Education, News

After last week’s controversy, Superintendent Mark Johnson calls teacher pay a top priority in 2018

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

For N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, last week was one to forget.

His comments at a Raleigh conference, in which he reportedly argued that a $35,000 salary is “good money” for some beginning teachers, earned him a sharp rebuke from many of his toughest critics.

And while the superintendent’s office clarified that Johnson meant to refer to teachers living in certain locales with relatively low household incomes, the controversy prompted the leadership of the N.C. Association of Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy organization, to break longstanding tradition by declaring that Johnson would not be invited to their annual conference this March. 

That controversy looms over Johnson’s monthly video message this week, during which the superintendent says raising teacher pay is one of his top legislative priorities in 2018.

“This year, my team and I will be working with the General Assembly to invest even more in K-12,” Johnson said. “Some of our top priorities are continuing to increase educator pay, expanding personalized learning and expanding early childhood education to make sure students are ready when they start school. And yes, we are working with the General Assembly on the current class size legislation.”

Johnson asks for teachers to share their perspectives on General Assembly goals through the state’s Educators Perspectives Survey, which focuses on post-secondary and career options in February.

In recent years, lawmakers approved raises after the state’s teacher pay ranking fell near the bottom of the nation. Today, it sits at a modest 35th, according to one national estimate, although lawmakers are expected to consider raises again during this year’s legislative session.

However, the state’s per-pupil spending remains mired at 43rd in the nation, with K-12 advocates pressing lawmakers to boost spending on a range of classroom needs, including textbooks and materials, support for poor and rural school districts and the state’s top school agency, the Department of Public Instruction.

Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, has been criticized for remaining relatively quiet on these issues, although he’s suggested that he prefers to negotiate behind the scenes with the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Watch Johnson’s full monthly message below:

Education, News

UNC-Charlotte, UCLA Report: Charter schools driving segregation in Charlotte

A charter boom in the Charlotte area is spurring segregation in the city’s public school system, a new report from researchers at UNC-Charlotte and UCLA finds.

The report, released Tuesday by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and professors from several UNC-Charlotte departments, concludes that rapid growth in the charter sector is having a deleterious effect on the state’s second-largest school district, exacerbating a trend of racially isolated schools.

Policy Watch reported on the district’s racial divisions back in 2016.

“Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were once the nation’s bellwether for successful desegregation,” said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, a UNC-Charlotte sociology professor who co-authored this week’s report. “Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts’ efforts to resist re-segregation. This research has important implications not only for schools and communities in the Charlotte Mecklenburg region, but for the national debate over the growth and role of charter schools in our nation’s education system.”

The study comes amid a swift expansion of North Carolina charters since state lawmakers nixed a 100-school cap in 2011. Today, the state has more than 170 charters and Charlotte, in particular, has been a hotbed for school choice proponents. The city counts 36 charters in the region. And, according to this week’s report, area charters serve a disproportionately large share of white students.

The report says 16 charters are deemed “racially isolated white” and enroll more than 60 percent white students. Another six schools were considered “hyper segregated” and serve student populations that are less than 2 percent white.

Studies of K-12 education often connect segregated schools to disparities in education opportunities and performance.

From the report’s conclusions:

While market theories of choice anticipate that charters will positively influence public education, thwarting efforts to increase diversity surely is not amongst these expectations. Our case study of Charlotte illustrates how charter schools directly and indirectly undermine the capacities of CMS leaders to desegregate the public schools. When charters siphon off middle-class Asian, black, Hispanic, and white students and their funding, they directly make the task of (socioeconomic status) and racial desegregation mechanically more difficult.

Read more

Courts & the Law, Education, News

Supreme Court will hear State Board of Education, Superintendent case in February

Superintendent Mark Johnson (left) and State
Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey (right)

Here’s the major news of the day in North Carolina education: The N.C. Supreme Court will hear the State Board of Education’s ongoing case with Superintendent Mark Johnson and the N.C. General Assembly in February, WRAL reports.

The parties have been bickering since GOP lawmakers shifted power from the state board to the then newly-elected Republican in December 2016. The board is a panel of gubernatorial appointees that has often been at odds with the GOP-controlled legislature in recent years, although Johnson seems to have a more congenial relationship with lawmakers.

The February 7 hearing comes after a panel of judges sided with Johnson and the legislature in the power struggle last year. 

From WRAL:

State board attorney Bob Orr told WRAL News on Thursday that the board looks forward to the Supreme Court hearing the case.

“We’re confident in our position,” Orr said.

