Education

Effectiveness of ‘Read to Achieve’ called into question after dip in reading scores

“Read to Achieve,” the state’s signature education reform program, was under attack Wednesday after the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed a dip in reading scores for North Carolina students.

The state has spent more than $150 million on the program since it was launched by the North Carolina’s Republican leadership in 2012 but has little to show for it.

The NAEP report shows reading scores in fourth-grade dropped between 2017 and 2019 and that the scores are lower than they were in 2011 before “Read to Achieve” was enacted.

More specifically, only 36 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in reading in 2019 compared to 39 percent in 2017. The percentage of eight-graders proficient in reading was unchanged at 33 percent both years.

The NAEP reading assessment is given every two years to students in grades 4 and 8.

Fourth-graders saw a one percent decrease in math proficiency, with the score dipping from 42 percent to 41 percent. Eight-graders saw a slight uptick in math scores, which increased to 37 percent, up two percentage points compared to 2017.

See the full report at: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

The disappointing scores led the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) to call for a course correction.

“Scores should be viewed in context, over time and, just because a single test score goes up or down, it does not represent the complexity of the system, or should be interpreted to say that good things are not happening,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “But, taken in context and analyzed over time, what these scores do make clear is that the path set forth in 2012 of the ‘Read to Achieve’ program must be changed if we are serious about improving reading in North Carolina.”

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter who blogs at “Notes form the Chalkboard” about education officials reminded us Wednesday that “Read to Achieve” was intended to end “social promotion” and help third-graders avoid what  Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, warned was an “economic death sentence” for third-graders who were not proficient in reading.

“Six years and approximately $200 million wasted taxpayer dollars after the debut of Read to Achieve, this latest round of test scores reinforces what many of us have been saying for years: state legislators need to focus on providing sufficient funding for public education in our state, stop legislating in the classroom, and let the professionals figure out how to get the job done,” Parmenter wrote.

In a news release, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction attempted to soften the news under the headline “NC Holds Stead on National Education Assessment.”

The press release went on to say that North Carolina was among 32 state without statistically significant changes in reading scores at the fourth-grade level and among 19 without significant change in eight-grade reading scores.

Meanwhile, in eight-grade math, North Carolina was one of 40 states that saw no significant change in fourth-grade math performance and among 42 states that saw no appreciable gains or losses in eight-grade math.

In announcing proposed reforms to “Read to Achieve” in April, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, acknowledged that the program hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Berger said North Carolina would look to adopt best practices from other states such a Florida and Mississippi where early childhood literacy efforts are experiencing success.

NAEP scores released Wednesday showed that Mississippi was the only state to improve reading scores and was number one in the country for gains in fourth- grade reading and math.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Berger’s reform legislation, calling it an attempt to put a “Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.”

Education

House and Senate approve bill to change Innovative School District selection process

A Republican-sponsored bill to reform the way low-performing schools are selected for the state’s controversial Innovation School District (ISD) received favorable hearings in the House and Senate on Tuesday.

A conference report on Senate Bill 522 was approved over the objections of House and Senate Democrats who argued the ISD hasn’t worked at Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, the state’s lone ISD school in Robeson County.

“After the first year, that school [Southside] ended up with an “F” grade, it didn’t meet the academic growth standards, the percentage of students passing state exams dropped, and in fact in the 2018-2019 school year, both the head of that school and the superintendent were fired,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat.

Chaudhuri is referring to the sudden departures of former ISD superintendent LaTeesa Allen’s whose last day on the job was June 28 and Bruce Major, the Southside principle who resigned July 1.

N.C. Department Department of Public Instruction officials have not shared any details about the departures.

Policy Watch reported on Southside’s rocky schoolyear and sudden leadership departures earlier this month.

Chaudhuri also argued that similar school-takeover experiments in other states have failed, noting that officials in Tennessee have begun to rethink that state’s Achievement School district after six years of little academic progress.

