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The N.C. Supreme Court denied an emergency motion filed last week by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow taxpayer-funded school vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last month, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided. 

The defendant-intervenors pushing to get school voucher funds out the door filed their motion with the Supreme Court before a written order had been issued by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood, going against the usual order of business.

The Supreme Court decided to punt the case back to the Court of Appeals today, and because a written order was finally issued by Judge Hobgood late last week, defenders of the school voucher program can once again pursue a temporary stay of his unconstitutional ruling in the lower court, following the normal process.

The Supreme Court’s latest ruling means that those hoping to get school vouchers out to private schools immediately while the final merits of the case are decided now face a potentially weeks-long delay, and it’s unclear how students who have enrolled at private schools with the understanding they would have $4,200 taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay toward their tuition will be affected.

Read the Supreme Court’s ruling below. And for more background on the school voucher legal battle, click here.

News

As reported in the Durham Herald Sun and The Washington Post, the Durham school board voted last week not to keep its relationship with Teach for America (TFA) beyond the 2015-16 school year, allowing the school system’s current TFA teachers to finish out their contracts.

According to the Durham Herald Sun:

Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

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Commentary

With all of the incessant battles over testing and standards and privatization, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to public education. Fortunately, a recent New York Times op-ed that was republished in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer serves to remind us of what’s really most important when it comes to making schools work — namely the presence of a full complement of caring, loving and properly-trained educators and other professionals.

And as the op-ed notes, one group of professionals that has been proven essential in making schools work — especially schools with high percentages of kids from tough home situations — is social workers:

For the 16 million American children living below the federal poverty line, the start of a new school year should be reason to celebrate. Summer is no vacation when your parents are working multiple jobs or looking for one. Many kids are left to fend for themselves in neighborhoods full of gangs, drugs and despair. Given the hardships at home, poor kids might be expected to have the best attendance records, if only for the promise of a hot meal and an orderly classroom.

But it doesn’t usually work out that way. According to the education researchers Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes at Johns Hopkins, children living in poverty are by far the most likely to be chronically absent from school (which is generally defined as missing at least 10 percent of class days each year)….

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

Of course, merely adding an adequate number of social workers is no panacea for all that ails poor kids or struggling schools. But doing so would be a huge improvement over the current situation and also reenforce the all-too-frequently-forgotten bit of common sense that — whether it’s funding small class sizes, adequate administrative personnel or school nurses — there’s simply no substitute for employing an adequate number of skilled professionals with reasonable workloads when it comes to making our public schools truly successful.

News

CommonCore_NC1Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) is the first to publicly announce his appointments to a legislative commission that will review and make recommendations for modifying the Common Core State Standards. Berger’s appointments include a retired math professor recommended by the John Locke Foundation and a Winston-Salem/Forsyth school board member who has a “self-guided education in curriculum standards.”

House Speaker Thom Tillis, Governor Pat McCrory, State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey and Senator Berger each must make appointments to the Academic Standards Review Commission, which has the authority to recommend to the State Board of Education that they replace none, some, or all of the much-debated Common Core standards.

The review commission is required by law to meet before September 1, 2014 — although no meeting has been scheduled as of August 29.

Berger’s spokesperson, Shelly Carver, told N.C. Policy Watch that the Senate leader made his appointments on August 20. They are as follows:

  • Ann Clark, deputy superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools
  • Dr. Laurie McCollum, assistant principal, Western Rockingham Middle School
  • Jeannie Metcalf, member, Winston-Salem/Forsyth Board of Education
  • Dr. John T. Scheick, retired math professor, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, The Ohio State University

Dr. Scheick, a retired math professor who lives in North Raleigh, told N.C. Policy Watch by phone that he became interested in the Common Core standards just a few weeks ago, when he read an August 5 Wall Street Journal article by a UC-Berkeley mathematician who skewered the math standards.

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Commentary

The following essay was submitted to NC Policy Watch this week by a concerned public school teacher.

North Carolina teachers and the Common Core: Now what?
By Rod Powell

It’s already here—a new school year.

Despite a turbulent summer for North Carolina schools—in which legislators repealed the Common Core, slashed teacher assistant funding, and implemented a controversial teacher pay schedule—educators are back in the classroom, preparing students for a year of rigorous and engaging learning.

But as teachers begin their classes, many are asking the question, “What exactly should we be teaching our students?”

For the past three years, the answer was the Common Core. But now, thanks to the General Assembly, the work teachers have done to hone the standards is for naught.

Governor Pat McCrory has called for a review of the Common Core, with a commission to put new standards in place for the 2015-2016 school year. (Members of the commission have yet to be appointed, even though the September 1 deadline looms.)

But teachers can’t wait till 2015. We have students in our classrooms now. So what should we do? Do we spend countless hours planning our instruction and lesson plans for this year’s classes, only to have to overhaul them for entirely new standards just one year from now?

State superintendent Dr. June Atkinson assures educators that North Carolina will still operate under the Common Core for this school year. I hope teachers can take her at her word. But that doesn’t change the millions of dollars that have gone into developing Common Core materials and professional development—not to mention the thousands of hours that hardworking North Carolina teachers have dedicated to refining their craft and implementing the standards.

All that money and effort—what a waste.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with my teaching colleagues about this murky situation as we prepare for the school year. Read More