January 20, 2011


Accreditation review now seems likely

A four-month standoff with a powerful accreditation agency appeared to reach a turning point this week when School Board Vice Chair Debra Goldman said she would agree to a review of the school system despite some reservations.

Goldman’s decision was released to the public Wednesday in a short statement where she said she was “gravely concerned for our students and their prospects for future success, particularly graduating seniors, if we refuse to participate in the review.”

It is the school system’s governance – not its academic quality – that is being reviewed. A loss of accreditation, however, can hamper graduates’ ability to obtain scholarships, qualify for federal loans and gain access to some colleges and universities.

The accrediting agency contacted the school system this summer following complaints about district governance filed by the NAACP.  In a series of letters beginning in September and ending just last week, the board repeatedly questioned the scope of the review, which could touch upon almost every major decision made since December, 2009.

The agency, which accredits more than 27,000 public and private schools, stood its ground by pointing out its definitions of accreditation and the fact that participation is voluntary.

Last week, a spokesman for AdvancED finally offered the board a choice: accept the review or withdraw from the organization. The ultimatum triggered calls and emails from anxious parents and others in the community wanting to know why the system would jeopardize the district’s standing.

While the board suggested less than a week ago it might withdraw, Goldman’s statement appears to offer an olive branch on behalf of students.

“I would hope that AdvancED would consider a careful review of their policies regarding complaint handling in light of this unfortunate conflict between our two fine institutions,” she wrote.

“This is neither a partisan nor a political issue, but rather one that directly affects students and parents across the County. As we focus on student achievement, a review of our processes can only help us to make our fine school system even stronger.”

Perfect practice makes perfect

“You play like you practice” is fairly common advice that just about anyone involved in sports has heard at one time or another. It seems the same is true in the classroom.

According to a far-reaching study that tracked college students during the course of four years, most did not learn the critical thinking skills that many people assume are an integral part of a college degree.

“Many of the 2,322 students moved through four years … without learning how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event,” according to a Hechinger Report study released this week.
While the study focuses on the progress of college students, it references the importance of high school preparation and underscores a common theme among those who often push for higher classroom standards: content matters – and knowing what to do with it matters even more.

For example, the study tested college students’ analytical skills by using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which includes tasks such as asking students to determine the cause of an airplane crash by reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports, according to the study.

Compare that to new accountability standards recommended by North Carolina’s public school leaders that, among other things, call for “more open-ended questions, more technology and more real-world applications of what students learn.”

It’s easy to get lost in the education rhetoric of world-class standards without really understanding what it means to a kid in a classroom. The core of the answer, however, is fairly straightforward. An accomplished graduate has learned how to learn. The sooner you start, the better you get at it.


  Tata outlines priorities to local business leaders

tataIn remarks that were part stump speech, part rallying cry and entirely focused on defining his new profile, incoming schools Superintendent Anthony Tata spoke with more than 200 business leaders last week about his priorities when he takes the top schools job in Wake County on Jan. 31.

The event, which was hosted by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and included Wake Education Partnership as a major sponsor, was the first chance many business leaders had to personally meet Tata. It also offered him an opportunity to lay out the framework for how he plans to operate.

The retired brigadier general, hired last month from his current post in the Washington, D.C. school district, has carefully avoided any public pronouncements about specific positions he might take.

But he made it clear he appreciates the divisive nature of the debate that has preceded him and the importance of bringing people together quickly to refocus attention on student achievement. Excerpts from his comments included the following:

  • “There was some statistic out there that 38 of the last 40 retiring generals chose to go work in the defense industry. That’s noble work, but for me I need good people, I need a good mission and I need a higher calling. For me, education is a higher calling.”

  • “There’s a lot of stuff going on this community right now and I’m not in the position yet. But what I ask of everybody is let’s try to pull this thing together a little bit because there are 17-, 18-year-old graduating seniors who are hoping and praying they are going to get into some college. I don’t want anything to get in their way.”

  • “We have a $100 million budget deficit, we’ve got the student assignment issue, we’ve got the accreditation issue … We’ve got a lot of hard work to do as a community and we need to sometimes hang our egos at the door. You can expect me to do that every time.”

  • “There is no space in my heart that’s going to ignore any child of any race. I get asked the diversity thing a lot. You cannot think of a more diverse organization than the United States military that I grew up in…. There is no room for anything but a clear conscience and moving forward with the right policy and the right program for our students – every single student. They all count.”

  • “You all need to understand what you’re getting with me. I’m a common sense leader. I am someone who does not kowtow to anyone and I make decisions that are in the best interest of those that I serve. And those that I serve are the students of Wake County…Hold me accountable.”

The full video of Tata’s remarks can be found here at wral.com.


School board may ask county for more money

Despite a 2011-2012 state budget that is likely to produce layoffs and larger classes, leaders of the Wake County school system had assumed it wasn’t worth asking county commissioners for more money next year.

But after yet another “horrible” accounting of next year’s options, school board members this week seemed willing to at least make the request. The informal agreement to ask county commissioners – and probably state leaders, too – came when board member Keith Sutton suggested the board set a long-term goal for per pupil spending.

Wake County spent about $7,800 per student last year, according to the district’s Annual Financial Report. By comparison, the state average was about $8,700 per student and the national average was $10,190, according to a handout given to board members. School boards in North Carolina have no taxing authority and rely on the counties for local funding.

Several board members balked at the idea of setting a specific per pupil goal given that the state is considering cuts of 10 percent or more. But Chair Ron Margiotta said he thought it was logical to at least make clear the system is expecting another 4,000 new students next year, which means even flat funding would decrease per pupil spending for the third consecutive year.

The budget process still has months to go, but the school system currently expects to lose somewhere between $39 million and $71 million in state funding. Moreover, previous cuts guarantee that future reductions will be broad-based as no single area could begin to cover the depth of the shortfall at the state level, as shown in this handout.

The school board expects to discuss the topic in detail at its next joint meeting with county commissioners.



…  Proposed reassignments for 2011-2012 were shown little support in the most recent community meeting at Southeast Raleigh High School, according to print and television reports. School administrators suggest roughly 3,200 students be reassigned next year, many caused by the ripple effect of opening a new elementary school southeast of downtown Raleigh.  Board members have also added about 1,500 more students to the plan. A final vote is expected in early February. Reassignment details can be found here.

… In addition to reports and data recently requested by Anthony Tata, the new superintendent also plans to meet individually with each board member shortly after he arrives on Jan. 31 and has requested a two-day retreat with the board in late February. Retreats by elected boards are considered public meetings.

… It’s no longer a big deal when the local debate about Wake County’s schools makes national news, but the past two weeks have been unusual even by current standards. A recent report in The Washington Post, a subsequent letter to the editor from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a pointed satire by comedian Stephen Colbert combined to increase  the media spotlight to a degree not seen in months.


Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues. We are supported in part by contributions from readers such as you. Please consider investing in our work. Send comments or questions about this news summary to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications.