News

Halifax schoolsParents, grandparents and local community groups in Halifax County filed a lawsuit today in Superior Court against the County Board of Commissioners, contending that the board has failed to provide public school students with the “sound basic education” required under the state constitution.

The parties challenging the school districts allege in the Complaint that county schools now serve fewer than 7000 students assigned to three separate and racially identifiable school districts, rather than one unified district, thereby “forcing the districts to compete for limited educational resources and causing the County to incur duplicative costs.”

By maintaining a three-district system, especially as student population is declining,  the county board not only perpetuates racial lines but also fails to adequately fund the districts, they add.

Though county population is roughly 40 percent white and 54 percent black or multiracial, the student population at two of the three districts is overwhelmingly black. Test scores in those two school districts are among the lowest in the state while dropout rates are among the highest.

The parties suing also contend that the quality of educational resources—including facilities, teachers, learning materials, and curricular and extra-curricular resources—provided to students in Halifax County, and especially students in the majority black districts, falls well below constitutional standards:

Students at Northwest High School in HCPS have endured sewage in the hallways, crumbling ceilings and exposure to mold, and failing heating and air systems. By contrast, the students at RRGSD’s high school attend a school that has been repeatedly renovated since its initial construction, is on the National Register of Historic Places, has a building dedicated solely to physical education and music and a pristine athletic field.

They are asking the court to find that the three-district system fails to provide county students, especially those at risk, with the constitutionally-required sound basic education and to order the board to come up with a plan to unify and better fund county schools.

Read the full compliant in Silver v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners here.

News

An annual poll surveying the public about American education found that the majority of public school parents aren’t a fan of the idea that teachers should be evaluated on the basis of their students’ standardized test scores.

From the Associated Press:

The Gallup Poll released Sunday found 55 percent opposed linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores. Among those with children in public schools opposition was stronger, at 63 percent.

Standardized tests are necessary, but there’s an overreliance on them, said Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, an association for educators, and a former schools superintendent. PDK, which supports teachers and educational research, paid for the poll conducted by Gallup.

“Parents see the work their kids bring home every night,” Starr said in an interview. “They go to teacher conferences, and they’re more likely to judge the school and the quality of the teacher based on that, than solely using test scores.”

As many schools prepare for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks, more than 40 states are moving forward with plans to evaluate teachers and principals in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It’s something the Education Department has supported and encouraged through its Race to the Top grants to schools and other programs. While the department says other factors should be considered, such as student work and parent feedback, teachers, unions and others worry there’s too much emphasis on test scores.

North Carolina uses a system called EVAAS to evaluate its teachers, and partly relies on student test data to rate teachers’ effectiveness. Many teachers here don’t embrace the idea, saying that student performance on standardized tests is often influenced by a host of factors outside of the classroom—and outside of a teacher’s control.

A majority of respondents to the Gallup poll opposed the use of Common Core, a set of math and English standards that’s currently being reevaluated here and could be replaced, depending on the outcomes of a legislative review commission and lawmakers’ subsequent actions.

And while most supported the notion of school choice, only 31 percent supported school vouchers—a program that has recently come to North Carolina and was upheld by the state’s Supreme Court following a court battle challenging the idea of using public dollars to support unaccountable private institutions of learning.

Click here to see the full results of the 47th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools.

News

VoteThe state court challenge to the 2013 voter ID provisions of the monster voting law is set for a hearing this morning at the Wake County Courthouse on the state’s request to dismiss the case.

That request comes on the heels of the recent amendment to the law providing that voters lacking an acceptable photo ID can still cast a ballot after signing an affidavit that states they had a reasonable impediment to obtaining one.

The state contends the amendment moots the claims that the voter ID provisions are unconstitutional.

The law’s challengers argue though that even with the amendment the right to vote is still burdened, in part because of uncertainty over how election officials statewide will implement the reasonable impediment provision — particularly in light of a possible March 2016 election.  They point to a lack of any plan to educate poll workers and other election officials on how the amendment will work and also to lawmaker statements indicating an intent to repeal the reasonable impediment provision as soon as possible. They are asking the the court to allow them to amend their complaint to challenge the amendment.

