News

Withdrawals in North Carolina’s virtual charters continue to soar

Virtual charter schoolsIn January, we reported on the staggeringly high withdrawal rates in the pilot program for North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools.

An updated report, which is scheduled to be presented to the N.C. State Board of Education Wednesday afternoon, isn’t likely to assuage those concerns.

State staff were expected to explain to board members Wednesday how the publicly-funded virtual schools saw withdrawals only worsen in the last two months.

According to their report, N.C. Connections Academy, owned by the British multinational corporation Pearson PLC, counted a total of 505 students dropped out of the online school program in the first five months, or more than 25 percent of total enrollments in the school during that time period.

And Virtual Academy, managed by the controversial Virginia-based company K-12, Inc., saw 497 withdrawals in the first five months, meaning about 26 percent of their enrollments dropped out of the program.

Both withdrawal rates represent increases on the first three months at Connections Academy and Virtual Academy, which were logged at about 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

K-12 Inc.’s virtual programs have been a source of controversy across the country, particularly in states like California and Tennessee where residents lambasted the poor testing results for virtual school students.

A Stanford University study last fall showed students at virtual charters nationwide lagging far behind public school students in reading and math.

Supporters of virtual charter programs say they can be a means of transformation for students who struggle in traditional public school programs.

They have also responded to the high dropout rates in the early months by pointing out that virtual programs nationwide typically experience high numbers of withdrawals in their first months.

News

Three students file court challenge to an eastern N.C. charter’s policy requiring that girls wear skirts

charterschools-300x202Three students at a Brunswick County charter school are challenging the school’s policy requiring that girls wear skirts, the ACLU of N.C. said today.

The ACLU and Raleigh firm Ellis & Winters LLP filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of N.C. Monday on behalf of three students—ages 5, 10 and 14—at Charter Day School in Leland, which is just north of Wilmington.

In the suit, the ACLU explains that the K-8 public charter school, which serves more than 900 students, also bans girls from wearing shorts or pants under its dress code. Violating the policy can result in “discipline or even expulsion,” the ACLU said.

In the lawsuit, which you can read here, the girls say “wearing skirts restricts their movement, inhibits them in school situations such as playing at recess or sitting on the floor, and causes them to feel uncomfortably cold in the winter.”

From the ACLU statement:

“There are a lot of situations – whether it’s playing outside, sitting on the floor, or trying to stay warm in the cold – where wearing a skirt makes my daughter uncomfortable and distracts her from learning,” said Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a 5-year-old Charter Day School student who is a client in the case. “I’m not against a dress code, but it’s 2016. Girls should be allowed to wear pants as part of the dress code. As a parent, nothing is more important to me than my children, and I don’t want an outdated policy to get in the way of their education.”

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News

Here’s a rundown of the presidential candidates on education

Hillary_Clinton_official_Secretary_of_State_portrait_cropThe Congressional primaries may be a mess in North Carolina, but voting for your presidential preference and other statewide races is still on for March 15.

Just in time, Education Week has offered a pretty handy primer on the presidential candidates’ education policies. In lieu of policies—since Donald Trump doesn’t really issue those—the primer gives us some statements the candidates have made.

Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton may have the somewhat controversial backing of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has generated his own K-12 buzz.

From the Ed Week report on Sanders:

He doesn’t have the long-standing relationship with minority voters that his chief rival, Hillary Clinton, is said to have. But he’s trying to take on issues that are important to those communities. For instance, on his campaign website, he addresses opportunity gaps in K-12 education, noting that black students are far more likely to be suspended or taught by a first-year teacher than their white peers are. And he’s pitched moving away from property taxes to a more equal system of funding education. Plus, Sanders has talked about the power of education to combat crime. “It makes eminently more sense to invest in jobs and education than jails and incarceration,” he said at a campaign rally in Springfield, Mass., last year. He’s also said that government jobs could help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Meanwhile, among the GOP, the report points out multiple candidates, notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, have been adamant about major funding cuts or completely sacking the U.S. Department of Education altogether, shuttling standards and practices to the states.

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News

N.C.’s high school dropout rate rises for the first time in eight years

HKONJ2016-13Here is some very, very overlooked news from this week.

The News & Observer reported this week that North Carolina’s dropout rate rose for the first time in eight years.

From the N&O:

The 2014-15 dropout rate was 2.39 percent, up from 2.28 percent the previous year. The dropout rate increased across all racial and ethnic groups, except for Asian students.

As in previous years, the top reasons for dropping out were “attendance” and enrollment in community college. Attendance is cited as the reason when “the student dropped out due to excessive absences that caused the student to become ineligible or in jeopardy of becoming ineligible to receive course credits,” according to the report.

For the first time in four years, the number of students dropping out to enroll in community college increased.

Dropout rates declined in Wake and Durham counties, but increased in Johnston County, according to the report.

Statewide, students drop out most frequently in 10th grade.

In all likelihood, this will only feed critics of the legislature, who point out the state’s declining investment in public education in recent years.

News

Educators tout the benefits of pre-k programs

preschoolA North Carolina legislative panel heard a mostly positive assessment Wednesday on the impacts of a quality pre-k education, with most education experts touting pre-k services as a major boon for students.

“We have a long way to go,” said John Pruett, director of the Office of Early Learning in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.  “There’s a lot of work to do but the state has tremendous opportunities in front of it, if that’s the direction the state wants to take.”

Multiple states launched public pre-k programs in recent years, and in North Carolina, at least one county is considering rolling out publicly funded pre-k too.

Pruett, who helms a DPI office aimed at promoting early childhood education, told members of the House Select Committee on Education Strategy and Practices Wednesday that most studies show a strong pre-k education yields higher test scores, improved graduation rates, reduced behavioral problems and, ultimately, higher earnings.

And pre-k could benefit the state’s at-risk children the most, he said, pointing out the program can help to lessen the achievement gap for low-income children in both reading and math testing.

Experts offered some caveats however, pointing out some studies have shown eventual convergence of test scores between students who attended pre-k and those who did not, the so-called “fadeout” effect.

Indeed, at least one skeptic suggested the data isn’t there yet to support a major ramp-up of pre-k in the state.

Vanderbilt University’s Mark Lipsey presented the findings Wednesday of his 2015 study, which found that Tennessee’s state-run pre-k program—which has helped pay for thousands of low-income children to attend pre-k in the last decade—has yielded questionable results.

While pre-k students initially scored higher than their peers, by the age of 6, their test scores were identical. And, by the age of 7, the pre-k children were actually scoring lower, Lipsey found.

Many responded to that controversial study by pointing out that it contrasts with most of the pre-k research in recent decades.

“I’ve been accused of hating children,” Lipsey said Wednesday. “But we have to figure out what accomplishes the goal. We can’t assume with a lack of evidence.”

However, Pruett told legislators that he believes the state must work to align the pre-k curriculum with that of the early school grades, in order to maintain the academic gains and combat “fadeout.”

Joan Lord, vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board, a compact of education experts in the southwest U.S., told legislators that North Carolina’s focus should mostly be on access to pre-k services.

Only about 40 percent of the state’s 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds attend pre-k in North Carolina today, which is a relatively low number in the U.S.

Lord also pointed out that it is “affluent” children who are more likely to use the services.