Education, News

Test scores in North Carolina public schools decline

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

This time of year is always a nervous one for North Carolina public school leaders.

With state testing results going public, K-12 officials will talk about their successes and their struggles. This week may focus on the struggles, though, with new testing results showing declines on state exams.

From The News & Observer:

Fewer North Carolina public school students passed state exams this year, with the decline increasing over time for students in third grade despite a state push to get young children reading at grade level.

New state results from the 2017-18 school year released Wednesday also show that the state’s 12-year streak of rising high school graduation rates has ended. But state leaders say the graduation results can’t be compared to previous years because of changes in how the rates are now calculated.

State education leaders pointed to positives Wednesday about how the majority of schools are meeting growth expectations on state exams and that the number of low-performing schools has dropped.

But the new test results also showed several areas of decline.

“We have some things to celebrate,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday. “We also have things that will make us pause and have concerns.”

Go to https://bit.ly/2wGEwP6 for a Charlotte Observer/News & Observer searchable database of results for every North Carolina public school. Results are also available at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting/ on the state’s website.

One example of a decline is how the percentage of students passing the state reading, math and science exams dropped to 58.8 percent in the 2017-18 school year. It was 59.2 percent the previous school year.

Even when the drop is small, Johnson said it still reflects that a lot of students declined. He said state test results seem to be plateauing.

“When we dig into the data, we see that some results go up, some results go down,” Johnson said. “But consistently the trend is that we are not where we want to be for students.”

An area where the scores seem to be going in reverse is performance of third-grade students on the state’s end-of-grade reading exam. State legislators created the Read To Achieve program in 2012 with the goal of trying to get students proficient in reading by the end of third grade.

The passing rate on the third-grade reading exams is now at 55.9 percent. It was at 60.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year and 57.8 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

Johnson said he hopes that efforts he’s pushed for such as reallocating state Read To Achieve funding to buy supplies and iPads for K-3 literacy teachers and reducing the amount of required assessments will improve performance.

It’s worth debating whether devices alone will make a difference. Recent research suggests the jury’s still out. 

Johnson’s iPad purchase has also been mired in controversy. As Policy Watch reported last week, the purchase came months after the superintendent and influential state budget leaders had their expenses, including dinner and lodging, paid for by Apple reps at their Silicon Valley headquarters.

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Commentary, Education

Higher Ed advocates: NC is falling short in its support for K-12 (graph)

The good people at the Higher Education Works Foundation have published the latest installment in their “Where We Stand” series, which looks at where North Carolina stands in “a variety of education metrics, from pre-Kindergarten through the university.” The post is entitled “K-12: Progress, but a long way to go” and we’re happy to cross-post it here.

North Carolina’s spending on K-12 public education took a hit during and after the Great Recession – and it still hasn’t fully recovered.

Compared with its neighbors, North Carolina’s spending per student ranked 8th of 11 Southeastern states in 2017-18.1  North Carolina both lags adjacent states – trailing South Carolina by $2,385 per pupil – and has yet to restore spending per student to pre-recession levels.

In constant dollars, North Carolina’s spending per student peaked at $9,952 in 2007-08, ranking 40th in the nation.  State support per student continued to slide to $8,784 in 2012-13, when North Carolina ranked 46th.

As North Carolina’s population continued to grow, state legislators made incremental increases until spending per student reached an estimated $9,528 in 2017-18, ranking 39th.2  But spending per student still remained $424 less than pre-recession levels in 2017-18, after adjusting for inflation.

Beyond the dollars, officials have focused in recent years on 3rd-grade reading proficiency.

Ninth-graders who read proficiently in 3rd grade are three times more likely to go to college, Venessa Harrison, President of AT&T North Carolina, noted at a recent NC Chamber Conference on Education.

Yet students who do not read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out, Harrison said, and 62% of North Carolina 4th-graders do not read proficiently.

We’ve made some progress, but we have a long way to go.

1 http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/180413-Rankings_And_Estimates_Report_2018.pdf, p. 83. Current expenditures: The expenditures for operating local public schools, excluding capital outlay and interest on school debt.  These expenditures include such items as salaries for school personnel, fixed charges, student transportation, school books and materials, and energy costs.

2 https://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-37th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-39th-in-per-pupil-spending/17504331/.

