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.