Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

State Board of Education denies two fast-track charter applications

A divided State Board of Education (SBE) rejected two of three accelerated charter school applications from operators who sought approval to open in August.

The board voted 6-5 to send the applications for American Leadership Academy-Monroe in Union County back to the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) for review and resubmission to the state board. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson recused himself from the ALA-Monroe vote because his wife serves on the school’s board of directors.

The state board voted 7-5 to send the application for Legacy Classical Academy in Rockingham County back to CSAB. Meanwhile, the board unanimously approved the fast-track application for Mountain City Public Montessori in Buncombe County.

All three applications were approved by the charter board before being sent to to the state board.

Normally, it takes two years to approve a charter application. The fast-track provision allows schools to open in a year. Schools generally must have a proven track record of success, a school building and leadership in place before an accelerated application is approved.

State Board members opposed to fast-tracking the ALA-Monroe and Legacy Classical applications cited governance issues and concerns about the management fees the schools would pay for-profit Education Management Organizations (EMOs).

ALA-Monroe would pay Charter One, an Arizona-based management firm, a 15% management fee. The money would be taken off the top of state funding the school receives. Charter One manages more than two dozen schools in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina and Nevada. Six of the schools it manages are in North Carolina and include Wake Preparatory Academy, a large K-12 school located in Franklin County near the Wake County line.

Smaller, North Carolina-based American Traditional Academies would charge Legacy Classical a 14% management fee, State board vice Chairman Alan Duncan said. He added that a 14% fee would apply to federal monies as well. Legacy Classical would be the first school managed by the EMO.

Amy White

SBE member Amy White argued that if the board is going to take that kind of approach to charter school management contracts, then it must take the same approach to all contracts with NC Department of Public Instruction vendors.

“If that’s the thought moving forward, then that same scrutiny should be applied to every contract that comes before the Department of Public Instruction for the use of state and federal funds,” White said. “I think you will find very similar if not even larger margins built into a lot of those contracts.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt chimed in that contracts with the NCDPI’s higher education partners have profit margins of 15% and “sometimes higher.”

On Wednesday, during the board’s work session, SBE member Jill Camnitz shared her concerns about Charter One’s rapid expansion in North Carolina. Camnitz said the board is being asked to approve another school without knowing how students in Charter One-manage schools are performing academically. The pandemic interrupted state testing and led to lower test scores when testing resumed.

Alan Duncan

Comparing testing data with schools in Arizona isn’t helpful, Camnitz said, unless North Carolina uses the same school performance measurement rubric.

“Success in Arizona does not necessarily translate to similar success in North Carolina,” she said.

Camnitz also had concerns about the amount of control the management firm has compared to the school’s board of directors.

“It gives me pause about who’s really going to be in control of the school,” Camnitz. “I have real concerns about that.”

Duncan expressed concern that Charter One would have the authority to hire and fire staff under the management agreement. He said there also needs to be clarity about whether a management organization can take 15% of federal dollars from schools.

“I’m concerned about the inherent conflict that already exists; that is the ethical conflict of these dollars, how do we make the hard choice of whether we have these dollars go [to] the profit-making emo body or whether we allocate those [dollars] to children,” Duncan said.

State Board of Education expected to take major step toward new compensation and licensure model

Update: The State Board of Education unanimously approved the “Blueprint for Action” on Thursday.

The State Board of Education (SBE) will likely adopt a “Blueprint for Action” on Thursday that could pave the way to dramatically change how North Carolina teachers are compensated and licensed.

On Wednesday, during a board work session, there was little objection to the “Blueprint,” which summarizes the work of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) and sets the stage for the state board and General Assembly to take actions needed to move the process along, including making changes to state law.

Amy White

State Board member Amy White did express concern that the proposed model does not spell out what happens when teachers don’t meet educational goals and students are negatively impacted.

“What happens when an educator doesn’t progress?” White asked.

The state Board asked PEPSC more than 18 months ago to look at revisions to the state’s teacher licensure and pay structure. The goal is to design a model that makes the profession more attractive and eliminates barriers to becoming a teacher.

“It’s a combination of trying to address past decisions that have landed heavily on teachers with an archaic system that must change,” said SBE Chairman Eric Davis said. “We understand that we’re going to get criticized for arguing for change, but we’ve got to change it for our students’ sake and our teachers’ sake.”

PEPSC narrowly approved the “Blueprint” earlier this month on a 9-7 vote.

Click here to see the 10 “action” items in the “Blueprint”

It was clear Wednesday that any changes are likely years away. The board is expected to first focus on establishing pilot pay and licensure programs across the state. The idea is to demonstrate proof of concept to sway lawmakers who must approve funding for changes, which would result in higher pay for teachers.

Eric Davis

We’ve got more work to do before we, frankly, know what to ask of the legislature,” Davis said. “But we’re clearly heading toward an ask that would build on our existing authority around licensure but extend that to give us an opportunity to conduct pilots.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt hammered home the message that the proposed model would provide teachers with support to help students succeed academically.

