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Members of the House Education – Universities committee discussed draft legislation Tuesday that would require the UNC School of Government to develop evaluation standards for state agencies to use when implementing pilot programs enacted by the General Assembly.

The impetus for the bill stems from the failure for state agencies to properly manage and assess pilot programs, according to John Turcotte, director of the program and evaluation division at the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Without being disrespectful to my colleagues at DPI, they did not do the pilot project very well,” said Turcotte.

That pilot project, which was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, directed the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education to manage a pilot program that would test the efficacy of providing driver’s education instruction online.

Turcotte said the pilot program was poorly managed by DPI officials and the methodology for evaluating the pilot was flawed. Toward the end of the program the UNC School of Government intervened to provide assistance, but it was too late in the process.

Turcotte cited a second problematic pilot handled by the Department of Health and Human Services that studied overnight respite services at adult daycare facilities. For that program, said Turcotte, DHHS’ handling resulted in an inability to tell whether or not it was even worth scaling up statewide.

House Bill 72, introduced by  Rep. Hurley (R-Randolph) would require the UNC School of Government to develop standards for pilot projects that lawmakers enact no later than December 1, 2016. The standards would “identify approaches for designing projects that collect appropriate and adequate data for sound evaluation of pilot projects,” according to the bill.

If passed into law, the standards would apply to new pilot programs that begin after June 1, 2017.

Current pilot programs, such as the N.C. virtual charter school pilot program or the Opportunity Scholarships program, also described as a pilot, would not be required to adhere to the new standards.

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After a slow start thanks to snow and ice wreaking havoc on legislative meeting schedules for the past two weeks, members of the House K-12 Education committee finally gathered this morning to get acquainted and begin moving legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), co-chair of the committee, introduced House Bill 18, “Planning Year for CIHS,” which would provide institutions seeking Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) status (also known as early college high schools) with a planning year prior to opening.

Members of the committee approved the bill, but stripped its $750,000 appropriation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Education Innovation.

Also up for debate was HB35, “Education Innovation Task Force,” which Rep. Elmore said would offer a more permanent solution for the work of the Education Innovation study committee by establishing a permanent entity to examine innovative practices happening in schools across the state of North Carolina.

The task force would comprise 19 politically appointed members that would include teachers, parents, administrators and lawmakers.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin, Wayne) stressed the importance of choosing for the task force teachers and school officials who are near the end of their careers. “I have found in my district a tremendous hesitancy for school teachers and school personnel to speak up out of various concerns that they have from the administrative level,” said Dixon.

“There’s great wisdom to be gained once teachers who have been in the trenches for a long time understand where the problems are and are unencumbered by the fear of retaliation if they speak up,” said Dixon.

Members approved HB35.

Earlier this morning, the joint education appropriations committee met to continue the orientation process before getting down to work on the state education budget. For a thorough look at how the state funds North Carolina’s schools, check out this presentation by the Fiscal Research Division’s Brian Matteson.

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LW-Differentiated-Pay1cState lawmakers plan to run a pilot program this year that will take a gander at differentiated teacher pay plans. The pilot calls on local school districts to submit proposals that would pay teachers on the basis of their students’ performance on standardized tests, teaching in hard-to-staff areas and subjects or taking on leadership roles.

The Asheville Citizen-Times highlighted some of the concerns of local educators and leaders around the idea of paying some teachers more than their equally-qualified colleagues.

But some districts, in submitting their plans, raised concerns about the effectiveness of performance-based pay and avoided making specific recommendations using performance standards. Instead, they focused on extra pay for teachers in hard-to-staff areas or for teachers who take on leadership roles.

“We had a number of concerns, primarily we were concerned about the impact that a differentiated pay plan would have on teamwork within the school building,” said Macon County School Superintendent Chris Baldwin.

Teachers were concerned as well. Read More

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In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the much-lauded NC Teaching Fellows program, which prepares and provides for students eager to enter into a teaching career in their home state. As the last of the Teaching Fellows are set to graduate this spring, the program’s sponsor has released a retrospective report on the program’s impact since its inception in 1986.

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs at our state’s colleges and universities and increasing numbers of teachers retiring, moving to other states or leaving the classroom altogether, the loss of this highly effective teacher recruitment effort will certainly be felt across North Carolina” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina.

Since it began, the [North Carolina Teaching Fellows] has graduated 8,523 Teaching Fellows, 79 percent of whom were employed in the public school system at least one year after completing their initial four-year teaching service requirement and 64 percent still in the public school system six or more years after completing the scholarship program’s service requirement.

Read More

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Jerry Tillman

Sen. Jerry Tillman

As the debate over school vouchers rages on before the state Supreme Court today, Senate education committee chair Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) told N.C. Policy Watch he’s not for sending taxpayer dollars to private schools.

“They [private schools] are not regulated and we don’t know what they teach there, do we? Do you know?” said Tillman at the conclusion of Tuesday’s joint education appropriations meeting. A proponent of “school choice,” Tillman said he prefers the charter school model over private school vouchers.

“And do you know who’s the biggest recipient of school vouchers? A Muslim school,” said Tillman. “The Muslim schools are leading the pack. I’m not in favor of that.”

As of last fall, the Greensboro Islamic Academy was the leading recipient of school voucher funds, although recent records provided by the NC State Education Assistance Authority show that the top recipient is now Raleigh’s Word of God Christian Academy, with Greensboro Islamic in second place having received $142,800 in taxpayer funds this year.

State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the “Opportunity Scholarships” beginning last fall. The vouchers, worth $4,200 per student annually, funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions.

Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the state’s new school voucher program to be unconstitutional last year, but the program has been allowed to proceed while a court battle over the program’s legality continues.

Tune into WRAL this morning to watch oral arguments in the school voucher case taking place before the state Supreme Court.

Tomorrow, N.C. Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey will have a recap of today’s hearing.