News

Lawmakers moved a bill Tuesday that would improve the formula for how the state’s schools are now awarded A-F letter grades to make them more reflective of how a school helps its students grow academically over time.

There are a number of bills floating around the General Assembly that would change how schools receive letter grades — but the one that would change the formula to 50 percent growth, 50 percent performance, sponsored by Reps. Glazier, Johnson, Lucas and Horn, seems to have gained the most traction.

First unveiled earlier this year, North Carolina’s A-F school grades are, to a large extent, a reflection of how well a school’s student population does on standardized tests on a given day. The formula is currently weighted 80 percent “performance” (how students perform on those tests on one day), and 20 percent “growth” (how students perform on those tests over time).

When the grades were first released in February, a public outcry ensued as they largely tracked the demographics of a school’s population. High poverty schools received mostly Ds and Fs; more affluent-serving schools scored higher.

A-F school grades are the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Versions of the system have been implemented around the country.

Rep. Glazier (D-Cumberland), a sponsor of HB 803 that moved forward Tuesday, noted that Florida has already tweaked its school grading formula at least 34 times since its inception.

Virginia recently repealed the A-F school grading system.

At least one lawmaker is skeptical that the Senate will take up a fix for the A-F school grades. Stay tuned as the bill makes its way through the General Assembly.

Commentary

Just as I was getting ready to begin a weekend of fun with my kids and even look forward to a bit of relaxation here and there, I read this blog entry (see below) by Lee Ann Meredith, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, which was reposted by the Washington Post with permission.

And then I remembered that for many teachers, including the ones I’ve visited as a reporter and the ones to whom I’m related, the weekend just means more time to catch up on the endless amounts of work that stretch before them—but with more pee breaks.

If you’re reading and comprehending this blog post, then you’ve benefited from having a teacher in your life. Take the time to know eight important things about them that they want everyone to know. And then give a teacher a hand this weekend.

1. We are well-educated and specialists in our field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of public school teachers have a master’s degree or higher.  Many teachers I know have more than one master’s degree with specializations such as reading or special education. We don’t stop learning when we become teachers either. We must reapply for our certificates with proof that we have continued our education and professional growth in our field. Grade-school teachers usually teach all subjects and we must have a strong grasp on the underlying themes. We are wildly knowledgeable in many areas.

2. We are communicators, quick decision makers, and creative problem solvers. Teaching is more than lecturing. It is often like being an orchestra director of beginning musicians. We have to be able to have a group working on task while sitting quietly with another small group of four of five pupils. We have to be able to create a working environment where a couple dozen people share an open space. It has to be done in a caring way that supports every child. This is not easy. Teachers might have to choose over Suzy’s bloody nose, Rupert’s hurt feelings, Trevor’s emotional, tear-filled crisis about a math problem, all while keeping the rest of the class at work. If you think this type of scenario never happens, think again. In primary grades some variation of this happens daily. (Two notes about this. First: Blood trumps everything, even vomit. Second: The crazier the situation is, the more likely a fire drill is about to occur.)

[You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong?]

3. We are realistic visionaries. We know what our students can do and we push, push, push some more to make them achieve. We celebrate successes and then push some more. We know where our kids are most likely to end up but we attempt to ratchet up the trajectory. We want our kids to beat the odds against them and we try to instill the tools that make it possible. Frequently, we have to hope that something we said one rainy Tuesday, or a hot day in May, made enough of an impact that it changed their most likely path. The joy of seeing a boy who ran on the fringes of a gang, now as a young man in the grocery store telling you that he is in college is breathtaking. Getting a Facebook message from a girl that had a drug-using mama telling you that you got her through those years, that makes it all worth while. I once heard that the most common request for a private investigator wasn’t spying on a cheating spouse but rather tracking down a favorite teacher. I don’t know if it is true but I love the idea of it.

