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People_16_Teacher_BlackboardThe verdict on the confusing new pay structure enacted by the General Assembly and the Governor’s office continues to draw, at best, mixed reviews. As Raleigh’s News & Observer noted — somewhat charitably — last week:

Once again, the inexperience of Republican leaders is showing. Their teacher pay plan does address the need to pay less-experienced teachers more, and that’s good. But more experienced teachers aren’t getting much, which is going to encourage more of them to retire, and that’s not good.

Even if one gives state leaders credit for bumping up the pay for some of the state’s teacher workforce from its bottom-of-the-barrel status, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their stubborn adherence to implementing new tax cuts is forcing the raises to be purchased at a very high price.

For the latest example of this troubling phenomenon, check out Lindsay Wagner’s story this morning over on the main PW site: “N.C. Department of Public Instruction forced to eliminate more than 50 jobs that serve struggling schools, technology infrastructure.” As Lindsay reports:

The agency tasked with implementing the state’s K-12 public school laws and policies is coping with a 10 percent funding cut handed down by lawmakers last week by eliminating more than 50 jobs, many of which are devoted to helping struggling schools.

“We’re abolishing approximately 54 positions out of roughly 450 state-funded staff positions,” said Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of Public schools and head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

It’s a 10 percent funding cut to DPI, the largest reduction to any state agency, said Atkinson.

And while defenders of the DPI cuts will argue that they’re all about slashing “bureaucracy,” the hard truth is that they are far from the only new “belt tightening” measures enacted in this year’s education budget. In other words, the pay raises remain essentially a fig leaf for what remains an ongoing, long-term war on public education waged by people committed to privatizing the single most important function of state government.

A Winston-Salem public charter school is continuing its efforts to bring in elite basketball players from around the nation and world, and recently saw three of its out-of-state players recruited to play next year at Division 1 colleges.

All three of the players who signed collegiate letters of intent came from outside North Carolina to attend Quality Education Academy, a charter school that is part of the state’s growing system of schools that are privately run by non-profit boards but funded with local, state and federal education dollars.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, which monitors the 127 charter schools in the state, has previously raised concerns about QEA’s controversial basketball program, but neither DPI nor the N.C. Board of Education have taken any significant steps to curtail or stop the out-of-state recruitment. The school and it basketball team were the subjects of an N.C. Policy Watch investigation last year (scroll down to read more about that report).

June Atkinson, a Democrat elected to head the state’s K-12 public education system, said last year that charter schools have to accept students from North Carolina but the laws governing charter schools are silent as to whether that means the school is open to only North Carolina residents.

Meanwhile, the  basketball program’s efforts to look outside North Carolina don’t appear to be slowing.

Isaac Pitts, the basketball coach for Quality Education Academy, recently referred to his ongoing efforts to pull in players from overseas on his  Instagram account.

“Evaluating overseas talent and liking what I see! Wow,” Pitts wrote on March 28 as a caption to a screenshot of several youth playing on an outdoor basketball court.

QEAoverseas

QEA basketball coach Isaac Pitts comments via Instagram on overseas recruiting efforts.

In another photo of what appears to be the same video, Pitts wrote, “Just sitting here looking at game film of kids we’re interested in.”

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UPDATE: State board members voted to not renew the charters for PACE Academy and Coastal Academy, meaning the schools will close at the end of the school year. The board’s decision can be appealed to an administrative court.

The State Board of Education decided today to not renew support for  today whether a handful of charter schools up for renewal should continue to operate, including charter schools in Carrboro and Morehead City that have been flagged by state education staff as problematic.

Staff from Office of Charter Schools are recommending that the state board terminate charters held by the Coastal Academy for Technology and Science (formerly known as Cape Lookout Marine Science High School) in Morehead City and PACE Academy in Carrboro.

“Both schools had patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance, and concerns related to the financial sustainability of each school,” DPI staff wrote in materials provided to state board members. “The nonrenewal votes of the CSAB were unanimous in both instances.”

The state board is expected to make its decision later this morning. (UPDATE: The state board voted late Thursday morning to not renew the school’s contracts.)

To find out what happens, you can listen to audio of the meeting here, read public documents about the renewal process here  or follow N.C. Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner, who is at the meeting, on Twitter here.

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A for-profit online education company will be at the legislature tomorrow to give a pitch to lawmakers about the virtual public charter schools it runs, and profits from, in more than 30 other states.

An executive from K12, Inc., a Wall Street-traded company that gets the bulk of its revenue from running online public schools, is slated to make a presentation Tueaday at the Joint Legislative Education Oversight committee. The hearing begins at 10 am. Tuesday in room 643 of the Legislative Office Buildling.

(Steaming audio of the meeting will be available here, and a copy of the commitee’s agenda is here.)

Mary Gifford, the company’s senior vice-president for education policy scheduled to speak to lawmakers, also spoke last week in front of a virtual charter school study group assembled to craft recommendations for the State Board of Education of how the online-only schools should operate in North Carolina.

At that meeting, Gifford acknowledged low graduation and performance rates K12,Inc.-run schools have had in other states, saying that the company’s schools tend to attract low performing students and the home-based system of education can do little to help those high-school students.

“High school is a nightmare,” Gifford told the virtual charter study group last Tuesday. Forty percent of the students in high school will be very successful.”

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A proposed Charlotte charter school had its approval revoked today for extensively plagiarizing large sections of the school’s initial application.

The Cameron Creek Charter School, which would have opened up this fall, was taken out of a batch of 25 charter schools the N.C. State Board of Education was considering final approval. The state board approved 24 of the charter schools.

The Cameron Creek Charter School had large chunks of its 155-page application that were identical to what another group had submitted previously to the state.  The plagiarized application included multiple references to the other proposed charter school, Charlotte Learning Academy, which applied in 2011 but did not get approval from the State Board of Education.

A Cameron Creek out-of-state board member, Melvin Sharpe of Philadelphia, also had been prohibited from practicing law in Pennsylvania for taking funds from clients to use for his own personal uses. Sharpe’s disbarment was first reported last month by N.C. Policy Watch, and was mentioned Wednesday to the state board as an additional reason to rescind the school’s approval.

A representative from the Charlotte Learning Academy discovered the similarity between Cameron Creek’s charter school and their own application when preparing to reapply to open a state and contacted the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools about the duplication.

The plagiarism, including mention of a different charter school, wasn’t noticed in the application period, when DPI staff, an advisory committee for charter schools and the state education board are tasked with reviewing applications.

Since the N.C. state legislature lifted the 100-school cap on charter schools, DPI has dealt with a flood of interest in the privately-run, publicly-funded schools without a corresponding increase in staff. The office of charter schools had six people tasked with monitoring the 100-plus existing charter schools, as well as reviewing applications for future charter schools. In the next round of applications, 70 groups have applied to open in the 2014-15 school year, while 24 new charter schools will open this fall.

Here’s a list of the schools the state board did give final approval, with links to the schools’ websites: Read More