State News

NC General Assembly Committee Continues to Examine Principal Pay

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The Joint Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator Pay met for the second time Monday and heard from a panel of experts on the issue of reforming the principal pay salary schedule.

The Committee met for the first time in October to discuss the variety of issues with the principal salary schedule. View EdNC’s coverage of that meeting here.

During that meeting, Committee co-chair Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph (pictured above), presented a plan that would eliminate the principal salary schedule and replace it with an allotment that superintendents could use as they see fit to hire principals.

There was considerable pushback against the idea from a group of superintendents and others who were invited in October to review and comment on the proposed plan.

During Monday’s meeting, Tillman did not give a concrete update on the original plan, though it sounded likely he wasn’t going to go ahead with the original idea presented in October.

“I wanted to throw the whole salary schedule out and have a minimum and a maximum,” he said. “Superintendents don’t quite want to bite that loaf off. They are afraid of that.”

He did say that the final plan would likely increase a bump in base salary of five percent or more, and extra funds would be used for bonuses that would be tied in some way to performance. He said it would take between $30 and $50 million dollars to make the changes happen.

“What we want to do is get a package that we can sell jointly as a budget provision,” he said. “In the next very few weeks, we’re going to be working to tie this together as a plan.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from: 

Granados, A. “Experts weigh in on principal pay.”

EducationNC. 11/29/16.

This Weekend on Education Matters: The Benefits of Early Childhood Education

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This week’s episode of Education Matters, the Forum’s weekly television program airing on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. on WRAL-TV, focuses on early childhood education in North Carolina.

A new study out of Duke University has found the benefits of early childhood education are significant and last up through the fifth grade, contradicting earlier studies that suggested the benefits of pre-k may fade. We talk to the study’s author, as well as other experts about the state of early childhood education in North Carolina. Guests include:

  • Dr. Kenneth Dodge, William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, Founder, Center for Child and Family Policy.
  • Tracy Zimmerman, Executive Director, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation
  • Cindy Watkins, President, NC Smart Start / North Carolina Partnership for Children

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Each Education Matters show profiles a education leader that is making a difference in his or her community. Do you have a great leader in your local school? Nominate them today! We are seeking leaders who make a difference in their school each and every day. To nominate an education leader, please fill out the form here.
Previous episodes of the show can be found online at 
https://www.ncforum.org/ or on wral.com by searching for Education Matters.

Forum in the News

Forum President & Executive Director Keith Poston was featured on Capital Tonight on TWC News and NC SPIN this week to talk about public education in North Carolina.

This week’s Capital Tonight show looked at the future of public education under a new state superintendent and a Trump administration. Darrell Allison of Parents for Educational Freedom NC and Keith Poston of Public School Forum of North Carolina looked at the state of school choice in North Carolina. Education experts Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and Matt Ellinwood of NC Justice Center parse the trends that could play out in public education over the next term. The show can be viewed online here.

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A special edition of NC SPIN talked about the state of public education in North Carolina. Topics included the State of Education in NC, Education Resources, Education Outcomes and The Year Ahead in Public Education.

NC SPIN Panelists included:

  • Chris Fitzsimon, Director, NC Policy Watch
  • John Hood, Syndicated Columnist
  • Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation
  • Keith Poston, Public School Forum of NC
  • Tom Campbell, Moderator

The full NC SPIN show can be viewed here. ‘After SPIN’ can be viewed here.

In This Issue

NC General Assembly Committee Continues to Examine Principal Pay

This Weekend on Education Matters: The Benefits of Early Childhood Education

Forum in the News

NC Allows 19 Struggling Schools to Operate More Like Charters

NC Virtual Charter Schools Report Shows High Withdrawals, Low Performance

Applications Open for 2017-18 Kenan Fellowships

Public School Forum Programs

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NC Allows 19 Struggling Schools to Operate More Like Charters

The State Board of Education voted Thursday to allow 19 low-performing traditional public schools, including 10 in Wake County, to operate more like charter schools in an effort to boost their student achievement.

The 19 schools will receive the same flexibility that charter schools now get to set their school calendars and to spend state money. Leaders at those schools are considering potential changes for the 2017-18 school year such as longer school years, longer school days and new programs to reduce class sizes and provide more training and other resources.

The state board had been scheduled to vote on the “restart model” requests in January but moved up the decision to give the schools more planning time. Thursday’s approval is contingent upon a review of the financial components of the requests not producing any funding issues.

