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Photo: NC Public School Forum

In case you missed last week’s Fitzsimon File on the ridiculous and partisan demise of the state teaching fellows program, click here to read it on the website of Raleigh’s News & Observer where it is — even at the height of March Madness — the #1 trending story.

Seems safe to say that the column has touched a nerve with North Carolinians. Now, if only the troubled souls running our state would pay attention for a change.

NC Budget and Tax Center

As my colleague highlights in a recent blog, the governor’s proposed budget for the next two years fails to meaningfully reinvest in critical public structures, such as public education, that drive the state forward. This reality becomes much clearer when placing the governor’s budget into broader context.

Consider state funding for textbooks and other classroom-level resources for public schools. The governor’s proposed budget for FY2016 provides a small boost of $35 million in state funding for textbooks and other classroom-level resources. This spending increase partially restores harmful cuts state lawmakers have enacted since 2011 and is a step in the right direction. However, this is a textbook example of how the state can spend more but still fall short of what is needed to catch up and keep up with the needs of a growing student population.

Even with the proposed additional spending for textbooks, classroom materials, instructional supplies, and equipment, total state funding would be around half of the state’s investment level prior to the recession (see chart below). Furthermore, the proposed funding boost provided in the Governor’s budget is barely half of what the Department of Public Instruction requested on behalf of children in the classroom.

 

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When presenting his proposed budget last week, the governor acknowledged that his budget is “still extremely very tight” and that tough choices had to be made. This is the result of his decision to sign into law tax cuts that are costing upward of $1 billion per year – a self-inflicted reality that continues to drive underinvestment in public schools and other core areas of the state budget. North Carolina’s public schools play an important role in building a workforce that can compete for good-paying jobs in a dynamic 21st century. Failure to adequately invest in core public structures today will have a direct impact on the state’s future economic prospects.

Commentary

School testsYesterday, North Carolina took the latest in an series of steps cooked up by conservative advocates and ideologues to demoralize and depopulate our public education system (what they call “government schools”) — the release of the  much ballyhooed A-F grades for individual schools. As we’ve quickly learned — surprise!! — schools with lots of poor kids tend to fare poorly on standardized tests. Who could have guessed?

Notably absent from the review, of course, is the long list of private and religious schools eligible for public funds which teach that humans and dinosaurs once shared the planet, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

Thankfully, a lot of what one needs to know about the A-F idea — aside from the obvious fact that it is sheer folly to try and sum up the collective actions of hundreds (or even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators in a single letter grade — is detailed in this new report from the good folks at the National Education Policy Center: “Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade.”

After explaining why it’s impossible and counter-productive to try and assign a single letter grade to an entire school — especially one based on standardized tests of a population over which the school has no control and that completely ignores important parts of the school’s mission like developing citizens — the authors go on to recommend, among other things:

  • Eliminating the single grade, which cannot be composed without adding together unlike elements and promoting confusion and misunderstanding.
  • Developing a report card format that uses multiple school indicators that more adequately reflect a school performance profile.
  • Enlisting the services of assessment and evaluation experts in designing school accountability systems.

Click here to read the entire report. Let’s hope state lawmakers do. And let’s also hope that the new grades set in motion a chain of occurrences not intended by their conservative designers — namely, that North Carolina gets serious about attacking the two main causes of our educational system problems: poverty and segregation.

Commentary

Education 1If you care at all about the actions of the  North Carolina General Assembly, your “must read” for this morning on the first day of the 2015 legislative session should be this excellent overview of what’s on the table and at stake in the world of public education by NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner.

Wagner’s report summarizes the situation when it comes to funding, teacher pay, testing, vouchers, charters, grading, textbooks and multiple other key issues. Here’s the intro:

“As members of the North Carolina General Assembly make their way back to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session, many have education at the top of their agendas—which is no surprise given that the lion’s share of the state budget is devoted to public schools.

After years of frozen salaries, the busy 2014 session saw large pay bumps for beginning teachers and relatively small raises for veteran teachers—but those raises came at the expense of teacher assistants and classroom supplies as well as cuts to other critical areas of education spending.

The salary increases also came with a promise of even more raises to come in 2015.

But as North Carolina faces a year in which some predict tax cuts will lead to inadequate state revenues that leave lawmakers with little choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul, what can we expect for our public schools?”

Click here to find out.

Commentary

There are a lots of ways that we over-think things in the world of education policy and ignore obvious, common sense solutions.

As this article by an NYU doctoral student from the website OZY.com reminds us today, many such solutions are as simple, practical and cheap as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

“Many big public schools are overcrowded to the point that students have to stagger their lunches. This means some kids are eating lunch at 10 a.m. and others at 2 p.m. Considering that a lot of these kids skip breakfast, many of them are going eight hours or more without anything to eat. In fact, a 2013 report by No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit working toward ending childhood hunger, found that 73 percent of teachers say they have students who come to school hungry on a regular basis. Feeding America and the USDA report that, in 2012, 15.8 million kids in the U.S. didn’t have reliable access to food. This hunger, combined with the long wait to eat or the very early lunch, has two big impacts on these kids’ lives….

Luckily, it’s a pretty simple problem to solve. When I was a holistic health counselor at a public high school…I asked the guidance counselors to send me students who would regularly either fall asleep or start fights at 10 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. — the hungriest hours. My theory was that these kids were not angry or petulant, but instead were acting out the effects of their hunger. My prescription? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. PB&Js were an easy, delicious and culturally acceptable way to get healthy energy into students who were struggling so mightily against their own biology. While my results were far from scientific, many of the students I worked with ended up with better grades and fewer trips to the counselor’s office.

PB&Js are far from a panacea. A sandwich cannot address the funding issues, crumbling infrastructure or myriad social burdens our schools and students face in their struggle to learn. However, when we don’t give our students enough food to fuel their brains, we set them up to fail. If we are serious about improving educational achievement and ending childhood obesity, we have to make sure our students have the most basic tools they need to succeed, which in many cases might involve peanut butter and jelly.”

Read the entire article by clicking here.