Back to School Series, NC Budget and Tax Center

Back to School: Meaningful educational interventions for low-performing schools

This is the fifth installment of a Back to School blog series (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) that highlight various issues to be aware of as the 2016-17 school year kicks off.

As North Carolina’s school children and their families settle back into the rhythms of the school year, thousands of these students will attend schools that have been labeled by the state as low performing. These are schools that received a school performance grade of D or F and failed to exceed expected growth based solely on test scores.

The controversial school grading system, which began during the 2013-14 school year, has been rightfully criticized as unnecessarily labeling schools as failures by using a ham-fisted measure that correlates with poverty rather than the educational quality of a given school. But the grading system has had the unexpected benefit of identifying high poverty schools that require additional interventions to help low-income students overcome the educational obstacles commonly found in impoverished communities.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of North Carolina’s low-performing schools do not receive meaningful additional support from the state. The existing program that aims to improve low-performing schools is known as Turning Around North Carolina’s Lowest-Achieving Schools (TALAS). TALAS, enabled initially by federal Race-to-the-Top funding, invests in professional development, school improvement planning, and instructional coaching and mentoring for school leaders. While these services are important, this limited intervention focuses primarily on training school leaders and fails to boost additional support services for students.

Studies on the program have been mixed thus far, and the gains that have been realized are jeopardized by the high level of turnover among the teachers and administrators who have benefited from the enhanced professional development and leadership coaching. Even this modest intervention is only provided in 79 of the 581 schools that were labeled low-performing during the 2015-16 school year. No major legislation has been discussed in recent years to help these schools other than the recent creation of a controversial “Achievement School District” (ASD) that will serve just five schools with a charter school takeover model that has not shown promising results in other states. The ASD debate demonstrated a  belief held by many lawmakers that we simply do not know what educational interventions will help children so we have to try something new even if it is unproven or shows poor initial results.

Thankfully that is not the case. There is a growing body of educational research based on an improved understanding of the way children’s brains develop and a vast body of empirical research on educational programs from across the entire country that point to specific educational interventions that can help make a real difference in a child’s educational development.

At some point, policymakers must recommit to improving the public school system that educates the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s children through additional state funding and support services. In North Carolina, possible research-based interventions that would immediately help students in low performing schools include 1) increasing access to North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten and other early childhood services, 2) recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, and 3) investing in up-to-date textbooks, instructional materials, school technology, and broadband access.

Less than one in five low performing schools are receiving targeted state interventions designed to help them improve outcomes for students. That has to change now if North Carolina is to prepare its students for postsecondary education and careers that will enable them to support their families and enhance the state’s overall economic well-being

Commentary

Honoring Rodney Ellis, a champion for children

Image result for Rodney Ellis ncaeOver the weekend, former NCAE President, teacher, and civil rights leader Rodney Ellis was laid to rest in his hometown of Winston-Salem. The hundreds in attendance whose lives he touched are testament to the lasting impact Rodney had on those who were fortunate enough to know him during his remarkable life.

Rodney was the voice for teachers at a time when their value came increasingly under attack, serving to continuously remind us that the commitment teachers have made to serve our future generations must be honored rather than denigrated. His advocacy for teachers was intertwined with a staunch commitment to the value of public education as the means to uplift the lives of impoverished children, a commitment he upheld each day as a teacher at Philo-Hill Middle School.

Those who believe in the principles for which Rodney stood face seemingly long odds right now in the fight against the dismantling of the public school system, but the example his life set shows that these obstacles can and will be overcome. And we can take solace in the fact that Rodney’s values will continue through the countless people whose lives he made better. Though much too short, his was a life well-lived and an example to tens of thousands who follow in his footsteps.

Back to School Series

Back to School Series – Registration

This is part of a Back to School blog series that highlights various issues to be aware of as the 2014-15 school year kicks off. (See Parts 1, 2, and 3).

Schools opened their doors this week to the state’s more than 1.5 million children for the beginning of a new school year, but there are children who will miss vital days of school as their families attempt to navigate the maze of paperwork that can be required to register for school in North Carolina. Each of the state’s 115 school districts has its own unique registration process and documentation requirements.