The Wake County schools that will get the extra flexibility are Bugg, Fox Road, Millbrook and Poe elementary schools and Carroll and East Millbrook middle schools in Raleigh; East Garner Elementary and East Garner Middle in Garner; East Wake Middle near Knightdale and Wendell Middle School.

Requests were also approved at five schools in Cabarrus County and four schools in Warren County.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

NC Virtual Charter Schools Report Shows High Withdrawals, Low Performance

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State Board of Education members on Wednesday said they want to do a better job of monitoring the state’s two virtual charter schools after a report found high withdrawal rates and low performance.

“I really think we need to monitor this closely,” said board member Becky Taylor. “The last thing we want is to be in the newspaper like some other states have been. We want to have good articles in the end … We need to be on our toes.”

North Carolina debuted the two virtual charter schools in August 2015 – North Carolina Virtual Academy and North Carolina Connections Academy. The schools were launched as part of a four-year pilot program to determine whether virtual charters can succeed in the state.

Their first year was marked with questions about their high student withdrawal rates. In March, a report to the State Board of Education found that about 500 students, or about 26 percent of those who had signed on to take courses, had withdrawn from each school in the first five months of operation.

Virtual charter school leaders pushed back at the report, saying those numbers were misleading because some students plan to take online classes for only a brief period. They also pointed to other states, including Florida, which they say have higher withdrawal rates.

The latest report on the two virtual charter schools showed withdrawal rates of 31 percent at NC Connections Academy and 25 percent at NC Virtual Academy for the 2015-16 school year. Those rates do not count students who only enrolled for short periods of time. The state set a mandated limit on withdrawals at 25 percent.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Hinchcliffe, K. “‘We need to monitor this closely’: NC virtual charter schools report shows high withdrawals, low performance.” WRAL. 11/30/16.

After Decades on the Job, Thousands of School Employees Still Earn Poverty-Level Wages

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Wake County bus driver Auh-murel Wright has worked for the school district 10 years and still

makes less than a “living wage.” Photo Credit: Jess Clark, WUNC.

In the parking lot at East Cary Middle School, bus driver Auh-murel Wright walks down the aisle of her bus between rows of empty seats, checking the alarms and the emergency exits. She does this before each trip to make sure her ride is safe. And she knows the exact minute she can expect the first students to climb aboard—2:13 p.m.

“When it comes to being on time I’m very, very strict about that,” she laughed. “And my kids know that.”

Wright loves driving kids to and from school. But there is one thing lacking—the pay. She started out at just under $12 an hour. Now, after ten years on the job, she’s making just $13.75 an hour. That puts her well below the federal poverty level for her family of three.

“I feel like it’s not fair,” she said. “As long as I’ve been here, I feel like at least somewhat of a raise every year would be good, especially with me having two kids and having them on my health insurance.”

About a quarter of Wright’s monthly pay goes to her family health plan, leaving her with less than $1,000 a month to pay for rent, utilities and food for herself and her two girls. That’s a tough task to manage if she didn’t have a partner helping her out financially.

“I’m very thankful because if I didn’t, and I didn’t have a supportive family, I would probably be living in a one-bedroom with two kids,” she said.

Wright’s partner is also a bus driver. He has to work a second job in retail to make ends meet for their family.

Poverty-Level Wages For Other School Employees, Too

Bus drivers aren’t the only school employees earning poverty-level wages. More than half of Wake’s non-instructional employees earn less than $15 an hour, even after decades on the job, according to David Neter, chief financial officer for Wake County Schools.

“A teacher assistant who might start out at $11.80 an hour would not hit the $15 an hour rate until they were here 27 years,” Neter said.

The salary schedule for school employees is set by the state, so the low wages aren’t unique to Wake County. Some districts, like Wake, supplement the state salaries with local taxes. Wright’s hourly rate of $13.75 includes the local supplement.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

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Project LIFT Report to CMS: Solid Steps But Miles to go in West Charlotte Schools

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Project LIFT co-chairs Richard Williams (left) and Anna Spangler Nelson led Tuesday’s joint meeting

with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. Photo Credit: Ann Doss Helms, The Charlotte Observer. 

The metaphors were flying at last Tuesday’s joint meeting of the private Project LIFT board and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board: A speeding car with a long way to go. A solid double, but not a grand slam. A partnership that has endured through troubles.

They were all ways to make sense of a grueling march toward academic turnaround at nine west Charlotte schools. Data presented by independent researchers confirmed what all in the room already knew: After four years and $33 million in private money spent, there are points to celebrate and points to lament.

The high points were West Charlotte High’s soaring graduation rate, middle-school reading scores and high school math.

