Education, News

Test scores in North Carolina public schools decline

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

This time of year is always a nervous one for North Carolina public school leaders.

With state testing results going public, K-12 officials will talk about their successes and their struggles. This week may focus on the struggles, though, with new testing results showing declines on state exams.

From The News & Observer:

Fewer North Carolina public school students passed state exams this year, with the decline increasing over time for students in third grade despite a state push to get young children reading at grade level.

New state results from the 2017-18 school year released Wednesday also show that the state’s 12-year streak of rising high school graduation rates has ended. But state leaders say the graduation results can’t be compared to previous years because of changes in how the rates are now calculated.

State education leaders pointed to positives Wednesday about how the majority of schools are meeting growth expectations on state exams and that the number of low-performing schools has dropped.

But the new test results also showed several areas of decline.

“We have some things to celebrate,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday. “We also have things that will make us pause and have concerns.”

Go to https://bit.ly/2wGEwP6 for a Charlotte Observer/News & Observer searchable database of results for every North Carolina public school. Results are also available at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting/ on the state’s website.

One example of a decline is how the percentage of students passing the state reading, math and science exams dropped to 58.8 percent in the 2017-18 school year. It was 59.2 percent the previous school year.

Even when the drop is small, Johnson said it still reflects that a lot of students declined. He said state test results seem to be plateauing.

“When we dig into the data, we see that some results go up, some results go down,” Johnson said. “But consistently the trend is that we are not where we want to be for students.”

An area where the scores seem to be going in reverse is performance of third-grade students on the state’s end-of-grade reading exam. State legislators created the Read To Achieve program in 2012 with the goal of trying to get students proficient in reading by the end of third grade.

The passing rate on the third-grade reading exams is now at 55.9 percent. It was at 60.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year and 57.8 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

Johnson said he hopes that efforts he’s pushed for such as reallocating state Read To Achieve funding to buy supplies and iPads for K-3 literacy teachers and reducing the amount of required assessments will improve performance.

It’s worth debating whether devices alone will make a difference. Recent research suggests the jury’s still out. 

Johnson’s iPad purchase has also been mired in controversy. As Policy Watch reported last week, the purchase came months after the superintendent and influential state budget leaders had their expenses, including dinner and lodging, paid for by Apple reps at their Silicon Valley headquarters.

Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper appoints unopposed Robeson judicial candidate to fill District Court vacancy

Brooke Locklear Clark

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Brooke Locklear Clark to fill a judicial vacancy in Robeson County District Court.

Clark, who has practiced law in that area for more than 13 years, will serve the remainder of Chief District Court Judge J. Stanley Carmical, who was recently appointed to serve as a special Superior Court judge.

“Clark’s experience in the law and deep knowledge of her community make her an ideal choice to serve on the District Court bench in Robeson County,” Cooper said in a news release.

Governor Roy Cooper has appointed Brooke Locklear Clark to preside in Robeson County District Court.

Clark’s prior service includes serving as the attorney for the county Department of Social Services. She is a Family Drug Treatment Court team member and a former parent attorney for this innovative program that helps families dealing with substance abuse.

She is a native of Robeson County and serves on the advisory committee for the local superintendent of schools and is a member of the board of the Friends of the Robeson County Public Library.

The Robesonian wrote an article about her appointment, in which she said was appreciative of the opportunity to impact so many lives.

“In my work with Family Treatment Court and with DSS Court and a lot of the other courts, I’ve seen some powerful things happen and that’s where my heart is, in trying to help families and help these people,” she told the newspaper. “Even in criminal court, we see people coming through who have problems, who have substance abuse issues. To be able to make a difference, that’s my passion, that’s what I want to do.”

Clark is also an unopposed candidate for the seat she was appointed in the midterm election in November. She will be sworn in Wednesday to fill the remainder of this term, which ends Dec. 31, and if she wins the election, will continue to serve.