Today’s hearing will proceed even as the parties in the pending federal cases challenging the 2013 law have indicated they may be able to reach a settlement of the voter ID claims, depending upon an agreement of conditions needed by challengers to ensure voter protection.

A report to U.S. Judge Thomas B. Schroeder on the status of those negotiations is expected by September 18, 2015.

(Correction:  An earlier version of this post stated that plaintiffs in the federal cases would report to Judge Schroeder on the status of settlement negotiations over the voter ID claims early this week. That has been corrected to reflect the correct date for such a report — September 18, 2015.)

Commentary

Today is the first day of the 2015-16 school year in lots of places throughout North Carolina and editorial pages across the state this past weekend welcomed back the return of teachers and students with some harsh words for the political powers that be.

The Winston-Salem Journal minced no words in an editorial entitled “Teacher shortage: Legislature must end the brain drain”:

“North Carolina once concentrated on providing the best public education it could. But in the first years of the 21st century, Democratic leaders lagged in funding for education. The Republicans have been harder on it.

Some Republicans seem to have made a point of bad-mouthing teachers and the teaching profession. That doesn’t create an atmosphere in which they feel appreciated.

And the legislature has taken more concrete steps to diminish the teaching profession by eliminating the teaching fellows program and stipends for advanced degrees. Right now, as the legislature fumbles around with its budget, teacher assistants hang in limbo, not knowing if they’ll have jobs once the dust settles. Teachers had to take the state to court earlier this year just to retain tenure status.

And despite some movement toward raising salaries, our teachers continue to be underpaid for the important work they do.

Texas and other states have come to North Carolina to recruit new teachers, knowing they can offer better deals. And many teachers have accepted.

Who pays for this backward motion? The students, initially, and then our communities, which wind up with less-educated members and a less-educated workforce that fails to attract the jobs of the future.

Education is the best predictor of future success. If the legislature really wants to bring in new companies and jobs, it would recognize that instead of shortchanging our teachers, our students and our future.”

Here’s the Fayetteville Observer reminding us that the ideological driven move to rewrite the Common Core standards will be very expensive:

“The Academic Standards Review Commission has released some of its preliminary reports on how to revise teaching standards for math and English.

In addition to its curriculum recommendations, the commission added this: Once the revisions are made, the schools will need money for new teaching materials, including textbooks, and a sufficient number of teachers and teacher assistants to carry out the job.

The budget that lawmakers are negotiating doesn’t have that money in it. The Senate, in fact, wants to get rid of at least 8,500 teacher assistants and hire about 3,300 new teachers for lower grades.

We might indeed end up with better schools if the review commission’s advice is heeded. But we need to remember that the Common Core pushback was purely political, rooted in the canard that it’s a federal takeover of education. It’s not. The standards were developed by educators. And they are widely supported by business and the military. Can we really afford this exercise in the politics of education?”

And finally, the Wilmington Star News put it this way in a piece entitled “Let’s support our teachers”:

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News

With the state budget nearly eight weeks overdue, Governor Pat McCrory took to You Tube Sunday to praise teachers and reassure them his office was continuing to work to raise their salaries:

“I want to let you know I’m doing my best, working very, very hard with the legislature to continue the pay raises,” said Governor McCrory. “We’ve committed to spending over $1 billion in teacher salaries during the next fiscal year.”

School districts have been struggling to get ready for the new school year that begins this week.

Without a firm budget in place, districts have reported teacher shortages in critical areas. Teaching assistants have seen their hours cut, with no promise of having a job beyond September if the state budget does not allocate enough money for their positions.

Still other districts have shut down driver’s education programs, uncertain if the money will be available to teach teenager drivers.

To view a portion of Governor McCrory welcome message to North Carolina teachers click below:

YouTube Preview Image

The full video shot at North Rowan High School in Spencer where McCrory was once a student teacher is available here.