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charterschoolsMembers of the State Board of Education were presented Wednesday with the latest crop of charter school applicants that hope to open up shop in North Carolina in fall 2016 — but the director of the state’s charter school office offered words of caution to State Board members about several of the prospective schools.

“There are some [applicants] I need to bring to your attention specifically,” said Dr. Joel Medley, Director of the NC Office of Charter Schools, about several schools that were green-lighted by reviewers in close votes over concerns they may not have the capacity to carry out their missions or have questionable track records in other states.

One of the 18 applicants, Capital City Charter School (Wake County), was recommended as a “delayed decision” by the Charter School Advisory Council (the body tasked with reviewing charter school applications) thanks to concerns about the ability of the school’s education management organization (EMO) to provide services. Their recommendation would have the State Board delay its  final vote on the school’s application until next January, which is not typical.

Capital City’s EMO, Accelerated Learning Solutions, Inc. (ALS, Inc.), also plans to open Town Center Charter High School in Gaston County in 2016, which was recommended by the advisory board, but barely—reviewers voted 6-5 in favor of opening the school in 2016. With that application, reviewers also cited concerns about the EMO’s ability to supervise all of the schools ALS, Inc. is planning to open and whether they have the capacity to manage them all.

The company also plans to open Central Wake Charter High School in 2016, which received a more favorable recommendation by the advisory board with a vote of 10-1.

ALS, Inc., which currently operates one charter school in Charlotte and was supposed to open another last fall but was unable to do so thanks to problems finding a facility, also operates 23 alternative high schools focusing on drop-out recovery in seven school districts across the state of Florida, according to a due diligence report provided at Wednesday’s State Board meeting and compiled by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

According to that report, ALS, Inc., which is owned by another organization that previously ran alternative schools sometimes characterized as “prison-lite,” has come under intense scrutiny for unrealistic enrollment projections and poor academic progress of its students. Read More

News

One out of eight teachers in this country is a bad one—and that’s because teachers have failed to safeguard their profession.

So says the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess, an expert in education policy at the conservative think tank who spoke on Monday to a group of North Carolina school leaders at NC State’s Friday Institute about how to empower teachers and principals.

Hess, who was also in Raleigh to promote his new book, The Cage-Busting Teacher, explained that too many teachers are hiding in a ‘classroom cage’ and are not participating in the governance of their schools in ways to make the environment better.

“Teachers…have not done a good job of safeguarding their profession,” said Hess. “When you survey teachers, they will tell you themselves that five percent of their fellow teachers in their district deserve an F and another eight percent of the teachers in their district deserve a D.”

“That is failing to police your profession,” Hess said. “That’s failing to wield that moral authority.” Read More

News

Charter schools could soon receive more public funds thanks to a measure moving through the General Assembly that would siphon dollars away from traditional public schools to charters’ coffers.lw-501

A provision in Senate bill 456 would not only force public school districts to share as much as an additional $11 million worth of their sales tax revenue with charter schools, which are also public schools but function independently of local school boards and are not beholden to the same accountability measures —the bill would also require districts to create an additional layer of administrative bureaucracy in their accounting practices. Read More

News

Lawmakers moved a bill Tuesday that would improve the formula for how the state’s schools are now awarded A-F letter grades to make them more reflective of how a school helps its students grow academically over time.

There are a number of bills floating around the General Assembly that would change how schools receive letter grades — but the one that would change the formula to 50 percent growth, 50 percent performance, sponsored by Reps. Glazier, Johnson, Lucas and Horn, seems to have gained the most traction.

First unveiled earlier this year, North Carolina’s A-F school grades are, to a large extent, a reflection of how well a school’s student population does on standardized tests on a given day. The formula is currently weighted 80 percent “performance” (how students perform on those tests on one day), and 20 percent “growth” (how students perform on those tests over time).

When the grades were first released in February, a public outcry ensued as they largely tracked the demographics of a school’s population. High poverty schools received mostly Ds and Fs; more affluent-serving schools scored higher.

A-F school grades are the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Versions of the system have been implemented around the country.

Rep. Glazier (D-Cumberland), a sponsor of HB 803 that moved forward Tuesday, noted that Florida has already tweaked its school grading formula at least 34 times since its inception.

Virginia recently repealed the A-F school grading system.

At least one lawmaker is skeptical that the Senate will take up a fix for the A-F school grades. Stay tuned as the bill makes its way through the General Assembly.

Commentary

Just as I was getting ready to begin a weekend of fun with my kids and even look forward to a bit of relaxation here and there, I read this blog entry (see below) by Lee Ann Meredith, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, which was reposted by the Washington Post with permission.