The Robesonian reports that there are two additional judicial seats up for election in that area — one held Judge Dale Deese, who filed for reelection but was challenged by Robeson County Assistant District Attorney Angelica Chavis McIntyre, and another held by Judge Herbert Richardson, who is retiring. Assistant District Attorney Vanessa Burton and Robeson County Assistant Public Defender Jack Moody Jr. filed as candidates for that seat, according to the newspaper.

Commentary

Schoolteacher, DPI insider blast Superintendent Mark Johnson’s destructive layoffs

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Forsyth County public school teacher Stu Egan has a fine new entry on his Caffeinated Rage blog about state schools superintendent Mark Johnson’s latest purge at the Department of Public Instruction. In “The State Superintendent Meets With Privatizers on Monday, Then 40 People Were Laid Off at DPI on Friday,” Egan points out that the firings (and the elimination of 21 other positions) were both especially treacherous for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is that they targeted staffers dedicated to helping low performing schools.

Egan’s post is definitely worth your time — as is the comment that appeared on Egan’s site (and that appears below — with paragraph breaks added for clarity) from an anonymous DPI insider:

Thanks for your article. It is worse than you know. I lost many colleagues and friends on Friday, folks who served the State of North Carolina well and did a good job for DPI and for schools across the state. What a shame.

Superintendent Johnson wrote us Friday afternoon and said we should ‘be sensitive to their situations during this time.’ Yeah, I’m sensitive…mad as hell that they’ve been canned for no good reason. Yes, those of us who are left at DPI continue to reel from this Superintendent’s lack of interest/support and total disregard of our work. All semblances of leadership from him and ‘his team’ are vacant and absent.

Speaking of which, he regularly refers to ‘his team’, which are the folks he has hand-picked to come on board in key leadership positions. WE, the hundreds of others who were here before he arrived and hopefully will remain when vacates, are supposed to be ‘his team’; it’s an insult to all of us every time he mentions it.

Know how many years of NC public school teaching experience ‘his team’ has? 30? 40? 50? Read more

Commentary

Editorial: State school takeover turns “slimy”

In case you missed it, be sure to check out an editorial that ran in the Charlotte Observer this weekend on the latest developments with North Carolina’s so-called “Innovative School District.” As Policy Watch readers will recall, the ISD is yet another school privatization scheme from legislative conservatives that calls for private operators to take over troubled schools. As readers will also recall, however, the plan has been nothing short of a disaster since its inception and has thus far managed to effect the takeover of only a single school by a single, unqualified contractor.

This is from the Observer editorial “Charlotte company behind a promising schools idea that’s become an embarrassment” that describes the developments around the planned takeover as “slimy”:

“ISD officials have struggled to find a qualified company to operate the one school initially chosen for takeover — Southside Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County. The operator that’s finally gotten the nod — Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children (AAC) — looks bad in every important way. AAC is only a year old and doesn’t have the long history of success that ISD’s creators had envisioned. Neither does a company that AAC chose as an operating partner, TeamCFA, which has a mixed record of student achievement in 13 N.C. Charter schools. That deficiency appears to violate the 2016 law that requires the operator or its partners to have a record of improving persistently low-performing schools and students.

An ISD-commissioned evaluator, SchoolWorks, also found that AAC was deficient in seven of 11 operational criteria, including startup planning, goals and “mission and vision.” In addition, SchoolWorks was alarmingly skeptical about AAC’s funding model.

But that may not be the worst part. AAC’s operating partner, TeamCFA, was founded by Oregon’s John Bryan, who contributed generously to N.C. political campaigns and has taken credit for getting the ISD law passed. On AAC’s board is Rob Bryan, the law’s author.

At the least, it’s horrible optics. At worst, it appears that North Carolina may have been scammed.

The state school board approved AAC in a somewhat contentious 7-4 vote this month, but as part of that approval, AAC must submit a response to SchoolWorks’ concerns. ISD superintendent Eric Hall told the Observer editorial board Friday he expected that response by day’s end. Hall said he’ll review it and report to the state school board. He stressed that the ISD has “significant accountability” in place.