In a statement Thursday, the superintendent said he “look(s) forward to the State Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s unanimous decision that allows for a system of great accountability at the Department of Public Instruction.”

“It is time to put this issue behind us so we can concentrate completely on the education of the students here in North Carolina,” Johnson said.

At stake is greater power for the superintendent’s office over the state’s public school budget, as well as expanded hiring and firing powers and control of the state charter office.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey called the 2016 law “unconstitutional,” although Johnson has long supported the shift in powers.

Education, News

N.C. State researcher hints at controversial voucher study to come

Friday Institute Director of Policy Research Trip Stallings

A pending study of academic outcomes in North Carolina’s controversial private school voucher program isn’t likely to be “non-controversial,” a leading N.C. State researcher said Monday.

Trip Stallings, director of policy research for N.C. State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, said researchers hope to release results from the K-12 study in the coming months.

Testing data will roll in over the next few weeks, although vetting the results will take months, he expects.

When released, it’ll be one of a precious few independent studies of the polarizing state program, which offers public dollars for low-income students to attend private schools.

However, like researchers before him, Stallings acknowledged the difficulty of assessing the Opportunity Scholarship Program. That’s largely because state law does not require one assessment for voucher recipients, making “apples-to-apples” comparisons between voucher students and comparable students in traditional public schools vexing.

Indeed, a Duke University report last year bemoaned the difficulty in gauging the program’s performance, calling the state’s accountability regulations “among the weakest in the country.”

N.C. State’s study seeks an “unbiased” analysis of the voucher program, although Stallings pointed out that the research relies on volunteers from private and public schools in order to make comparisons, potentially skewing the data.

The state needs incentives for students to participate in such data collection, he said.

Stallings’ comments came Monday at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, a conservative group that supports the school choice movement.

Conservative state lawmakers launched the voucher initiative in 2014, citing a need to create school choice options for the state’s poorest students, many of whom tend to lag their peers academically.

But critics have long disparaged the program for a paucity of available data and its speedy roll-out. Legislators plan to increase voucher funding by $10 million annually through 2027, spending a projected $900 million or so over the decade.

Since 2014, participation in the state program has risen from more than 1,200 students in 2014-2015 to more than 5,400 in 2016-2017.

Similar school choice initiatives have been unveiled in other Republican-controlled states. On Monday, Stallings compared North Carolina’s program to states such as Florida, Indiana and Louisiana, pointing out that while the state’s maximum voucher value of $4,200 trails other states, about 60 percent of the state’s private schools participate.

As Policy Watch has reported, the majority of private schools accepting vouchers are religious in nature, and some have been accused of maintaining anti-LGBTQ policies.

Still, Stallings said the state counts recipients in 97 of 100 counties, although the highest concentration tends to be in places like Charlotte, Wake County and Fayetteville.

N.C. State researchers say the study’s next step will be to publish an analysis of correlative data trends in the coming trends, although they cautioned the report will not be able to identify “causal” relationships. In layman’s terms, that means the study may note corresponding relationships in the data, but it may not be enough to point to the voucher program as a cause for any finding.

Education, News

Sen. Chad Barefoot to talk class size crisis on “Education Matters” this weekend

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, Wake

A bit of news for those following North Carolina’s class size drama: One of the state Senate’s top budget negotiators is expected to perhaps shed some light this weekend on when or if lawmakers will propose some resolution.

The Public School Forum of N.C., a nonpartisan research and policy group in Raleigh, says their “Education Matters” program on WRAL will feature Sen. Chad Barefoot, the Wake County Republican who co-chairs the Senate’s education committee.

The Forum says they intend to ask Barefoot about the funding turmoil. House leaders have been noticeably more eager to adopt some relief for school systems than Senate legislators thus far.

As you may recall, Barefoot was one of the major players involved in last year’s temporary class size resolution, a crisis with the potential to cost local districts thousands of jobs for arts, music and P.E. teachers.

Policy Watch reported this week that at least one key Republican assured constituents in recent days that he expects the Senate to act in March. Meanwhile, a top House budget writer has also promised relief is coming. 

The trouble began in 2016 when GOP legislators ordered school districts to cut class sizes in the lower grades. But districts warned of myriad complications should the order go into effect at the beginning of the 2018-2019 fiscal year with no additional funding or flexibility from the state.

With school districts already prepping plans for next year’s budget, the timing of the legislature’s action, or inaction, will be key.

Depending on your location, “Education Matters” can be viewed this weekend on WRAL, Fox 50 or UNC-TV’s North Carolina Channel.

Keep following for more updates.