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It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the General Assembly, now that there’s no longer any snow or ice to contend with (our neighbors in DC are not so lucky on this first day of spring).

Lawmakers have set their sights already in the 2015 session on a number of education policy reforms, and here are some of those bills to track in the weeks ahead.

SB272: Eliminate Personal Education Plans

Filed by Sens. Jerry Tillman and Tom Apodaca, this bill would jettison PEPs, which are intended to provide additional academic supports to at-risk, academically struggling students.

Some teachers are cheering the proposition, saying it’s an unfunded mandate resulting in unnecessary amounts of paperwork. Others worry about taking away helpful interventions from underperforming students in an era of increased accountability. Read more here.

The bill will be heard in a Senate rules committee on a date TBD. A companion bill is in the House. Read More

News

Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) filed a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the requirement for public schools to offer Personal Education Plans (PEPs), which provide academically struggling, at-risk students with strategic interventions to bring them up to grade-level proficiency.

“Personal education plans are just a lot of paperwork for a lot of students who really just don’t need them,” Sen. Tillman told N.C. Policy Watch on Thursday.

Tillman said he filed the bill to eliminate PEPs because teachers are already saddled with a lot of work, and the good ones already know which students need help.

“The good teachers are doing informal assessments all the time, and they already know what they’re doing. PEPs are just needless paperwork,” said Tillman.

Personal education plans were first introduced in 2001 as a way to help at-risk students who struggle academically yet don’t qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), which are federally mandated for students with disabilities.

The PEPs offer a mechanism for students and parents to work alongside teachers in developing customizable plans that would improve students’ academic achievement. Focused interventions that could be included in the plans include additional tutoring, mentoring, smaller classes and afterschool instruction, among others.

Jane Wettach, Duke University law professor and director of the Children’s Law Clinic, doesn’t dispute that teachers likely already know which students need more help than others.

But the point of the PEPs, says Wettach, is to provide students with additional academic supports outside of the standard academic day, because teachers don’t have the time or means to help all at-risk students during regular hours.

“The thing that PEPs do differently is that they require additional instructional services to be done outside of the normal school day,” said Wettach.

“Even really excellent teachers cannot necessarily in a regular school day provide everything that an at-risk student needs to get to grade level,” Wettach added. Read More

News

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.

News

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.

News

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