And then I remembered that for many teachers, including the ones I’ve visited as a reporter and the ones to whom I’m related, the weekend just means more time to catch up on the endless amounts of work that stretch before them—but with more pee breaks.

If you’re reading and comprehending this blog post, then you’ve benefited from having a teacher in your life. Take the time to know eight important things about them that they want everyone to know. And then give a teacher a hand this weekend.

1. We are well-educated and specialists in our field. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of public school teachers have a master’s degree or higher.  Many teachers I know have more than one master’s degree with specializations such as reading or special education. We don’t stop learning when we become teachers either. We must reapply for our certificates with proof that we have continued our education and professional growth in our field. Grade-school teachers usually teach all subjects and we must have a strong grasp on the underlying themes. We are wildly knowledgeable in many areas.

2. We are communicators, quick decision makers, and creative problem solvers. Teaching is more than lecturing. It is often like being an orchestra director of beginning musicians. We have to be able to have a group working on task while sitting quietly with another small group of four of five pupils. We have to be able to create a working environment where a couple dozen people share an open space. It has to be done in a caring way that supports every child. This is not easy. Teachers might have to choose over Suzy’s bloody nose, Rupert’s hurt feelings, Trevor’s emotional, tear-filled crisis about a math problem, all while keeping the rest of the class at work. If you think this type of scenario never happens, think again. In primary grades some variation of this happens daily. (Two notes about this. First: Blood trumps everything, even vomit. Second: The crazier the situation is, the more likely a fire drill is about to occur.)

[You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong?]

3. We are realistic visionaries. We know what our students can do and we push, push, push some more to make them achieve. We celebrate successes and then push some more. We know where our kids are most likely to end up but we attempt to ratchet up the trajectory. We want our kids to beat the odds against them and we try to instill the tools that make it possible. Frequently, we have to hope that something we said one rainy Tuesday, or a hot day in May, made enough of an impact that it changed their most likely path. The joy of seeing a boy who ran on the fringes of a gang, now as a young man in the grocery store telling you that he is in college is breathtaking. Getting a Facebook message from a girl that had a drug-using mama telling you that you got her through those years, that makes it all worth while. I once heard that the most common request for a private investigator wasn’t spying on a cheating spouse but rather tracking down a favorite teacher. I don’t know if it is true but I love the idea of it.

4.We have personal lives that are completely ignored during the day. We simply don’t have a moment to spare when a class of twenty-some kids is in the room. In grade schools, we have bladders of steel because you cannot leave your class to go tinkle every hour or two. (I cringed every time I was told by a health professional to drink more water.) We come to work even when we don’t feel well because it is easier than taking a day off. Unless you are absolutely incapacitated you know the result of having a substitute in your classroom. We make up a year’s worth of doctors appointments in the summer break. We make all our business phone calls then also. We are with kids during business hours and don’t get to make phone calls with them in the room. If you believe we can do it the minute the kids leave for the day you need to read the next item.

5. We do more than “just teach.” Our paperwork load is tremendous. It is way beyond grading papers. We have to document most incidents that might be a reason for concern for all students. We have to document conversations with parents and guardians. We have to record any changes to routines for children who are struggling. This can include such simple things as how often I check in with a child or if I moved their desk. We have to keep track of test scores, comparing them to each other and to past scores. The movement to document every iota of data continues to grow in the current world of testing. Besides paperwork, we also need to meet with other teachers for planning. Oh, and don’t forget bulletin boards certainly need to be changed.

6. We frequently feel isolated in our classrooms. We spend large portions of our day as the only adult in the room. Even when you have an aid or a student teacher, you are simply too focused to visit. There is no water cooler conversation. Perhaps the best example of this was way back on September 11, 2001. With a second-grade class, the only way we got information was by quick whispered conversations while we were taking our classes to the bathroom. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I had a sense of what happened that day.

7. We are passionate about our kids. Many of us see our job as a calling, not a career. We think about our students’ problems day and night, often more than our own. We come up with ways to deal with a child’s difficulty with a skill while we drive to the grocery store. We devise that perfect lesson idea while walking the dog. I’ve been out of the classroom for three years and I still do this several times a day. I see a new book and want to read it to a class. I hear a new fact about whales and want to add it to the unit I created several years ago. It doesn’t stop. It is a lifelong passion.

8. We are the builders of tomorrow. Our job is creating the future citizens of our country. Yes, we work hard. Lots of people do. Unlike most careers, what we do though is not for today. It is for the future. We know that tests don’t create career-ready people. Basic knowledge and the skills to learn do. Being able to work and communicate with others does. We are willing to do the hard work. We are the planters of acorns, believing the mighty oaks will grow from our work.