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Guilford County’s broken tablets, K12 outsourcing grades to India and more

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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New report finds active school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County

Advocates for Children’s Services released a report today that finds that Wake County Public Schools’ African American students, students who have a disability, and students who are economically disadvantaged are at particular risk of finding themselves on a pathway toward the criminal system.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • Long-term suspension rates in WCPSS were among the highest in North Carolina, in part due to the district’s severe shortage of alternatives to suspension (e.g., restorative justice, community service, and mandatory counseling).
  • The district had a severe shortage of school psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors, with ratios well below national recommendations.
  • The alternative schools and programs within the WCPSS are highly segregated, low-achieving and punitive.

The report calls out Wake County for failing to institute needed reforms to its discipline policies over the past two years, when the county began making changes to reduce suspensions.

Read the full report by clicking here.

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School policing left out of task force recommendations to make Wake County schools safer

Tonight, the Wake County Board of Education will hear recommendations to make its schools safer—however, the task force put together in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings to develop the safety recommendations did not make school policing one of its areas of consideration, according to Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services and a task force member.

School resources officers (commonly known as SROs) are armed, certified law enforcement officers that are a common fixture in Wake County schools. They are employed by local police departments and the Wake County Sheriff’s Department. Funding for SROs comes from a variety of sources, including local, state and federal funds and grant programs, as well as a special state level fund that is intended to support any school safety measures, not just SROs.

While some contend that the presence of SROs make a school safer, others say that the opposite is frequently the case. Typically, SROs are trained in dealing with criminal actions and not how to handle children’s issues.

Read more

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Senate Redistricting Committee schedules Tedesco/Prickett-preservation bill

Neal HuntAs reported previously here and here, one of the 2013 legislative session’s leading contenders for “Most Shameless Power-Grab Legislation” has to be the proposal by conservative Wake County senators to rig the districts and election schedule for the Wake County School Board.

As we noted last month:  “[the] new bill from Senator Neal Hunt (pictured at left) would change the rules of how school board members are elected in the capital county in a way that is clearly designed to alter the board’s power structure and move things in a conservative direction.” The bill would, in addition to redrawing district lines, extend the terms of conservative members John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett from four years to five.

Now, there’s news this morning that Hunt is still serious about advancing this offensive legislation; the measure has been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Redistricting Committee tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.  

 

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Wake delegation meeting jam-packed with parents, citizens opposed to SB 325 and SB 236

Concerned parents and citizens packed a Monday evening meeting of Wake County lawmakers to unanimously express their opposition for two bills that would effectively weaken the power of the Wake County school board. More than 100 people signed up to speak about both the education bills and Senate Bill 334, legislation that would tear up the state’s contract with Raleigh for the Dorothea Dix campus.

Sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt (R-Wake), who came to the meeting late and left early, SB 236 would seize control of school facilities and construction from the Wake County school board and give that control to the county commissioners. Supporters of the bill say that this will allow the school board to focus on education and not have to worry about business matters; opponents say the construction of school facilities is directly related to the education programs that serve students and control should remain with the school board.

In opposition to SB 236, Raleigh citizen Lynn Edmonds said “school programming is directly related to school facilities. What teachers do and what goes on in the classroom is closely tied to the design of school buildings.”

“It is the school board, not the commissioners, who have great experience in designing and building high quality schools for Wake County,” explained Edmonds.

SB 325, which would overturn the most recent school board election, has “retribution all over it,” said one concerned citizen. The bill would redraw districts, which were just redrawn in 2011, and change when school board members are elected, forcing some current members from their seats early. Senators Hunt and Barefoot sponsored the bill.

The chair of the League of Women Voters, Mary Martorella, explained to lawmakers that “SB 325 would change election district boundaries and the way school board members are elected. The League believes these actions defy principles of democracy.”

An advocate for fair elections, Anita Earls, also voiced her concern for the redistricting bill. “Current districts are not unconstitutional nor do they violate the Fair Voting Act. I believe SB 325, as written, is unconstitutional.

Two former Wake School Board members rose to speak of the partisan politics that dominate the school board today, noting that in the past politics were kept out of decisions affecting the education of Wake school children. Citizen John Reader said that SB 325 was simply a “power grab to put the GOP in control again. It is retribution for dismissing Tata,” referring to Tony Tata, the former superintendent of Wake County schools.

Two hours was not enough time to address the concerns of all who were in attendance. The next meeting of the Wake delegation will take place in two weeks.