It is extremely difficult to catch up after missing a significant number of school days at the beginning of the year, particularly with the lack of funding available for remediation and other educational interventions. Fortunately, there are resources available to help families register their children for school as quickly as possible and avoid falling behind.

The North Carolina Justice Center has a guide posted on its website for parents looking for help registering their children for school. Students are eligible to register for school in a given district:

  • If they have reached the age of 5 on or before August 31
  • If they are under the age of 21, have not been removed from school for cause, and have not obtained a high school diploma
  • If the student’s parent, legal guardian,  legal custodian or caregiver adult resides in the school district’s attendance area.

The United States Department of Justice and United States Department of Education jointly issued new guidance over the summer regarding the types of documents that school districts may require in order to prove they meet the above requirements for students to enroll in school. School districts can request proof of residency within the school district, proof of age, and immunization records. However, they should accept a variety of documents for proof of residency and proof of age so students do not miss school while their families track down required documentation.  Schools also may not prevent or discourage your child from enrolling in school because he or she lacks a birth certificate or has a birth certificate indicating a foreign place of birth.  Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, homeless children who lack any or all documentation must be enrolled in school immediately.

North Carolina public schools are the cornerstone of communities across the state and represent the first point of contact for newcomers and kindergartners embarking on their educational careers. Please help them welcome new students to school and start children off well-prepared for the start of a great year.

Uncategorized

Diverse organizations support Common Core as N.C. and other states back away

An array of organizations have voiced suppCommon Core picort for the embattled Common Core Standards following recent efforts to drop or water down the standards in states like Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Aside from original supporters and developers of the standards like the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Gates Foundation, and Achieve, the Common Core has garnered support from the United States Army (including retired United States Army Generals from North Carolina), the United States Chamber of Commerce, scores of higher education institutions, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Council on Education, the College Board – the list goes on and on. Some of these groups rarely weigh in on educational issues, and those that do almost never express this type of broad agreement with one another. There is a growing concern that the mounting opposition to the Common Core Standards in various states is based more on a mix of ideology, mythology, and a conflation of the Common Core with the excessive over testing of students than with the standards themselves.

 
Yesterday, North Carolina policymakers continued their efforts to back away from the standards in a somewhat unusual House education committee meeting. Every education expert who has studied the Common Core Standards agrees that they are an improvement over the previous North Carolina Standard Course of Study. Yet the North Carolina legislature has delved into the topic of educational standards that has traditionally been under the authority of the North Carolina State Board of Education. It is still possible that North Carolina’s legislation could lead to the adoption of a different set of high quality standards like those in place in Massachusetts or simply a modification of the Common Core Standards, but the prospect of potentially moving backwards toward the less effective set of standards that were previously in place is causing uncertainty and confusion for the state’s educators.

Uncategorized

American Students Make Long-Term Gains on National Assessment of Educational Progress

Over the last 40 years, 9-year-old and 13-year-old students have made significant achievement gains according to a report released yesterday on long-term trends in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Virtually every subgroup of today’s students scores higher in reading and math when compared to their counterparts in the 1970’s. This was true across all levels of achievement, with lower- and middle-performing students making the greatest gains. Gender gaps have narrowed too, with boys closing the gap in reading and girls making gains in math.

Racial and ethnic achievement gaps have also narrowed. Achievement has improved for white, black, and Hispanic students, but black and Hispanic students have narrowed the gap by making larger achievement gains than white students.

Scores have remained steady on some measures while improving on others for 17-year-old-students. Peggy Carr, associate commission of NCES’ assessment division, attributed this mixed bag to the dramatically reduced dropout rate. 17-year-olds that would have dropped out in the 1970s are staying in school and in many cases keeping up with their peers today.

Progress has slowed somewhat since the last long-term trend NAEP assessment in 2008, as scores remained stagnant on some measures and showed very slight improvement on others. There are currently 35 states, including North Carolina, where school funding levels were lower for the 2012-13 school year than they were before the Great Recession began in 2008 even before adjusting for increases in the student population and inflation. North Carolina has reduced education funding disproportionately, cutting over 10% of per pupil expenditures to fall to 48th among states. While the long-term improvements in educational outcomes are encouraging, these gains appear to be jeopardized by the short-term disinvestment in education that has occurred over the last five years.