Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump budget would eliminate professional development funding for NC educators

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint offers bad news for public schools. His proposal – which, thankfully, has a way to go before becoming law – proposes eliminating all professional development funding for teachers and principals. The elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (also known as Title II) would reduce North Carolina school districts’ budgets by approximately $45 million and leave North Carolina school districts without any dedicated funding for professional development.

The elimination of federal professional development funding follows a path already pursued by the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to the Recession, the state provided school districts with approximately $12.5 million per year for staff development. That funding was eliminated, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, until state revenues recovered. In 2011, the General Assembly permanently eliminated dedicated state funding for professional development.

The elimination of professional development funding flies in the face of research. High-quality professional development (training that is job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated) has a direct impact on student achievement. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of professional development found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development…can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.” Another more recent report concludes that “investments in high-quality principal training yield substantial benefits in student achievement, as well as teacher quality and retention.” Read more

Commentary, Special Session

Among its many weaknesses, HB 17 would remove protections for low-performing school program

The General Assembly unveiled 28 bills as part of this week’s second special session.  For those focused on education policy, the most wide-ranging and controversial bill is undoubtedly House Bill 17.  The bill goes to extraordinary lengths to strip Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s power, slashing the number exempt positions he can oversee from 1,500 to 300 and eliminating his ability to make appointments to university boards of trustees.  Additionally, the bill radically reorganizes governance of North Carolina’s public schools.  In nearly every way possible, the bill strips power from the State Board of Education to provide more authority to the newly-elected Republican Superintendent-elect of Public Schools, Mark Johnson.  If the bill becomes law, it will certainly be challenged in court due to constitutional issues.

An important part of the bill that might go unnoticed involves changes the oversight of the controversial Achievement School District (ASD) program.  The ASD program places five low-performing elementary schools under the operation of a charter school operator.  The program is based off a similar program in Tennessee that has failed to improve student performance.

Rep. Rob Bryan and Sen. Chad Barefoot both assured the public that North Carolina’s version of the program contains “guardrails” that will help North Carolina avoid the pitfalls of the Tennessee program.  While those claims were always dubious at best, HB 17 (sponsored by Rep. Bryan, who lost his election in November) would remove two of the program’s “guardrails.”  Read more


Teach For America Charlotte forum will hamper efforts to integrate Charlotte’s schools

According to a troubling story in yesterday’s Charlotte Observer, Teach For America Charlotte is “holding a forum on making ‘hypersegregated’ schools successful.”

On Dec. 15, two national speakers will discuss ways they’ve seen schools thrive without significant numbers of white or middle-class students. The free forum is part of its “New Reality Speaker Series,” focusing on poverty and academic success in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The first, on CMS history, was held in October.

This month’s panelists are David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and Terrell Hill, an administrator with Windsor Public Schools in Connecticut.

It is important to consider this forum in the context of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  Since the end of district integration efforts in 2002, CMS has emerged as the most segregated school district in the state.  The “dissimilarity index” is a commonly used measure of school segregation.  It tells you how many students would need to change school assignment in order to achieve racially balanced schools.  For CMS, 55% of students would need to be re-assigned in order to have racially balanced schools.  As a point of comparison, 30% of students would need to be re-assigned to achieve racial balance in Wake County Public Schools.

Racially and economically-balanced school systems have a number of academic and social benefits.  Nationally, integrated schools are associated with higher tests scores, fewer dropouts, a higher college-going rate, and smaller achievement gaps.  Integrated schools reduce bias by improving cross-racial and cross-cultural understanding.  Forthcoming, yet presently unpublished, research from the North Carolina Justice Center has found that integrated school districts in North Carolina have higher test scores, and graduation rates, and lower rates of school suspension.  Additionally, integrated districts tend to spend more local money on their schools.  These findings are consistent with past research into CMS’s patterns of segregation, which clearly found that “desegregated learning environments are superior to segregated ones.” Read more


NCGA school funding recommendations would shift funding from poor districts to rich districts

bus-878697_960_720A recent legislative report proposed a series of recommended changes to North Carolina’s school finance system that could dramatically alter the way the state funds its public schools.  If the General Assembly enacts the recommended funding changes, the net result would be a shift in funding from poor districts to richer districts.

As noted previously, the report, prepared by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED), failed to assess the extent to which the existing system is meeting the needs of North Carolina’s students.  North Carolina’s school finance system distributes funds to school districts through a number of formulas known as “allotments.”  These allotments are meant to provide school districts with differing funding levels based on district or student needs.  The allotments are simply the way the money goes out the door.  Once districts receive their allotments, they have considerable flexibility to deploy their resources across schools in order to best meet the needs of their students.  The goal of North Carolina’s school finance system is to allocate resources to each district relative to school district need, so any assessment of North Carolina’s school finance system must assess the extent to which resources are allocated in accordance with need.

A 2010 report from education finance consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich & Associates actually examined the extent to which North Carolina distributes funding in accordance with need.  Their report concluded that North Carolina’s school finance system distributes aid in an equitable manner and overall was working well. Read more


NCGA must answer tough questions before overhauling school finance system

bus-878697_960_720Yesterday, the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED) released a new evaluation of North Carolina’s system for funding its public schools.  The report identifies a number of issues with North Carolina’s school finance system and presents potential remedies.  The report and its policy recommendations appear to have been received enthusiastically by the General Assembly, with members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee unanimously voicing support to create legislation establishing a committee to overhaul North Carolina’s school finance system.

Despite the positive reception, overhauling North Carolina’s school finance system on the basis of this report would be a mistake.  Both the report and the presentation deftly present dry, complex information in an easily-digestible format.  The report also identifies several valid weaknesses with a number of the individual formulas (otherwise known as “allotments”) by which North Carolina distributes funding across school districts (otherwise known as “LEAs”).  Unfortunately, the report fails to address the central question it was tasked with: Does North Carolina’s school finance system direct funding to school districts commensurate with school district needs?  Read more