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School testsYesterday, North Carolina took the latest in an series of steps cooked up by conservative advocates and ideologues to demoralize and depopulate our public education system (what they call “government schools”) — the release of the  much ballyhooed A-F grades for individual schools. As we’ve quickly learned — surprise!! — schools with lots of poor kids tend to fare poorly on standardized tests. Who could have guessed?

Notably absent from the review, of course, is the long list of private and religious schools eligible for public funds which teach that humans and dinosaurs once shared the planet, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

Thankfully, a lot of what one needs to know about the A-F idea — aside from the obvious fact that it is sheer folly to try and sum up the collective actions of hundreds (or even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators in a single letter grade — is detailed in this new report from the good folks at the National Education Policy Center: “Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade.”

After explaining why it’s impossible and counter-productive to try and assign a single letter grade to an entire school — especially one based on standardized tests of a population over which the school has no control and that completely ignores important parts of the school’s mission like developing citizens — the authors go on to recommend, among other things:

  • Eliminating the single grade, which cannot be composed without adding together unlike elements and promoting confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Developing a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
  • Enlisting the services of assessment and evaluation experts in designing school accountability systems.

Click here to read the entire report. Let’s hope state lawmakers do. And let’s also hope that the new grades set in motion a chain of occurrences not intended by their conservative designers — namely, that North Carolina gets serious about attacking the two main causes of our educational system problems: poverty and segregation.

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More

Commentary

As it has at the national level, North Carolina’s official unemployment rate continues to fall. And while there’s certainly some good news there, numerous analysts continue to explain why this recovery is especially tepid and shallow for a huge proportion of North Carolinians (and why the trickledown economic policies pursued by state leaders continue to fall short). The latest comes from the economic wonks at CFED. Here’s the release:

New Report Finds North Carolina Ranks Near the Bottom for Financial Security of its Residents
Overall Poor Performance Shows Persistent Financial Insecurity, Need for Comprehensive Public Policy Response

Washington, D.C. – Despite an improving national economy, new data released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) show many North Carolina residents are barely scraping by. CFED’s 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard ranked the state near the bottom among all states for its high number of low-wage jobs (ranked 41st), as well as its high number of low-income residents who don’t have health insurance (42nd) or a four-year college degree (44th).

The troubling data underscore the need for programs and policies that help more families achieve financial security, including reinstatement of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and expansion of Medicaid. Additionally, a Children’s Savings Account program would provide every child in the state with their own matched savings account for postsecondary education. Recent research has shown that these accounts dramatically increase college attendance and graduation rates. Read More

News

For the first time in at least a half century, a majority of American public school students live in poverty, according to a new report released by the Southern Education Foundation.

Fifty-one percent of the nation’s public school students were eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in 2013, according to federal data. In North Carolina, that figure stood at 53 percent—and in the south overall, the numbers of poor students were the highest.

Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post explained the significance of the new development:

The shift to a majority poor student population means that in public schools, more than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the swelling ranks of needy children arriving at the schoolhouse door each morning.

Back in 2006, a report by SEF highlighted how low income children became a majority of the public school students in the Southern states. The authors made this observation:

Currently the South alone faces the implications and consequences of having a new majority of low income students in its public schools… the South also faces a new global economy that requires higher skills and knowledge from all who seek a decent living. In this brave, new world, the people and policymakers of Southern states must realize that continuing the current, uneven level of educational progress will be disastrous.

They must understand more fully that today their future and their grandchildren’s future are inextricably bound to the success or failure of low income students in the South. If this new majority of students fail in school, an entire state and an entire region will fail simply because there will be inadequate human capital in Southern states to build and sustain good jobs, an enjoyable quality of life, and a well-informed democracy. It is that simple.

With today’s news, the president of the Southern Education Foundation had this to offer:

“This is a watershed moment when you look at that map,” said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, referring to a large swath of the country filled with high-poverty schools.

“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,”he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

News

The UNC Board of Governors is delaying the release of a much-anticipated report about a review of the university system’s centers and institutes.

UNCsystemThe report, which could recommend cuts or consolidations of various academic centers, was supposed to be presented to the full UNC Board of Governors at next week’s meeting. It will now be presented at the Feb. 27 meeting.

Questions have been raised about the goals and purposes of the review, which is being conducted by a working group of the 32-member UNC Board of Governors, all of whom received their appointments from state Republican leaders.

In December, working group members questioned why conservative viewpoints weren’t explored more fully at several UNC-Chapel Hill centers, including the UNC law school’s Center for Civil Rights and the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity. (Click here for more background.) The UNC poverty center is headed by Gene Nichol, an outspoken law professor who has been critical of policies coming from the McCrory administration and Republican-led state legislature.

Jim Holmes, the Board of Governor member leading the effort, has said repeatedly that the group had no partisan or political aims when it began examining the more than 200 centers located on 16 different campuses. The review has now been reduced to 34 groups, several of which serve or study minority or disenfranchised populations. (Click here and scroll down for a list.)

A draft of the report wasn’t finished over the winter holidays, and a public meeting will be held sometime before the Feb. 27th meeting for the working group to finalize the report, said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

The date for that meeting has not been announced.