News

Cabarrus County Schools’ Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Jason VanHeukelum, is not happy with the state’s new A-F school grading system.

“More than 90 percent of our teachers met or exceeded growth targets in 2013—yet 20 percent of our schools received Ds,” said VanHeukelum in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch. “Those figures just don’t match up.”

And the two schools in his district that did receive As? They are a magnet school and an early college high school.

“They’re selective programs,” said VanHeukelum of the A schools. “You have to apply to get in and you’re typically already on grade level. This metric of school grades that is so tightly tied to poverty—it’s hard to know what to do with it.”

On Thursday, North Carolina unveiled A-F letter grades for its approximately 2,500 schools, and the results were predictable, yet startling: the vast majority of schools serving poor students all received Ds or Fs, while schools in wealthier areas fared better.

Reaction from the education community has been by and large negative: the A-F school grading mechanism, which heavily favors students’ performance on standardized tests on a given day rather than improvement made over time, is a flawed formula, according to many.

VanHeukelum wrote a scathing review of the A-F grading system earlier this week.

While we welcome accountability for student achievement, I believe [the A-F school grading system] is an ill-conceived measure that is determined more by poverty than by the actual work of teachers and administrators in our schools.

In his editorial, which also appeared in the local newspaper, VanHeukelum connected the dots between poverty and student achievement, citing academic research that documents the link between socioeconomic status and student readiness for school.

In the wake of the A-F school grades’ unveiling, VanHeukelum said that school officials in his district are doing their best to manage public expectations.

“With our schools that have Cs and Ds, they [school administrators] are trying to assure their teachers and parents that they are doing good work — so they are trying to come up with other metrics to assure them,” said VanHeukelum.

“[The school grade] is a hard message to counteract. If I read in the paper that my school is a D school, and then my principal tells me we’re doing good things, I’m gonna be skeptical.”

VanHeukelum hopes that community members won’t just pick up and flee low performing schools for what appear to be better ones based on the A-F school grades, because there is often really good work and progress happening at schools that have been labeled C or D.

“I’m hopeful that our community recognizes that you’re not grading the work of the school, you’re grading the kids that come to that school—you’re grading poverty.”

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More

News

Civil rights groups as well as a long list of academic scholars have joined the fight to end the state’s new school voucher law, which allows families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools over which the state exercises almost no oversight.

The opponents of school vouchers, who filed amicus briefs with the N.C. Supreme Court late last week and on Monday in support of the taxpayers and school boards that are suing to end the program, present arguments that range from school vouchers don’t help poor black children as they are intended to contesting the validity of using public dollars for private, religious education.

“The voucher plan will harm the great majority of children of color who will remain in the traditional public schools,” according to the NC NAACP’s amicus brief, filed Monday.

Further, the NAACP brief adds that “[the voucher plan] will undermine North Carolina’s public education system, not just by drawing resources away from the public schools, but also by turning those schools into “discard zones” where only the poorest children remain, and by subsidizing hypersegregated private schools that are at liberty to discriminate against at risk students.”

Duke University public policy professor Helen Ladd heads up a long list of education scholars as well as the Duke Children’s Law Clinic in their friend-of-the-court brief, filed Monday, asserting that a dedicated body of scholarly research indicates that school voucher programs do not produce positive educational outcomes for students.

“While it is possible to cherry-pick a few studies that show occasional modest benefits to students using vouchers – typically those done by advocacy groups rather than independent scholars – the overwhelming thrust of the evidence is that voucher programs do not foster academic gains for children,” asserted the scholars in their brief.

The ACLU along with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State argue in their amicus brief that the state’s voucher program violates the state constitution because no public purpose is served by funding with taxpayer dollars religious education at private schools that discriminate on the basis of religion.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, also filed an amicus brief late Monday opposing North Carolina’s voucher program.

Last year, a Wake County Superior Court judge found the school voucher program to be unconstitutional, although the program has been allowed to continue while its fate is decided. The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the school voucher case on February 17.

News

Next week, the Department of Public Instruction will release for the first time letter grades for each school in North Carolina. The letter grades will largely represent how well a school’s students performed on standardized tests at one given time (that will be 80 percent of the grade), and, to a lesser degree, how much students’ performance on those tests has improved over time (20 percent of the grade).

When the A-F school grades website goes live (it will be accessible at www.ncpublicschools.org/src on February 5), you can view any school’s letter grade as well as a detailed explanation of how the grade was calculated.

This is a screen shot (built with dummy data by staff at DPI) of how the grades will appear.

school grades

If you’re wondering why North Carolina has joined 15 other states on the A-F school grades bandwagon, you can thank Senate leader Phil Berger, who began championing this legislation back in 2011. And you can also thank former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who pioneered A-F school grades in the late 1990s.

Read More

News

Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.