Saturday, October 18, 2014

Four high schools getting specialized programs

Huntersville parents had been pushing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a special program at Hopewell High, and now they'll have it.

CMS said this week that they're implementing a Cambridge International program at Hopewell and its feeder schools. Essentially, it's an advanced course of study and rigorous set of standards developed at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The program is viewed similarly to International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement coursework.

You often hear about programs like this at magnet schools, but CMS is not changing the boundaries for Hopewell High or the feeder schools.

Akeshia Craven-Howell, the CMS assistant superintendent of the Office of School Options, Innovation and Design, said the idea to implement the program at Hopewell all came from the parents. She said it represents one of the most significant investments the district has made in a neighborhood school.

It's also likely a reaction to the growing charter school movement. Mecklenburg County has seen a bigger flurry of charter activity than anywhere else in North Carolina, and the northern end of the county has several popular ones.

"We want parents to know that inside CMS, parents have choices," Craven-Howell said.

The program is not quite a done deal. CMS must still get final approval.

Three other high schools -- West Charlotte, West Mecklenburg and Garinger -- are getting new programs focused on career education. Called "Pathways to Prosperity," the goal is to let students complete high school with industry certifications or credit that can transfer in to Central Piedmont Community College or schools like Johnson C. Smith University.

At West Charlotte, for example, the plan is to create an "academy of information technology" in partnership with JCSU. Students could emerge with valuable credentials like those offered by Cisco, Craven-Howell said.

CMS also wants to build out programs in areas like agriculture, energy, aerospace and supply chain management. They'll ultimately expand beyond the three schools.

Friday, October 17, 2014

CMS faces driver's ed funding crunch

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders are pushing the state to tap the brakes on changes to driver's education programs.

As part of the budget this year, the General Assembly cut off state funding for driver's ed. Instead, money will have to come from the school districts. In exchange, schools can increase the fee they charge from $55 to $65.

But CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison has begun sounding the alarm that the system will lead to a $2.7 million gap next year.

He said it costs about $300 to put a CMS student through driver's ed. A total of 11,328 students went through the program last year.

Morrison didn't say anything about where the money would come from. Instead, he said the district is trying to work with state legislators on a fix.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

6 in North Carolina make Newsweek "top high schools" list

Six North Carolina high schools were named in Newsweek's recent rating of the top 500 high schools in the nation in terms of preparing students for college.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost all of the schools are partnerships with local community colleges or universities.

The top school in the state was a Stanly County charter school on the campus of Pfeiffer University that serves seven counties in the Charlotte region.

Gray Stone Day School came in at No. 203 on the list, and was lauded for sending more than 93 percent of its students off to college. The school also received a gold star for having its low-income students perform better than the average for all students in reading and math.

Newsweek's rankings were primarily based on the college enrollment rate, graduation rate, and weighted test scores. Schools must also perform better than the 80th percentile in their state on standardized tests.

Here are the other North Carolina schools that made the list:

No. 210: Chapel Hill High
No. 259: Middle College at GTCC - Greensboro
No. 365: Early College Of Forsyth County
No. 445: Cross Creek Early College
No. 457: Rutherford County Early College High

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Former Gov. Perdue taking respite from politics in education

Nearly two years removed from office, former Gov. Bev Perdue is still loath to talk politics. Instead, she's joining with a lot of former elected officials to push education reform.

About 18 months ago, Perdue (a former schoolteacher and a Ph.D.-holder in education administration) launched an organization called DigiLearn, which emphasizes technology and digital education in the classroom. Former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, a Republican, is her vice chairman.

And just last week, Perdue joined the advisory network of Education Post, a new nonprofit run by Peter Cunningham, who served in the Department of Education in the Obama administration. Informed by the politicization of Common Core standards, that group wants to tone down the discourse around education.

Perdue's first blog post for that site calls for a national bipartisan dialogue among business and political leaders on how classrooms need to change to adapt to new technologies and the modern economy.

"This broad-based discussion would really try to define for us as a country and a people, at the level of parents and teachers and policy makers, where we are as a country," Perdue said in a brief interview this week.

She said the results of that discussion should be implemented at the state level. "I don't necessarily think ... a big national solution is the right way to go now," she said.

When asked, Perdue wouldn't say much about her feelings about the debate over education in North Carolina right now.

Clearly, teacher pay was a hot political topic this summer as the legislature hammered out a controversial salary increase. It's continued into the fall as N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis challenges U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan for her seat in Washington.

The public rhetoric has included plenty of finger pointing on both sides about which party treated education better while in control of the General Assembly. Democrats ran the state legislature until Republican victories in 2010. Perdue was governor from 2008 until 2012, when she declined to pursue re-election.

