Friday, December 19, 2014

N.C. community colleges cited for guiding students to universities or careers

North Carolina's community colleges -- including Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte -- were cited in a national report this week highlighting efforts to streamline pathways from their classrooms to a university or career.

Too often, the report's authors say, students enroll in community colleges but gain no ground toward getting a degree or finding a job. While more students are taking classes, only about half are graduating within six years, and the percentage is falling.

North Carolina's community college system gets a plug for coming up with structured pathways to guide students through the curriculum. Basically, the schools have worked with universities in the state to make sure community college classes will be fully transferable and progress toward a degree.
Schools have streamlined requirements in career and tech programs and eliminated redundant classes.

A group of schools have also come up with a program for high school juniors or seniors that allows them to get on a track toward college transfer or a technical degree. It lays out what exact classes they'll need to take to stay on course.

The state has also been developing ways to get students through remedial work more quickly. Instead of enrolling in semester-long courses to get caught up, students are able to take combined reading and writing courses and focus only on math concepts they need work on. CPCC has built a dedicated computer lab on its campus to let students work through math concepts at their own pace.

The report comes from the national nonprofit Jobs for the Future, which advocates for change in schools and career-training programs to better train people in job skills.

The authors describe North Carolina's initiatives as model programs.

Ohio also gets a mention for tying state funding for community colleges to the percentages of students completing degrees or certain numbers of credit hours. Every public high school is also required to have dual-enrollment programs with a community college. These are starting to become more widespread in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools with CPCC.

Florida has passed a state law that creates "meta-majors" in community colleges that allow students to take prerequisites in broad fields like health science or business without choosing a specific major right away.

Friday, December 12, 2014

North Carolina gets C+ on teacher preparation

North Carolina is ahead of the national average in terms of preparing teachers for the classroom, but still has significant room for improvement.

That's the conclusion reached by the National Council on Teacher Quality in its annual ranking of states in how they train teachers to be able to help students reach college- and career-ready status.

For example, North Carolina has a more rigorous test for prospective elementary school teachers on their content knowledge than most states. But the state does not break out passing scores in all subject areas, so there's no way to know if the teacher has mastered all subjects he or she will teach, the report finds.

On the positive side, North Carolina is one of 18 states that require a measure of how well new elementary school teachers understand the science of reading, the report says. The state also is more selective in admitting college students to teacher prep programs, requiring a 3.0 grade point average, according to the report.

But the National Council on Teacher Quality also says there are significant loopholes in the licensing of high school teachers. The report found that secondary school teachers must pass general content knowledge tests for subjects like science and social studies, but are not tested in specific courses they will teach, like chemistry.

And teacher preparation programs don't have minimum standards for their performance, the report says.

With a C+, North Carolina ranked No. 18 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia. Florida came in first with a B+. Alaska and Montana got failing grades.

South Carolina also received a C+. The report gives the state credit for requiring passing scores in all content areas for elementary school teachers. But the council points out that teachers aren't required to show an understanding of the science of reading.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Charlotte-based charter advocate wants its schools to get lottery money

The Charlotte-based North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association has unveiled its list of legislative priorities for the year, and near the top of the list: Making sure charter schools get a slice of the lottery pie.

The North Carolina Education Lottery, which has been around since 2005, now gives a half a billion dollars per year to school systems. Mecklenburg County has gotten about $250 million in the past eight years. About $103 million has gone to pay for additional teachers in kindergarten through third grade. Another $92 million has gone to building projects.

Right now, charter schools only get lottery money when it gets commingled with  other sources of state revenue, says the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. They don't get their share of construction money.

Getting their share ranks near the top of the association's long list of priorities. Others run the gamut from allowing charter schools to charge fees that their local traditional school district does not, to making it easier for charter schools to obtain grants.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

At least 8 big school districts are looking for a superintendent

Just last week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board chairwoman Mary McCray speculated that the reason Heath Morrison left his role as superintendent without a fight is because he saw "a future out there" for himself.

And if that future is in leading a public school district, there are certainly plenty of large districts looking for a new leader.

The job leading Los Angeles schools is clearly the plum position on the list. Morrison's name has already been linked to the search by websites covering the school system.

For his part, Morrison -- who is 48 -- has said there will certainly be lots of rumors about him pursuing this job or that job, but has declined to comment on any positions in particular.

And of course, there's no guarantee he'd go back into a superintendent's job. Morrison's predecessor at CMS, Peter Gorman, left for a job in the private sector in the educational division of News Corp.

