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic,” Ravitch said. “Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.”

In North Carolina, State Superintendent Mark Johnson has announced new initiatives to reduce the amount of testing currently required of students in North Carolina’s public schools.

Johnson has pledged to reduce the number of questions on tests, reduce the time students must sit for tests, change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools, work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests and push to eliminate tests not required by the federal government.

A survey about testing conducted by Johnson’s office found that 78 percent of the roughly 42,000 parents who responded said their child takes too many tests. Seventy-six percent of teachers who responded said North Carolina’s public school students were being tested too much.

And the State Board of Education is weighing the elimination of the state’s fourth grade exams in science and social studies and the fifth-grade exam in social studies as way to reduce the amount of testing in North Carolina Schools.

Critics of high-stakes, standardized testing said they understand some testing is needed, but believe the state now requires students to take too many exams.

“We’re concerned with the excessive testing that is putting a strain on our children, it’s bringing shame to them, it’s putting them in environments that are not optimal for their learning and social-emotional learning,“ said Suzanne Miller, founder of NCFSTR.

Miller said Saturday’s event was a first step toward raising awareness about excessive testing to bring about a cultural change.

“We need to make sure parents and teachers know they can do something about this and empower teachers to use their voices to say something needs to change,” Miller said. “And we need to be in conversations with our legislators and policy makers to let them know how we’re feeling and that we really do need change, not only for our own kids, but for the entire state. It’s an issue across the state.”

State Sen. Floyd McKissick, (D-Durham) said the General Assembly must address the fact that many teachers feel they’re teaching students to only pass standardized tests.

“Our dependence and reliance on standardized tests needs to be rethought,” McKissick said. “We need to come up with alternative means to evaluate students and to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses.”

 

Education

Diane Ravitch to headline community conversation about the impact of excessive testing

Noted educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch will be the featured speaker Saturday for a community conversation to discuss the toll excessive testing has on teachers and students.
Ravitch, a professor at New York University, is an outspoken critic of excessive-testing. She will Skype in for the event held at Temple Baptist Church, 1417 Clifton Road, Raleigh, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Skype session is scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m.
Ravitch is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education” and “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”
She is a prolific blogger on education policy issues at dianeravitch.net.
Saturday’s community conversation is being hosted by Jen Mangrum, a UNC-Greensboro education professor who is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, N.C. Families for Testing Reform, Save Our Schools NC and N.C. Families for Public Schooling.
The event comes a little more than two months after State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced new initiatives to reduce the amount of testing currently required of students in North Carolina’s public schools.
Johnson has pledged to reduce the number of questions on tests, reduce the time students must sit for tests, change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools, work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests and push to eliminate tests not required by the federal government.

A survey about testing conducted by Johnson’s office found that 78 percent of the roughly 42,000 parents who responded said their child takes too many tests. Seventy-six percent of teachers who responded said North Carolina’s public school students were being tested too much.
The State Board of Education is weighing the elimination of the state’s fourth grade exams in science and social studies and the fifth-grade exam in social studies as way to reduce the amount of testing in North Carolina Schools.
Critics of high-stakes standardized testing say such tests are stressful for students and teachers.
“Our current practice of alerting 8-year-olds they aren’t on a trajectory to be “college or career ready” is not useful nor developmentally appropriate and it is counter-productive in motivating learners,” Mangrum said in a statement.
Suzanne Miller, a parent and founder of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform, said North Carolina must stop forcing students to prepare for end-of-grade tests that don’t help them grow academically.
“North Carolina children need focused, strategic assessment that gives meaningful feedback,” Miller said.
Susan Book, a parent organizer for Save our Schools, it’s unfair to make educational decisions about her child, who has autism, “based on one test he takes on one day.”
A panel discussion moderated by Jeff Bryant, an educator writer from Chapel Hill, will take place from noon to 1 p.m.
The panel includes State Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham, Loury Floyd, dean of the School of Education at N.C. A&T State University, Addy Jeffry, a board member for the Latino Community Coalition of Guilford County, Alison Mercier, a former teacher and current doctoral student at UNC-G and Jaclyn Turnwald, a high school English teacher in Durham Public Schools.