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. greg@ncpolicywatch..com Follow Greg @gchild6645
Education

Suspensions, dropouts, crimes decrease in state’s public schools

Suspensions, dropouts and school crimes all decreased for the 2018-19 school year, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI).

NCDPI reports that statewide trends show a steady decrease in the number and rate of crimes reported on public school campuses.

Long-term suspension and short-term suspensions also declined compared to previous year, according to an NCDPI news release. The state’s dropout rate decreased for the second consecutive year.

The news release announcing the coming of the state’s annual Consolidated Report didn’t provide data. That’s expected to be shared when the State Board of Education (SBE) meets March 3-4.

Last year’s report showed the number of reportable crimes in grades K-13 decreased by 0.9 percent in the 2017-18 school year and the rate of offenses per thousand students decreased by 1.1%.

The Consolidated Report will follow last week’s Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) report, which found black students who attend North Carolina’s public schools are 4.1 times more likely than their white counterparts to receive short-term suspensions.

To put that in context, consider black students make up just 25% of children enrolled in the state’s public schools. They receive, however, more than half – 55.7% — of short-term suspensions. Meanwhile, white students are 47.3% of the state’s public schools’ students but receive only 25.8% of short-term suspensions.

“Many factors contribute to the racial disparities we see in schools across the state, including the implicit racial bias of decision makers, structural racism and, in some cases, explicit discrimination against students of color,” Meredith Horton, the SCSJ deputy executive director, said in a statement last week.

Suspensions receive lots of attention because students of colors receive the brunt of them, and the consequences can be life changing. Research shows that suspensions can lead to academic struggles and increase a child’s chances of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Education

North Carolina’s public schools told to remain calm, be prepared for coronavirus

This Centers for Disease Control photo shows an electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, formerly known as 2019-nCoV.

In an attempt to curtail fear and panic over the coronavirus, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), has issued a statement urging North Carolinians to focus on the facts surrounding the virus.

NCDPI’s statement came  after “numerous inquiries” from school districts and parents about the potential impact of the virus on schools across the state.

Here’s what the NCDPI shared about the virus:

  • There are no cases in North Carolina.
  • The flu infects and results in many more deaths every year than we are currently discussing with 2019-nCoV.
  • The symptoms presented look much like a cold or early flu, and school nurses and schools are being advised to follow their same policies and procedures in place for responding to other communicable diseases.

Click on this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  link to learn more about the coronavirus.

State health officials reported 15 more flu deaths last week, which pushed the total to 115 for the 2019-2020 season.

There have been 2,462 deaths worldwide due to the coronavirus, according to the CDC. The United States has 14 cases diagnosed. An additional 39 cases have occurred among repatriated persons to push the current total to 53 cases in the U.S.

NCDPI officials said they are in contact with N.C. Division of Public Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. They are discussing and planning steps to take if the virus threatens North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the virus has devastated China. Mainland China has nearly 77,000  infections and there are more than 2,000 people dead.

The government has closed schools indefinitely and are ramping up online opportunities for students to continue their studies.

Education

New report shows students of color continue to receive most of state’s school suspensions

Black students who attend public schools in North Carolina are 4.1 times more likely than their white counterparts to be hit with short-term suspensions.

That’s one finding in the most recent Racial Equity Report Cards released Wednesday by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).

Black students make up 25% of children enrolled in the state’s public schools, but receive 55.2% of short-term suspensions. White students are 47.3% of students enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools but receive only 25.8% of short-term suspensions.

“Many factors contribute to the racial disparities we see in schools across the state, including the implicit racial bias of decision makers, structural racism and, in some cases, explicit discrimination against students of color,” said Meredith Horton, the SCSJ deputy executive director.

The SCSJ used 2018-19 suspension data from the state’s 115 school districts to compile its report, which provides a “snapshot” of the so-called school-to prison-pipeline in each district.

The pipeline is described as the system of policies and practices that push students out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice system,

“The pipeline has three key entry point; academic failure, school discipline and court involvement,” SCJS researchers wrote. “Students of color are over-represented at each entry point to the pipeline in almost every school district in North Carolina, and once students enter the pipeline it can be difficult for them to re-engage and be successful at school.”

Last year, the SCSJ found that Black students were 4.3 times more likely than white students to be suspended from school.

The racial inequity found in the suspension data is troubling when you consider the dire consequences facing students who have been suspended. They often struggle academically and their chances of future involvement with the criminal justice system increases, studies show.

Horton said there are several steps school boards and communities can do to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Investing in smaller class sizes, as well as professionals such as social workers and counselors, eliminating policies that criminalize schoolyard behavior and getting community and parent input on discipline procedures can all make a significant and lasting change,” Horton said.

The RERCs also show that while 52.7% of students in the state are children of color, only 21.3% of teachers and administrators are of color.

SCSC and other research organizations believe a more diverse teacher corps will improve academic outcomes and increase opportunities students of color.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins, for example, found that Black students with just one Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college.

Other key findings in the SCSJ’s report include:

  • White students were 2.1 times more likely to score as “college to career ready” on end-of-grade tests between third and eighth grades than Black students and 1.7 times more likely than Hispanic students.
  • The academic gap grows slightly in high school with White students 2.3 times more likely to score “college to career ready” on high school end-of-course tests than Black students and 1.8 times more likely than Hispanic students.
  • Hispanic and Native American students are the least likely to graduate from high school in four years, with statewide graduation rates of 81.1% and 81.2% respectively. In comparison, 89.6% of White students graduate in 4 years.
  • Statewide, 45.1% of all juvenile referrals to the criminal justice system came from schools; Black students were the most likely to be referred to the justice system, with 47.6% of all incidents being referred to the criminal justice system compared to 36.5% among White students.
Education

State Superintendent Mark Johnson says survey results show North Carolinians oppose Common Core standards

Superintendent Mark Johnson said Thursday that 78 % of people responding to a N.C. Department of Public Instruction survey want Common Core removed from North Carolina standards.

