Commentary

Education professor explains emptiness of for-profit charter takeover law

There’s a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Brian Gibbs, who is an associate professor in the Department of Education at UNC Chapel Hill. In it, Gibbs explains what North Carolina lawmakers should be doing if they’re serious about bringing “innovation” to struggling schools. Spoiler alert: It’s not turning them over to for-profit charter management companies as the current law allows. Here’s Gibbs:

The “innovations” that the charter companies will likely employ are innovations of budget and a more stringent focus on testing. In the increasingly pressured world of “successful” and “achieving” schools, evidence of success and achievement are almost universally moving the needle, ever so slightly, up in relation to test scores. The innovation in “innovation” districts likely also means that metaphorically, the conditions on the sinking ship that is the school(s) they are taking over are so desperate that they are allowed to “throw overboard” everything not found of value by the test. This includes health, social studies, art, music, PE as well as more artistic, creative, culturally sustaining pedagogies, or ways to teach, as well as students who may be found lacking….

Typically, takeovers like this move the needle a little due to the intense focus and often punitive nature of their approach to teaching. This is neither innovative nor what’s called for. What is called for is innovation that includes a heady mixture of imagination, creativity and energy. The teachers in these schools know their students. The students know and trust them. Community members, in particular the parents, have come together asking to participate in a democratic re-imagining with the state of North Carolina, but were not given enough lead time to fully gather and be heard.

Why can’t the state, if the situation is so dire that “innovation” is necessary, encourage innovation at the school-site level by taking away some restrictions on standard curricula and testing? Read more

News

Report: UNC President Spellings to lead North Carolina education commission

UNC System President Margaret Spellings

UNC System President Margaret Spellings will lead a new commission of influential business and political leaders that aims to shape North Carolina policy on K-12 and higher education, The News & Observer reports.

Spellings announced the My Future N.C. commission this week, tapping a slate of nominees with connections to Gov. Roy Cooper and Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, and elected officials such as Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson. The roster also includes longtime conservative education reformer and booster Art Pope.

From The N&O:

The effort is led by UNC President Margaret Spellings, who will co-chair a group of 30 leaders along with Dale Jenkins, chief executive officer of Medical Mutual Holdings, and Andrea Smith, chief administrative officer of Bank of America.

Spellings said it became clear to her that North Carolina needed a “shared vision” for getting more people better education, from pre-K to high school and beyond. National education players, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, had told the UNC Board of Governors that North Carolina was among a few states that had no common agreement on educational attainment, which is generally defined as the highest degree an individual has completed.

In 2015, 29.4 percent of North Carolinians 25 and older held a four-year college degree, and 86.6 percent had a high school diploma. Both measures have risen steadily in the past two decades, though North Carolina is behind the U.S. average.

Economic mobility – the chance that a poor child will rise to the middle class – is lower in North Carolina than in many other states, and the state’s per capita income is 34th in the country, according to U.S. data from 2010-14.

“If we’re going to be a top educated state, if we’re going to be a large and growing economy, what do we need in terms of developing human capital?” Spellings said. “Two-year credentials? Four-year degrees? Ph.Ds? How does that translate into high school graduation, third grade reading, and what are the barriers that are keeping us from doing that now?”

Previously, different sectors have had their own achievement goals, but there has been no overarching plan adopted by all the players.

“Until you get everyone at the table, it ends up being a footnote in a report,” Spellings said, adding, “It’s hard to get a game plan for doing something if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.”

The first step is to arrive at the goal, she said. The second is to craft specific strategies for getting there. Spellings envisions more clear pathways between community colleges and universities, better transitions between K-12 and community colleges or universities, better ways to help high school students understand college options and financial aid. She said higher education has to make sure it is doing all it can to train teachers and provide research to help the state reach third-grade reading goals.

One item that Spellings has been keen on is having a standardized credit acceptance policy at colleges for Advanced Placement courses taken by high school students. She said the state has invested a lot in AP and then students don’t end up getting credit based on individual college policies.