Perdue said a "professional, well trained teacher work force" is a part of the solution. She also said that the recession that took hold of the economy just as Perdue took office meant that "there was a total inability to do what should have been done" with the state's education system.

But she wouldn't review how Republicans have done since taking over the General Assembly.

"I’m not going to cast aspersions at anyone now," she said. "I gave myself a two-year timeout. I just haven’t been involved in anyway. I've written some checks, but I haven’t been involved in any of the day-to-day rhetoric." (A quick Federal Elections Committee search shows she gave $2,500 to a Hillary Clinton PAC this year)

"We should focus on how we can work together rather than how we can tear each other down," Perdue said. "There can be this healthy discussion. For the sake of our country, we have to get beyond this rapid, mean partisanship."

Perdue promised to talk politics on the record with me after Jan. 2015. In the meantime, she's living in Chapel Hill, building a house in Raleigh and said she's in the process of joining a "national firm."

Monday, October 6, 2014

School bus drivers must pass new physical fitness test

School bus drivers across the state will soon have to pass a physical fitness test to keep their certifications.

Starting Jan. 12, all school bus drivers will have to show they have the physical ability to do things like keep control of the bus in bad weather and swiftly evacuate children from the bus.

The final standards have yet to be published, but a draft copy gives a glimpse of what they're going to look for. Here are a few examples of what the drivers will be required to do.

  • Walk completely around the bus and ascend and descend the steps three times in 75 seconds. You can't skip steps while going up or down, and you can't go down the steps backward.
  • Move your foot from the brake to the accelerator 10 times in 10 seconds. Only the right foot may be used.
  • Hold the brake pedal fully to the floor for one minute.
  • Start in your seat with the seat belt on, walk to the back of the bus and open the emergency door in 20 seconds.
The new standards will apply to drivers of both yellow school buses and activity buses. Drivers can have as many retakes as you want. If drivers fail, their certification is suspended.

Drivers will have to pass the test for new certifications, to renew certification, and "if physical dexterity is called into question," says Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Two CMS high schools honored for perfect graduation rates

Today was the big graduation rate celebration up in Raleigh, and two high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were honored for having a 100 percent graduation rate last year.

Cato Middle College High and The Military and Global Leadership Academy at Marie G. Davis each had perfect graduation rates this year. To be sure, both are among the district's smallest high schools. Cato had 95 students in its graduating class, and Marie G. Davis had just 20.

But it still marks a significant achievement. Cato Middle College was the largest high school graduating class in the state to have a perfect rate, according to tables provided by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Two other CMS high schools were recognized for high graduation rates, as well.

Ardrey Kell High, with 559 students graduating, had a 97.7 percent rate. Providence High, with a 488-student class, had a 97.3 percent graduation rate.

All received plaques at a luncheon today in Durham.

The CMS graduation rate was 85.2 percent, outpacing the state for the first time in years.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

North Carolina is 'worst state for teachers,' study says

North Carolina ranks as the worst state in the country for teachers, says a new study from a financial review site that's gotten a lot of attention this week.

According to the study, here's how North Carolina stacked up in the following categories:

  • 41st – Average Starting Salaries
  • 47th – Median Annual Salaries
  • 38th – Unemployment Rate
  • 51st – 10-Year Change in Teacher Salaries
  • 32nd – Pupil to Teacher Ratio
  • 48th – Public School Spending per Student
  • 43rd – Teachers Wage Disparity
  • 40th – Safest Schools
WalletHub comes out with a lot of rankings like this, though they're usually on business issues (i.e. "Best Student Checking Accounts" or "2014’s Best & Worst Entry Level Jobs").

Their methodology in the teacher study is also a bit interesting. Check it out for yourself here. It includes a ton of different factors beyond just job numbers and salaries, including "Percentage of Projected Population of Ages 5 to 17 by Year 2030." The study also takes into account a handful of other studies WalletHub has done in the past, like "Best and Worst States for Underprivileged Children Ranking."

Activist group Progress NC quickly turned the WalletHub study into a political statement:

“Here is yet more evidence that the right-wing political machine controlling state government is on a mission to ruin our public schools,” Executive Director Gerrick Brenner said in a statement. “Our state used to be a leader in public education. Now politicians like House Speaker Thom Tillis have driven North Carolina schools to the very back of the pack.”

U.S. Kay Hagan also posted about the report on her campaign website. She's locked in a tough race against Tillis for her seat.

The right side of the political spectrum took notice as well. Conservative blog Sister Toldjah pointed out that the WalletHub study looks at salary changes over a 10 year period. Democrats were in charge of the General Assembly for most of that time. Republicans grabbed the majority in 2010, and the governor's mansion in 2012.