Commentary

Veteran teacher: We must integrate our schools

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out this fabulous essay by Wake County school teacher Katherine Meeks that was featured on the main NC Policy Watch site. In it, Meeks, who has taught in a high poverty school in Charlotte and a lower poverty school in Raleigh, explains why socioeconomic integration is absolutely essential if we want to save our public schools. Here’s an excerpt:

“This is the story of my experiences teaching at two vastly different schools and the systemic problems of socioeconomic inequalities I witnessed:

  1. CMS: 90% free and reduced lunch; extremely low performing; rated “F”
  2. WCPSS: 20% free and reduced lunch; high performing; rated “A”

At the first school, we were flooded with monetary resources, technology, and additional school personnel.

To serve 900 students, we had five administrators, a school resource officer, two security associates, two behavior management technicians, two in-school suspension teachers, two “Communities In Schools” staff, three instructional facilitators, a full-time beginning teacher coordinator, a CTE coordinator, two counselors, and a social worker. We had a technology device for every single student. Class sizes were lower than average.

Despite these supports, I worked 12 hours a day to complete the most basic parts of my job and working conditions were far below what I would consider professional. I witnessed an unfathomable amount of violence and on more than one occasion felt personally unsafe. There was a culture of fear for everyone involved: fear of theft, fear of violence, and fear of multiple kinds of abuse. When teachers were absent, students were most often covered by stretching current staff because substitutes did not want to work in the unpredictable and sometimes hostile environment. Read more

Commentary, News

New report: NC is finally almost rid of corporal punishment in the schools

Tom Vitaglione, Senior Fellow for Health and Safety at NC Child is out with a new report on corporal punishment in North Carolina’s public schools. The good news: the decades-long campaign to rid our schools of this barbaric practice is almost to the “mission accomplished” point. The bad news: three counties (Graham, Macon and Robeson) are still administering taxpayer-funded beatings to children. This is from Vitaglione’s conclusion:

“Though the practice is now rare, North Carolina remains on the list of state that allow corporal punishment, a bit of a tarnish on our image that is frequently highlighted in news stories across the nation. The NC General Assembly remains reluctant to prohibit the practice statewide (though it does allow a parental opt-out as well as reporting). The current [McCrory] Administration, so focused on image, has not even expressed an opinion on the issue.

Given the lack of state leadership, advocacy will remain focused on the three districts that still use corporal punishment….Hopefully, it won’t be long before all of North Carolina’s public school students can go to school without fear of being hit by school personnel.”

Click here to read: “Corporal Punishment in North Carolina’s Public Schools: Almost Gone and Good Riddance.”

 

Commentary

Report, editorial: Allowing NC schools to go solar would be a win-win

The lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run this morning by highlighting a powerful new report out of N.C. State on the enormous potential benefits of equipping North Carolina schools with solar panels.

“A pair of new reports from renewable-energy experts propose a bright idea for enterprising school districts in North Carolina: solar arrays on public school rooftops and in school parking lots.

Such an arrangement could save millions, they say, and, in time, even generate revenue for cash-strapped schools.

It’s as brilliant a notion as a noon-day sun in August. And it’s being pushed by an advocacy group called Repower Our Schools in Durham, whose schools spend $5.7 million a year on electricity, and in Charlotte, whose public schools’ electric bill totals about $18 million a year.

By comparison, Guilford County Schools paid $12.3 million for electricity in 2014-15.”

And this is from the summary to the reports themselves:

“Two reports by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) released February 3rd found that Charlotte­-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and Durham Public Schools (DPS) can meet 100 percent of their electricity needs and save millions over the next 25 years by installing solar panels to power their schools. With solar-friendly updates to solar policies in the state, including the allowance of third party energy sales and changes to net metering policy, CMS and DPS could produce renewable electricity for 25 years and reduce their total electricity cost by 11 percent.”

Seems line a no-brainer, right? Well it clearly is, but unfortunately, when it comes to a shortage of brains in the  North Carolina energy policy world, you can probably already guess who the problem children are. That’s right, it’s the state’s conservative, Koch Brother-loving political leaders and the fun people at Pat McCrory’s old employer, Duke Energy.

Until we get McCrory, the General Assembly, Duke and the denizens of the Flat Earth Society “think tanks” to back down from their destructive obstruction of all things renewable and sustainable, this splendid idea will likely be left moldering on the shelf somewhere.