Part of the strategy is getting stakeholders on board and invested in the process, Spellings said.

The commission includes some heavy hitters in North Carolina business, education and philanthropy, including representatives from Republican leadership in the state House and Senate and Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

The commission will begin its work next month and continue for the next year to 18 months, producing two reports. One will recommend goals for educational attainment and outline obstacles that could stand in the way of those goals. The other report will put forth specific policy recommendations to achieve the goals.

“Higher education is an absolute imperative for the future of our state and our workforce,” Smith, one of the co-chairs, said in a statement. “Two of every three new jobs now require some form of post-secondary education – whether that’s training credentials, an associate degree, a four-year degree or higher. This reality underscores how critical education is to career growth and how important it is to increasing economic mobility.”

Read more

Commentary

Cooper’s non-discrimination Executive Order is one step forward on road to diversity, acceptance in NC

Governor Roy Cooper’s non-discrimination Executive Order, which states transgender North Carolinians can use public restrooms and facilities that match their gender identity, is a most welcome reprieve from HB2 – and its partial repeal in HB142 – that have plagued our state for nearly two years. Critically, the proposal rightfully and finally prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color, ethnicity, veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression in state positions, and “makes {at least state government in} North Carolina a welcoming place to all.”

That such an order was even necessary is a reflection of the warped priorities in our General Assembly on social issues as of late – ones that focused on non-existent “dangers” to others, based votes on “fake news”, and disrupted our local governments’ abilities to respond to the needs of their communities, cloaking the true intent to dismantle nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ North Carolinians.

The order arrives alongside a consent decree issued by Gov. Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and advocacy groups representing LGBTQ to resolve the ongoing legal dispute over HB142. If the decree becomes law it will provide some relief to many transgender North Carolinians in our state.

But HB2 and HB142 will remain. Nothing can entirely erase the impact these hateful laws have had on our state, or its reputation. The work to move North Carolina forward as a human rights destination for everyone must and will continue. This week’s firm declaration that our state welcomes all individuals is a breath of fresh air and should be welcomed by all as such. The Consent Decree, which should be adopted, likewise closes a courageous legal chapter by re-lighting the path of righteousness and equal justice for us all.

Rick Glazier is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Justice Center.

Environment

Finally, here is a list of DEQ, DHHS Science Advisory Board members — and it’s impressive

Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson. (Courtesy photo)

Toxicologists, ecologists, air quality experts and public health officials: After a wait of more than two months, the list of 16 appointees to the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board has been posted on the NC Department of Environmental Quality website.

The roster is current as of Oct. 17. The board will meet Monday, Oct. 23, at 3 p.m. in the Ground Floor Hearing Room of the Archdale Building, which faces Halifax Mall in Raleigh.

The members include Detlef Knappe, one of the scientists who originally discovered GenX in the Cape Fear River and in the drinking water at Wilmington’s Sweeney plant.

In August, as the GenX crisis was unfolding, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the expansion of the existing science advisory board and its role. Appointed by the secretaries of DEQ and the Department of Health and Human Services, the board’s first charge is to study ways to better protect public health and the environment from new or emerging chemicals of concern, including GenX and hexavalent chromium.

However, environmental advocates have been quietly critical of the agencies’ slow response in appointing the board. Just last week, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan announced that Jamie Bartram, a professor and founding director of The Water Institute at UNC Chapel Hill, would be the chairman.

Here is the roster of the other members and their scientific backgrounds. According to their résumés, they all are accomplished in their respective fields.

W. Greg Cope, a toxicology and fisheries biology professor at NC State University (Photo: NCSU)

  • Tom Augspurger, is an adjunct associate professor in the toxicology program at NC State University. He specializes in ecology and environmental contaminants as a specialist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service in Raleigh.
  • W. Greg Cope, an NC State professor in toxicology and fisheries biology, focuses on pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, metals, the impacts of sediments and ecosystems. He is also affiliated with the Southeast Climate Science Center, which is under the US Department of the Interior.
  • Richard T. Di Giulio, a professor of environmental toxicology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, also directs the university’s Superfund Research Center. He also leads the integrated toxicology and environmental health program. Di Giulo’s research has also found contamination in waterways related to coal-fired power plants.
  • David Dorman, the associate dean for research and graduate studies at NC State’s veterinary school is also a toxicology professor. He has contributed to a the National Research Council on projects related to toxicology and human risk assessment. Dorman was appointed to the original Science Advisory Board in 2011.

    Elaina Kenyon, a toxicologist at the EPA in Research Triangle Park. (Photo: LinkedIn)

Elaina Kenyon, a research toxicologist, works at the EPA in Research Triangle Park. A member of the original SAB since 1996, she has published research on air toxics, risk assessment and toxicological modeling.

Thomas Starr of TBS Associates, an environmental consulting company, has also worked as an adjunct associate professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health. A past member of an EPA science advisory board on a type of compound known as halogenated organics. These chemical are used in several common products, including pesticides, paint and flame retardants.

  • Dr. Woodhall Stopford of Duke University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine has written more than 80 publications on workplace-related toxicology, pesticides and contaminants in consumer products. A board member since 1990, Stopford also served on an EPA panel assessing the risks of dioxins in ceramics.
  • John Vandenburg, the national program director of the EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment Program, focuses on hazardous air pollutants and risk. He also worked as an adjunct professor at the Duke Nicholas School, where he specialized in toxicology and environmental policy.
  • State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Betsey Tilson is a pediatrician and works in preventative medicine. She also was a assistant consulting professor and cancer control specialist with Duke University Medical Center and as a clinical pediatric fellow UNC Chapel Hill.
  • Philip Tarte, has been the New Hanover County Public Health director since July 2016. He sits on the NC Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Advisory Board and NC Institute of Medicine board.
  • Viney Aneja is a professor in NC State’s Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He has been appointed to the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors Exeutive Committee and chairs a related committee on Air, Climate and Energy.
  • Jaqueline Gibson, an associate professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, researches how environmental policy decisions affect population health. Among her research work is “Strategies to improve private well water quality: a North Carolina perspective,” which will soon be published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
  • Gina Kimble supervises the lab for the Charlotte water system. She serves on the NC Urban Water Consortium and as an advisory committee member for the Water Resources Research Institute.
  • A professor of aquatics, wildlife and zoological medicine at NC State, Michael Stoskopf researches ecosystems and the health of wildlife species, including the endangered red wolf. He also directs the Environmental Medicine Consortium at NCSU.

Dr. Michael Stoskopf and Dr. Anne Acton (right) examine a sleeping red wolf at the College of Veterinary Medicine. The lone wolf is part of a study of the endangered species and the red wolf reintroduction program. (Photo by Roger Winstead)

Commentary

Breaking: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approves extremist conservative Thomas Farr to be federal judge

Thomas Farr and Thom Tillis

With North Carolina’s Thom Tillis leading the way (including making arrangements for a couple of his fellow Republicans to run in at the last minute for the vote) the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved North Carolina arch-conservative Thomas Farr this morning to serve as a federal judge in the state’s Eastern District. The vote was by a partisan count of 11-9.

Farr’s nomination has been decried by national civil rights organizations as “repugnant” and “the culmination of a white supremacist political machine.” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, put it this way:

“Mr. Farr has devoted much of his 38-year legal career to restricting voting rights and defending employment discrimination. As the Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a letter last month opposing Mr. Farr’s nomination: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that had the White House deliberately sought to identify an attorney in North Carolina with a more hostile record on African-American voting rights and workers’ rights than Thomas Farr, it could hardly have done so.’ The judicial vacancy to which Mr. Farr has been nominated has never had an African-American judge in its 143-year history. President Obama nominated two highly qualified African-American women for this judgeship, but they were blocked by Republican senators.  It is now the oldest judicial vacancy in the country.”

Read more about this disastrous nomination by clicking here and here.