During these past few busy months you may have missed the launch of ProPublica‘s “Segregation Now,” which takes a deep look at how how America’s schools have steadily resegregated since the Brown v. Board of Education federal ruling that was handed down sixty years ago.

The ProPublica series begins with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ investigation of Tuscaloosa’s city schools, which are among the most rapidly resegregating in the country. Not only is the story enriched with a beautiful visual layout and great interactive graphics, Hannah-Jones compels readers to put themselves into the shoes of the Dent family.

The Dents are a multi-generational family that has lived through it all in Tuscaloosa: Jim Crow-era public school segregation, the eventual efforts to desegregate after Brown, and today’s reality: public schools are moving back toward resegregation, and what that means for today’s Tuscaloosan youth.

Alabama is not alone in this trajectory. For example, here in North Carolina’s Pitt County, the issue of public school segregation has been front and center.

Pitt County has been under desegregation orders since 1965, when the federal court found that the district was operating racially-segregated, dual and unconstitutional school systems.

Pitt’s African American population stands today around 34 percent — but in its 35 public schools, African-American students make up the majority, according to district records. In 2012-13, close to 48 percent of its students were black, 38 percent white, and 10 percent Latino.

Last fall, a U.S. District Court judge lifted desegregation orders, finding the school district to have fully complied and achieved “unitary status,” or had fully desegregated its public school system.

An appeal of that decision will be heard in September the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Until then, check out the entire ProPublica series, “Segregation Now,” while you cool off by the pool this weekend.

Retired generals from North Carolina urged state lawmakers today not to repeal the Common Core State Standards, holding them up as the answer to maintaining a strong and highly qualified military force for the United States.

“It is alarming that poor educational achievement is one of the leading reasons why an estimated 75 percent of all young Americans are unable to join the military,” said Ret. U.S. Army Major General Bennie Williams. “Too many high school graduates do not have the skills the military needs.”

Ret. U.S. Army Lt. General Marvin L. Covault noted that 7,000 students drop out of school every academic day thanks to poor educational standards and resources – limiting the pool of highly qualified people the U.S. military has access to when choosing its soldiers.

“Common Core State Standards will increase the pool of qualified resources to select our ranks from,” said Gen. Covault, holding a report that details how North Carolina’s standards, which include the Common Core, help students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure the nation’s future military strength. Read More

Last night’s Moral Monday demonstrations took an unexpected turn when Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) decided to sit down with teachers, who were staked out in front of his office late last night, to debate some of the education policies he has put forward.

WUNC Education Reporter Dave Dewitt has a great story about how the night went off script and the debate that took place:

But here’s where script took an unexpected turn. Just a few seconds later, Senator Berger came around the corner, pulled some couches into a circle, and offered to have a discussion.

And that’s exactly what they did. For more than an hour and a half, Berger and the protesters discussed education policy and the challenges facing teachers. There were some heated moments, and some passionate disagreements.

For the most part, all parties were respectful. The protestors whittled their list to three items they wanted addressed: they wanted tenure back; they wanted teacher assistants restored; and they wanted Berger to hold a series of public meetings on education. At the end, Berger committed to nothing more than another conversation the next day to consider further meetings.

And instead of being led out in handcuffs, the 15 protesters walked out the front of the building, nodding to Capitol Police officers, to meet their supporters.

Proffitt spoke first: “So we sat down and we had a good conversation, which to my understanding this is the first time this has happened in the last couple of years. So I think this represents a win for the movement because I think we put enough pressure on them that they realized they had to have a conversation.”

When he was done, Bryan Proffitt stepped behind the crowd and tried to gather himself. Someone handed him a bottle of water and the sweater he thought he had lost, and he finally took a deep breath.

He admitted the night had not gone like he thought it would.

“Talk is cheap,” he said.” There needs to be a real opening. But if there’s an opening, we’ll take it. But if it means the threat of arrest, if that means risking arrest again, and putting negative pressure on them again, then we’ll be back.”