News, Uncategorized

Atkinson: “We have used the facts” about charter schools

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

Expect very little to change in the state’s controversial demographic assessment of North Carolina’s burgeoning charter school population if N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson has her way.

Atkinson told Policy Watch Friday that, despite Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s objections this week to a report on the increasingly white charter population, her office has a responsibility to avoid massaging the data.

“I don’t see how (the report) could be different,” said Atkinson. “We have used the facts.”

During this week’s monthly State Board of Education meeting, Forest pulled a draft of an annual report on charter schools due for the N.C. General Assembly that included population statistics he deemed overly “negative.”

Included in the report, authored by DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, state staff noted that, while the charter student population is relatively similar to traditional public schools, they differ in a few major ways.

Most importantly, while traditional schools are becoming increasingly more diverse, charters are bucking the trend in North Carolina. More than 57 percent of the students in the state’s 158 charters are white, the report states, compared to more than 49 percent in traditional schools.

Additionally, only about 8 percent of charter students are Hispanic, about half the percentage reported in traditional schools.

Also, over the last 15 years, North Carolina charters’ share of minority students has declined. In traditional schools, it’s the opposite, the report said.

This week, Adam Levinson, interim director of the state’s Office of Charter Schools, attempted to assure state board members that the report is purely data-driven, but Forest, a charter advocate, worried aloud that the media and charter critics would use the numbers to fuel opposition.

Atkinson, however, tells Policy Watch that the report used data pulled from the system’s accountability statistics, numbers used to report students’ academic growth rate and proficiency.

So what should we expect from a Forest-approved version of the charter report? Atkinson says she’s not sure.

She says Forest has yet to relay any information to her office about what he would like to see changed. However, she pointed out, state board member Becky Taylor, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, has asked each board member to send her their revisions for review next week, something certainly worth following.

Atkinson said she may suggest adding copies of the school systems’ accountability forms to the report in order to provide further confirmation of the data.

“We go the second mile of asking our schools to affirm that the information is true to the best of their knowledge,” said Atkinson. “That’s the way it is. In the report our goal was actually to not have much of a narrative other than stating the facts. There are no policy recommendations.”

One other interesting point from the state report. Since the state lifted its 100-school cap on charters in 2011, North Carolina has added another 58 operating charters, including two hotly-debated virtual charters, which seem to be facing a troubling dropout problem.

DPI staff expect to have a rewrite of their annual charter report prepared for the state board in February.

Commentary

Weekend editorial pages spotlight conservative assaults on education

There were two new and great editorial page “must reads” this past weekend on the state’s education wars.

Number One was Gene Nichol’s fine essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer on the public school teachers who continue to fight for their children and profession despite the ongoing assault by state lawmakers.

“I think [teachers NaShonsda] Cooke, [Angela] Scioli and [Brendan] Fetters knew what they were signing up for. This path has never been strewn with rose petals. I know they didn’t expect, however, to be officially derided for their efforts. ‘The elephant in the room,’ Fetters explains, ‘is the constant claim that we are failing our students.’

The politicians who accuse them, of course, never go to their schools, never talk to the teachers. They do, though, ‘take away our teaching assistants, run good teachers off to other states, give us bigger classes, cut our budgets and disparage our schools,’ Cooke says.

It’s not lost on teachers of high-poverty children that all the current political energy is directed toward vouchers and charter schools, draining already inadequate resources. They “evaluate us on matters outside of our control,” Cooke says, “pronounce us broken, and then make it tougher to do our work.”

Cooke’s own daughter attends one of the high-poverty Durham schools receiving an F on the state’s new scorecard. ‘I know the greatness of what they do in that school. I’d never move her,’ Cooke says. She gets angry when her daughter’s teachers are maligned by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s one thing, I suppose, to wage war on public education. It’s another to shamelessly defame in the process.”

You can read the rest by clicking here.

Essay #2 comes from the Greensboro News & Record and it takes down the absurd an inappropriate partisanship that marked the firing of UNC President Tom Ross (which has been confirmed recently in emails released to N.C. Policy Watch and other news outlets). As the N&R Notes:

“The indication of misguided and unfair partisan attitudes toward Ross raises concerns about the next president. The Board of Governors won’t serve the people of the state well if it limits its choices to only Republican candidates. Read more