Here's a sampling of big school districts looking for a new superintendent:

  • Los Angeles Unified School District (California), 670,000 students
  • Albuquerque Public Schools (New Mexico), 94,318 students
  • Austin Independent School District (Texas), 85,355 students
  • Fort Worth Independent School District (Texas), 84,588 students
  • Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (Tennessee), 80,393 students
  • Elk Grove Unified Public Schools (California), 62,000 students
  • Boston Public Schools (Massachusetts), 57,000 students
  • Seattle Public Schools (Washington), 49.269 students
The list was compiled by PROACT Search,  a school leadership search firm that works across the country. CMS contracted with PROACT in the 2012 search that resulted in Morrison's hire. The list was made in November. It's possible that one of these slots has since been filled and I didn't hear about it, though I did double check. It's also possible that the list leaves out another big district. Please let me know in the comments if that is the case.

And by the way, Washoe County in Nevada is looking for a new superintendent now, too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Charlotteans rally for private school voucher program

North Carolina's plan to use public money to issue private school vouchers was nearly dealt a fatal blow this summer, but now its advocates are rallying support ahead of a final decision on its fate.

The program, known as "Opportunity Scholarships," gave about 2,000 students vouchers worth $4,200 toward tuition at a private or religious school in its first year this fall. But it was almost struck down even as it was getting off the ground. A judge in August declared the arrangement unconstitutional. The courts later allowed students already in the program for this school year to continue.

Opponents say the plan represents the abandonment of the state's responsibility to fund public schools. The N.C.  Supreme Court will make a final determination on the Opportunity Scholarships in the coming months.

But in the meantime, a chief advocate for the private school vouchers is holding rallies around the state to build public support. One held in the Charlotte area brought nearly 200 parents and educators to the Embassy Suites near Concord.

"So much of the discussion surrounding the Opportunity Scholarships has unfortunately centered around the legal battles, if you will," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which sponsored the rallies. "We thought it would be a great idea to ... hear directly from the parents themselves on how impactful the program has been."

One of those parents is Jacquelyn Davis of Charlotte. Her third-grade son is attending the Male Leadership Academy on Nations Ford Road on a private school voucher. He has attended Sedgefield Elementary in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools before that.

Davis said she is unemployed after being laid off from being a security guard at CMS, but said her son benefits from the smaller environment at a private school. She said this semester he is bringing home straight A's for the first time.

"The scholarship has helped a whole lot," Davis said. "I'm praying they keep it going."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why does CMS want to open charter schools?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has had an uneven relationship with the growing number of charter schools in the area. But within the district's legislative agenda approved Wednesday is a request that CMS be able to open charter schools of their own.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart asked the question: Why would the district want to do that?

Charter schools are public and operated with tax dollars. But they are exempt from a number of requirements that traditional public schools have. They're not required to provide transportation, for example, or meals.

CMS associate general counsel Jonathan Sink told the board that those things aren't what CMS is trying to avoid. What they want is the ability to tweak its calendar, or alter the curriculum in a way that's different from state mandates.

"We're looking for those pieces of educational innovation they were created to have," Sink said.

Board chairwoman Mary McCray said one concept they've looked at, by way of example, is an all-boys middle school.

The district has not yet come up with any specific programs or features it would want to have in a charter school should they be granted the ability to create one. It would require a major change to state law, Sink said.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark, who has assumed the duties of the top job after Heath Morrison resigned, said CMS will be bringing in Cindy Loe, former superintendent of schools in Fulton County, Ga., to help district leaders think through what they'd want to do.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hispanic CMS students ahead of other urban districts in math scores

Hispanic students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are posting higher math scores and progressing faster than their peers in big cities across the country, according to a new report.

Fourth-grade Hispanic students in CMS scored higher in national math exams than any other large urban district, the Child Trends report shows. And eighth graders improved their math scores by the equivalent of nearly two grade levels in the past decade.

The findings are significant for two reasons, the report's authors say: Hispanic students are becoming a larger percentage of the student body, meaning "the math achievement of Hispanic students today foreshadows our national performance tomorrow."

And second, these test score improvements come despite Hispanic students being disproportionately low-income in Charlotte and most other large districts.

All the data comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a benchmark math and reading test given to fourth and eighth graders.

Other top performing large districts cited in the report are Boston and Houston.

Nationally, about one in four elementary school students are Hispanic. CMS elementary schools mirror that ratio, state Department of Public Instruction figures show. About 20 percent of CMS students are Hispanic, according to data from the 2013-14 school year.

The Child Trends report tracks scores through 2013. I haven't seen the most recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But CMS touted gains in other measures of academic achievement among Hispanics earlier this year.

The graduation rate for Hispanics increased 20 percentage points in the last four years, hitting 74.6 percent. End-of-year test scores in math, English and science also increased slightly from the year before. Both still lagged well behind the rates for white students.