House budget writers adopt the extreme view that NC constitution is optional

While the right wing’s manufactured moral panic over critical race theory continues to generate headlines, there’s a real crisis in North Carolina’s public schools that continues to go under-reported: a General Assembly that chooses to ignore the state constitution in order to keep our schools underfunded. The crisis continues to harm North Carolina’s children by denying them the education they deserve while asking deeper questions about the health of our democracy.

The issue couldn’t be more clear. In June, the courts ordered the state to implement the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan immediately and in full. Half-measures and temporary funding won’t deliver the education students have been waiting on since the Leandro court case was filed in 1994. Thanks to the Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan, a comprehensive set of spending and policy reforms necessary to provide our students the education they are owed by the 27-28 school year, legislative leaders know how to create a public school system that provides every student with access to a “sound basic education.” The Governor’s budget showed leaders that the Plan can easily be funded. The only remaining hurdle is for legislative leaders to fulfill their constitutional oaths and implement the Plan.

Yet on Thursday, House budget writers showed that they – like their counterparts in the Senate – have no interest in fulfilling their constitutional obligations to North Carolina students. The Education and Health & Human Services budgets fail to implement the Leandro Plan (early education programs fall under the HHS budget). The budgets fall well short of what the courts have ordered. The House budget proposal funds less than half of the Plan in FY 21-22, falling to less than a third in FY 22-23.*

A full break-down of the Leandro Plan items funded in each budget proposal can be found here.

It is unclear why legislative leaders are continuing to deny students with the education they’re owed. Nor is it clear why they would spark a constitutional crisis just to deny students the resources necessary to succeed. But that is the path legislative leaders have taken. And that – not any legal theory – is the real crisis facing North Carolina’s schools.

*Post updated August 18 to include information on the House’s teacher and principal salary plans that were not available at the original date of publication.

New Justice Center report details North Carolina’s discriminatory school accountability system

Since the 2013-14 school year, North Carolina has assigned each of its schools an A-F school performance grade. As folks have pointed out, these grades, based almost entirely on standardized test results, overwhelmingly label as “failing” schools that enroll large shares of students from families with low incomes.

A new Justice Center report expands analysis of North Carolina’s school performance grade system by showing how the system also discriminates against schools serving larger populations of students of color. North Carolina’s Native (Indian, per Department of Public Instruction nomenclature below) and Black students are more likely to attend a “failing” school than a “successful” school. Meanwhile, these students’ Asian and white peers overwhelmingly are assigned to “successful” schools.

The report further interrogates state policymakers’ response (or lack thereof) to a system that consistently tells them that students of color and students from families with low incomes are overwhelmingly placed in “failing” schools. Lawmakers have made no efforts to target resources or implement school improvement strategies that would meaningfully benefit students of color or students from families with low incomes, nor have they sought to integrate schools in ways that would equalize students’ access to “good” schools.

At the same time, lawmakers have resisted any reforms to the system that they know stigmatizes schools based on student demographics. In particular, Senate leader Phil Berger has rejected proposals that would modify the formula to make it even slightly less discriminatory.

One must ask why lawmakers are so dedicated to labeling schools as failing while doing nothing to help the students in those schools. As the report asks:

Are lawmakers indifferent to the plight of students of color and students from families with low incomes that our SPG system tells us are chronically assigned to “failing” schools? Or is it possible they are intentionally trying to stigmatize schools that serve these students?

The report presents a series of policy options to overhaul a school accountability system that needlessly stigmatizes schools serving students of color and students from families with low incomes. In addition, the grades are based on a narrow subset of standardized test scores, failing to capture the full impact schools have on student flourishing. Alternative approaches discussed in the report can minimize stigmatization while providing parents and school leaders with more useful information.

The report also calls for race-conscious and class-conscious policies to directly address the very real ways North Carolina’s leaders continue to deny equality of opportunity to students of color and students from families with low incomes.

The report concludes:

It remains unclear whether lawmakers’ adherence to such a flawed SPG scheme is motivated by indifference to students, a desire to stigmatize and dismantle schools, or both. Ultimately, the precise motivation is less important than the tangible impact: North Carolina’s SPG system needlessly stigmatizes schools enrolling students of color and those from families with low incomes. The system is not being used to inform policy, nor does it provide useful information for parents or school leaders. It causes harm and must be abandoned.

The full report can be found here.

Time to mandate masks in schools

Let’s establish an important fact up front: masks are one of the most important ways to contain the spread of COVID-19.

  • A review of 19 randomized controlled trials found that universal mask wearing is important for preventing COVID, where transmission may occur before a person becomes symptomatic.
  • Countries that introduced mandated masking within 30 days of the first case had dramatically fewer COVID cases than those that delayed beyond 100 days.
  • States requiring mask-wearing in public are estimated to have averted between 230,000-450,000 cases of COVID between April and May 2020.
  • Universal mask wearing can build solidarity in our communities and combat fear and stigma that our loved ones and neighbors may face around wearing a mask.

In North Carolina, only about one-quarter of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have received both shots. Students under 12 are still ineligible for vaccines.

While children are less likely than adults to die of COVID, they can catch and spread the disease, endangering staff and families. 40 percent of North Carolina adults remain unvaccinated and thousands more are immunocompromised. Transmission of the virus propagates variants that will prolong the pandemic.

In addition to spreading the disease, children are not invulnerable to complications. At least 337 children have died from COVID, including an eight-year-old girl from Durham. At least 4,196 children have developed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). MIS-C can lead to life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs in the body and has led to at least 37 deaths. Even if the risks are small, no child deserves to face lethal risks from preventable disease.