4.We have personal lives that are completely ignored during the day. We simply don’t have a moment to spare when a class of twenty-some kids is in the room. In grade schools, we have bladders of steel because you cannot leave your class to go tinkle every hour or two. (I cringed every time I was told by a health professional to drink more water.) We come to work even when we don’t feel well because it is easier than taking a day off. Unless you are absolutely incapacitated you know the result of having a substitute in your classroom. We make up a year’s worth of doctors appointments in the summer break. We make all our business phone calls then also. We are with kids during business hours and don’t get to make phone calls with them in the room. If you believe we can do it the minute the kids leave for the day you need to read the next item.

5. We do more than “just teach.” Our paperwork load is tremendous. It is way beyond grading papers. We have to document most incidents that might be a reason for concern for all students. We have to document conversations with parents and guardians. We have to record any changes to routines for children who are struggling. This can include such simple things as how often I check in with a child or if I moved their desk. We have to keep track of test scores, comparing them to each other and to past scores. The movement to document every iota of data continues to grow in the current world of testing. Besides paperwork, we also need to meet with other teachers for planning. Oh, and don’t forget bulletin boards certainly need to be changed.

6. We frequently feel isolated in our classrooms. We spend large portions of our day as the only adult in the room. Even when you have an aid or a student teacher, you are simply too focused to visit. There is no water cooler conversation. Perhaps the best example of this was way back on September 11, 2001. With a second-grade class, the only way we got information was by quick whispered conversations while we were taking our classes to the bathroom. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I had a sense of what happened that day.

7. We are passionate about our kids. Many of us see our job as a calling, not a career. We think about our students’ problems day and night, often more than our own. We come up with ways to deal with a child’s difficulty with a skill while we drive to the grocery store. We devise that perfect lesson idea while walking the dog. I’ve been out of the classroom for three years and I still do this several times a day. I see a new book and want to read it to a class. I hear a new fact about whales and want to add it to the unit I created several years ago. It doesn’t stop. It is a lifelong passion.

8. We are the builders of tomorrow. Our job is creating the future citizens of our country. Yes, we work hard. Lots of people do. Unlike most careers, what we do though is not for today. It is for the future. We know that tests don’t create career-ready people. Basic knowledge and the skills to learn do. Being able to work and communicate with others does. We are willing to do the hard work. We are the planters of acorns, believing the mighty oaks will grow from our work.

 

Commentary

voucher-chartMillions of private dollars have made their way to North Carolina in an effort to encourage lawmakers to push a school privatization agenda.

Those funds have resulted in the removal of the cap on charter schools and a new voucher program that takes money away from the public school system in order to fund unregulated and unaccountable private education in the name of school choice.

To connect the dots between the national players in school privatization efforts and local lawmakers that have pushed for the expansion of charters and vouchers, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) published an essay and infographic Friday that details how Reps. Stam, Yarborough, Jones and others have benefited from the privatizers’ offerings and the resulting legislation they are seeking to enact.

According to ISS (as well as information I’ve previously reported), Parents for Educational Freedom in NC (PEFNC), headed by Darrell Allison, is the key facilitator behind the school privatization movement. Between PEFNC and political action committees (PACs) closely aligned with Allison, nearly $1.5 million has been funneled through these organizations to local lawmakers, originating  from the Walton Family Foundation and the American Federation for Children — both organizations well known for promoting school privatization initiatives.

Click here to read the full report by ISS.

 

News

Members of the House Education Committee (K-12) debated a bill Tuesday that would eliminate from public schools personal education plans (PEPs) that are intended to provide additional academic supports to students who are at-risk of failing.

“PEPs are just additional paperwork for teachers to have to perform,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway (R-Rockingham), a co-sponsor of HB 237, who also said that teachers just get lost in the ink and are unable to do what they need to help at-risk students.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Alleghany, Wilkes), another sponsor of the bill, called the PEP “quite dated” and duplicative of other processes.

The bi-partisan group of House sponsors seeking to eliminate PEPs put forth a committee substitute version of the bill at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. The current legislation up for debate differs from the original proposal in that it seeks to ensure that there are still some academic interventions in place for at-risk students by requiring local school boards to continue to identify at-risk students and direct school improvement teams to consider various transition plans for those students.

Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), formerly a supporter of PEPs, explained his position.