“According to a study that came out earlier this year, these districts have not resulted in any improvement in student achievement for the first six years,” Chaudhuri said.

He compared the approval of SB 522 to the GOP decision to lift the enrollment cap on the state’s two virtual schools despite little evidence of academic success since the pilot program began in 2015. GOP took matters a step further by extending the program until 2023.

Chaudhuri said the decisions to lift the enrollment cap on virtual charters and approve the growth of the ISD are tantamount to awarding failure.

“Now, we are here with the sequel to that bill [that lifted the cap on enrollment at virtual schools] that should be called the reward failure act 2,” Chaudhuri said.

Sen. Rick Horner, a Johnston County Republican, acknowledged that Southside and ISD struggled during their first year of operation.

But he said approval of SB 522 is a better course than the alternative, which is to allow the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to automatically select four new schools into the ISD, which the current law mandates.

“If we fail to pass this bill, four schools automatically go into a system Sen. [Jay] Chaudhuri has said doesn’t work very well,” Horner said. “That’s current law.”

SB 522 is intended to help state officials avoid a messy selection process that has led to boisterous protests in communities when schools are selected for ISD. 

Under SB 522, low-performing schools would be placed on a qualifying list. Schools that remain on the qualifying list the next year would be moved to the ISD watch list, then to a warning list before becoming eligible for takeover by the ISD.

To be eligible for ISD, a must have been on the ISD warning list the previous year, remain a qualifying school in the current year based on data from the previous school year and be one of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The bill also provides from voluntary entry into the ISD if fewer than five schools are selected. With the approval of the ISD superintendent, local school boards may request that a low-performing school be taken over by the ISD.

Education

Integration champion gets new equity center named in his honor

Dr. Dudley Flood

The Public School Forum of North Carolina has named a new center focused on promoting equity and fostering opportunities for school children in honor of Dudley Flood, a veteran educator and champion of school integration. 

The Dr. Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity (CEEO) will serve as a hub to identify and connect organizations, networks and thought leaders who address equity, access and opportunity in education across North Carolina. 

Flood was in attendance Saturday when the creation of the center was announced at the conclusion of the Forum’s “Color of Education 2019” summit. 

He said decades of experience in education has shown him that “we can whenever and wherever we choose educate any child.” 

“I have also always known that whether we do, depends on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t done so already,” Flood said. “We already know more than we need to know to do that.”    

In the years following the Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated school desegregation in the United States, Flood travelled to every corner of the state to unite divided communities and work toward integrating public schools. 

The CEEO was established with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to the Public School Forum for the planning, development and establishment of the Center. 

The Conway Family Fund gave an additional $25,000 gift to the Forum to help establish the CEEO. 

“The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is committed to diversity and equity in education,” said Alfred Mays, program officer at the Fund. “We are pleased to support a collaborative strategy that ensures an equity lens is being applied to policy analysis, research, and programmatic efforts in education.” 

Education

Gov. Roy Cooper offers to meet with GOP to negotiate teacher pay raises

A day after Senate Republicans approved legislation to give North Carolina principals a 6.2 percent average pay raise, Gov. Roy Cooper went on the offense by sharing a letter he sent to GOP leaders last week offering to negotiate teacher pay raises.

Gov. Roy Cooper

In the letter to Sen. President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim More, Cooper said he’s willing to negotiate teacher pay raises “independent of other elements of the budget.”

Cooper vetoed the budget largely because Republicans wouldn’t agree to Medicaid expansion.

“I’ve offered to negotiate teacher pay raises separately from the rest of the budget so that hardworking teachers can finally get the raises they deserve, and it’s disappointing that Republican leaders have not accepted my offer,” Cooper said. “Teachers shouldn’t be caught up in Raleigh politics while other state employees get raises.”

Berger responded to Cooper’s offer to negotiate teacher pay raises in a tweet.

