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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.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Charlotte Observer reports of the strain on the state’s court system in the wake of state budget cuts in recent years. The state’s court system is expected to run out of funding for juror pay by April of next year, the Charlotte Observer highlights.

The ability of the state’s court system to operate effectively has been increasingly challenged amid cuts in state funding over the years. While other states have adopted technology and incorporated electronic filing systems, North Carolina continues to use a paper-based system, which slows down the judicial process. The time taken to complete civil and criminal cases has increased in recent years, the Charlotte Observer article notes, resulting in a judicial system that is inefficient, more costly, and less customer-friendly.

State lawmakers quoted in the article note their unawareness of the pending funding shortage for juror pay and state that the General Assembly is being asked for money that it doesn’t have. This is increasingly clear as stories throughout the state have highlighted yet another announcement that the state’s revenue collections are below projections.  Official estimates now put the revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year at $190 million.

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Commentary

There are two excellent reads over on the main Policy Watch site today that you should check out if you haven’t already.

#1 is this excellent and sobering analysis of North Carolina’s new fracking rules and the shortcomings therein by Sarah Kellogg of of the environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices. As Kellogg writes before outlining the detailing the failures:

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) issued its final vote on proposed changes to the rules regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (i.e. fracking) last Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, the panel voted unanimously to approve the rule set.

What you may not know is that between July 14 and Sept. 30, the MEC received 217,000 public comments on more than 100 draft rules regarding safety standards for fracking in the state. More than 2,000 North Carolinians attended the commission’s four public hearings, and the vast majority of speakers opposed fracking and asked for stronger rules. The MEC’s response, written in a hearing officer’s report released two weeks ago, showed a considerable lack of consideration for public comments, a fact that disappointed concerned citizens and advocates across the state. Almost all of the recommendations fell short of what the public overwhelmingly asked for, and the few recommendations that strengthen the rules do so quite minimally.

Must read #2 is this news story by NC Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska about some equally troubling developments at a public charter school in western North Carolina:

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