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This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in its characterization of the push by state legislative leaders to plow ahead with their school voucher scheme despite the certainty of lengthy litigation over the issue and the existence of a court injunction against it:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.

There’s a long list of actions that demonstrates their disregard for what defines the truly conservative. They hand out extravagant amounts to the wealthy in tax cuts and leave the state strapped for basic services. They turn down billions of dollars in federal support for the jobless and the health needs of the working poor. They ignore the principles of sound investment by cutting spending on public schools and higher education. They trample constitutional ideals regarding voting rights and civil rights. They shirk their obligations to be careful stewards of the environment.

The list could go on, but the case is concisely illustrated in the latest turmoil over school vouchers.” Read More

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SchoolsFlexibility on summer reading camps for third graders, a second chance for legislation that would require schools to stock EpiPens, and the case for continuing a Race to the Top-funded program to groom principals for service in high need schools were among the topics heard by lawmakers at today’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee meeting in Raleigh.

Read to Achieve

Randolph County superintendent Stephen Gainey asked lawmakers to amend legislation that requires local school districts to provide six-week summer reading camps for all third graders who don’t meet proficiency benchmarks in reading by the end of this school year.

“I’m asking you for flexibility. This is a good piece of legislation. I realize reading is a huge issue,” said Gainey, who begged lawmakers to consider shortening the provision that requires summer camps to last six weeks, instead allowing districts to come up with their own plans as long as they meet the minimum 72 hours of instruction provided to students.

Gainey endorsed a plan that would shorten the summer reading camps to three weeks, which he said would go farther to create the conditions necessary for for parents to commit to the camp and students to be able to concentrate for its duration. He expects 39.5 percent of his third graders to attend the camps. Read More

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There is another powerful example this week of why privatizing public education is a lousy idea. As has been reported by the Charlotte Observer, 270 K-8 students are being dumped from the ironically named StudentFirst Academy charter school next week because the school is broke and will close. As the Observer reported:

“That leaves about 270 K-8 students scrambling to find schools less than two months before the school year ends. Parents who gathered at the school Thursday said they fear their children will fail state exams and could be forced to repeat a grade.”

And, of course, as is always the case with these charter failures, the traditional public schools will be left to clean up the mess since they will do their duty and admit the kids left out in the cold.

None of this is to say that all charters are inherently bad. Read More

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Student testingReporter Lindsay Wagner has a fascinating story this afternoon over on the main Policy Watch website entitled: “Students, teachers grapple with Read to Achieve law.” It’s a behind-the-classroom-door look at the unnecessary pain being inflicted on North Carolina third graders and their teachers by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s signature education initiative. This is from the article which features a Raleigh third grade teacher named Carla Tavares:

“While not required by the law, many school districts were reluctant to hinge the possibility of a third grader moving on to the fourth grade on his or her performance on a single test [a possibility under the new law], especially considering that North Carolina just adopted more rigorous standards and more difficult assessments based on those standards—meaning that even more students are likely to fail End of Grade tests than in years past.

So districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Wake decided to begin administering portfolio assessments in the spring semester to all third graders who hadn’t already scored proficient in reading on their BOGs [Beginning of Grade tests].

With portfolio assessments, students must demonstrate mastery of the state’s 12 reading standards by successfully passing three tests of reading comprehension for each standard. That means students must pass 36 reading tests that take 30 minutes each to complete during the spring semester, in addition to other formative and summative assessments that already take place during the school year.

‘At least two of these kids are actually reading on grade level,’ said Tavares, who is administering portfolio assessments to about half of the kids in her class – the other half have already demonstrated proficiency. ‘But they’re not good test takers. They’re stressed out. They’re distracted. They’re exhausted.’

‘Some of my students are so tired of these exams, they aren’t even reading the passages anymore. They’re just circling answers and immediately handing the tests back to me,’ she said.”

Read the rest of Wagner’s article by clicking here.

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Shell gameHundreds of school administrators gathered in Raleigh yesterday to review the state of public education and, not surprisingly, Gov. McCrory dodged the event and sent an assistant to what promised to be a not-terribly-friendly venue. That former Gov. Jim Hunt was speaking (he got a standing ovation at one point) probably helped guarantee that the Guv would have a “conflict” and decline the invitation to appear.

Another probable reason for sending aide Eric Guckian was the message he was forced to deliver — namely, that things are unlikely to improve in the education funding department anytime soon. According to AP reporter Emery Dalesio’s story, any significant improvements in educator pay beyond the bumps recently proposed for starting teachers will take “years” and will only occur “if state finances allow” — i.e. when Budget Director Pope assents. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Of course, this is an absurd and utterly dishonest position. North Carolina could easily have a great deal of money to address many important needs (including the abysmal pay it provides to teachers and many other state employees) if McCrory and legislative leaders had merely chosen not to slash taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations in recent years to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Simply put, the administration’s rap is like that of a father with a gambling or drinking addiction who refuses to make eye contact as he tells his family that there will be no new clothes or shoes this year because “finances are tight.” No wonder the Guv found something else to do yesterday.