By Lindsay Wagner
While we didn’t see too many fireworks this month, February’s State Board of Ed meeting didn’t disappoint, filled with the usual mix of policy and politics.
Here are a few of the hotter topics that the State Board debated this month.
The practice of evaluating teachers based on student growth on tests might get the boot
North Carolina’s teachers are evaluated and rated in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests over time. Usually referred to as ‘student growth,’ it’s packaged into something known as ‘Standard 6’ and it could be on the chopping block.
There’s lots of controversy and anxiety over rating teachers’ performance this way—many teachers feel that this is a punitive measure that is largely out of their control, as a student’s socioeconomic status is known for playing a significant role in how well s/he fares on tests.
Board members discussed the possibility of eliminating Standard 6 altogether, something they’ll be able to vote on next month. DPI officials recommend eliminating Standard 6 for two reasons: first, teachers working in low performing schools who are rated as less than proficient based on their students’ tests have, by law, 90 days to bring that measure up — which is impossible to do since Standard 6 is an annual measure.
Second, said DPI’s Tom Tomberlin, the whole point of measuring student growth is to help teachers improve their performance. But his colleagues are finding that Standard 6 is doing the opposite—creating lots of anxiety for teachers and making them feel defeated, not motivated.
NC’s Teacher of the Year, Keana Triplett, explained:
“Standard 6 has always been a punitive measure,” said Triplett. When she gets her scores each year, her stomach drops, she said — and she sees great potential in eliminating the assessment mechanism.
On social media, some folks have raised concerns that because student growth shows up to some degree as an indicator in Standards 1-5 of the teacher evaluation system, that it will continue to be factored into a teacher’s evaluation. But DPI’s Tomberlin said at this time, there’s no change on the table other than eliminating Standard 6, although he acknowledged that local districts are ultimately the ones in charge of determining to what degree student performance on exams factors into teachers’ employment status.
Some think getting into the teaching profession might be a bad idea
We know this to be true—the teaching profession has taken many hits over the past several years in North Carolina. And guess what? People—in particular, those thinking about becoming teachers—are listening.
Board members heard this week that enrollment in bachelor’s and master’s programs in education has plummeted 30 percent since 2010, a trend that’s sure to leave the Tar Heel state in a rough spot if things don’t change quick—although a UNC rep didn’t have a projection for exactly how bad things will get in the years ahead.
Board vice chair Wayne McDevitt said the state needs to have a conversation that ultimately creates long lines for getting into schools of education.
“It ought to be as competitive as getting into law school or med school,” said McDevitt, citing the need for the state to devote more toward teachers’ professional development, salaries, and other retention tools.
“We’ve got to create the demand,” said McDevitt.
The News & Observer’s editorial board says the resulting teacher shortage is all by design.
“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too.”
Whitewashed charter report gets the thumbs up
Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest made headlines by pulling a run of the mill annual report to the legislature that presents data on the state of charter schools in North Carolina.
Citing the report as too ‘negative,’ Forest wanted to see more laudatory elements in the report that highlighted charter schools doing excellent work. He tossed it back to DPI officials to rework into something shinier that he could give to the legislature. No doubt Forest took issue with the report’s emphasis on the increasing racial segregation that’s found in today’s charter schools.
The revised report’s still got data pointing to racial segmentation, but it also has data pointing to some charter schools’ accomplishments, especially those serving a high proportion of at-risk students that came up with strong academic outcomes.
The revised report was approved by the SBE with virtually no discussion or drama of any kind.
Kerfuffle on full display between Berger, Atkinson on how to spend money on kids
If you haven’t been paying close attention to state-level politics over the past week, then you might have missed this one: Senate leader Phil Berger is not happy with State Superintendent June Atkinson over how she’s managing a legislative mandate to cut $2.5 million from the Department of Public Instruction, calling her out for keeping DPI ‘bloated,’ rather than helping poor kids learn to read.
