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Moral MarchWith the ninth annual Moral March on Raleigh/HK on J set for this Saturday, this morning’s Weekly Briefing attempts to remind readers of the enormous similarities between the civil rights movement of the 20th Century and today’s movement for justice in North Carolina. If you’re wavering on whether to attend, the piece may provide an extra boost of enthusiasm.

The same is true for the essay below from a very inspiring Guilford County public school teacher.

Why I’ll be marching this Saturday
By Todd Warren

As a North Carolina public school teacher, I know where I’ll be this Valentine’s Day: Marching on a cold February morning with other public education allies at this year’s Mass Moral March in downtown Raleigh. Hundreds of educators will be there, wearing red and marching with Raise Up for 15, the fast-food workers organizing for $15 per hour. We’ll be there marching to the NC State Capitol, demanding full funding for public education, and saying unequivocally, “Poverty Is An Education Issue.”

If it wasn’t already clear how closely academic achievement is tied to household income, the new state school report cards clearly demonstrate this connection. Data recently released by the NC Department of Public Instruction shows that of the 146 schools that received F’s, all were schools with over a 50 percent poverty rate. Of the 561 schools that received D’s, over 97 percent had a more than 50 percent poverty rate. A recent report from the Southern Education Foundation shows that 53 percent of our students in NC are in low income families.

The strong correlation between poverty and academic achievement has been noted for decades. Nutrition, stress, lack of health-care and housing stability all play a role in brain development and student learning. This is not disputed, yet as educators, we largely ignore poverty and instead focus on how to better teach our students. No amount of revised lesson plans or new curriculum will remove the impact of poverty on student learning. Taking a stand against low wage poverty is a stand for education.

I want to be clear: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the academic abilities of poor children. In fact, when you remove the stresses created by poverty, academic achievement goes up. There is something wrong with a society and economic system that allows so many of our children to live in poverty. Read More

Commentary

School-vouchersIf it strikes you as odd and troubling that North Carolina has started bestowing “failing” grades on public schools even as it writes checks to unaccountable private schools which teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on the planet at the same time, you’re not alone. The idea of school vouchers remains enormously controversial in our state and rightfully so.

For better or worse, however, at this point, the only opinions that really matter on the issue are those of the seven members of the state Supreme Court. In less than two weeks, the justices will hear arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s voucher scheme and, presumably, issue a final judgment sometime in the coming months.

If you’d like to understand where things really stand and what may happen, please join us next Tuesday February 10 as an expert panel addresses: “The constitutional challenge to school vouchers: Where do things stand? What happens next?”

Click here to register.

The luncheon will feature

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Commentary

School testsYesterday, North Carolina took the latest in an series of steps cooked up by conservative advocates and ideologues to demoralize and depopulate our public education system (what they call “government schools”) — the release of the  much ballyhooed A-F grades for individual schools. As we’ve quickly learned — surprise!! — schools with lots of poor kids tend to fare poorly on standardized tests. Who could have guessed?

Notably absent from the review, of course, is the long list of private and religious schools eligible for public funds which teach that humans and dinosaurs once shared the planet, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

Thankfully, a lot of what one needs to know about the A-F idea — aside from the obvious fact that it is sheer folly to try and sum up the collective actions of hundreds (or even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators in a single letter grade — is detailed in this new report from the good folks at the National Education Policy Center: “Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade.”

After explaining why it’s impossible and counter-productive to try and assign a single letter grade to an entire school — especially one based on standardized tests of a population over which the school has no control and that completely ignores important parts of the school’s mission like developing citizens — the authors go on to recommend, among other things:

  • Eliminating the single grade, which cannot be composed without adding together unlike elements and promoting confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Developing a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
  • Enlisting the services of assessment and evaluation experts in designing school accountability systems.

Click here to read the entire report. Let’s hope state lawmakers do. And let’s also hope that the new grades set in motion a chain of occurrences not intended by their conservative designers — namely, that North Carolina gets serious about attacking the two main causes of our educational system problems: poverty and segregation.

Commentary

RPeople_16_Teacher_Blackboardaleigh’s News & Observer has obtained a recording of a virtual, two-minute talk that Gov. Pat McCrory gave in January to GOP legislators (the Guv was apparently fighting a cold — what he called the “Carolina Crud” — which may explain why he wasn’t there in person). The talk was about the Guv’s education agenda and while it contains little that we haven’t heard before, a couple of things stand out with respect to the issue of teacher pay:

Number One is that McCrory is still fixated on new teachers. He calls for raising the floor to $35,000 but says nothing about veteran teachers largely neglected by last year’s convoluted pay raise scheme.

Number Two and perhaps most troubling and perplexing is the Guv’s statement that teacher pay should, in part, be a function of the “marketability” of the teacher’s skills. What does that mean?

If it means that the teacher could get a better deal in another state to be a fourth grade teacher than she can get in North Carolina, well then it would seem that just about all of our teachers have great “marketability.” Providing raises on such grounds would make some sense.

If, on the other hand, it means (as one would suspect) that McCrory wants to start paying math teachers or computer science teachers (or football coaches) more than amazing veteran Kindergarten teachers, English teachers or Special Ed teachers because they might be able to earn more in the “free market,” then that is a potential problem. Read More

Commentary

Mark your calendar for the next N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on Tuesday, February 10:

“The constitutional challenge to school vouchers: Where do things stand? What happens next?”

Click here to register

For the time being, school vouchers have come to North Carolina. Thanks to the state’s conservative political leadership, several million dollars in taxpayer money now flow to unaccountable private and religious schools throughout the state.

Last summer, state Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood struck down the voucher plan as unconstitutional saying: “The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

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Since that time, however, both of the state’s higher courts have allowed the voucher program to proceed. Meanwhile, the case challenging its constitutionality has been fast-tracked for final argument. On February 17, lawyers for both sides will appear before the state Supreme Court to make their cases.

What will the parties say? What should we expect to happen? What can and should concerned citizens do?

Please join us as we explore the answers to these questions and others with one of the lead plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge to the law, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Ward. (Pictured above, right)

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Ward will be joined by two of the state’s leading education policy advocates, attorneys Christine Bischoff (picture far left) of the North Carolina Justice Center and Jessica Holmes (pictured at left) of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Don’t miss the chance to get fully up to speed on this important issue at this critical juncture.

When: Tuesday, February 10, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: The North Carolina Association of Educators Building, 700 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com