“Why don’t you [Cooper] stop with the grandstanding and come on over here so we can cut a deal,” Berger wrote. “If you dropped your Medicaid expansion ultimatum, we could work something out this week.”

Cooper has been critical of the so-called “mini budgets” the Republican-led General Assembly has been passing as part of the GOP strategy to get around Cooper’s veto.

“Should you choose to stay on your current path to pursue a mini budget to raise the salaries of public educators, it is important that we work together to find a compromise to avoid further delay in much-needed raises for these educators,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper’s proposed an 8.5% teacher pay raise as a budget compromise in July, but Republicans have proposed 3.8% raises for teachers, which is less than what other state employees have been given.

“Democratic members of the General Assembly and I have been clear that the raises proposed in HB 966 for these educators are insufficient to keep our state competitive in recruiting and retaining teachers for our students,” Cooper said, referring to the 2019-2020 budget bill.

In addition to pay raises and performance bonuses for principals, the legislation approved by the Senate provides “step increases” for teachers. Step increases are annual $1,000 pay increases given to all teachers with less than 15 years experience.

The Senate also approved legislation to give salary increases for UNC system and community college employees. House approval is needed for the principal pay raises, step increases and higher education pay raises.
Commentary, Education, Legislature, NC Budget and Tax Center, News

Budget & Tax Center: Another cut for big business that will reduce revenue for schools, communities

N.C. Senate finance leaders are moving a tax cut bill for businesses with high net worth this week, even as the legislature has failed to put forward a comprehensive investment plan addressing the priorities of communities across the state.

That’s right. There is no final, comprehensive budget for our communities, but legislative leaders in the Senate will still give tax breaks to big companies.

Senate Bill 578 will adopt the franchise tax cuts proposed in the legislative budget at a time when corporations across North Carolina are paying the lowest corporate income tax rate applied to their profits in any state that taxes corporate income.

As the Budget & Tax Center detailed in an earlier analysis, this is not a tax cut that will reach the majority of businesses in North Carolina, and like corporate income tax cuts before it, it is unlikely to change the decisions of businesses around hiring or location.

There are numerous rigorous studies of the issue to confirm that the theory behind such claims hasn’t played out in reality: Businesses aren’t going to relocate en masse because of a franchise tax cut.  This makes sense given what researchers have noted as the real-world problems with suggesting that a tax cut for business will deliver new economic activity.

  1. When businesses get a tax cut, particularly at the state level, that means that other people will have to pay in the form of higher taxes or spending cuts. Balancing out the net effect on the economy has led most researchers to conclude that even new economic activity doesn’t replace those dollars or minimize the harm of the tax shifts and spending cuts that result from the loss of revenue.
  2. All state and local taxes paid are a very small share of businesses’ total expenses, estimated at between 2 and 4 percent. That means even substantial tax cuts will have little effect on profitability.
  3. Relocation decisions are rare and not the primary source of job creation in a state. And most researchers have found that relocation decisions are more likely driven by proximity to markets or suppliers, quality of roads and transportation networks and availability of workers, for example.

Perhaps the most pernicious false claim around this and all tax debates in North Carolina is that tax cuts will generate more revenue by driving greater economic activity.

The reality, of course, is North Carolina will have less revenue because legislative leaders chose to cut franchise taxes for companies, particularly companies with net worth over $20 million from which most franchise taxes are collected.

The legislature’s Fiscal Research office estimates the franchise tax provision will reduce revenue by $240 million in the first year, and grow to $270 million in Fiscal Year 2023-24.

Those dollars could make significant progress toward pressing needs for everyday North Carolinians by:

  • Making child care more affordable
  • Investing in affordable housing development
  • Supporting home health care and services for the state’s older population
  • Monitoring the quality of our air and water and the level of regulation needed to more adequately protect against toxic dumping

North Carolina leaders have not prioritized these pressing needs for North Carolinians in their piecemeal budget approach, but they appear certain to continue to deliver a piece to big companies.

Alexandra Forter Sirota is the director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center.