“This is a model that is a student-first model when it comes to teacher compensation and licensure because this model is attempting to provide more support for teachers throughout their career than they’ve ever had in this state before,” Truitt said.

Despite the promise of better pay and more support, the licensure and pay proposal hasn’t won over teachers.

Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle school teacher and education policy commentator who writes at the website Notes from the Chalkboard, has taken on a leading position in pushing back against the new licensing and compensation model.

Parmenter used his Twitter account Wednesday to urge educators to “reach out to State Board members and let them know how you feel they should vote.”

Critics contend the proposal is an unwanted move to a system of merit pay that places too much emphasis on students’ standardized test scores. They argue that a better strategy to recruit and retain teachers — a stated goal of the new proposal — is to pay them a fair wage.

As Policy Watch reported previously, the proposed licensure and pay model would create a system of entry-level certifications to bring more people into the profession. One certification would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate’s degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under that license would receive a base salary of $30,000.

Veteran teachers in leadership roles could earn an advanced teacher license. A National Board Certified Teacher working under that license with a master’s degree and more than 25 years of experience could earn more than $80,000 a year.

North Carolina’s teachers are currently paid based on years of experience. Veteran teachers would be held harmless if they lost pay under the proposal.

Truitt has said the feedback that she’s received about the proposal is mostly grounded in “misinterpretation or misstatements” of fact. She contends the proposal is not a merit pay model.

Mississippi taps North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction for new state superintendent

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor, a deputy superintendent in the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), has been hired to lead the Mississippi Department of Education.

Taylor, a Mississippi native, is a former superintendent of Bladen County Schools. He will start his new job in January, pending confirmation by the Mississippi state senate.

As Mississippi’s state superintendent, which is an appointed position, Taylor will lead 140 school districts. Those districts enroll more than 440,000 students.

“Mississippi has made tremendous strides in literacy and our goal as a state should be to continue this growth and refine the work that has produced such great results,” Taylor said in a statement last week. “I look forward to working with local school districts, superintendents, and their school staff in identifying barriers to success.”

Taylor will become Mississippi’s second Black superintendent. The first was Henry L. Johnson, who came from North Carolina in 2002. Johnson was an associate state superintendent at NCDPI and an assistant superintendent for Johnston County Schools.

The Mississippi Department of Education told Mississippi Today, an online nonprofit publication, that Taylor will be paid $300,000 annually.

Truitt posted a celebratory tweet sharing the news about Taylor’s new position.

Mississippi has won accolades in recent years for its success in early literacy. In 2019, the state posted the highest growth of all states on the National Assessment for Education Progress.

Taylor’s departure from NCDPI comes as this state launches new efforts to improve early literacy after the failure of Read to Achieve, a statewide early childhood literacy program, that despite investments of more than $150 million, yielded poor results. The program was designed to get more children to read by third grade.

To improve literacy, the General Assembly approved Senate Bill 387 (The Excellent Schools Act of 2021) requiring all teachers to be trained in the “science of reading,” which is essentially a phonics-based approach to teaching students to read.

Taylor joined NCDPI in early 2021 as deputy secretary of student and school advancement. He began his 10th year as superintendent of Bladen County Schools in 2020. Before taking the job in Bladen County, Taylor was the assistant superintendent for Clinton City Schools from 2003 to 2011.

A 1990 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Taylor earned his bachelor’s degree in history and political science before earning a master of school administration from Fayetteville State University (FSU) and later his doctorate in educational leadership in 2009. He is an active member on multiple boards within the state – serving on advisory councils at both FSU and UNC Pembroke.

Report: Confidence in public education has decreased since pandemic

Polling indicates confidence in public education has declined since the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in schools.

Nearly 50% of voters say their confidence in public education has waned since the pandemic sent public education into a tailspin, according to a national survey of voters and parents released Monday by the Hunt Institute.

The Hunt survey also shows that only a quarter of parents believe school district officials, state education leaders and school board members have handled COVID-related challenges well.

The findings are part of a report titled “Across the Aisle: Bridging the Education Divide, What Voters and Parents Want in Education.”  The report was co-authored by Hunt Institute President and CEO Javaid Siddiqi and former West Virginia governor Bob Wise.

Javaid Siddiqi

Siddiqi and Wise report that the growing dissatisfaction with public schools was most acute among Republican and independent voters. The declining perceptions of public schools have coincided with the growth of school choice options and preferences, the two report.

Forty-four percent of parents surveyed said they enrolled their child in a charter, magnet, private or religious school because they thought the quality of education was better.

In a statement, Sidiqi said the report gives policymakers insight into the issues voters and parents care about when it comes to schools.

“This initiative was created to provide policymakers with accurate, unbiased insights into the minds of their constituents, so we can move past speculation into reality and action,” Siddiqi said.

The report is a follow-up to last year’s 2021 Emerging Priorities for Education Leaders Report which sought to understand the educational challenges and issues that most concerned the public’s mind. This year’s report explores whether priorities have changed.

