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N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

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N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

“You are confirming what, anecdotally, we all would expect,” said A.L. Collins, vice chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education.

Expected, perhaps, but no less troubling, it would seem. Collins’ words came shortly after staff with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction presented a report to the state board Wednesday that quantified, in bitter detail, the apparent struggle for North Carolina’s low-performing schools to recruit high-quality teachers.

Based on the report, presented by Tom Tomberlin, director of district human resources for DPI, the attrition rate for teachers at low-performing schools and their counterparts has been surprisingly similar since 2013. Since then, both designations have seen about 22 percent of their teachers depart.

But replacing those losses at low-performing schools, according to Tomberlin, is clearly a tall order.

Teachers are evaluated on their students’ performance, he said, falling into three classes that indicate whether an educator met expected growth, exceeded expected growth or did not meet expected growth.

Of the new hires at low performing schools in the 2013-2014 academic year, nearly a quarter, 24 percent, did not meet expected growth. That number rose to 28 percent in 2014-2015.

There’s a stark difference compared to non-low performing schools, where only about 13 percent of new hires in 2013-2014 did not meet expected growth and 19 percent fell short in 2014-2015.

And while he could only speculate about why, Tomberlin said it seems that gifted teachers, even if they begin work at a low-performing school, are likely to eventually seek employment at a more academically burnished school. Low performing schools, he said, are left with less experienced or effective teachers, based on the data.

“If this trend continues, these schools have very little chance of emerging from low-performing status,” he said.

Given the state’s very public struggles with retaining teachers in recent years—at least partially because, by 2014, the state was ranked a dismal 47th in the nation in teacher pay—education leaders say the trend must be reversed.

State board member Olivia Holmes Oxendine said DPI staff should prepare policy recommendations for them to consider at a future board meeting. Most board members Wednesday seemed to agree.

“To me, it is a systems problem, not a teacher problem,” said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction. Atkinson said teachers need more instructional support and development opportunities.

Tomberlin said he expects to have recommendations prepared for the board in March.

Uncategorized

common-coreIf you missed it yesterday, be sure to read Lindsay Wagner’s story , “State Board of Education’s authority weakened with legislation that replaces Common Core,” over on the main Policy Watch site. It’s an extremely informative piece that explains the latest developments in North Carolina’s never-ending political game of legislative micromanagement of public schools.

As Wagner reports, lawmakers are poised to repeal the state’s involvement in the Common Core State Standards because of the standards’ supposed widespread unpopularity amongst parents and educators. (There was more action today.) Notwithstanding the fact that the proponents are likely wrong — at least about the attitudes of educators — here’s the part of the story that especially deserves to be highlighted:

It is not Common Core that’s really causing the widespread unrest being felt in many public schools these days as students, teachers and parents deal with the explosion of high-stakes tests. This from Wagner’s story: Read More

Uncategorized

North Carolina’s General Assembly reconvenes in less than two weeks and it’s still unclear whether veteran teachers or state employees will see a pay raise this year.

Governor Pat McCrory has said raising the base salary for starting K-12 teachers is his goal, but available revenue will determine if others see a jump in pay.

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson, who joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, says the state cannot afford to overlook any of its teachers:

“One of the first priorities must be to give all of our teachers a raise, ” said Atkinson in a radio interview with NC Policy Watch.

Atkinson also shares her thoughts on the proposal by some lawmakers to ditch the Common Core and replace it with new state standards, which have yet to be developed.

For an excerpt of Dr. Atkinson’s weekend radio interview, click below:
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Uncategorized

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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