Commentary

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the General Assembly, now that there’s no longer any snow or ice to contend with (our neighbors in DC are not so lucky on this first day of spring).

Lawmakers have set their sights already in the 2015 session on a number of education policy reforms, and here are some of those bills to track in the weeks ahead.

SB272: Eliminate Personal Education Plans

Filed by Sens. Jerry Tillman and Tom Apodaca, this bill would jettison PEPs, which are intended to provide additional academic supports to at-risk, academically struggling students.

Some teachers are cheering the proposition, saying it’s an unfunded mandate resulting in unnecessary amounts of paperwork. Others worry about taking away helpful interventions from underperforming students in an era of increased accountability. Read more here.

The bill will be heard in a Senate rules committee on a date TBD. A companion bill is in the House. Read More

News

The National Education Association released on Wednesday its annual report on public school rankings and estimates and North Carolina is once again toward the bottom on teacher pay in 2013-14, ranking 47th in the nation – but the rankings pre-date the General Assembly’s move to boost teacher pay last year.

North Carolina inched up in the 2014 rankings on per-pupil finding – from 47th to 46th – but the amount of funding in actual dollars spent per student fell from $8,632 to $8,620, according to the North Carolina Association for Educators (NCAE).

“The rankings once again show the troubling trend of falling per-student funding in our public schools,” said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. “Instead of righting the ship, North Carolina’s per- pupil expenditure continues to drop. If we are going to get serious about what works, we must get serious about modern textbooks in the classrooms, more one-on-one interaction with teachers and students, and a quality teacher in every class.”

The NEA estimates that North Carolina will rise in the rankings on teacher pay to 42nd in 2015, the first year that lawmakers’ average 7 percent pay raise for teachers, which was enacted last year, will be reflected in the rankings.

Previously, lawmakers said that last year’s pay bump for teachers should move the state up to 32nd in teacher pay—and that promise is prominently displayed on Senate leader Phil Berger’s website still today.

“The budget will provide public school educators an average seven percent raise – averaging $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment will be largest teacher pay raise in state history – moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay rankings,” according to Berger’s website.

North Carolina ranks 51st in percentage change in teacher salaries between 2003-04 and 2013-14.

Read the full report below, which also includes rankings and estimates on school revenues and expenditures, student-teacher ratios and other information about state and local investment in public schools.

News

Members of a review commission tasked with vetting the Common Core met Monday to hear from nationally known critics of the standards who advocated for their complete rehaul.

WUNC’s Reema Khrais has the rundown here:

Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram both served on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-10 and refused to sign off on them as being “rigorous, internationally competitive or research-based.” They were among five of the 29 committee members who didn’t approve them.

Since then, Stotsky [English language arts expert] and Milgram [math expert] have visited more than a dozen states to discuss problems they perceive with the standards, along with recommendations on how states should move forward.

“We need to have first-rate standards developed for this country,” said Stotsky, education professor at the University of Arkansas. “You do not have them in North Carolina.”

As Khrais reports, Stotsky recommended to the review commission that they consider adoption of better state standards, such as those of California or Massachusetts. Milgram suggested a total re-write of the math standards.

Read More

News

Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) filed a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the requirement for public schools to offer Personal Education Plans (PEPs), which provide academically struggling, at-risk students with strategic interventions to bring them up to grade-level proficiency.

“Personal education plans are just a lot of paperwork for a lot of students who really just don’t need them,” Sen. Tillman told N.C. Policy Watch on Thursday.

Tillman said he filed the bill to eliminate PEPs because teachers are already saddled with a lot of work, and the good ones already know which students need help.

“The good teachers are doing informal assessments all the time, and they already know what they’re doing. PEPs are just needless paperwork,” said Tillman.

Personal education plans were first introduced in 2001 as a way to help at-risk students who struggle academically yet don’t qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which are federally mandated for students with disabilities.

The PEPs offer a mechanism for students and parents to work alongside teachers in developing customizable plans that would improve students’ academic achievement. Focused interventions that could be included in the plans include additional tutoring, mentoring, smaller classes and afterschool instruction, among others.

Jane Wettach, Duke University law professor and director of the Children’s Law Clinic, doesn’t dispute that teachers likely already know which students need more help than others.

But the point of the PEPs, says Wettach, is to provide students with additional academic supports outside of the standard academic day, because teachers don’t have the time or means to help all at-risk students during regular hours.

“The thing that PEPs do differently is that they require additional instructional services to be done outside of the normal school day,” said Wettach.

“Even really excellent teachers cannot necessarily in a regular school day provide everything that an at-risk student needs to get to grade level,” Wettach added. Read More

News

Members of the House Education – Universities committee discussed draft legislation Tuesday that would require the UNC School of Government to develop evaluation standards for state agencies to use when implementing pilot programs enacted by the General Assembly.

The impetus for the bill stems from the failure for state agencies to properly manage and assess pilot programs, according to John Turcotte, director of the program and evaluation division at the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Without being disrespectful to my colleagues at DPI, they did not do the pilot project very well,” said Turcotte.

That pilot project, which was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, directed the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to manage a pilot program that would test the efficacy of providing driver’s education instruction online.

Turcotte said the pilot program was poorly managed by DPI officials and the methodology for evaluating the pilot was flawed. Toward the end of the program the UNC School of Government intervened to provide assistance, but it was too late in the process.

Turcotte cited a second problematic pilot handled by the Department of Health and Human Services that studied overnight respite services at adult daycare facilities. For that program, said Turcotte, DHHS’ handling resulted in an inability to tell whether or not it was even worth scaling up statewide.

House Bill 72, introduced by  Rep. Hurley (R-Randolph) would require the UNC School of Government to develop standards for pilot projects that lawmakers enact no later than December 1, 2016. The standards would “identify approaches for designing projects that collect appropriate and adequate data for sound evaluation of pilot projects,” according to the bill.

If passed into law, the standards would apply to new pilot programs that begin after June 1, 2017.

Current pilot programs, such as the N.C. virtual charter school pilot program or the Opportunity Scholarships program, also described as a pilot, would not be required to adhere to the new standards.