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More at Four has national cred

You know the folks over at the Department of Public Instruction are smirking at the timing. Two days after the Senate released its budget that would cut the More at Four program by $40 million and reduce per student spending, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released its annual survey of state-funded preschool programs and ranked More at Four among the best in the nation. The program was one of two in the nation to meet all 10 of the survey’s benchmarks on early learning standards, teacher degrees, teacher specialized training, assistant teacher degrees, continuing professional development requirements, maximum class size, staff-child ratios, screening, referral and support services, meals and monitoring procedures.

The beauty of More at Four lies in rigid requirements for the schools and programs that participate. Too many states place a premium on enrolling large numbers of at-risk children into pre-kindergarten classes with little emphasis on the quality of the schools and daycare centers that enroll them.

In a statement released this afternoon about the report, State Board of Education Chairman and CEO Bill Harrison basically said DPI is proud of the achievement but not in a celebratory mood. Can’t really blame him.

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DPI lauded for virtual progress

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has been pouring resources into online education programs like the Virtual Public School in hopes that the digital curricula and virtual teachers that catered to high-performing students in the past can also become a tool to train teachers and remediate students who struggle at brick-and-mortar schools.

The researchers over at Education Week think the state is doing something right. North Carolina was one of nine states that received an A in a report released today. Technology Counts 2009: Breaking Away from Tradition applauds the state for establishing a virtual school, offering computer-based assessments, including technology in state standards for students, and testing students in technology.

All of that is great, and low-performing students who need to recover credits could definitely benefit, but only if the state supplements the online opportunities with quality face-to-face learning and drastically improves online access for youngsters in poor communities.

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Halifax schools’ failings rooted in poverty not management

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning is a dramatic dude, so it’s easy to smirk off his accusation that Halifax County schools is committing “academic genocide.” But Manning is right on point. That school system is seriously failing its students. Seventy-one percent of elementary school kids in Halifax cannot read at grade level, and 74.3 percent of middle-school students are not proficient.

Manning wants to wrest control of the failing system from the county and hand it to the state, a shortsighted solution that may help Halifax temporarily but won’t reduce the odds of the same problem happening in other poor counties around the state. Low-income students need access to high-quality teachers, small class sizes, advanced curricula, and safe learning environments. But those resources cost money that some poor districts say they don’t have.

The legislature needs to stop dragging it’s feet and commission the long-awaited study on whether North Carolina’s funding formulas are distributing money in a way that is both efficient and adequate for all districts, especially the ones like Halifax that are filled with low-income and minority students.

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The case against withholding education

Today at 1 pm, at the new, temporary location of the NC Court of Appeals, attorneys for a Beaufort County student will finally get a chance to argue why schools have a constitutional responsibility to provide alternative education options for long-term suspended students.

What happens today could have a positive impact on school discipline policies all over North Carolina, because while the number of students being long-term suspended is rising at a steady clip, the number of public programs that serve suspended students is not. The problem is that too many local school districts do not believe they have a responsibility to educate young people while they are punishing them. And while state law encourages schools to provide continued education for suspended students, it stops short of mandating it.

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Too many MCs, not enough mics

The state Department of Public Instruction needs one boss, who has the last word. That’s the advice that the consulting firm Evergreen Solutions will give to the Joint Legislative Committee on Tuesday.

We are hearing that there are few surprises in the full report, which will be released Tuesday morning. But the findings could put a finer point on a complaint that education advocates have been making for years. It is not clear whether the governor, the state board, the state board chair, or the deputy superintendent of public instruction is running the show. And it makes little sense that the state superintendent, who is elected by the public, has the least power of the bunch.

Tuesday’s discussion should be interesting considering that it was the legislature that demoted the superintendent and stripped the position of its authority back in the mid ‘90s.

I plan to get to the meeting early and grab a good seat.