Saturday, November 9, 2013

Staying Ahead Carolina? What's that?

Ever been to a great party where no one seems to know the host? Saturday's panel on the future of public education felt a bit like that.

I made the rare choice to cover a weekend event based on the timeliness of the topic and the quality of the speakers. The focus was on choices, challenges and change in the Charlotte region,  landing at a tumultuous time when the 2014-15 school choice season is on the horizon.  Ellen McIntyre, dean of the UNC Charlotte College of Education, moderated a panel consisting of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison; state Rep. Rob Bryan, co-sponsor of the N.C. voucher bill and co-chair of a panel on teacher compensation; Eddie Goodall of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association and Bill Anderson of MeckEd.

The turnout was big enough that the event was shifted from a 100-seat conference room to a bigger auditorium.  I saw many of the usual movers and shakers in the education scene,  plus new faces.

So I was feeling kind of dumb:  Why hadn't I heard of Staying Ahead Carolina, the host organization?

But when I mingled and chatted before the event, I couldn't find anyone else who was familiar with the group.  One person speculated that it was part of CarolinaCAN, a recently-created North Carolina spinoff of a national education reform group.  Someone else said it was  "a front for MeckEd."  Even McIntyre was confused.

None of the theories were correct.  Sabrina Brown,  who works in marketing,  started the social networking group seven years ago.  There was always a theme of learning more about Charlotte,  she said,  but at first it was mostly about meeting people, making contacts and exploring the city.  Staying Ahead started getting sponsorships to do forums on such topics as arts,  entertainment and health.  It now has more than 500 members and an advisory board,  Brown said,  and the education panel was its first foray into a wider community outreach.  Carolina STEM Academy,  a charter school that has been approved to open in 2014,  and Melange Health Solutions sponsored the Saturday forum.

The discussion was lively and informative enough that I didn't regret giving up a sunny Saturday morning.  I'll look forward to any other contributions Staying Ahead might make to the local scene.


Wiley Coyote said...

o...k.... so.....ummm..

We learned that you gave up your morning, but what were the high points of the discussion?

Was this a pro-public-education-diversity-driven-kumbaya-sort-of-a-thing?

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah -- this would be pretty confusing if you haven't seen the story. I just added the link. I wrote this as a sidebar and forgot to cross-link.

Wiley Coyote said...

Hehe... I've had a really long day too!

Wiley Coyote said...

Morrison questioned the decision to let private schools take tax money without having to participate in the same accountability system. And he said the $4,200 N.C. Opportunity Scholarships being offered for students who qualify for lunch subsidies won’t cover tuition at most Charlotte-area private schools.

Anderson seconded that concern: “I worry that there are going to be some schools that will start up that are going to be below standard.”

Mr. Anderson must not have seen the latest test scores from CMS, unless "below standard" means scores less than 45% proficient.

Anonymous said...

I was there and didn't find anything earth shattering. I do agree and am pleased the CMS will be working collaboratively with charters and other choices. Too many politicians we're give the mic. I would have like to see parental involvement and accountability addressed; without some way to make this a requirement I don't think anything will be a huge success. There is a huge disconnect and who knows why because every study sites the critical importance of parental engagement in their child's education. Do we not want better for our children anymore?

Anonymous said...

The calendar law was not written by the tourism industry.

The original calendar law was written to stop CMS from adding on teacher workdays to the front end of the school year WITHOUT adding extra compensation.

It also allowed for protected workdays at the end of each quarter so that teachers could actually complete their paperwork.

Anonymous said...

Your headline ". Staying ahead" of what exactly? How about less non essential foolish talks like this and more positive educational needs of the students met? Imagine you wasted part of your Saturday on this. With the release of last weeks stats I see a need for more work and executive decisions made real quick. Heath the tour is over please let's help the kids now. Keith W. Hurley

Wiley Coyote said...

The Observer Editorial headline says.. "Scores should shake us to our common core"...

Does anyone at CMS have an answer as to why these numbers are way off from earlier years? Are they "apples and oranges" numbers?


