Ladd: Don’t take my report as an endorsement of achievement school zones


Duke University Professor of Public Policy Helen Ladd

Take this month’s report on the not-so-good numbers of the Turning Around N.C.’s Lowest Achieving Schools program, or TALAS, as a “disappointment,” says one of the report’s co-authors, Duke University Professor of Public Policy Helen Ladd.

Take it as an indictment of how the “low-performing” designation can impact a school’s ability to retain teachers and affluent families. Take it as evidence that the state’s low-income families need more support.

But don’t take the report as support for the launch of achievement school districts in North Carolina, says Ladd.

“There are some people in the state who aren’t happy with my paper,” Ladd says. “But I’m not a fan of achievement school districts.”

Ladd’s report, released this month by a DC-based education research center, arrives as lawmakers are considering a method called achievement school districts which would pull chronically low-performing schools into one district, regardless of geography, piloted by charter operators rather than local school boards.

Members of the legislature’s Select Committee on Achievement School Districts are expected to consider a new draft of that legislation Wednesday.

Supporters say it could break the cycle of chronically struggling schools. But opponents point out the GOP-championed reform has delivered poor results in states like Tennessee, on top of similarly middling numbers in Louisiana and Michigan.

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ACLU says NC’s anti-LGBT law risks billions in federal funding for schools

RESTROOMS-400-1On Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory, responding to an avalanche of criticism for North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law, released a list of “myths vs. facts,” a point-by-point attempt to derail the clamor over the mega-controversial law.

In one point, McCrory argued that the law will not threaten the state’s share of federal education funding under Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions.

But Monday, in the midst of a press conference announcing a legal challenge to the anti-LGBT law, ACLU of N.C. Legal Director Chris Brook called McCrory’s statements “patently false on a number of different levels.”

Brook said federal education agencies have interpreted Title IX’s anti-discrimination regulations to include protection based on gender identity, meaning N.C.’s $4.5 billion share of federal funding could be imperiled.

“We’re putting $4.5 billion at stake to score political points by marginalizing an already marginalized community,” said Brook.

And, although Title IX was not mentioned in his statement, N.C. Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis was one of many who spoke against the law last week.

“House Bill 2 goes against NCAE’s core values of equality for every individual,” said Ellis. “This discriminatory law turns back decades of civil rights progress and hamstrings local governments from making their communities a reflection of their citizens and their beliefs. Today we stand up with educators, businesses, and local government leaders for the rights of the LGBT community and all the citizens of North Carolina from discriminatory practices.”

More on this to come.


Teach for America cuts 100 positions, revamps organization

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bTeach for America, the national organization that helps to train college grads for placement in needy schools, is reportedly undergoing a structural reorganization in the midst of its second consecutive year failing to meet its recruiting targets.

First reported by education activist Diane Ravitch on her blog Monday, and later confirmed by The Washington Post, the news shows the nationwide nonprofit continues to deal with apparent structural instability.

From the Post:

Teach for America, the nonprofit known for placing idealistic and inexperienced teachers in some of the nation’s neediest schools, is cutting 15 percent of its national staff in what the organization described as an effort to give more independence to its more than 50 regional offices around the country.

The organization will cut 250 jobs and add 100 new ones, making for a net loss of 150 jobs.

Since [Teach for America CEO Elisa] Villanueva Beard’s initial announcement, some positions have been eliminated and other staff members have chosen to leave, according to one TFA staff member who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the organization’s internal workings. Many are planning to depart on April 15.

The downsizing comes after a previous round of reductions in which TFA’s national staff shrank by more than 200 positions. The two shake-ups will leave Teach for America with approximately 930 national staff members in fiscal year 2017, 410 fewer than it employed in fiscal year 2015, according to the organization.

Despite years of support from the Obama administration and, at home, Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, the national nonprofit has been a frequent target for critics who point to high turnover in the organization and short teaching stints for many TFA recruits as evidence for concern.

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North Carolina public schools are seeking charter-like flexibility

preschoolLast week, at the Public School Forum of N.C.’s panel on low-performing schools, we heard from multiple principals who espoused the value of charter-like flexibility for their struggling schools.

“If one person speeds, I don’t think we all deserve a ticket,” said Kristy Thomas, principal at Rock Rest Elementary in Union County, arguing that burdensome restrictions for such schools could only slow their progress.

Not coincidentally, a new policy approved by the N.C. State Board of Education this year would allow certain low-performing schools to adopt some charter powers, such as amending the calendar year to cut days from the summer break. Educators frequently bemoan the loss of instructional progress over lengthy summer breaks.

Now, this from The News & Observer this weekend:

The Wake County school board gave permission last week for staff to request charter-like flexibility for Barwell Road and Walnut Creek elementary schools for the 2016-17 school year.

If the state board approves the request, Barwell and Walnut Creek could see changes such as more days in the school calendar. Wake may also be able to change the way it staffs both schools, including how teachers are paid.

“When you have flexibility in how you staff and the instructional program, you have the potential to do some creative things that you were not able to do before because of state law,” said Marvin Connelly, the Wake school system’s chief of staff and strategic planning.

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Ed NC launches expansive new “data dashboard”

preschoolIf, like me, you believe in the unimpeachable power of numbers, this should come as a treat.

Ed N.C. launched an outstanding tool this week, dubbed its “Data Dashboard,” for crunching North Carolina numbers, offering interactive charts and graphs on population, student enrollment, poverty, teacher certification, education spending and, of course, charters.

From Ed N.C.:

Often, people disagree about the facts. But data can help us find common ground. We think good data leads to good decision making. It helps citizens decide what they think about an issue, it helps journalists get the story right, it helps policymakers understand the context of their decisions, and it helps philanthropy triage its dollars.

This dashboard is interactive. For instance, if you hover over a chart or map, you can see additional data. Sort data tables by clicking on column headers. Source links are provided so you can explore the original data. And all of the visualizations can be shared on social media, saved to your computer, and printed for your own use.

The data on this dashboard has been verified as of February 22, 2016. If there is a discrepancy between the data on the dashboard and the source data, it may be that the source has been updated. Please also note that variations between data at different sources may be caused by the time of data collection.

At EdNC, we use an iterative, design-thinking approach to all that we do. Please let us know if there is additional data you would like us to include. The dashboard will expand and evolve over time based on what you want and how you use it.

As our founder Ferrel Guillory notes, “Data without analysis is junk. Yes, you have to put the facts down. But you also have to array facts, connect dots, and examine time lines to make the facts mean something by which to drive action.”

Time to connect some dots. Enjoy.