Hall and the board should demonstrate that. Hiring AAC is, simply, an embarrassment, and any school board member voting to move forward with the company is doing a disservice not only to the students of Southside Ashpole, but to the Innovative School District overall.”

Education, News

On eve of vote, State Board of Education divided on contract with controversial school takeover operator

A former state lawmaker, Rob Bryan, is part of a private group hoping to win a contract in the program he helped to legalize.

On the eve of a crucial vote, the State Board of Education is clearly split on a recommendation to approve a prospective operator for the Innovative School District that’s troubled by claims of ethical conflicts and myriad questions about their curriculum and limited track record.

Board members are expected to vote Thursday morning on a contract with Achievement for All Children (AAC), a Charlotte-based nonprofit that hopes to take over operations and staffing in a beleaguered Robeson County elementary this year.

Yet Wednesday’s lengthy debate—which often centered on a particularly lukewarm, third-party assessment of the one-year-old group—left little clarity on where the state panel would ultimately come down on the issue of who will ultimately pilot Southside-Ashpole Elementary.

The board fielded just two applications for the program’s first year, and neither group earned stellar marks. Some have suggested the panel should re-open the application process.

“I for one believe that we’re at a point where we can take a calculated risk and go forward with [this] recommendation,” said board Chairman Bill Cobey. “I’m willing to stick my neck out on that.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican school choice advocate who sits on the board, said the state needs new ideas for some long-struggling public schools. “We’re looking at one opportunity to do something innovative,” said Forest. “I don’t think we should be scared of that.”

Others, however, questioned how the board could go along with the recommendation for a group that had “met expectations” on just four of 11 sections of the state’s independent assessment of their capabilities.

State Board of Education member Eric Davis

“The children of this school need our best,” said board member Eric Davis. “Not four out of 11, they need better than that.”

As Policy Watch detailed today, the contract is laden with concerns about AAC’s deep ties to the state legislature and influential school choice advocates. Indeed, ex-state legislator Rob Bryan, who co-sponsored the bill creating the program two years ago, is on the organization’s board of directors.

The group is also facing criticism that it formed just last year, when state law calls for an operator with a “record of results” or has a contractual affiliation with an organization with a track record.

AAC has inked a contract to work with TeamCFA, a charter school chain with 13 schools in North Carolina, but state officials have acknowledged the chain’s “mixed” results in other schools.

“I don’t know that we can afford an operator with mixed results,” Jason Griffin, North Carolina’s Principal of the Year and an adviser to the state board, said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Innovative School District Superintendent Eric Hall, who recommended AAC for the job last month, says the nonprofit emerged from a “rigorous” process and evaluation by Massachusetts-based School Works as the best fit. He complimented AAC’s plan for “competitive” teacher salaries and its responsiveness to state concerns during the process.

“That’s what you want from a good partner, someone that is going to step forward and respond to things when you need it,” said Hall.

Hall also emphasized that the law allows for annual reviews of the operator’s progress.

State Board of Education member Amy White

Board member Amy White said these “checks and balances” convinced her to support Hall’s recommendation.

“There has to be a first for somebody, and there has to be a first school,” White said.

Others, like board member Wayne McDevitt, were not convinced. “I still have a lot of concerns about assuring that we do the right thing here,” McDevitt said. “I’m not there. We’ve got to be very, very sure that we’re coming out of the blocks right.”

Davis said he “couldn’t get comfortable” with the AAC recommendation based on the gaps in its evaluation.

“I’m all for giving someone the first chance,” he said. “But I’m not all for risking the education of over 300 students just to give some adults the first chance. I think (the students) deserve better. They deserve an operator with a proven track record.”

Thursday’s state board meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the seventh floor of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction building in Raleigh. Find audio streaming of the meeting here.