Given the above, the Governor must work with the Council of State to require masks in our schools for all students and staff. With the delta variant causing new cases to rise at alarming rates, delegating this decision to the state’s 115 school boards and the state’s 200 charter schools will be disastrous. Simply encouraging school leaders to do the right thing is not enough.

On Thursday, the Governor indicated he recommends that schools require masks, but he will not exercise his authority to mandate their use. As a result, too many school boards controlled by conservatives, will largely eschew masks, exacerbating spread in their communities. Already, Beaufort County, Cabarrus County, Caldwell County, Carteret County, Catawba County, Clay County, Cleveland County, Gaston County, Harnett County, Haywood County, Iredell-Statesville, Mooresville, Lincoln County, Madison County, Pender County, Randolph County, Rowan-Salisbury, Sampson County, Stokes County, Union County, and Watauga County have voted to make masks optional in their schools. Many more are sure to follow.

In addition to being bad science, the Governor’s most recent order puts incredible pressure on boards wanting to maintain a mask mandate. Read more

Duke study highlights the need for in-school reforms to truly integrate schools

An innovative new study from researchers at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy examines the racial segregation that takes place within North Carolina schools, highlighting the need for more deliberate school-level policies to truly integrate schools.

While many studies have examined segregation across districts and schools, this study provides a rare, in-depth look at the segregation that happens within a school building. The report’s findings bolster the recommendations of education advocates calling for a deeper understanding of school integration that looks beyond simply moving students in one school building or the other.

The within-school segregation identified by the Duke report is often the result of student tracking – grouping students according to their (supposed) ability level. Tracking can be a problematic driver of inequality. First, the groupings may reflect the biases of educators or be a product of parental pressure, denying opportunities on the basis of race and class. Second, the “advanced” groups tend to be assigned to more experienced teachers with more engaging curricula, widening opportunities going forward.

Data confirms that students of color in North Carolina are frequently tracked into lower-level classes. CREED’s E(race)ing Inequities report detailed how students of color in North Carolina are underrepresented in honors and AP courses and have higher chances of being taught by novice teachers.

The Duke report finds that both middle and high schools, but not elementary schools, exhibit a substantial amount of within-school segregation. Interestingly, the researchers find that schools with lower across-school segregation often have higher levels of within-school segregation.

The researchers illuminate this point by contrasting segregation in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties. In the early 2000s, Mecklenburg County embraced a “neighborhood schools” approach and saw a substantial increase in segregation across schools. By contrast, Wake County embraced an integration policy, seeking to keep schools relatively balanced in terms of student income. But while Wake County’s schools appeared integrated, the researchers’ examination of classroom assignments found another story:

Although Mecklenburg County had by far the highest between-school segregation among the five, no county exceeded the within-school segregation levels of Wake County.

The researchers also find, somewhat surprisingly, that segregation between white and Hispanic students was more extreme than that between white and Black students. This is noteworthy as the share of Hispanic students in North Carolina schools has grown from 3% in 1998 to 17% in 2017.

Finally, the report found that Black and Hispanic students tended to be enrolled in less rigorous courses than their white peers. The underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students relative to white students in advanced courses means that “Black and Hispanic students in North Carolina are exposed to a qualitatively different curriculum than are White students, with the latter being more likely to be in advanced courses.”

In all, the report’s findings provide an important reminder real integration isn’t achieved simply by moving students between schools. Educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders must continue to push for policies and practices that harbor real integration at the classroom level.

The idea of real integration is best described by the student leaders of Integrate NYC, who have outlined the “5Rs of Real Integration.” Their framework includes specific policy recommendations under each of the following areas to create schools that are truly integrated:

  1. Race and Enrollment: Schools must provide a diverse and inclusive environment for every NYC public school student.
  2. Resources: Funding systems must provide equitable distribution of resources across schools to meet the constitutional requirements of a “sound, basic education.”
  3. Relationships: Schools must be considerate and empathetic of the identities of all students, focus on the power of different backgrounds, and act of build relationships between students across group identities.
  4. Restorative Justice: All high schools should be free of police and military presence, safe, free of metal detectors, protective of the integrity and humanity of each student, and help build student leaders.
  5. Representation: School faculties should be inclusive, elevating the voices of communities of color, immigrant communities, and the LGBT community so that student identities and experiences are reflected in the leadership.

Such reforms (more detail on which can be found here) are long overdue in North Carolina schools. As the Duke study documents, North Carolina schools remain far too segregated. As a result, Black and Hispanic students continue to be denied the same curriculum and opportunities being offered to white students.

Report: Federal grants to NC charter schools found to promote racial and economic segregation

A June report from the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on strengthening public schools, uncovers how North Carolina is using the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to finance schools that have historically served as schools of white flight.

North Carolina’s charters contribute to the racial and economic segregation of our public school system. North Carolina charter schools – on average – tend to attract students who are whiter and wealthier than the surrounding community. CSP looks to counter these trends by providing certain charter schools grants to help support services for students from families with lower incomes. According to the Network for Public Education, however, North Carolina officials have directed much of this funding to schools with a history of serving as white flight charter schools and enrolling substantially fewer students from families with low incomes than nearby inclusive public schools.

The history of certain CSP-funded charters brings into question their commitment to serving a diverse student body and whether or not they deserve large supplemental funding grants. While North Carolina law requires charters to “make efforts for the population of the school to reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the” district in which the charter is located, many of the CSP recipient charters have been ignoring this law for years.

According to their analysis, at least 11 of the schools (several charter recipients do not provide information on student demographics) are racially segregated as compared to the district in which they’re located. These schools include: Read more