New legislation requires phonics-based approach to teaching children to read

State Senate leader Phil Berger unveiled new reading comprehension legislation Monday that would require K-12 schools to use a phonics-based approach to teaching children to read.

Teachers would receive training in the “science of reading” under the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021. The “science of reading” is a body of research that explains how we learn to read.

Teaching reading requires phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary developing, reading fluency and reading comprehension, most experts agree.

“The data shows that reading comprehension by third-grade has major impacts on a child’s future career and post education prospects,” Berger said during a Monday press conference.

The Senate will receive the bill by Tuesday.

The new legislation mirrors Senate Bill 438 filed in 2019 to address deficiencies in “Read to Achieve,” which is the state’s signature education initiative. “Read to Achieve” was signed into law in 2012 to ensure children in North Carolina can read by third grade.

State Senate leader Phil Berger

“The bill in 2019 was the foundation for this bill, but this bill does take it a step further and fortunately some of the dollars we’ve received from the federal government we’ll be able to utilize in training teachers in moving forward in the science of reading,” Berger said.

Like its predecessor, SB 438 would require individual reading plans for K-3 students not reading at grade level. The state’s universities and colleges would also train student teachers in the science of reading.

Berger said the new bill also recognizes the importance of training Pre-K teachers who begin the process of teaching children to read.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said the data show that North Carolina must change its approach to reading instruction.

“Before COVID, our data show that two-thirds of eighth graders in North Carolina do not read proficiently when they start high school,” Truitt said. “We know already that the slide will have occurred post-COVID. We’ve seen it already with our third-grade data.”

Superintendent Catherine Truitt

Truitt said that by the 1990s, the “Look and Say” approach to teaching reading became the dominant method in American classrooms.

“That is the idea that I point to a picture and I tell you it’s a cat, I show you the word cat, and you memorize the word cat because of the picture,” she explained.

The approach is not grounded in research, Truitt said.

“And now, three-quarters of teachers in the U.S. use this method to teach students how to read,” Truitt said.

In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed SB 438, arguing that “Read to Achieve” is “ineffective and costly.”

“This legislation tries to put a Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed,” Cooper said at the time.

An evaluation of “Read to Achieve” showed reading scores did not improve after the state spent more than $150 million on the program. More than 43% of third graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

Berger believes the new version of  the bill will have enough Democratic support to win Cooper’s signature. He said all Senate Democrats and a significant number of Democrats in the House supported the previous version.

“I do believe this is one of those things that should not have a political component to it,” Berger said. “Philosophically, I think we all want to make sure that our kids have the opportunity and the best chance to gain the skill of reading.”

He said the results from other states using the approach are compelling. In 2019, Berger cited initiatives in Florida and Mississippi as two states experiencing success with early childhood literacy efforts.

UNC-Chapel Hill asking for new names for buildings named for white supremacists

Demonstrators protesting buildings named for slave owners and white supremacists on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Last year UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees lifted the self-imposed moratorium on renaming buildings on campus, allowing the school to address decades of pressure from students, faculty and community members to replace the names of slave owners and white supremacists. Now, the school is looking to rename three buildings before students return for the Fall semester in August.

In a message to the campus late last week, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz issued an open call for new names.

“We have previously received names for consideration which are included in our Honorific Naming Registry and we invite you to submit additional names,” Guskiewicz said. “We will keep this process open for a two-week period, closing the registry at 5 p.m. on April 9. The committee will receive all submitted names and conduct an initial vetting process to narrow a list of possible options to six names for consideration. I will consider those names for submission to our Board of Trustees.”

Guskiewicz laid out criteria for the new names, saying they should:

  • Represent the values that define our University: excellence and an unwavering commitment to teaching, research and public service.
  • Have traditionally been underrepresented on our landscape.
  • Have a demonstrated positive impact on our campus and in our community.

 

The buildings at issue are the Aycock Residence Hall, the Carr Building and  the Daniels Building.

The Aycock Residence Hall was named for Charles B. Aycock, the white supremacist governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. In his famous speech “The Negro Problem” Aycock set out his explicit segregationist and white supremacist views.