82% grades 3-8 proficient in reading.

88% grades 3-8 proficient in math.


• 45.5 percent of CMS students passed elementary and middle school reading exams

• 46.4 percent of CMS students passed elementary and middle school math exams.

How does CMS go from being in the high 80's proficient in 2003 down to the mid 40's in 2012?

Shamash said...

When we say a school is "below standard" what are we talking about?

Is it the schools and teachers or the students and parents?

Does anyone seriously think that "we" (the village) haven't tried hard enough?

Yes, we can ALWAYS do more (as has been proven time and time again), but I still think most people are not taking full advantage of what is already out there.

Of course, now there will be even more hand-wringing about those ever more predictable"gaps".

But now that the top performing schools have gaps as well, maybe we will see some relief directed toward "the top" as well.

Because they are behind, too.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who has been comparing our schools to those in the rest of the world.

Sure, they'll keep tweaking the tests and probably even start teaching to the new tests, but we have something much more seriously wrong than that.

I really don't think the teachers or the schools are the worst part of the problem, but they are the easiest, most convenient, and most politically correct targets.

And apparently we like it that way.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, that's why you need to read the paper (even if you don't read it ON paper). No, they're not apples to apples. There was a front page story on Friday explaining that it's a new testing system tied to Common Core standards and that other states making this transition have seen similar drops.

Wiley Coyote said...

Regardless of whether I read - whatever - isn't being proficient, being proficient?

NCLB Math v. Common Core Math
NCLB Reading v. Common Core Reading

The 2003 numbers were based on NCLB and we all know how educrats screamed how unfair and unattainable the requirements were.

Now they are screaming about Common Core.

You either know what cat, dog and see Spot run means or you don't and what the answer to 2+2 is.

So the 2003 and 2012 numbers have nothing to do with proficiency and are not relatable. Got it.

Anonymous said...

Heath needs to be less concerned with the area private schools and more about his system - CMS.

He should be thankful to the area private schools for educating so many students that should be in his CMS classrooms. He has less students to worry about now. We took our kids out of CMS a few years ago, best decision we have ever made.

And what about that 7:15am high school start time? And lack of a consistent discipline policy at the "high performing" CMS high schools? The four 90 minute blocks are a joke, most of the classroom time is a waste of time. Teachers DO NOT fill 90 minutes of class time with instruction, you are lucky if half of that time is instructional. Just ask the students.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, Come on man just focus on the massive increase in the graduation rate at CMS. With such a huge increase in that number I dont worry about this data that is coming out on new testing. If they can walk they get on stage for the diploma even if they cannot add ! That is common core for CMS. Keith W. Hurley

Shamash said...

Apparently with the new tests tied to the Common Core curriculum we can START sorting the apples and oranges from the lemons.

These results are a sign that the earlier tests were too easy and not particularly "discriminating".

It's a bit like my kids school where about half the kids make the A-B Honor Roll and nearly every kid gets an award of some kind (even if just for being there).

The grades are obviously not much of an indicator of how well the kids are doing.

And neither is the graduation rate.

(Even if we are living in Lake Wobegon.)

It's only when you get tougher tests or select from only the top 5 to 10 percent (as they do in Gifted and Talented classes) that you see the real differences.

We have too much grade and test inflation to depend entirely on the schools or districts or even states to set the "standards" for realistic comparisons.

So who can we trust to get the straight story?

That's why we have the big move to national standards (like it or not). We just couldn't trust the results under the old ways.

So now we can at least start comparing apples to apples for a change.

Anonymous said...

Similar issues when the old NC tests were re-normed in 2006-2008 time period. However the tests were re-normed two years apart--math scores were re-normed first, in 2006, and dropped drastically. Some took this to mean that we were doing well in reading but terribly in math. Then the reading was re-normed and we actually came out better in math than in reading (still a big drop though). But because of the 2 year gap between release of new math norms and the reading norms, some who certainly should have known better (including a local education activist and equity committee member), upon seeing the new reading scores, declared that we were really going to be in trouble when the new math scores appeared. They had either forgotten or never knew that math had already been re-normed and they were quite ready to pounce on CMS.
We have lots of education problems in this community and throughout the country but it's unrealistic to compare and judge student performance year to year on constantly re-normed and changed tests.

madcowfj said...

