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Vanderbilt University education policy professor Gary Henry

Vanderbilt University education policy professor Gary Henry

North Carolina lawmakers may be likely to pursue legislation this year to install a pilot program for an achievement school district among the state’s lowest-performing schools.

But on Thursday, one of the nation’s leading researchers on the controversial reform method—which could turn over management of troubled schools to for-profit, charter operators—delivered data to a handful of lawmakers and a number of education policy advocates that delineated its somewhat middling results in the last three years in Tennessee.

 

As Gary Henry, a professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, told Policy Watch this week, the achievement school districts showed “little to no effect” on student performance in low-performing schools in Tennessee.

“So the ambitious goal of getting all the schools into the top 25 percent has not been attained,” said Henry.

Henry’s presentation came one day after the first meeting of the N.C. House’s Select Committee on Achievement School Districts, a Republican-steered committee that presented draft legislation that would install a similar system in at least five low-performing elementary schools in North Carolina as soon as the 2017-2018 academic year. However, Henry had not been asked to address that committee as of Tuesday.

While multiple members of that committee were in attendance Thursday, the select committee’s chairman and leading proponent in the legislature, Mecklenburg County Republican Rob Bryan, did not attend. His assistant did attend, and said Bryan was busy in another committee meeting.

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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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HEART-NCAE-Logo-14-3The N.C. Association of Educators, one of the leading teacher advocacy groups in the state, is hitting back against the state’s latest attempt to revoke the group’s ability to deduct dues from members’ payroll checks.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis, a frequent critic of the N.C. General Assembly’s education policies, accused the Office of the State Controller of acting in a partisan manner when the office demanded the group provide membership information or risk losing their clearance for payroll deductions, WRAL reported.

Today, Ellis and company fought back.

From Ellis’ statement:

“NCAE has always been willing to work with the State Auditor to provide appropriate membership information while maintaining the constitutional rights and interests of our members and Association. Singling out NCAE for a separate verification process is retaliatory and politically motivated by some in the General Assembly to intimidate teachers and other educators from advocating for students and public schools. Instead of focusing on this issue, lawmakers should be tackling real issues like respecting educators, paying them professional salaries, and making sure classrooms have the resources to help our students be successful.”

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1434470665-nc-handAnd in perhaps this week’s most bizarre news:

The Wilmington Star-News reported Sunday that school officials in Brunswick County, a rural county south of Wilmington, will be spending nearly a half-million dollars to clean up a middle school playing field that sits atop coal ash.

In case you’ve been living under a rock in the last two years, coal ash is an energy plant byproduct that contains potentially toxic heavy metals. Duke Energy, by law, will be required to dispose of an estimated 100 million tons of the sludge in North Carolina over the next 15 years.

School leaders reportedly used coal ash as filler and to elevate the playing field in 1992, believing it would not cause any problems. However, soil testing registered high levels of “dangerous metals,” WWAY-TV in Wilmington reported last September.

Since then, students have been apparently barred from using the field.

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school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bHere is a conversation worth following at both the state and national level.

Following last year’s Every Student Succeeds Act, an update of 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act, which imposed rigorous standards and accountability measures for struggling schools, state schools now have the freedom to do away with some federal oversight measures that were less than popular with teachers and parents.

At the top of the list may be a system of teacher evaluations called Value Added Measurement, or VAM, which rates teachers based on standardized testing performance. Long assailed by some educators as inaccurate—due to a relatively small sample size of test scores that can produce wild swings in teacher evaluations on an annual basis—VAM may be on the chopping block this year in some states.

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