Here are key takeaways from the new report:

  • Recent hot-button issues such as book banning and curriculum censorship are largely unpopular. About 7 in 10 voters (68 percent) and 6 in 10 parents (60 percent) believe book banning and curriculum censorship is a problem. In addition, compared to other issues provided in the survey, it is among the lowest ranked priorities for policymakers to address.
  • School safety in particular is a high priority issue in the eyes of voters and parents. Three in four voters (75 percent) believe that guns and other physical violence in schools is a problem, and a similar number (73 percent) believe bullying, including cyber bullying, is a problem.
  • Voters look to additional mental health supports as a necessary part of recovery efforts. Over half of voters (51 percent) strongly favored investing in student’s individual needs, including their social and emotional learning needs. Additionally, 85 percent of voters believe that additional counseling or social, emotional, and mental health supports would help students move forward from the pandemic’s impacts.
  • One year later, learning loss remains a high priority issue for parents and voters. Seventy percent of voters believe that learning loss is currently a problem, and 40 percent believe that it is a very big problem. Early literacy in particular is a key issue among the public with 70 percent of voters identifying students reading at grade level as very important.

Bob Wise

Wise said the way forward is through the strategic use of billions in federal COVID-relief dollars to make major investments in public education.

The deadline for states to use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars is less than two years away. The U.S. Department of Education established the program in response to the pandemic.     ­

“People understand or are coming to understand that there are federal dollars for education, and they want to do both,” Wise said. “They want to return to a new normal and use COVID relief dollars to get their children safely back in school. At the same time, they understand that this may be the only major source of investment that we have for a long time, so they want to make both short- and long-term investments.”

New teacher licensure and pay model moves to State Board of Education

(This story has been updated to include a statement from  the N.C. Association of Educators.)

The state commission working to revamp teacher licensure and pay structures narrowly approved a “Blueprint for Action” on Thursday to send to the State Board of Education to advance the process.

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) approved the proposal on a 9-7 vote.

Technical difficulties and the absence of several members who left the online meeting early and were not present at the start of voting nearly threatened to derail the process.

A decision to call the missing commissioners to ask them to rejoin the meeting led one member to ask whether the vote was legal.

“We have a lot of people listening to our meetings and I just want to make sure what we just did by calling people and asking them to rejoin the meeting – no matter the vote, this is not about the outcome – is that allowed in meeting protocol?” asked Commissioner Ann Bullock, dean of the School of Education at Elon University.

State board Attorney Allison Schaffer responded that it wouldn’t be fair to not allow Commissioner Sam Houston to vote due to technical difficulties. Houston is president and CEO of the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center. Schaffer didn’t address the legality of the commission’s move to ask colleagues to rejoin the meeting to vote.

The “Blueprint for Action” is essentially a summary of the commission’s work that sets the stage for the state board and General Assembly to take the actions needed to move the process along, including making changes to state law.

“These are structural statements, it is not meant to represent the level of detail that’s been part of our discussions in subcommittees and in PEPSC in September and October,” PEPSC Chairman Van Dempsey explained.  “It’s an effort to capture the structural components of what we’re doing.”

As Schafer explained recently, many of the current rules related to teacher licensing are inconsistent with the recommendations that PEPSC is likely to make.

“We can only adopt rules that are allowed to us in statute, so we need the change the statute first,” Schafer said. “So, the next step in developing a new licensure system would be for PEPSC to recommend and the state board to approve a request for changes to allow it to develop such a system or plan.”

Dempsey said the commission would continue to work to develop the elements of the new teacher licensure and pay model.

Catherine Truitt

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt warned that lawmakers could take over the process if the commission doesn’t share its recommendations soon.

“I think the last thing that any of us want is for the General Assembly to move ahead without us, and that is why time is of the essence,” Truitt said.

As Policy Watch reported previously, the proposed licensure and pay model to be considered would create a system of entry-level certifications to bring more people into the profession. One certification would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate’s degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree. Teachers working under that license would receive a base salary of $30,000.

Veteran teachers in leadership roles could earn an advanced teacher license. A National Board Certified Teacher working under that license with a master’s degree and more than 25 years of experience could earn more than $80,000 a year.

North Carolina’s teachers are currently paid based on years of experience. Veteran teachers would be held harmless if they lost pay under the proposal.

Tamika Walker Kelly

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) said called the “Blue for Action” harmful to the teaching profession.

“We believe North Carolina needs a teacher licensure program that respects teachers’ expertise, rewards their time in the profession, offers support throughout their career, and recruits and retains educators of color in a way that reflects the demographics of our public-school student population,” NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement. “The ‘Blueprint for Action’ created by PEPSC falls far short of this goal, demonstrated by the committee’s narrow vote to even move their plan forward. ”

Teachers have complained that the proposal is an unwanted move to a system of merit pay that places too much emphasis on students’ standardized test scores. They argue that a better strategy to recruit and retain teachers — a stated goal of the new proposal — is to pay them a fair wage.

Truitt has said the feedback that she’s received about the proposal is mostly grounded in “misinterpretation or misstatements” of fact. She contends the proposal is not a merit pay model.