“I am proud of my State…because there we have solved the negro problem,” Aycock said. “We have taken him out of politics and have thereby secured good government under any party and laid foundations for the future development of both races. We have secured peace, and rendered prosperity a certainty.”

The Carr building was named for Julian Carr, a UNC alum and industrialist who supported the Ku Klux Klan and celebrated lynchings, including the 1898 Wilmington Massacre. Carr gave a speech at the 1913 installation of the Silent Sam Confederate monument on the UNC campus in which he bragged he once “horse-whipped a negro wench” in public for disrespecting a white woman and praised Confederate soldiers for saving “the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South.”

The Daniels building, which houses a student store, was named for Josephus Daniels.Daniels, a former publisher of Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper, was a prominent white supremacist who used the paper’s influence to promote racist policies. Infamously, he stoked racial hatred that helped lead to the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, in which white supremacists killed at least 60 Black Wilmington residents while overthrowing the town’s elected mixed-race government.

Last year Daniels’ family voluntarily removed his 8-foot statue from its place in Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, where it overlooked the former News & Observer building.

“This is an exciting time for our University as we celebrate and remember the people who have pushed our University forward by serving its people and our mission,” Guskiewicz said in his message. “In doing so, we are taking concrete steps to build our community together. I am grateful for the students, faculty and staff who have advocated for change. I am confident that we will have plenty of worthy honorees who have been instrumental in our shared history.”

Policy Watch will continue to follow the renaming process for these and other buildings on UNC System campuses.

Governor’s education budget shows that we can give students the education they’re owed

Gov. Roy Cooper

The biggest public school issue facing North Carolina’s state education policymakers this session is whether or not the state will make progress on providing children with the education they are owed under our state constitution. The Governor’s budget proposal marks an important first step towards securing such progress this year.

Under the decades-long Leandro court case, North Carolina’s courts have consistently found that state leaders have been failing to provide students with the type of education they are owed under our state constitution. According to the 2019 WestEd report, North Carolina was once making progress towards meeting its constitutional obligations to children. However, the past 10 years of austerity budgets and misguided legislation have moved our state backwards.

On March 15, the state submitted a detailed action plan to deliver a constitutionally sound education system by the 2028 school year. The plan sets forth specific investments and policy changes that, in the words of the Every Child NC coalition, are strong, equitable, and affordable.

Importantly, the Governor’s budget proposal incorporates all of the elements of the Leandro action plan, including:

  • Pay raises for teachers and principals that will boost average salaries by 10 percent by the 2023 school year;
  • Substantial investments in early childhood programs to expand NC Pre-K, Smart Start, early intervention services, and salary supplements for early childhood educators;
  • Expanded funding for children with disabilities, English learners, disadvantaged students and other funding streams that will greatly improve the equity of North Carolina’s school finance system;
  • Funding to begin staffing school nurses, psychologists, counselors, librarians, and social workers at recommended staffing ratios, and to restore funding for teacher assistants; and
  • Investments to improve the recruitment, retention, and diversity of teachers and school leaders.

If implemented, the proposal would put the state on a reasonable path to achieve its Leandro goals by the 2028 school year.

That said, the Governor’s plan for this biennium could have been more ambitious. The aforementioned WestEd report recommended the state invest more aggressively in the first years of an eight-year plan, while the Governor’s plan would see more aggressive funding increases pushed out to later years. As my colleague Alexandra Sirota points out, the Governor’s budget “misses a critical moment for getting NC on a sustainable path to more equitable outcomes” by “passing on popular options to raise the tax rates paid by high-income taxpayers and profitable corporations.” Additional revenue would have made it easier for the state to meet its goal of providing a sound basic education to all students by the 2028 school year.

Still, the Governor’s proposal would mark the fist substantial increase in public school resources in more than a decade. If enacted, it would begin to reverse North Carolina’s back-sliding and serve an important down-payment on the state’s continuing efforts to provide all students with the education they are owed.

