News

Educators tout the benefits of pre-k programs

preschoolA North Carolina legislative panel heard a mostly positive assessment Wednesday on the impacts of a quality pre-k education, with most education experts touting pre-k services as a major boon for students.

“We have a long way to go,” said John Pruett, director of the Office of Early Learning in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.  “There’s a lot of work to do but the state has tremendous opportunities in front of it, if that’s the direction the state wants to take.”

Multiple states launched public pre-k programs in recent years, and in North Carolina, at least one county is considering rolling out publicly funded pre-k too.

Pruett, who helms a DPI office aimed at promoting early childhood education, told members of the House Select Committee on Education Strategy and Practices Wednesday that most studies show a strong pre-k education yields higher test scores, improved graduation rates, reduced behavioral problems and, ultimately, higher earnings.

And pre-k could benefit the state’s at-risk children the most, he said, pointing out the program can help to lessen the achievement gap for low-income children in both reading and math testing.

Experts offered some caveats however, pointing out some studies have shown eventual convergence of test scores between students who attended pre-k and those who did not, the so-called “fadeout” effect.

Indeed, at least one skeptic suggested the data isn’t there yet to support a major ramp-up of pre-k in the state.

Vanderbilt University’s Mark Lipsey presented the findings Wednesday of his 2015 study, which found that Tennessee’s state-run pre-k program—which has helped pay for thousands of low-income children to attend pre-k in the last decade—has yielded questionable results.

While pre-k students initially scored higher than their peers, by the age of 6, their test scores were identical. And, by the age of 7, the pre-k children were actually scoring lower, Lipsey found.

Many responded to that controversial study by pointing out that it contrasts with most of the pre-k research in recent decades.

“I’ve been accused of hating children,” Lipsey said Wednesday. “But we have to figure out what accomplishes the goal. We can’t assume with a lack of evidence.”

However, Pruett told legislators that he believes the state must work to align the pre-k curriculum with that of the early school grades, in order to maintain the academic gains and combat “fadeout.”

Joan Lord, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board, a compact of education experts in the southwest U.S., told legislators that North Carolina’s focus should mostly be on access to pre-k services.

Only about 40 percent of the state’s 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds attend pre-k in North Carolina today, which is a relatively low number in the U.S.

Lord also pointed out that it is “affluent” children who are more likely to use the services.

Commentary

Major papers: Time for lawmakers to come to their senses on redistricting

Senator Bob Rucho

Senator Bob Rucho

Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

Both of North Carolina’s two largest newspapers are featuring editorials this morning calling on the state’s Republican legislative leaders to abandon their destructive and illegal redistricting scheme.

Here’s Raleigh’s News & Observer:

As a constitutional scholar, Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews is a good dentist (his actual profession). The same goes for his skills as an architect of congressional and legislative district maps.

Now, thanks to blatant gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts – something Republicans knew they were doing when they drew new Republican-flavored maps after the 2010 census – North Carolina is in a legal mess. A federal judges’ panel has ruled that two congressional districts, the 1st and the 12th, are unconstitutional because of racial gerrymandering to reduce the influence of black voters by packing them into certain districts….

Rucho says the ruling could throw elections ‘into chaos.’ It was he and his Republican mates on Jones Street who tempted chaos. Osteen seemed to repudiate the senator’s view.

There now are five federal lawsuits involving North Carolina’s voting maps and challenges to voting suppression laws such as voter ID, along with the absurd redrawing of district lines for the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County school board. All because Republicans in power couldn’t resist the temptation to put the fix in on elections to help preserve their power.

And this is from the Charlotte Observer in an editorial that also derides the legislature’s heavy handed attempted power grab vis a vis the Governor:

“When a parent reprimands a child for bad behavior, the child has a choice: Straighten up and fly right, or dig in and double down.

Ten days ago, six of North Carolina’s seven Supreme Court justices (three Republicans, three Democrats) agreed that the legislature had overstepped its authority by giving itself, rather than the governor, appointment power over executive-branch commissions.

Exactly one week later, three federal judges on Friday agreed that the legislature had passed an unconstitutionally gerrymandered map of congressional districts.

These are distinct cases, but in each multiple judges found that the legislature acted unconstitutionally in wielding its power.”

The editorial goes on to call on legislative leaders to confirm McCrory appointees they’ve been holding hostage and, even more importantly, to abandon their commitment to gerrymandering and to move to enact nonpartisan redistricting: Read more

News

June Atkinson calls for 10 percent salary increase for teachers

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

It’s a long, long way from action on the N.C. General Assembly floor, but N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson today called for a 10 percent raise for all teachers in North Carolina.

“We need to get at the core reasons why teachers leave the classroom or go to another state,” said Atkinson.

It’s an important year for teacher raises, as many public education advocates point out recent pay increases passed on by GOP leadership in the legislature have brought the average teacher pay in North Carolina to just 42nd in the nation, with average pay of more than $47,000.

The national average exceeds $57,000, according to the National Education Association. 

And, with 2016 being an election year, some leaders in the legislature have publicly stated their intentions for some sort of raises this year.

On Wednesday, Atkinson, addressing the House Select Committee on Education Strategy and Practices, called for a “wedding cake” approach to teacher pay.

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News

State lawmaker says he expects House education committee to mull discrimination policy for voucher schools

N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., D-Forsyth

N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., D-Forsyth

One day after N.C. Policy Watch reported the story of a voucher-eligible Lee County private school’s arguably discriminatory admissions policy, N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., D-Forsyth, says he expects the state House education committee to address the topic when the legislature reconvenes in April.

Hanes, who sits as vice chair on the committee, says public funds should not be dispensed to any private school “with discriminatory intentions.”

The “lifestyle statements and covenant” issued by Lee Christian School, which requires signature by parents, employees and students grades 6-12, includes explicit denunciations of homosexuality and adultery.

According to the document, provided to Policy Watch by Lee County news blog The Rant, the school reserves the right to deny admission or expel students should the “atmosphere or conduct within” the student’s home contrast with the school’s anti-gay policy.

From the school’s agreement:

“Sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are immoral and sinful. The depth of the sinfulness of homosexual practice is recognized, and yet we believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome both the practice of such activity and the perversion leading to its practice.”

Hanes, who was one of a handful of Democrats who originally supported the legislature’s controversial plan to funnel public funds into vouchers for private schools, says he has a record of supporting the LGBT community.

“I would not be in agreement with discriminating against anyone based on their sexual orientation,” Hanes said.

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News

N.C. House Speaker watches a teacher assistant at work

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

Legislators visit schools all the time, and as a longtime reporter, I can tell you that it’s typically uneventful stuff.

But here’s a fairly interesting report from Wednesday’s Wilkes Journal-Patriot of N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s visit this week to an elementary school in Wilkes County, during which the speaker apparently got a chance to view a teacher assistant lead the classroom.

Given the job scares TAs have withstood in recent years, including last year’s hotly contested Senate proposal to ax 8,500 TA jobs, Moore’s visit is relevant.

According to the Journal-Patriot, Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, was visiting the school as part of a tour to assess the value of North Carolina’s new letter grading system for assessing school performance.

Locals hoped to make the case for amending the grading system, claiming it focuses too much on testing performance and not on student growth. We can expect this will be a topic of interest when the General Assembly reconvenes in April.

However, according to the paper, one of the tour’s most interesting moments came when Moore watched a TA at work. Education advocates often tout the value of teacher assistants, employees who often juggle multiple classrooms tasks for very moderate pay, yet TA positions are often on the cutting block during budget negotiations.

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