These scores show how far we were behind the rest of the country...the test is harder and demands more of our children which is not a bad thing if we are to be competitive with other states. CT has added to its common core to make it even more challenging

Pamela Grundy said...

Actually, test scores dropped equally as dramatically from the 2002-3 numbers when new, tougher tests and grading were introduced in 2006 and 2008. They climbed back up (although not as high as previously in many schools) before dropping again with the latest set of tests.

Anonymous said...

Ann-saw the chart on test score proficiency ratings for CMS high the observer going to publish the same information on elementary and middle schools? If not...where can we find that information?

Anonymous said...

4:24, I plan to create similar charts for lower grades but it's labor-intensive and I'm off this week. But I'm pretty sure I can beat the state and CMS, which plan to post school data in February.

Pamela Grundy said...

The N&O has school-by-school information:

Also, the DPI site has the info as wel.

Shamash said...

Even if the tests change and are "re-normed" every few years, I can see Wiley's point.

Why has "proficient" changed, then, if the schools aren't REALLY less proficient?

Does it depend on what the definition of "is" is?

Is it a norm tested against a particular group of students deemed as "proficient" or what?

Seems to me that "proficient" should have SOME meaning independently of the tests being used.

But, then, I'm not an "education" professional, so maybe I'm just being silly again.

Maybe "proficient" means ready for the workplace and college, but which workplaces and which colleges?

Do we have a useful independent definition to use as a target?

Unless we really ARE teaching to the tests, in which case they should explain that they really mean "proficient" at THAT TEST (and not much more).

That's why I try to keep my eye on international tests (such as the PISA test) to see how well we as a nation are doing in our overall "proficiency".

They tend to be a little less influenced by our local politics and maneuvering.

These other tests are useful for sorting WITHIN our particular baskets of fruit (apples, oranges, and lemons) in the US, but still, it's nice to see how we compare to the mangoes and pineapples from time to time.

Shamash said...

Just to show how screwy "proficient" has been in the past, I found an NCES comparison of state "proficiency" levels using national standard NAEP test scores.

(Of course, since this was done way back in 2010, who knows how many times the definitions and tests have changed...)

Table 1 on pg 16 shows READING.

A "proficient" EIGHTH grader in Texas scores equal 222 on the NAEP.

A "proficient" FOURTH grader in South Carolina scores equal to 223 on the NAEP.

This means that a proficient FOURTH grader in South Carolins scores higher than the "proficient" EIGHTH grader in Texas.

Which means that a "proficient" EIGHTH grader moving to South Carolina probably has some serious catching up to do.

Sad, but an even greater reason for more "national" standards.

But, first, we still need to look at what we mean by "proficient", don't we?

Unless we want that to change every few years so we don't really know when we're "proficient".

And let's ALL hope the national standards are closer to Massachusett's than Tennessee's.

Anonymous said...

Wiley, have you actually looked at the tests? You talk a lot in broad terms, but have you actually examined the differences in the tests? Ann's right, it is like comparing apples to oranges. It's like if I taught you French all year, then gave you a Spanish test to determine your proficiency.

Previous tests were based on North Carolina Standard Course of Study. This year's tests were a transition to Common Core State Standards, and the test students take next year will be different than the one they took this year. Do you even know the differences between the two sets of standards? Have you even taken the time to read them?

Anonymous said...

MOrrison it wasnt that long ago since you were selling your snake oil amway products door to door in Charlotte. It will be interesting to see if you have the yings to take that bonus they are voting on. Even Gorman was smart enough not to take it

Wiley Coyote said...


I don't need to read the tests because my comment was comparing what the district stated "proficiency" to be in 2003 vesus "proficiency" in 2012 for the same 3 -8 groups in those courses for those years.