Education

NC Policy Watch seeks an education reporter

If you or someone you know might be interested, NC Policy Watch is hiring. We’re looking to fill the vacancy that was created when our former Education Reporter Billy Ball was promoted to Managing Editor earlier this summer. Here’s the official job announcement:

The North Carolina Justice Center, a progressive policy advocacy organization whose mission is to expand opportunity and protect the rights of poor and working individuals and families in North Carolina, is seeking a full-time reporter to cover education issues for its news and commentary project, NC Policy Watch.

The Education Reporter will be responsible for providing daily coverage of the State Board of Education, the Department of Public Instruction, the General Assembly, and local school systems around the state, as well as producing enterprise stories in the field of K-12 education. The position will report directly to the Director of NC Policy Watch and work closely with the NC Policy Watch team.

Candidates must have at least two years of experience as a journalist, including substantial experience writing about and analyzing education issues (five years or more preferred). The position requires excellent writing skills, the ability to work against deadlines and experience working in collaboration with diverse organizations and communities. Experience with social media platforms is required. The successful candidate will demonstrate a commitment to social justice, and enjoy contributing to the organization’s mission by supporting the work of others. Candidates must live in Wake County or in the Triangle region.

TO APPLY:

To apply send a cover letter, resume, and professional references as a single PDF file that has your name in its title, and “Education Reporter” in the subject line to hr@ncjustice.org. The Justice Center offers inspired co-workers committed to health care for all North Carolinians, as well as a competitive salary (DOE, minimum starting salary $42,900) and excellent benefits, including but not limited to: six weeks paid time off, paid parental leave, twelve holidays, free parking, retirement plan contribution and match, flexible spending account, high quality medical, disability, and life insurance coverage.

Our organization is committed to equity and inclusion. People of color and individuals from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply. The Justice Center is an equal opportunity employer. The Justice Center does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnic background, citizenship status, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual, age, or disability.

Education, News, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

WRAL: Records show racial tension, post-Trump feuds in North Carolina schools

Here’s a must-read: WRAL News has published a fascinating deep dive into campus racial tension and post-election feuds in a North Carolina school system.

The report, which draws on accounts collected by an Orange County Schools administrator, details ugly incidents in which students of color were harassed or threatened by their peers.

It captures student clashes over President Trump’s election, boasts by Trump supporters, threats of deportation leveled at Hispanic students, and it reports, in at least one instance, backlash against students perceived to be Trump supporters.

According to the report, school system leaders collected the stories as school board members considered a ban on clothing that displays the Confederate flag, as well as Nazi or KKK symbols.

From the WRAL report:

In May 2017, an assistant principal entered a boys’ bathroom at Cedar Ridge High School in Orange County. There, scrawled on the wall, was a threat: “Kill all (racial slur).” He soon found similar graffiti in other bathrooms. Swastikas and slurs littered the walls.

A few months earlier, a Cedar Ridge High teacher heard a student yell “white power!” as they walked to the bus, but she couldn’t make out who it was. Back in her classroom, she found a swastika scratched into a desk in her classroom.

“You going to get deported,” a student told a classmate. The conversations were so upsetting to one student, they went home early.

During the 2016-17 school year, Orange County school leaders recorded 70 incidents at their middle and high schools involving racist threats, political feuds about Trump, clashes over the Confederate flag and other similar fights. They documented the incidents in a report known internally as the “confidential student-specific incidents data,” which noted the date, what happened and the consequences.

Orange County Board of Education members reviewed the document in closed session in May 2017 but didn’t release it publicly.

WRAL News requested a copy of the document this past spring after discovering it existed. Several months later, the school district released the five-page document with numerous redactions, citing student privacy. Of the 70 incidents, 16 are completely redacted and 24 are partially concealed.

The document has never been shared publicly until now. Its existence has prompted several questions: Why did Orange County Schools collect this data when other local school systems did not? Why did they not share it publicly? What did they learn from it? And why have they stopped collecting it?

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt said he and his staff collected the information during the 2016-17 school year at the request of the school board, and they discussed it privately in closed session later that school year.

“This wasn’t about the district hiding this information,” Wirt said. “It was about protecting the students that were on the particular document and providing our board with accurate information to help them make a really difficult decision.”

That difficult decision, Wirt said, was whether to ban the Confederate flag on school grounds.

Last August, the school board decided to ban all clothing depicting the Confederate flag, swastikas or any KKK related symbols or language. The decision came after months of pressure from parents and students who urged the school system to change its dress code.