Last year 86 percent of West Charlotte students graduated on time, compared with 56 percent in 2012, before the public-private partnership went into action. While graduation rates have also risen across North Carolina and the nation, Project LIFT can take credit for moving its students beyond expectations, speakers said.

“This is a remarkable finding,” said Kathleen Shaw, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Research For Action, which studies urban schools. “The school district should be really proud of this, and LIFT should be really proud of this.”

Many schools showed strong growth on test scores, but proficiency rates remain discouragingly low for a project that initially aimed at having 90 percent of students on grade level by the end of this school year.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Dual-Language Program a Quantifiable Success

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Spanish-immersion kindergartners at Cooper Elementary School could be set to outpace their traditional

classroom peers, according to school system data. Photo Credit: Drew Jackson, The News & Observer. 

So much of the Johnston County education conversation gets bogged down in the gap between perception and reality. Numbers from the state’s Department of Public Instruction tell one story, rosy for some schools, grim for others, while the school district says the true gains in the classroom don’t make it into the state’s spreadsheet.

In its SPLASH Spanish-language-immersion program, the Johnston County school system seems to have found an objective, quantifiable success. Elementary students enrolled in the dual-language curriculum dramatically outperform their peers in traditional classes, sometimes achieving proficiency levels two or three times those of traditional students, according to data from the school system.

“The difference in proficiency is staggering,” said Suzanne Mitchell, Selma Elementary School principal.

“Staggering” appears to be a fair characterization. Last year, 85 percent of dual-language students at Selma performed at or above grade level on state tests. Just 41 percent of traditional students did so.

The program started at Selma Elementary in 2007 with one class of 24 students. The county expanded it to Cooper Elementary in Clayton in 2012 and Polenta Elementary in the Cleveland community in 2014. Two years ago, as Selma Elementary students graduated to middle school, the program followed them to Selma Middle, focusing on science and social studies.

Students in SPLASH alternate between Spanish and English language instruction on a daily basis, learning math and reading completely in one language one day and in the other language the next day. Clearly, the program has become the standard at Selma Elementary, as Mitchell noted only three kindergartners are in traditional classes this year. Selma Elementary currently has 20 SPLASH classes from kindergarten to fourth grade.

“We held our ground for the next few years to see what was going to happen when testing started,” Mitchell said about maintaining enrollments in the early years of the program. “The students have exceeded our wildest dreams. The SPLASH program has been a phenomenal success at Selma Elementary.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from:

Jackson, D. “Dual-language program a quantifiable success.” The News & Observer. 11/27/16.

NC Highlight

NC Superintendent’s Philosophy on Being a Woman and a School Chief: “You Just Do the Work”

Few people running the nation’s school systems look like Sharon Contreras—black, Latino, and female.

In fact, only 2.6 percent of superintendents identify as Hispanic women, according to a 2015 national survey of district leaders. Contreras was 41 when she was appointed in 2011 to be the first woman to run the 21,000-student Syracuse, N.Y., district, a position she held for 5½ years before she was recruited this past summer to run North Carolina’s third-largest school system, the 72,000-student Guilford County district.

In her first week on the job in Syracuse, a reporter called Contreras asking to see her superintendent’s license. A rumor had been circulating that Contreras, who by then had been a top administrator for a decade, was not licensed to hold the district’s top executive position.

“I remember one of the first comments written about me was that I was a triple-affirmative-action threat—a woman, black, and Latino,” says Contreras, who is raising her 8-year-old great-nephew, told Education Week in a recent interview. “The way I addressed the issue was by doing a good job, by being a strong superintendent. You don’t keep throwing in someone’s face, ‘I am equally qualified, it doesn’t matter that I am a person of color, it doesn’t matter that I am a woman.’ You don’t need to say that. You just do the work, and people will see that you are qualified.”

To read the complete interview, click here.

National News

Trump Chooses Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

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President-elect Donald Trump has picked billionaire Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican activist and philanthropist who is a strong supporter of school choice but has limited experience with public education, as his secretary of education.

DeVos, 58, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and helped push a failed 2000 ballot proposal to amend the Michigan state Constitution to create a voucher system for students to attend nonpublic schools.

DeVos is chairman of The Windquest Group, a Michigan-based investment management company. She is married to billionaire Richard DeVos Jr., the son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded the home care products company Amway.

Trump, in a statement, called DeVos “a brilliant and passionate education advocate.” He added that she would have the leadership ability to “break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back.”

Largely unknown outside of Michigan political and philanthropic circles, her appointment signals that Trump intends to make school choice and a voucher plan for low-income families a centerpiece of his education agenda.