More than 71,000 people completed the controversial survey, Johnson said in a news release. That means 55,380 of them indicated they oppose Common Core.

“These results affirm what I have been hearing across the state for years,” Johnson said. “Most North Carolinians do not want Common Core used in our public schools.”

Johnson was  criticized after he sent the survey to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators in text messages and email messages.

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter and others filed ethics complaints against Johnson with the N.C. Ethics Commission. They contend Johnson’s email blast and text blast were politically motivated.

Johnson is a Republican candidate in a crowded field for lieutenant governor. He has voiced opposition to Common Core on the campaign trail.

The primary election is March 3.

“Mark Johnson’s fake Common Core outrage message to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators is nothing more than an attempt to swing uninformed voters his way in the primary for lieutenant governor,” Parmenter said. “It’s unethical for any elected official to use state resources for personal gain.”

Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist who lives in Durham, also filed an ethics complaint against Johnson.
“I believe Mr. [Mark] Johnson’s mass email and text sending on Feb. 11 constitutes a violate of the State Government Ethic Act, specially the part that prohibits use of public position for private gain,” Bartel said.

Bartel was critical of the quality of the survey. The survey would not be approved for research purposes, she said.

Superintendent Mark Johnson

Johnson said North Carolina should consider following Florida, which eliminated Common Core earlier this month.

“There is a path forward, and we are carefully reviewing the process followed by the Florida Department of Education to ensure any review of standards dedicates sufficient time for diligent review and includes the views of all stakeholders.,” Johnson said. “I think it is well past time that education leaders in Raleigh listen to all educators and parents on this important issue.”

The State Board of Education in Florida has adopted new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to replace Common Core.

The new standards will apply to students in grades K-2 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. They will apply to all students the following year.

Common Core is a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts that define what K-12 students should learn by the end of each school year.

The North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards for math and English language arts in 2010 and re-approved revised standards in 2017.

Some educators argue Common Core is mostly removed from North Carolina standards.

Johnson disagrees.

“Many states, like North Carolina, were ‘changing’ standards by making tweaks to Common Core and then calling it by a different name,” Johnson said in a Feb. 6 statement.

Education

Superintendent Mark Johnson hit with ethics complaint over email, text message blasts

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter shows ethics complaint letter on his Facebook page.

A language arts teacher from Charlotte has filed a complaint with the N.C. Ethics Commission over email and text messages State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent to educators and parents asking them to take an online survey about Common Core standards.

Justin Parmenter, a frequent critic of the superintendent who blogs at Notes from the Chalkboard, contends the messages were politically motivated. He said they were sent to aid Johnson in his bid to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

“Mark Johnson’s fake Common Core outrage message to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators is nothing more than an attempt to swing uninformed voters his way in the primary for Lieutenant Governor,” Parmenter said. “It’s unethical for any elected official to use state resources for personal gain.”

Parmenter said he believes as many as 10 other people filed complaints against Johnson on Thursday. He expects more people to do so over the next few days.

Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist who lives in Durham, confirmed that she was among those who filed a complaint on Thursday.

“I believe Mr. [Mark] Johnson’s mass email and text sending on Feb. 11 constitutes a violate of the State Government Ethic Act, specially the part that prohibits use of public position for private gain,” Bartel said.

Bartel was also critical of the quality of the survey, contending it would have never been approved by school districts for research purposes.

She noted that the Wake County Public School System requires research studies to be approved by a federally approved Institutional Review Board. Such studies must also be reviewed by the Office of Data and Accountability, Bartel added.

“Having access to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens’ personal phone numbers and email addresses, as Mr. [Mark] Johnson does, is not reason enough for using that access to conduct research that has not in any way been vetted,” Bartel said.

Johnson reportedly sent 540,000 text messages and 800,000 email messages to parents and teachers asking to them take the five-question, online survey.

Policy Watch was unable to reach N.C. Department of Public Instruction spokesman Graham Wilson for comment late Thursday afternoon.

But Wilson told The News & Observer the ethics complaints are another “disingenuous attempt to discredit Johnson’s efforts to listen to actual parents and teachers, instead of Elitist Insiders.”

Johnson’s text messages and emails received an avalanche of criticism on social media Tuesday shortly after he sent them to educators and parents.

“Shame on you for a disgraceful political stunt,” retired educator Phyllis Eubank West wrote on Johnson’s Facebook page. “If you were so interested curriculum, you would have initiated surveys etc. 3 years ago and not 3 weeks before a primary. BTW, the survey is poorly designed.”

In his message to teachers and parents, Johnson said he is opposed to Common Core. If elected lieutenant governor, he could work from that post to rid the state of Common Core because he would serve on the State Board of Education.

“Opposition to Common Core from educators and parents is what I hear about the most across our state,” Johnson said in the statement. “I strongly disagreed with the State Board of Education’s decision to keep Common Core in place in 2017. But now there’s a clear path we can replicate in North Carolina to remove Common Core, and I encourage the State Board to closely examine this new option with us.”

The clear path Johnson mentioned runs through Florida. That state eliminated Common Core last week.

The State Board of Education in Florida on Wednesday adopted new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to replace Common Core.

The new standards will apply to students in grades K-2 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. They will apply to all students the following year.