Before making a decision, the board wanted an accurate count of issues stemming from the Confederate flag and racial and election-related incidents in schools, not just anecdotes from a handful of people, according to Wirt. The superintendent assigned the task of collecting the incidents to Jason Johnson, his executive director of schools.

“Basically, each [school] administrative team, they just kind of kept the incidents in a spreadsheet and then I just ran around and got it from them so I could collect it and put it all in one location,” Johnson said.

While the middle and high schools reported dozens of incidents, the elementary schools reported none, according to the superintendent.

“We reached out to our elementary principals and, at the time, honestly, we just weren’t seeing those same types of behaviors at the elementary level,” Wirt said.

After collecting the reports from middle and high schools, Johnson scanned the pages. The stories of students’ hateful language and actions saddened him but didn’t surprise him, he said. He was already aware of some of the stories through his work with the schools’ principals. But others were new.

“You know, I’m an African-American male, so I’m probably a little bit more hurt than anything,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just very painful that we have a few kids – and I do mean a few – that will say some of the things they said or do some of the things they’ve done. But I also know that’s an opportunity to teach.”

The stories didn’t surprise the superintendent, either.

“This is year 20 for me in public education. I was a high school principal for quite some time. I don’t know that surprise would be the right word,” Wirt said. “I honestly was probably most surprised by some of the responses and animation around the election, more than anything from the document.”

The records captured multiple feuds between students over the election of Trump and some displays of support for his victory.

One day after the election, four students walked the halls of Gravelly Hill Middle School chanting “build a wall” within earshot of Hispanic students. That same day at Orange High School, a white student pulled into the parking lot with a Trump flag flying on the back of his truck. He got out and ran around the parking lot with the flag and a Trump mask on his face.

A few days after the election, a parent emailed Orange High School leaders regarding “a negative comment that a teacher had made about the type of people who voted for Trump.” And on a bus ride from C.W. Stanford Middle, a student called others “white crackers and Trump voters.”

In Johnson’s time leading schools, it has “never been this way around election time.”

“I don’t remember anything that compares to it,” he said. “I was a principal when we had the first black president, and we didn’t have anything like this.”

Read more

Education, News

State Board of Education’s Greg Alcorn to become fourth board resignation this year

From L-R: Bill Cobey, Becky Taylor, and Greg Alcorn will all step down from the State Board of Education next month.

Greg Alcorn, a Rowan County resident serving on the State Board of Education, will become the fourth member of North Carolina’s top school board to step down this year, Policy Watch has learned.

Policy Watch received a copy Friday of Alcorn’s resignation, dated Aug. 7, from the state board. In the letter, Alcorn says he intends to leave following next month’s board meeting. Alcorn added that he wants to focus on ApSeed, the early childhood nonprofit he started.

But it’s worth noting that Alcorn, like departing members Bill Cobey and Becky Taylor before him, was set to watch his term expire in March. A fourth board member, former Vice Chair A.L. “Buddy” Collins, also stepped down this spring in order to run for a county commission seat in Forsyth County.

Republican state lawmakers have voted on partisan lines to deny replacements for board members appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Cooper’s appointments will not require legislative confirmation to serve out the rest of Cobey, Taylor and Alcorn’s terms.

“With the legislature not approving the governor’s appointments, really the only way that a board member’s seat gets filled appears to be the way that Bill and Becky are going,” the board’s vice chairman, Eric Davis, said in a Policy Watch report this week. “That’s the only way a new member gets appointed.”

As this week’s report noted, board members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt watched their terms expire in March 2017, but both have remained on as lawmakers first delayed and then voted down Cooper’s replacements.

From Alcorn’s resignation letter:

This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from the North Carolina State Board of Education at the conclusion of the Thursday, September 6 board meeting. I have shared my decision of resignation with my fellow board members and I would like to serve through the September board meeting.

The primary reason for resigning is to spend more time with my ApSeed early childhood education non-profit. ApSeed is designed to provide “Kindergarten-ready” children to our fine public schools in North Carolina. I firmly believe that ApSeed can have a generational, positive impact to help eliminate achievement gaps. My belief in ApSeed and its impact compels me to devote my community service time to this non-profit.

It has been my pleasure and honor to serve on the NC State Board of Education, during the past 5+ years. My service on the Board has informed me of the many challenges in education and has been invaluable. I firmly believe in the constitutional responsibilities of the State Board of Education and am sure your new appointee will continue to deliver on those responsibilities.

It has been an honor to serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.