School choice plans are controversial because in some cases they can allow families to use public funding for private schools. Critics say choice plans undermine public education, are often underregulated and can amount to profiteering.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s selection of DeVos as his education secretary drew swift reaction from the head of the nation’s largest teachers union.

Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, slammed the choice, saying it would undermine public education. DeVos “has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, called the pick “deeply disappointing. It suggests that he has little regard for our nation’s public schools or the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.”

DeVos currently chairs the board of the American Federation for Children, a group that according to its website works to provide families “with access to great schools through private school choice.” Her children attended private Christian schools. She also sits on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project, a pro-charter school lobbying group in Michigan.

DeVos has helped make Michigan’s charter schools among the least regulated in the nation. Some 80 percent of the state’s charters are run by private companies.

To continue reading the complete article, click here.
Excerpt from:

International Tests Show Rising, But Mixed, Math and Science Performance

U.S. students are generally improving in math and science, along with their peers around the globe, but the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results—including a longitudinal look for the 20th anniversary of the tests—show more of a slow uphill slog than a breakout performance.

“The [United States] is a large and diverse country, so it’s difficult to see a large increase over a short time,” said Michael O. Martin, a co-executive director of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College. The center has conducted the TIMSS in the United States, with the National Center on Education Statistics, every four years since 1995.

The TIMSS is based on specific content areas, and NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr noted that U.S. students’ performance in different math topics varied significantly on the test over time. While 8th graders’ performance in geometry and algebra improved significantly from 2007 to 2015, their scores flatlined on number theory and actually declined significantly on problems of data and chance. Similarly, U.S. students improved significantly in their performance on life science and biology topics, but their scores in physics and earth sciences stagnated.

By and large, though, countries participating in TIMSS have increased the depth and rigor of their math and science curricula over time, according to Ina V.S. Mullis, co-executive director of IEA’s TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center. “When we started [conducting TIMSS] in 1995, our math was all content—algebra, geometry—and in science, chemistry, physics,” Mullis said, “but now we also include cognitive demands, thinking skills … school is getting to have a broader dimension that is quite different than it was 20 years ago.”

To continue reading the complete article, click here.

Excerpt from: 

Sparks, S. “International Tests Show Rising, But Mixed, Math and Science Performance.” Education Week. 11/29/16.

6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education

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Photo: Chelsea Beck, NPR

Brains, brains, brains. One thing we’ve learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings.

But there is one happy nexus where research is meeting practice: bilingual education. “In the last 20 years or so, there’s been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism,” says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Again and again, researchers have found, “bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime,” in the words of Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

At the same time, one of the hottest trends in public schooling is what’s often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs.

Traditional programs for English-language learners, or ELLs, focus on assimilating students into English as quickly as possible. Dual-language classrooms, by contrast, provide instruction across subjects to both English natives and English learners, in both English and in a target language.

The goal is functional bilingualism and biliteracy for all students by middle school.

New York City, North Carolina, Delaware, Utah, Oregon and Washington state are among the places expanding dual-language classrooms.

The trend flies in the face of some of the culture wars of two decades ago, when advocates insisted on “English first” education. Most famously, California passed Proposition 227 in 1998. It was intended to sharply reduce the amount of time that English-language learners spent in bilingual settings.

Proposition 58, passed by California voters on Nov. 8, largely reversed that decision, paving the way for a huge expansion of bilingual education in the state that has the largest population of English-language learners.

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Opportunities

Applications Open for 2017-18 Kenan Fellowships

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The Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership is accepting online applications for the 2017-18 fellowship year through January 16, 2017. These fellowships address the critical need to develop and empower high-quality teachers, who, in turn, make learning more authentic for students.

The fellowship begins with a summer internship in a higher education lab or industry setting and is supported by 80 hours of professional development that focuses on building leadership capacity and proven instructional strategies.

Fellowship projects have a unique set of criteria that in some cases is restricted by district, grade level and subject. Projects vary from scientific research to work experiences in the agriculture, energy and high-tech manufacturing industries.

Each Fellow is awarded at least a $5,000 stipend, and must develop and implement relevant educational materials and/or programs based on their internship experience. Fellows remain in the classroom while completing the year-long fellowship. Visit kenanfellows.org/2017-18-fellowships to see which fellowships are available to educators in your school district.

The Friday Report is published weekly by the Public School Forum of NC and is distributed to Forum members, policymakers, donors, media, and Forum subscribers. Archived editions can be found at www.ncforum.org.

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