There’s been a confusing back-and-forth between the two, with letters flying, data being presented and changed, and the Office of State Budget and Management weighing in too, to buttress Berger’s claims.
EdNC reported last month that Atkinson used some of Berger’s extra $3.8 million that was earmarked for the Excellent Public Schools Act (the Read to Achieve program, which aims to get kids reading on grade level by third grade, falls under that) to save jobs at DPI that were on the chopping block thanks to the $2.5 million cut directed by the NCGA.
(FWIW, DPI’s budget has also been getting cut by lawmakers for the past several years, and the federal Race to the Top program, worth several hundred million, is drying up now).
Berger got wind of Atkinson’s budget handiwork and took out his own pen, accusing Atkinson of failing to make sure poor kids were learning to read.
Atkinson’s been on the defense ever since, backpedaling a bit on how she spent the Excellent Public Schools Act money, although it seems increasingly clear that she tried to use some of it to mitigate the effects of the $2.5 million NCGA cut. She submitted a new spending plan this week intended to replace the old one.
The issue was on full display at the State Board of Ed Wednesday. Flanked on one side by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and the other by SBE member Buddy Collins, who both peppered her with questions that forced her to go into great detail about how she’s been spending taxpayer dollars.
Collins alluded to the possibility that the State Board might intervene in her decision making process on how to handle budget cuts going forward, saying the fact that she eliminated one legislative liaison “gave him heartburn.”
Other board members defended Atkinson. SBE member Patricia Willoughby said the misconceptions around how DPI spends its money relate to the fact that many don’t take the time to walk into the building to learn how staff serve the state’s 115 school districts.
SBE board member Eric Davis, who sits on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, appeared to be alarmed by the list of cuts DPI has endured, concerned over how the state agency could possibly carry out its mission at all.
The debate appears not to be over — Berger responded to Atkinson’s presentation last night on his website, digging in further to say that she’s covered up her spending tracks.
State Board tries and fails to put budget controversy to rest
State education officials respond to GOP leader’s allegations of misusing funds
Berger vs. Atkinson, Round 3
NC education department requested money shift from reading program to salaries
Two Charlotte charter schools likely to shutter by school year’s end
Student test scores at Kennedy Public Charter School and Crossroads Charter School have been abysmal — couple that with financial and governance improprieties and that’s a recipe for the state to shut you down.
State Board of Ed members quickly gave the boot on Thursday to Crossroads Charter School upon recommendation by the Charter School Advisory Board. The school was cited for its record of improper financial governance and poor student outcomes. Members voted not to renew the school’s charter, which means that Crossroads will close at the end of the school year, unless another charter management company decides to take them over.
Board members were more conflicted over Kennedy, given that only recently the school transitioned from serving as an alternative school for very challenging students to a more traditional charter model. But ultimately Kennedy’s charter was also not renewed, despite several members feeling conflicted over the matter.
Both schools serve largely high poverty student populations.
Buddy Collins took the occasion to express his frustration that there are traditional public schools that also fail students, but often don’t get shut down.
“We are seeming like every month shutting down a charter school for low performance,” said Collins, “when those charter schools can compare to traditional public schools that have similar performance issues that we’re not doing anything to.”
Office of Charter Schools gets a new director
Dave Machado, the head of Lincoln Charter School just outside of Charlotte, was named the new director for the Office of Charter Schools. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest presented Machado to the State Board of Education at the end of the meeting Thursday, garnering a thumbs up with little discussion or debate.
You may recall that HB 334, passed into law last year, determines that the Office of Charter Schools’ ED is hand picked by a search committee comprising the Lieutenant Governor, the vice chair of the State Board of Ed (Buddy Collins), and one other SBE member.
The former head of OCS, Joel Medley, left his post last year to go head up the NC Virtual Academy, one of two pilot online virtual schools authorized by the legislature. The virtual school is backed by the national for-profit company K12, Inc. which has come under fire across the country for high withdrawal rates and doing a poor job of ensuring students are learning by way of the online platform.