News

State Board of Education approves limits on out-of-state charter leaders

604-chartMembers of the State Board of Education on Thursday approved a new policy limiting out-of-state membership and officers on charter school boards.

The new policy will require that a majority of the board members and at least 50 percent of board officers for charter schools be North Carolina residents. 

The board’s unanimous vote comes after N.C. Policy Watch reported in February that some state education leaders believed an earlier draft of the policy, which said nothing of board officers, did not go far enough.

“These are taxpayer funds. I believe they should be safeguarded,” board Chairman Bill Cobey told Policy Watch.

Although state staff do not keep data on the number of out-of-state leaders in North Carolina’s growing roster of charters, multiple officials acknowledged that some of the state’s largest charter schools operate with board members and officers who are not living in North Carolina.

Critics questioned how out-of-state residents could lead education in a community in which they did not live. However, the policy approved this week may be a disappointment to some who argued that the state should bar any out-of-state officers for North Carolina charters.

“Think about how local school boards operate,” Yevonne Brannon, of the nonprofit advocacy group Public Schools First N.C. , told Policy Watch.

“They’re from the community. They represent the district. They have an understanding of the community and the kids. There are layers and layers of accountability here for how we fund the schools. If we’re going to have a charter school that’s set up by parents to serve a need in the community, that control should rest with the people who care about the community.”

Last year, lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly approved legislation mandating conflict of interest and nepotism policies for charter school leadership, but the bill left the door open to out-of-state board members and officers.

News

North Carolina public schools are seeking charter-like flexibility

preschoolLast week, at the Public School Forum of N.C.’s panel on low-performing schools, we heard from multiple principals who espoused the value of charter-like flexibility for their struggling schools.

“If one person speeds, I don’t think we all deserve a ticket,” said Kristy Thomas, principal at Rock Rest Elementary in Union County, arguing that burdensome restrictions for such schools could only slow their progress.

Not coincidentally, a new policy approved by the N.C. State Board of Education this year would allow certain low-performing schools to adopt some charter powers, such as amending the calendar year to cut days from the summer break. Educators frequently bemoan the loss of instructional progress over lengthy summer breaks.

Now, this from The News & Observer this weekend:

The Wake County school board gave permission last week for staff to request charter-like flexibility for Barwell Road and Walnut Creek elementary schools for the 2016-17 school year.

If the state board approves the request, Barwell and Walnut Creek could see changes such as more days in the school calendar. Wake may also be able to change the way it staffs both schools, including how teachers are paid.

“When you have flexibility in how you staff and the instructional program, you have the potential to do some creative things that you were not able to do before because of state law,” said Marvin Connelly, the Wake school system’s chief of staff and strategic planning.

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State considers cutting student growth from teaching evaluations

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bAs we reported on Tuesday, North Carolina has more autonomy these days when it comes to evaluating teachers, thanks to last year’s update of the controversial federal education law, No Child Left Behind, now titled the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

So it should come as little surprise that one of the first reforms North Carolina will consider includes a revamp of the state’s teaching evaluation system.

One component of that evaluation system, which factors in student test score growth, has long been unpopular with teachers.

On Wednesday, staff with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recommended a policy change to the State Board of Education that would nix the much-reviled Standard 6 in the N.C. Professional Teaching Standards. 

The goal, according to Thomas Tomberlin, director of district human resources, is to ease teacher stress about the measure, which could often yield wild swings in a teacher’s performance evaluation from year to year.

Tomberlin said the state is seeking the “sweet spot” for teacher motivation.

“Too little motivation yields neglect. Too much motivation yields too much anxiety. Our goal here is to maybe relieve some of the pressure. We want teachers to be motivated sufficiently, but not be overwhelmed by the anxiety.”

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UNC system official explains N.C.’s prodigious drop in those seeking teaching degrees

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bMembers of the N.C. State Board of Education received some more troubling news about teachers Wednesday.

Alisa Chapman, vice president for academic and university programs in the UNC system, presented data that show the state’s increasing inability to attract students to the teaching profession.

Since 2010, enrollment in bachelor’s and master’s education programs systemwide has plummeted 30 percent, said Chapman. And while the plunge has slowed—enrollment declined just 3.4 percent from fall 2014 to fall 2015, Chapman told state education leaders that the trend should be “very concerning.”

“The challenge in hiring teachers in our state is going to increase,” said Chapman, adding that it would be “even more challenging” to recruit educators in rural counties, many of which serve a low-income population that tends to struggle academically.

In a state that ranks 42nd in teacher pay nationally, teacher satisfaction and recruitment figures to have a big year in 2016.

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News

State Board of Education proposes interagency advisory panel to seek solutions for educating at-risk students

In response to a recent order stemming from a 20+ year old court case that requires all North Carolinian children to have access to a sound basic education, the State Board of Education submitted a plan with the court last week to address how it will ensure all students succeed academically — and that proposal includes the establishment of an interagency advisory committee tasked with seeking solutions to educating at-risk students.

From the News & Observer:

In its court filing, the State Board of Education proposed establishing an Interagency Advisory Committee on Public Education to discuss the challenges at-risk students face. A hearing on the Board’s plan, part of the lawsuit called Leandro, is scheduled for July 21-23 before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning.

For years, Manning has criticized persistently low-performing schools and districts. Much of the Board’s response is a catalog of existing teacher preparation and evaluation efforts and classroom practices.

According to the State Board’s filing with the court, the committee would comprise “representatives from key child-focused entities, such as: state agencies (DPI, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Safety – Juvenile Justice, etc.); local boards of education; local mental health organizations; private non-profits, including representatives from the charter school community; community colleges, universities and others.”

Those stakeholders would come together to review the challenges at-risk youth face that relate to poverty, health and safety and develop recommendations for the State Board of Education as well as other agencies in an effort to improve educational access.

In their 54-page plan, the State Board highlights the successes they’ve had in supporting low performing schools since the original 1997 Leandro ruling, emphasizing existing teacher preparation and evaluation programs as well as other classroom supports as a way forward in meeting their constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education to all students.

But, according to the News & Observer, many of those school improvement efforts have largely been funded with federal Race to the Top funds, which are scheduled to dry up this year. While the House has included some funds to fill in the gap in its 2015-17 budget proposal, the Senate puts the onus on local school districts in its budget to fund those programs going forward.

With the establishment of an interagency advisory committee, the State Board emphasizes that the academic success of all students cannot be accomplished by public schools alone, and that the obligation rests with every state agency as well as the public at large.

Judge Manning will review the State Board’s plan at a hearing scheduled for July 21-23.

Read the State Board’s plan here: The Mandate To Provide An Opportunity For A Sound Basic Education, An Update and Recommendation.