Click here to read or listen to DeWitt’s full story.

 

 

Michael Cowin, Assistant Superintendent of Finance for Pitt County Schools, had some startling words for Pitt County School Board members last week, when he presented them with the Senate’s 2014 budget proposal for education.

“It appears that the Senate’s version of the budget proposes salary increases for teachers as a pawn in a political game that allows certain areas of education to be put on the chopping block.”

The Senate budget would cut 117 teacher assistants (TAs) from Pitt County schools, increase class sizes in second and third grades to eliminate 12 teaching positions, reduce the transportation budget by $300,000, and cut five school nurses from the district’s schools – an overall reduction of $5 million in state funding.

“It’s saying these areas aren’t needed,” said Cowin. “We need to promote to our legislative group the importance of teacher assistants in all areas, and not to be using such areas as leverage in a political game.”

Cowin also notes a key conflicting element contained in the Senate budget proposal – drastically cutting TAs while putting $300,000 into the Read to Achieve program, which relies on TAs to administer reading assessments that determine third graders’ reading proficiency.

Watch this cut of the video to see Cowin’s presentation and Board members’ reactions, who applauded Cowin for his courage to stand up and call out the Senate proposal as he saw it – a political game.

You can watch the entire Pitt County school board meeting from last week here.

If you follow education news in North Carolina, there’s a lot to keep your eyes on this week.

The week kicks off with Moral Monday, which is focused on education. A pre-rally meeting begins at 3pm in the legislative auditorium of the General Assembly building, followed by a 4pm press conference. The actual rally takes place at 5pm on the Halifax Mall — follow #SchooltheNCGA on Twitter for live updates. I’ll be tweeting from there too — follow me @LindsayWagnerNC.

The House budget is expected to be released tomorrow, and possibly as soon as this evening. Tillis and other House GOP leaders will present their budget tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in the press conference room of the Legislative Building (Room 1328).

Tillis’ comments at the state Republican convention this weekend suggested that he’s more comfortable with the Governor’s budget rather than the Senate’s, so we will see if teachers’ raises are a little lower than the Senate’s proposal, cuts to the rest of the education budget are fewer than the Senate’s, and the UNC system ends up taking that $49 million hit that McCrory suggested to pay for teachers’ raises. Look for stories from N.C. Policy Watch that will take a close look at the House’s budget proposal.

As the House considers whether or not to strip the state of second and third grade classroom TAs, the N&O published this story over the weekend about how Sen. Phil Berger’s justification for scaling TAs back comes from research out of Tennessee, which found that pupils in small classes of 13-17 students did better than those who were in larger classes of 22-25 students staffed with teacher assistants.

Last year, the General Assembly lifted the cap on classroom size and many elementary teachers grapple with classrooms filled with twenty students or more. The research didn’t look at the comparison between the academic outcomes of students in large classrooms with teacher assistants and in large classrooms with only one teacher and no help to manage the chaos.

The disclosure of salaries for public charter school employees was a hot topic last week that will be revisited again by the Senate education committee on Wednesday. At issue is whether or not charter school operators should have to disclose what they pay their teachers and other staff, even though the State Board of Education requires them to be subject to the N.C. Public Records law in their authorization process.

In an initial version of the bill, SB 793 sought to codify the State Board’s rule that charter schools be subject to the Public Records Act — but that language was stripped from a committee substitute bill last week. The Senate education committee will take it up for a vote on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

ICYMI: Last week the big story was Common Core, with the full House voting on a bill that would repeal the academic standards that North Carolina has spent millions of dollars to implement, while the Senate passed its own version of the bill that left a little more room for Common Core to stay in place — but comments from Sen. Jerry Tillman indicated he’d probably find a way to make sure that didn’t happen. Stay tuned to see how it all shakes out when the two houses duke it out in committee, some time in the next few weeks.