News

The “elephant in the room”: North Carolina still suspending black students at a higher rate

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bCalling it the “elephant in the room,” at least one advisor to the N.C. State Board of Education demanded answers Thursday morning about the state’s continually high rate of suspensions for black students in the 2014-2015 academic year.

The call came amidst a report from state staff on suspensions and expulsions that showed black students were significantly more likely to receive short-term and long-term suspensions than their peers, a stable trend in North Carolina public schools over the years. (Note: The suspension data begins on page 23 of the report.)

James Ford, the state’s Teacher of the Year and an advisor to the state board, asked for an explanation for the “racialized gaps” in the data, but didn’t leave with many answers.

More than 118,000 black students received short-term suspensions last year, the report said, a rate of about 3 suspensions per every 10 black students.

By comparison, 54,812 white students received short-term suspensions, a rate of about .71. The second-highest rate belonged to American Indian students, who received about 2.52 suspensions per 10 students.

The data captured a similar trend in long-term suspensions. Black students, by far, received a higher number in 2014-2015, coming in with 601 reported long-term suspensions. That’s a rate of about 153 long-term suspensions per 100,000 black students.

The rate for white students was about 37 per 100,000 students. American Indian students had the next highest rate, about 88 long-term suspensions per 100,000 students.

The racial gaps in suspension data have been a concern in North Carolina for some time. After reading the report Wednesday, N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., the Democrat from Forsyth County who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, blasted school leaders over the numbers, calling them “crazy high rates” for black students.

Hanes said such numbers could explain why some black parents are looking for alternatives to public schools through charters and private school vouchers. Hanes was one of a number of Democrats who backed the state’s controversial voucher program—the Opportunity Scholarship program—in 2013.

In an email to Policy Watch, Hanes said of the report, which also captured the first increase in the state’s dropout rate in eight years:

“We are inoculated against the suffering of Black people and especially their children.  Black lives don’t matter.  Black voices don’t matter unless they speak against white voices who demand status quo.  If you happen to be poor and white, well, you don’t matter much either because you allowed yourself to get caught in places where black people congregate.  The truth is the general assembly really doesn’t care a whole lot about poor people and never has.”

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News

Withdrawals in North Carolina’s virtual charters continue to soar

Virtual charter schoolsIn January, we reported on the staggeringly high withdrawal rates in the pilot program for North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools.

An updated report, which is scheduled to be presented to the N.C. State Board of Education Wednesday afternoon, isn’t likely to assuage those concerns.

State staff were expected to explain to board members Wednesday how the publicly-funded virtual schools saw withdrawals only worsen in the last two months.

According to their report, N.C. Connections Academy, owned by the British multinational corporation Pearson PLC, counted a total of 505 students dropped out of the online school program in the first five months, or more than 25 percent of total enrollments in the school during that time period.

And Virtual Academy, managed by the controversial Virginia-based company K-12, Inc., saw 497 withdrawals in the first five months, meaning about 26 percent of their enrollments dropped out of the program.

Both withdrawal rates represent increases on the first three months at Connections Academy and Virtual Academy, which were logged at about 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

K-12 Inc.’s virtual programs have been a source of controversy across the country, particularly in states like California and Tennessee where residents lambasted the poor testing results for virtual school students.

A Stanford University study last fall showed students at virtual charters nationwide lagging far behind public school students in reading and math.

Supporters of virtual charter programs say they can be a means of transformation for students who struggle in traditional public school programs.

They have also responded to the high dropout rates in the early months by pointing out that virtual programs nationwide typically experience high numbers of withdrawals in their first months.

News

Separate and unequal: Grassroots group takes on inequity in Charlotte schools

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bTo hear Carol Sawyer describe it, Charlotte social worker Barry Sherman was at his wit’s end when he phoned her in June.

Sherman, who worked at the primarily low-income Bruns Academy in Charlotte, phoned Sawyer because she was already an outspoken advocate for students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). With a student population of more than 140,000, CMS is second only to Wake County Schools among the largest districts in North Carolina.

Sherman complained that someone, somewhere, needed desperately to remedy the inequity in the system’s poorest schools, which have, for years, struggled with high teacher turnover, poor test scores and little public attention.

Sawyer agreed, and immediately began reaching out through social media networks for others who felt the same. “Next thing I knew, I had 20 people I didn’t know in my living room,” says Sawyer, now a member of the steering committee for the grassroots group, which calls itself OneMeck.

Today, OneMeck, is clearly gaining traction. A feature in the Jan. 2 edition of The Charlotte Observer named steering committee co-chair Justin Perry one of seven people to watch in 2016. Even before that, the group was garnering public attention, taking its pleas for help to the CMS Board of Education and penning an op-ed for the paper.

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News

Report details the struggle to recruit at NC’s low-performing schools

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.

Commentary

For-profit-run virtual charter schools won’t have to take attendance

It’s bad enough that North Carolina will be turning over the future of thousands of its children and tens of millions in taxpayer dollars to a predatory Wall Street company in the name of “school choice,” but this morning’s report from NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner that state officials have waived attendance taking requirements for the state’s new “virtual charter schools” is simply and absudly beyond the pale. This is from Wagner’s story:

“The North Carolina State Board of Education quietly approved a policy last month that could allow the state’s two brand new virtual charter schools to avoid recording and reporting daily student attendance, and stipulates that the virtual schools would only lose their state funding for a student if he or she fails to show any “student activity,” —as defined by the for-profit charter operators—for at least ten consecutive days….

Previously the online virtual charter schools, which are taking part in a pilot program authorized by the legislature last year and set to begin this fall, would have had to record daily student attendance using the state’s online reporting software—like traditional brick and mortar public schools—to comply with compulsory attendance laws.

Via conference calls before the start of school in late August, both the Charter School Advisory Board and the State Board of Education quickly approved a new policy that doesn’t require the virtual schools to record and report daily student attendance to the Department of Public Instruction.

That change came at the behest of officials with the North Carolina Virtual Academy, the school backed by controversial for-profit online school operator K12, Inc., who complained to state officials that recording and reporting daily student attendance through the online reporting software that traditional schools use didn’t work for them, according to DPI’s interim director of the state’s charter school office Adam Levinson.”

The story goes on to explain that while schools will be required to monitor “student activity,” the requirement is vague and basically left up to the schools themselves. In Michigan, where such laissez faire policy was in effect, the results were predictably dreadful.

The bottom line: The move to sell off our public schools to the privatizers and corporate vultures continues apace. Read the entire story by clicking here.