UNC Leaders Expedite Pace to Replace Tom Ross as System Head

UNC_old_wellCARY—The committee looking for a new president of the state’s public university system is picking up the pace.

The 11-member search committee is meeting Wednesday in Cary. They have met nine times in the last month with hopes of finding a successor for Tom Ross by the end of the year.  The full, 32-member board of governors is expected to meet on Oct. 30.

Gov. McCrory has until the end of that day to accept or veto a law requiring the search committee to offer three finalists to the entire board rather than a top candidate.

NC House Advances Proposal to Change School Grading Protocol

High_School_ClassroomRALEIGH—A bill has been advanced by the NC House that looks to change the way schools are graded in North Carolina.

The first grades were this school year, and about 30 percent of the schools got D’s or F’s. Some lawmakers, educators and others said the low grades were due to a faulty formula. Currently, the grade is 80 percent based on student test scores and 20 percent on academic growth.

The new proposal changes that to 50-50.

“Very few people are satisfied in the state as it now stands. And this is an attempt to get it right. We will continue to work on it, it will be a work in progress,” said Rep. Marvin Lucas, a Cumberland County Democrat.

The bill passed by a 113-3 vote. The proposal now goes on to the Senate for consideration.

– Loretta Boniti

Bill Advances That Increases Penalty for Student Assault On a Teacher

High_School_ClassroomRALEIGH–A bill has been advanced that would make it a felony for students 16 years of age or older to assault a teacher.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Tillman, said the proposal is to get people’s attention that this is a serious offense and that it happens too often. Last year, about 1,300 reports were filed of attacks on teachers.

Some believe a felony charge is too severe for a student because it would remain with them throughout their lifetime. But the bill sponsor says students will be aware of the consequences.

“It will be a very serious offense and I think that it will be well known – that parents and students will be well informed about this new law if it passes. And none of us want teachers under attack and that’s why I am doing it, “said Sen. Tillman.

Currently, a student assault on a teacher is a misdemeanor and can be upgraded to a felony if there is bodily harm.

NC Senate Considers School Bus Camera Bill

school_busRALEIGH — Drivers who break the law and pass stopped school buses beware.

A bill is now being considered by the general assembly that would expand the current law, which allows for criminal prosecution and now also allow school districts to penalize you.

Under the proposal, the cost for the violation would be $500.

Bill sponsors say that is a steep fine, but they believe it is necessary.

“We have over 13,300 buses on the road in North Carolina twice a day, every day that school is open. We had a study run and over 3,000 people were running the stop arm on those school buses everyday, which is absolutely deplorable,” said Sen. Tom McInnis.

As the proposal is written, school districts could choose if they participate in the civil penalty program.

The bill is currently being considered in committee.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Bill Could Give Undocumented Students In-State Tuition

comm_collegeCHARLOTTE — Undocumented high school students in North Carolina could soon have more options for college.

“One of the biggest challenges for undocumented immigrants is that being undocumented, they are considered not residents of North Carolina,” said Hector Vaca with Action NC.

Vaca said if they are able to apply an in-state school, current law forces them to pay out-of-state costs. Students at UNC Charlotte pay a little more than $3,000 per semester for in-state tuition, out-of-state students pay almost $10,000.

“Which is out of reach for many of the undocumented families. Many of them don’t have the kind of resources other families may have,” said Vaca.

A bill recently introduced by Republican NC Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Jr. proposes giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

“I see this as a really wonderful step,” said Vaca.

To qualify, a student must have attended a school in North Carolina for three consecutive years immediately before graduation and received their diploma, or have a North Carolina GED.

“In general I think its a bill worth exploring,” said newly appointed chairman of the Mecklenburg County GOP Curtis Watkins. “With any bill, when you put it there, it gives you an opportunity for debate.”

Watkins said he understands voters may be surprised a Republican proposed the bill, but it gives the party a chance to shine under a different immigration light.

“As Republicans we really do want everyone to see succeed in this country, and the fact that it was introduced by a Republican senator is indicative of the fact that we are looking for way to reach out and making sure we have a positive impact for all citizens of this country.”

Vaca agrees, “To tell the truth, it’s actually, it’s kind of refreshing.”

– Vanessa Leon

NC House Elects Five Newcomers, Three Incumbents to UNC Board

NC_house_newRALEIGH–The state House’s picks to serve on the University of North Carolina governing board for the next four years include five newcomers and three incumbents.

The chamber elected eight people to the 32-member UNC Board of Governors, as it does every other year.

New members include former state Rep. Pearl Burris-Floyd; ex-Rutherford County Sheriff Philip Byers; accountant Walter Davenport; attorney Joe Knott III; and land developer Alex Mitchell. Re-elected were James Holmes Jr., Mary Ann Maxwell and David Powers

The Senate picked eight members Wednesday.

Lawmakers: School Performance Grades Law May Need Adjustment

RALEIGH—The newly released school performance grades were mandated by a law approved by the General Assembly and lawmakers are reacting to scores with many saying the law may need to be adjusted.

The idea to start grading North Carolina schools was first proposed in 2012. It was approved by lawmakers as part of the budget process in 2013.

Now in 2015, some lawmakers say system needs some work.

