Friday, April 27, 2007

Performance, preparation, and violence in education

Friday's education panel included Howard Lee, chairman of the State Board of Education, and Dr. Terry Stoops, education analyst for the John Locke Foundation, as well as Senator Harry Brown and Representative Dale Folwell of the General Assembly.

Howard Lee says he is working to gain more authority for the SBE to take over school systems from local boards which are taken up by internal strife. He asserts that "Public schools are working". He praised the "Learn and Earn" program and agreed with the call for more "themed high schools".

"If there's one thing I hope we in NC can get away from, it's the mega-high-schools where kids can get lost," he said.

Alternatives to traditional schools
"I am a very strong advocate for charter schools," said Chairman Lee. "I am not an advocate for some of the charter schools we have now.

"I don't think we can build enough buildings to accommodate the growth we have and expect every child in a classroom. That's why I support virtual schools where a gifted and talented student can accelerate themselves through the system. We can no longer require students to put in seat time; the thing that concerns me is the kids that are dropping out is not just slow learning kids, some are very smart kids who are bored to tears."

The new testing review commission will have its first meeting in two weeks, "determine where we are, how many of these tests are useless, and create a system where teachers can get immediate feedback rather than waiting for the end of the year."

In the next 30 days he will have a charter school review commission. "I want the charter schools who are not performing off the books. The idea of the charter school was freedom from the red tape, not that they should not meet standards. If they do that, we don't need to care about the number. I don't care if we have a thousand, if they are performing ... " he said.

"Think with me for a minute," Lee continued. "When we went to school, the community felt ownership of the schools ... we have lost that. Parents are not engaged, the community is not engaged, in some case the schools encourage the community not to be engaged."

He cited constant turnover of teachers and weak community support as continuing problems. "Our goal has to be to prepare students to function in the world, not just in North Carolina or their community," he said. "Guess what, the car that is now number one in the world is Toyota; if we're going to be engaged in that business, we better be able to speak a little Japanese and understand the Japanese culture ..."

School violence is not adequately documented

Dr. Terry Stoops of the Locke Foundation mused that "we are so willing to close down charter schools but not regular schools." Lee interjected "That was the part I left out of my remarks."

Stoops said he'd like to use his time for a rebuttal, but he chose to focus on school violence issues. He said there is a rising awareness that school crime statistics have been "grossly inaccurate".

According to him, in 2005, a Colorado school claimed no crime the same year a student was stabbed to death in the cafeteria. The largest school district in NC reported one sex crime in the 2004-2005 school year, but actually apologized for the administrative oversight when it was published there were several serious and literally hundreds of minor sexual offenses. In some cases, crimes were never reported because the school could not identify the offender.

Why is this happening? "It is an era of accountability. A school not doing well in testing but wishing to show improvement in some area can fudge on crime statistics to claim they are creating a safer school environment," Stoops said. There are also questions of definitions of certain crimes and violence.

We need better data and information, and make sure DPI is accurately reporting this stuff, he said. "We have programs like Positive Behavior Management that we don't have rigorous analysis to tell us whether these programs are working or not."

Stoops mentioned the media did not report that charter schools had a 30% decrease in suspensions while district schools reported increases. District schools reported 3.1 suspensions per 10 male students, while charter schools only experienced 1 per 10.

Every Child Ready to Learn

"If we have one goal in public schools, it should be not to humiliate a child," said Rep. Folwell of Winston-Salem. He has introduced an eight-word bill to change the cutoff date for kindergarten from October 16 to August 31. He said that North Carolina's public school classrooms have the largest age span of nearly any in the nation and it is a difficult prospect for a 4-year-old to be sharing a classroom with a 6-year-old.

He also called for a unique student identifier which would allow the Employment Security Commission to link a person's work history with his school record, all the way back to kindergarten. He said this is already in place in some states. This gives me some concern but I can't comment right now.

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