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There’s a lot of education news this week, so here’s a roundup of happenings for your Tuesday morning.

Guilford County suspends tablet program

A significant number of defective tablet computers has forced Guilford County Schools to suspend their highly anticipated technology initiative that would put tablets in the hands of thousands of middle school students.

GCS spent more than $3 million in federal Race to the Top funds on the one-to-one technology initiative. Amplify supplied the 15,000 tablets, of which thousands developed broken screens, came with unsafe chargers causing tablets to melt, and students reported problems with cases.

Read the News & Record’s story here.

K12, Inc. outsources student essay grading to India

The Idaho Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc., outsourced thousands of student essays for grading by reviewers in India, reports Idaho Education News.

This isn’t the first time K12, Inc. has been outed for outsourcing instructional work to laborers outside of the U.S.

K12 said this was just a pilot program to offer teachers more support. Another K12 teacher in Pennsylvania discussed how she was overwhelmed trying to grade the papers of the 300 students she was assigned for just one term.

State Board of Education member calls for increasing teacher pay to the national average

Veteran school board member John Tate called for a resolution at last week’s school board meeting to raise teacher pay to the national average.

Board chair Bill Cobey called his move out of order and tabled it for discussion at next month’s meeting.

North Carolina was in the middle of the pack for teacher pay as recently as 2008, according to the National Education Association. Today the state ranks 46th in the nation.

Are Charter Schools a Threat to Traditional Public Schools?

This WFDD story considers the conflict between state support of charter schools and the needs of the public school system in advance a WFDD-hosted community forum on school choice, charters and vouchers.

The forum is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kulynych Auditorium in the Wake Forest University Welcome Center.

Election Day school bond

It’s Election Day, and the contentious $810 million Wake School bond is on the ballot for voters to decide on today. The bond would provide funds to build new schools, renovate others and provide for improved technology as the district looks forward to increased population growth.

Opponents of the bond question the accuracy of the county’s enrollment projections and worry that residents will be burdened by both the 10-percent property tax increase and the additional debt they’ll incur if the measure passes.

The News & Observer has loads of coverage on the bond issue here.

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The State Board of Education convened for its monthly meeting today in Cullowhee, where members decided they will release 2012-13 test scores without adjusting them to reflect last year’s new rigorous standards.

Last year was the first in which students were subject to curricula and exams based on the state’s revised Standard Course of Study, which incorporates more rigorous learning goals. Academic achievement standards, or “cut scores,” are the scores that determine whether or not a student’s performance on End-of-Grade tests is considered passing.

Statewide, test scores for 2012-13 were significantly lower than in years past, which was expected and typical when states introduce tougher educational standards.

Board members considered implementing transitional cut scores for 2012-13 that would have allowed a phase-in of expectations for more rigorous standards. Today members decided against doing that.

Educators and board members are worried that the message sent to parents and students will be that schools are not doing a good job of educating their students. At September’s meeting, board member and vice chairman A.L. Buddy Collins said that the new, raw cut scores “will be a tremendous blow to our teachers.”

Based on NC Department of Public Instruction analyses, schools and parents will see drops as high as 30 to 40 percentage points in terms of the percentage of students scoring proficient or above.

“North Carolina students didn’t lose ground in their learning last year, but they are being measured against a higher standard with more rigorous expectations for applying knowledge and skills to real-world problems,” said State Superintendent Atkinson. “In order for our students to be competitive upon graduation, we have an obligation to expect more from them.”

Local and school district scores will be released Nov. 7 at next month’s Board meeting. For a look at the statewide impact of the standards, click here.

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The Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) recently broke off its future school management relationship with K12, Inc., a for-profit company that runs virtual public schools around the nation.

Online schools allow students to take their full course load from home computers, and K12 has been a national leader, with close to 85 percent of its revenues coming from public education dollars.

The Colorado charter school’s board of directors decided recently to part ways with the company’s hands-on school management for the 2014-15 school year, according to this article from a Colorado public radio station, KUNC. The school will still use K12-developed coursework and K12 will continue to run the school in 2013-14, according to KUNC.

From KUNC:

Brian Bissell, head of the COVA board, confirmed the change Tuesday. It will go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.

Bissell, who is a K12 Inc. shareholder and has three children enrolled in COVA, says that the school could still use K12’s curriculum but says school leaders have decided that new management is the best option.

“It became clear that at certain points in COVA history the interests of COVA—that is our students and their families, their teachers and Colorado’s taxpayers—these have not always been aligned with K12’s interests,” he said.

The Colorado school has been criticized for its low graduation rates (22 percent in 2011-12, according to state education statistics) and a discovery by state auditors that the school had overcharged $800,000 for 120 students who never attended, weren’t Colorado residents or whose enrollments couldn’t be verified, according to this in-depth 2011 New York Times article.

K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said COVA is continuing to use K12, Inc. to manage the online school in 2013-14, and took issue with the idea that COVA was backing off from its use of the company.

From an email Kwitowski sent N.C. Policy Watch after this post’s initial publication:

We presented a self-management option to COVA Board so they could assume full management and operational control of the school next year, but they declined.  They wanted K12 to manage the school next year and use K12’s curriculum. Furthermore, they wanted the new agreement to state that if they received a new charter, a relationship with K12 would continue.  They voted to ratify the agreement.  In short, they didn’t “dump” K12, they stayed with K12.

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Buddy CollinsFollowers of The Progressive Pulse will recall a series of articles in recent years about the essentially non-existent nonprofit headed by conservative Wake school board member and 2012 GOP nominee for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Tedesco. As we reported here and here and here, the sum detectable output of the North Carolina Center for Education Reform appears to be: a) a semi-schnazzy if, at times, grammatically-challenged website, and b) something for Tedesco to put on his resume to make it looks like he has (or had) an impressive job.  

Now, here’s another  little factoid about Tedesco’s group: its Board of Directors includes controversial state Board of Education nominee, A.L. “Buddy” Collins (pictured above in a photo found at http://equalitync.org).  Read More

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Last week’s Policy Watch profile of state Board of Education nominee A.L. “Buddy” Collins by Education Reporter Lindsay Wagner was enough to cause a believer in public education to have some real concerns about Collins’ appropriateness for the position. Collins admitted in the interview to essentially supporting the entire far-right school privatization agenda.

Over the weekend, however, came more damning news: As reported by Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post, Collins is also apparently a loyal trooper in the ongoing social conservative effort to oppose laws and policies that protect LGBT kids from bullying.

This is from the HuffPo article:

“A. L. “Buddy” Collins is an attorney and a longtime member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board of Education. He has clashed with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) over the years surrounding the group’s efforts to stop bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

‘Buddy Collins has always been a retrograde voice, inimical to the interests of youth, on the school board,’ said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. Read More