“I propose a formula that is based upon 60 percent on what happened during the course of the year. ‘How much did kids learn?’ And 40 percent based on that end of year test,” said Sen. Josh Stein, a Wake County Democrat.

Stein proposed a change to the grading formula prior to the report cards being released. he says right now a high performing school that makes little improvements sees an advantage because their test scores are high.

“If you have conversely a school with low achieving kids and they may have learned two years worth of information that year, but they are still not at grade level at the end of that time that’s a D or an F school. No, it isn’t,” said Stein.

Stein’s concern is echoed by House Democrat Tricia Cotham. She is a former school administrator in Mecklenburg County and says the number of schools to get D’s and F’s is troubling.

Students do grow at different levels and I think that can be very hard for my colleagues that really haven’t been in the classroom or really haven’t been in the classroom or really haven’t been an administrator to understand. That if a student in first grade makes improvement in their reading but it is still not where they need to be according to what the state says. That still is growth and that is huge for that child,” said Rep. Cotham.

North Carolina’s education reform package was sponsored by Senate leader Phil Berger. In response to the concerns being expressed about the report card he said:

“We’re troubled by early knee-jerk reactions that appear to condemn poor children to automatic failure. And we reject the premise that high poverty schools are incapable of excelling, since today’s report shows numerous examples that are proving that myth wrong. We must give these grades a chance to work so we can learn from them and improve outcomes for our children.”

Legislators have not shut the door on the possibility of changing the formula for school grades during this year’s session. House education leaders say they are at least willing to consider a different grading formula.

Education Leaders Address NC Teacher Shortage ‘Crisis’

CARY, N.C. — State education leaders and lawmakers are working to address North Carolina’s shortage of high quality teachers, something they’re calling a crisis.

More than 200 people gathered in Cary on Tuesday for the UNC Board of Governors Education Summit.

“We can do better, and we must do better,” said UNC System President Tom Ross.

“We have a crisis in North Carolina,” said UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque. “The number of students seeking a career in teaching in our system, 4,300 is significantly inadequate to meet the demand, [and] 10,900, that’s a crisis.”

UNC System data compiled by SAS shows that the number of college students in education majors dropped 12 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Over the past five years, the number of college students studying to become teachers in North Carolina has dropped nearly 27 percent.

Members of the UNC Board of Governors, university leaders within the UNC System, the State Board of Education and lawmakers gathered to talk about ways to address the crisis, by recruiting, training and retaining high quality teachers in North Carolina.

“This is not just about money,” Fennebresque said. “That helps [but] it’s about respect, appreciation and celebration.”

Education leaders are recommending more accountability for teacher training programs, better preparation for the teaching profession focusing on more training time in the classroom before becoming a teacher and improved support for new teachers.

“Teaching conditions, teacher preparations, and salaries; it matters,” said Ellen McIntyre, dean of the College of Education at UNC-Charlotte.

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– Heather Moore

Judge Sees NC Schools Move as Weakening Learning Standard

RALEIGH—A Superior Court judge is hearing from state school leaders about whether or not North Carolina is providing all students with a sound, basic education, as required in the Constitution.

It stems from the Leandro case, dating back 20 years, to address poor student performance and a lack of educational rigor—particularly in lower income and rural school districts.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. got his annual court update to make sure North Carolina is adequately providing all students a sound, basic education as required by law – and helping students who aren’t performing at grade level, instead of just advancing them through the system.

“It’s about the children who are the beneficiaries of a constitutional right to get this kind of instruction every single day and if it’s not there, their constitutional right is being deprived every single day,” said Manning.

The judge questioned whether the state lowered its standards for students to advance to the next grade level when North Carolina changed from a four-point proficiency scale, where a score of three was performing at grade level, to a five-point scale, with a student still being allowed to advance to the next grade with a score of three.

“When we look at what level three is today, it is a significantly higher standard than level three has been in the past,” said Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland.

A deputy state superintendent testified the state simply built into the five-point proficiency scale what had previously been a universally applied standard of error for the tests.

She explained a student who now performs at a proficiency level of three still isn’t quite performing at grade level, but is close enough to advance to the next grade. However this level three performance is still much higher than the old, level three.

“The standards we have now are more rigorous than the standards in the ABC’s and again, will continue to be. So level three is constantly moving up. I’ve never seen it move backwards,” said Garland.

However school leaders did admit the state still has an achievement gap, where some classifications of students don’t perform as well as others and the state is still struggling to get all students at least at grade level.

The hearing will continue Thursday. Judge Manning is not expected to make an immediate ruling. But after hearing all the testimony, he will decide if the state is meeting it’s constitutional requirement to provide a sound, basic education for all students or if the state needs to do things differently to meet that requirement.

– Heather Moore

President Obama Unveils Plan for Two Free Years of College

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — President Obama made a big announcement on Friday aimed at helping students headed to community college.

The president unveiled a new program, called ‘America’s College Promise’, that will provide two free years of education for students willing to work for it.

In order to be eligible, the students must have a mentor, complete eight hours of community service per term, and maintain a 2.5 GPA. The president said no American should be denied a quality education.

“Nobody with that drive and discipline should be denied an education simply because they do not have the money. Every American, whether they are young or just young at heart, should be able to earn the skills and education necessary to compete and win in the 21st Century economy,” said President Obama.

The plan will require both the federal government and each state to pay for the program.