“[PEPs] have not been overly successful in most schools,” said Glazier. “We’ve taken away resources, we’ve taken away bodies, so we have a document that’s kind of ‘put it on the shelf and check the list’ and it’s not doing anything.”

Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg) opposes the move to strike PEPs, saying that they help children on the brink and provide an avenue for parents to get involved and invested in their children’s education.

“What are we doing to the children that need the most help,” said Cotham. “We’re not giving new, extra resources to help these children, we’re not giving more support—so, what are we really doing for them?”

Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) was the first to move toward eliminating PEPs during this legislative session—he filed a bill to that end last month.

“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.

Many teachers are supportive of what they say is an unfunded mandate’s potential demise.

But even as some cheer the possibility of less paperwork, the looming question of how to ensure academic success for struggling, at-risk students remains.

“Teachers are really stretched extremely thin right now,” said North Carolina Justice Center policy analyst Matt Ellinwood at Tuesday’s committee meeting, who acknowledged that it’s important not to overburden teachers with more paperwork.

But to ensure at-risk students are supported, Ellinwood asked lawmakers to consider strengthening the bill to make sure strong academic interventions are provided and parents have a way to get involved in helping their children to avoid failure in school.

For more background on personal education plans, read my story, “Punting on Personal Education Plans?

News
meyer

Rep. Graig Meyer
photo credit: North Carolina General Assembly

Lawmakers have filed several measures this spring that are intended to fix what they say is the design flaw in the way North Carolina’s new A-F school grades are calculated, including a bill filed last week by Rep. Graig Meyer and Rep. Paul Luebke that would change the formula for school grades so that they better reflect a school’s ability to help students grow in their academic performance over time and allow for other measures of quality to be reflected in the grades.

But Meyer says he doesn’t expect his bill to be heard in committee at all – and he figures none of the handful of proposals out there to fix A-F school grades is going anywhere.

“The Senate has indicated they won’t do anything this session to address fixing A-F school grades,” said Meyer.

The only thing lawmakers are willing to move on, said Meyer, is to keep the more generous grading scale in place a little longer.

The first set of school grades that came out earlier this year, based on data from the 2013-14 school year, were calculated based on a 15 point scale. Schools receiving As, for example, had to score between 85 and 100 points. Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, however, grades are scheduled to be calculated using a 10 point scale—but lawmakers are considering a measure to keep the 15 point scale in place another two years.

“It’s a simple way to get consistency over a three year period,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a sponsor of the bill.

It’s also a way to avoid the likely scenario that a whole lot more schools would receive Ds and Fs by moving to the stricter scale right off the bat.

Critics have assailed North Carolina’s new A-F school grading system for its overemphasis on how students perform on standardized tests on a given day, rather than how students improve on those tests over time. The formula for assigning letter grades to schools has resulted in almost all Ds and Fs for schools serving high poverty student populations, while more schools that serve largely affluent families received higher grades.

Proponents of the A-F school grading system, which currently reflects student performance on a given day on standardized tests (80 percent of a letter grade) and, to a lesser degree, how students improve on those tests over time (20 percent of a letter grade) say it provides the public with a better understanding of how well schools are educating students.

But others say the measure fails to sufficiently account for the academic growth that good schools help students achieve and does not take into consideration the challenges that schools serving a high number of poor students face.

An N.C. Policy Watch report surveyed how the A-F school grading model, which is the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is faring in other states, finding that these school grading models have raised concerns and questions about how effectively they improve public education, how fair it is to punish schools that serve disadvantaged communities, and the potential for politicians to game the system for their own benefit.

In addition to Rep. Meyer’s proposal, other measures filed aimed at fixing North Carolina’s A-F school grading formula include a bill that would provide schools with two separate letter grades, one reflecting students’ performance on standardized tests and another reflecting growth over time; a bill that would change the formula so that 40 percent of a school’s letter grade would reflect student performance, and 60 percent would reflect student growth; a bill that would change the formula to 20 percent performance, 80 percent growth; and a bill that would change the formula to a 50/50 split.