Editorial blasts “arrogant and shortsighted” chancellor search at Fayetteville State

New Fayetteville State chancellor Darrell Allison

If you get chance, check out today’s excellent lead editorial from the Greensboro News & Record about the embarrassingly political hiring process that the UNC system recently concluded for a new chancellor at Fayetteville State University. As Policy Watch investigative reporter Joe Killian has reported in great detail, the Board of Governors and system president Peter Hans selected a person for the job — conservative education lobbyist Darrell Allison — who wasn’t even a finalist when FSU’s Board of trustees vetted numerous applicants.

This is from today’s editorial:

To say his hiring was a shock is an understatement.

According to reports from at least two news outlets, Allison was not among the finalists for the FSU post, which attracted a national field of more than 60 applicants.

He has no administrative experience in higher education.

He has no teaching experience.

He has little apparent support among faculty and students.

He does have plenty of opposition. Students, alumni and faculty have staged protests. The FSU National Alumni Association has threatened legal action. An online petition to remove him from the job had gathered 2,500 signatures as of last week.

After explaining that Allison has professed to be unfazed by the criticism he has received, the editorial rightfully observes:

Even if Allison eventually should win friends and influence people in Fayetteville, the process used to hire him is fundamentally flawed and does not serve the best interests of the UNC System.

The “process” to which the editorial refers, of course, the Board of Governors’ recently adopted policy that, in effect, gives the system president the power to supersede the recommendations of campus trustees and select whomever he or she cares to choose. This, the editorial concludes, is absurd:

Given the heavily weighted vote it now bestows on the UNC Systems president, why even bother with a search? And why even bother to apply if you weren’t suggested by Hans?

…Politics has always threatened to poison chancellor searches, but this process (if you want to call it that) opens the toxic floodgates.

The Fayetteville students, faculty and trustees have good reason to be angry.

And the rest of the UNC campuses have good reason to be concerned.

The bottom line: The conservative majority at the General Assembly — the politicians who are ultimately behind this whole mess — has been  wreaking havoc in the UNC system for years and one can only hope that some sort of rescue can be effected before the damage becomes irreparable.

One obvious way to increase diversity in the state’s teaching force

Recent articles and government priorities have highlighted the need for teachers of color in North Carolina’s public schools.

The Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC) echoes wholeheartedly the critical need to create a more diverse teaching faculty across the state. The organization promotes opportunities for students develop competency in at least one language in addition to their own.

The NC Teaching Fellows Program inaugurated in 1986 in response to a critical need for teachers in the state is a viable option to address this need.

Past graduates of the former Teaching Fellows program in World Languages yielded extraordinary teachers for many years, many of whom are currently state and national leaders in world languages.

After a brief hiatus from 2015 to 2017, it was reinstated with only STEM and special education, eligible for the program.

Reinstating the NC Teaching Fellows Program in World Languages would be a very expeditious way to increase diversity, especially by being intentional in selecting high school students from the cultures of the students and language skills represented in our schools.

Did you know that North Carolina Public Schools K-12 currently offer 18 different world languages in traditional programs and over 200 dual language/ immersion programs in eight languages throughout this state?

About 262,100 students, approximately 17% of the total student population, report a primary language (approximately 339 languages) other than English spoken in the home. The top five languages (by percent of total student population) spoken in the home other than English are: Spanish (14%), Arabic (4.5%), Chinese (3.1%), Vietnamese (2.5%), and Hindi/Indian/Urdu (2.1%).

In addition, NC Public School graduating seniors can earn the Global Languages Endorsement (GLE) on their transcripts, which demonstrate proficiency in English and a World Language. The GLE is North Carolina’s version of the national Seal of Biliteracy recognition and is currently available in 42 states. For the Class of 2019, 9.1% or 9,564 public school graduates earned this distinction, according to NCDPI statistics.

These facts show us that we have the human capital resources in the pipeline to meet our intended diversity goals with the opportunity to eradicate current inequities and barriers in the educational system.

To move us in the right direction, we recommend the following three actions:

  • Expand the NC Teaching Fellows Program in several colleges and universities including the state’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Expand the NC Teaching Fellows Program to include World Languages.
  • Implement intentional recruitment of high school graduates with language proficiency, of color, culturally diverse and from heritage communities for the NC Teaching Fellows Program.

These actions would move us towards cultivating globally competent citizens while ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion in our education workforce.

Christi Lea Osborne is immediate past president of the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina.