Education

State program evaluators find focus on early childhood education the key to closing achievement gap

Program Evaluation Division of the N.C. General Assembly

What will it take to close the state’s stubborn achievement gap?

That was the question put to Program Evaluation Division (PED) of the N.C. General Assembly, which studied 12 school districts – five in North Carolina – to see what those schools are doing right to close the persistent achievement gap that exist between white children and their brown and black peers.

A part of the answer calls for a laser-like focus on early childhood education to begin to attack the achievement gap before students reach third grade.

Evaluators found the small group of “high-performing, disadvantaged districts” studied by PED are already achieving “average or better” test scores by third grade.

Much of the achievement gap that follows disadvantaged students throughout their K-12 careers is already present by third grade, program evaluators said.

“Students in predominately disadvantaged districts are learning from third-to eighth-grade and doing so at nearly the same rate as students in more advantage districts, so the problem is not a lack of learning in predominately disadvantaged districts from third-to eighth grade it’s that they’re so far behind at third-grade.” Jeff Grimes, principal program evaluator, said in a video that accompanied the report.

So, ensuring students receive a sound, basic education in their early years is the way forward in stamping out the achievement gap, Grimes and his colleagues said.

“Thus, the main pathway to higher performance for predominantly disadvantaged districts is by securing high student achievement in the early education years instead of focusing primarily on achieving above average academic growth after third grade,” evaluators wrote in the report titled “North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts.”

The evaluations were part of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee’s work plan for 2018.

The report was released Monday with little discussion.

State Rep. Craig Horn, a committee co-chairman, said the report would be more broadly discussed at the committee’s June meeting.

In an interview, Horn explained why the report and the work that follows it are critical to the success of public schools in North Carolina.

“Like everyone else in the state, I’m frustrated with persistent low performance scores and how early education impacts those,” Horn said. “We need a better strategy because what we’ve been doing is obviously not working.  The schools are not improving and the kids are not getting the education they deserve.”

State program evaluators found that school districts that are closing the achievement gap share these six characteristics:

  • A focus on early education.
  • They increase student learning time.
  • They attract, develop and retain high-quality teachers.
  • The schools use data and coach to improve instruction.
  • They seek additional outside resources/
  • They promote the local school board’s focus on policy and academic achievement.

The 12 school districts studied for the report include these five in North Carolina: Alleghany County Schools, Hickory Public Schools; Jones County Public Schools, Wilkes County Schools and  Whiteville City Schools.

The seven out-of-state school districts were Casey County School District, Kentucky; Durant Independent School District; Oklahoma; Fayette County School Corporation, Indiana; Henderson County School District, Tennessee; Johnson County Schools, Kentucky; Steubenville City Schools, Ohio and Whitley County School District, Kentucky.

Evaluators made two broad recommendations:

  • Require low-performing school districts to create an early childhood learning improvement plan as a part of their regular, require plans for school improvement. Strategies to improve early childhood learning could   include expanding Pre-K program participation among disadvantaged students, improving the quality of Pre-K and providing instructional coaching focused on Pre-K through third grade.
  • Require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for district. DPI should begin including early childhood learning assessments as part of its comprehensive needs assessment program no later than July 1, 2020.

 

Higher Ed, News

Gallup survey examines alumni views on value of UNC system education

At its Tuesday work session, the UNC Board of Governors heard a report on a Gallup survey of 77,695 alumni from all 16 University of North Carolina system schools.

The survey measured outcomes for alumni of UNC system schools — their employment, income levels, feeling of connection to their university and views on the value of their UNC education.

Overall, the results were very positive.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they strongly agreed their undergraduate education was worth the cost. That’s 11 percent higher than comparison groups from public institutions nationally and 14 percent higher than all college graduates nationally.

Respondents in the survey were also more likely to have pursued advanced degrees. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they ad completed postgraduate degrees.

Personal and household incomes were also higher among UNC system respondents.

The average annual personal income for UNC system alumni in the survey was $86,291 and the average household income $124,512. That’s more than $10,000 higher than college graduates nationally and higher than respondents from both public institutions and private, not-for-profit institutions.

“To me, this is the story we should have broadcast to the people of our state,” said UNC Board of Governors member Anna Spangler Nelson. “This is a tremendous value – we know it, we say it. This proves it.”

But board member Darrell Allison, one of the board’s few black members, had some questions about the demographic makeup of respondents.

Gallup confirmed that respondents to the survey skewed older and whiter —  77 percent white with the average age about 48.

 

Stephanie Marken, executive director of Education Research for Gallup, said those demographics reflect groups that tend to respond more to surveys and for whom universities tend to have contact information to provide to Gallup.

“We are looking at all living alumni for which they have contact information,” Marken said. “The university now would look very different demographically than it does historically. If we look at more recent graduates in our national sample they tend to be more diverse the younger we get.”

But that is the case across comparable studies using the same mode of contact, Marken said, which also use web-based surveys. That keeps the comparisons accurate.

“We use a very similar methodology when doing our national surveys, so we can compare,” Marken said.

The respondents skewing older as a whole does tend to affect questions like whether alumni believe their degree was worth the cost, Marken said. Older alumni have had more time to apply their degrees, take advantage of career opportunities, to advance and make more money, she said.

Gallup did break out data by individual institutions and provided that data to the institutions this week.

“I would say that we’re very pleased with it overall,” Smith said of the survey, though he did say he would like to see the respondents be more diverse and more reflective of the university’s actual diversity.

“But there has not traditionally been a lot of real world data that we’ve gotten, a lot of benchmarks we can look at,” Smith said. “We have to make decisions here and we want to have the fact, data and detail when we make them. We’re in the changing lives business. We want to be doing it as efficiently as we can. So when we get data that shows the UNC system is doing truly great things, that’s a great thing. It also helps us benchmark how we can get better.”

Read the full report on the survey here.

Defending Democracy, News

Mark Meadows denounces fellow Republican’s call for Trump impeachment

Mark Meadows

Justin Amash

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows denounced his GOP colleague and longtime political ally who has called for President Trump’s impeachment.

In the face of blowback from his party, Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash doubled down on his arguments that Trump  “engaged in impeachable conduct.” Amash sparred openly with the top House Republican and drew rebukes from members of his own conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“We don’t agree with Justin,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Meadows told reporters as lawmakers returned to Washington to vote on Monday evening. Amash and Meadows were among the nine members who founded the caucus back in 2015, with the aim of shrinking the government.

Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another founding member, said Monday that they had just come from a Freedom Caucus board meeting where lawmakers were unanimously opposed to Amash’s position. Meadows and Jordan have been among Trump’s most vocal defenders in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“I think he’s wrong. I just think Justin’s wrong on this,” Jordan said. “We had a board meeting and every single member of the House Freedom Caucus board felt he was wrong.” Amash was not at that meeting, Jordan said, but he had spoken separately with Amash after his public call for Trump’s impeachment.

Jordan said he doesn’t expect an effort to remove Amash from the Freedom Caucus and Meadows said the group hadn’t had discussions of that nature.

“Right now we’re trying to understand why Justin took the position he did,” Meadows said. “We don’t agree with his position. It’s a poorly informed decision, a conclusion that’s certainly faulty.” Meadows added that hopeful about “convincing” Amash and “sharing documents with him that he has not seen.”

Meadows and Jordan said they don’t expect any other Republican lawmakers to join Amash. “I think he’s going to be alone,” Jordan said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy slammed Amash in an interview Sunday with Fox News, saying, “He votes more with Nancy Pelosi than he ever votes with me. It’s a question whether he’s even in our Republican conference as a whole.”

Amash fired back on Monday, telling reporters, “I think everyone knows he’s lying. That is typical Kevin.”

Several other House Republicans on Monday highlighted Amash’s long-standing willingness to split from his party. Read more

Education

A ‘handful’ of NCPTA convention attendees walked out during Superintendent Mark Johnson’s speech

Susan Book

A handful of people attending the N.C. Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA) Convention reportedly walked out during a speech by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Some members of the organization were critical of the organization for allowing Johnson to speak at its 100th Convention held in Charlotte last week.

The walkout follows an online petition signed by more than 100 people disappointed that Johnson was allowed to speak.

Susan Book, a member of the NCPTA’s Special Education Inclusion Committee, started the petition.

Book said Monday that she walked out on Johnson’s speech because she doesn’t believe he stands up for “public education in North Carolina.”

“To be a keynote speaker, an elected official should have more than just a title,” Book said.  “They should be a champion for the cause.  I haven’t seen this from Mark Johnson.”

Johnson could not be reached late Monday afternoon for comment.

However, Linda Crandall, a member of the NCPTA Special Education Inclusion Committee and the organization’s board of directors, wrote N.C. Policy Watch to clarify how Johnson became a convention speaker.

Crandall contends Johnson was not invited to speak, but reached out to NCPTA to ask how he could help during the convention.

She said neither Book’s statements critical of Johnson nor those made by her supporters reflect the views of NCPTA.

“Our organization is strictly non-partisan. We interact with elected officials — and others — equally, on the basis of respect and looking for ways to work together to serve students in our state with one voice,” Crandall wrote. “We also treat speakers at our events with equal respect, regardless of status, political party or any other parameters.”

Meanwhile, Book said she was inspired to walkout by the thousands of teachers who took the day of May 1 to advocate for public schools.

“Compared to their work, walking out on Mark Johnson is nothing,” Book said.

Book tweeted this message from the Convention:

“A handful of us walked out and refused to be an audience for Mark Johnson at the #NCPTACon2019.  Since he refuses to respect teachers and NC Public Education, I feel he should not get a podium at NCPTA convention.”

Dozens of people, many of them educators, weighed in on social media about Johnson and the NCPTA Convention.

Jennifer L. Bourne, an educational equity advocate who lives in East Charlotte attended the convention. Here’s what she posted on her Facebook page:

“Yesterday, in Charlotte, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson stood in front of a room of betrayed parents from across the state, and talked about “urgency… innovation… and support[ing] teachers.” He is truly a magician, who talks about the “American dream,” while simultaneously, intentionally, and actively failing to protect the strong public schools where the dreams of our most vulnerable children grow. I have never been more publicly angry. Time to step it up, North Carolina PTA!!!!! #LiarLiarPantsOnFire.”

Commentary, public health

N.C. House budget underestimates funding needed for Medicaid

Budgeting for anticipated expenses is a key element to fiscal responsibility, just as ensuring that the tax code is adequate to meet those expenses and the needs in communities.

Unfortunately, the N.C. House of Representatives’ budget has failed to pursue this approach in the area of providing quality, affordable health insurance to low-income North Carolinians with disabilities, the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

The budget proposal they approved earlier this month introduced a Medicaid rebase nearly $40 million lower than the Governor’s budget. It also includes a management flexibility cut of $15 million that may result in the need for reductions in administrative oversight at a critical moment in the transformation of the Medicaid system in our state. Last year, the General Assembly underfunded the rebase by nearly $28 million.

While rebase adjustments are only cost estimates based on anticipated changes to enrollment, utilization, costs, rates, and more, there is no advantage to underestimating these costs and, in fact, it compromises the budget process altogether by failing to show the true expenses the state should be meeting.

In years past, inadequate rebase allocations have meant that the General Assembly has to come up with funds at a later date in order to make up the difference, leading to challenges when balancing the state’s budget with available revenue. This is because Medicaid is an entitlement program, meaning that people who apply and meet eligibility criteria are entitled to receive services.

November will also mark the start of North Carolina’s shift to Medicaid managed care, which will involve paying private insurance companies on a per member per month basis to manage the physical and behavioral health needs of those enrollees. While the thinking is that Medicaid transformation will create savings for the state, this expected net savings will take place over time, and it would therefore be prudent for state lawmakers to carefully allocate funds to this area.

Of course, there are also limitations in the state budget thanks to tax cuts introduced since 2013, which have severely limited North Carolina’s ability to generate revenue and invest in our state.

This year alone, the tax cuts that took effect in January resulted in $900 million loss to expected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, and a current proposal in the Senate would be another blow to the state’s dwindling revenue, worsening the structural deficit.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.