June 3, 2010  


NC adopts national core standards

In a move that pushes North Carolina to the front of the common standards movement, the state Board of Education today adopted national standards for math and English to be used by all public schools beginning in 2012.

North Carolina is only the fifth state to adopt the standards recommended as part of the national Common Core Standards Initiative, an effort led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The other states had agreed to use the standards even before they were formally released.

But that number is expected to increase quickly given the strong support for the effort by a wide variety of groups from educators and business leaders to state and federal politicians.

The conceptual framework for the standards is similar to work done by Wake Education Partnership outlining what world-class schools would look like in Wake County. That report can be found here.

The national standards emphasize more rigorous content and the ability to apply that knowledge to challenges found in everyday life. The challenges grow more complex as students get older, culminating in graduates who are ready for college or work in a global economy.

The math and English standards, found here, are based upon international benchmarks. One of the primary goals of the project is to assure students throughout the country are striving to reach the same goals. Officials from 48 state participated in the project.

This week’s release, which followed months of review following earlier criticism of a draft document, contains reading samples and math examples for different grade levels. It does not, however, suggest how content should be taught.

North Carolina’s adoption of the common core reading and math standards is part of a broader curriculum standards revision known as the Accountability Curriculum Reform Effort.  


Year-round magnet schools suggested

As proposals go, the suggestion last week by school board Chair Ron Margiotta that magnet schools be converted to year-round calendars was hardly a textbook rollout.

Instead, it just sort of floated across the radar screen of school news without notice or explanation. “I have a statement from our board chairman,” was all school board member John Tedesco said before reading Margiotta’s comments to the first full meeting of the new student assignment committee.

Margiotta asked the committee, which has a pretty full plate right now trying to draw up new community assignment zones in the coming months, to also consider converting magnet schools to year-round calendars in 2010-2012. He said the move would increase capacity, parental choice and educational opportunities.

That assessment might be true, but it didn’t come from those who run the magnet schools. They were just as surprised as anyone to hear the suggestion. Regardless, there are a few obvious issues that will need to be considered.

Based on school capacity studies, the district’s current lineup of 33 magnet schools could enroll more students on a year-round schedule.  But it’s difficult to say how many.

Year-round schedules are built on the assumption that a school has space to run at least three classrooms at any given time on nine-week tracks. By staggering the starting dates of each nine-week track, a fourth track can be squeezed into a 12-month school year. That’s where the extra capacity comes from.
But the schedule works best in larger schools with plenty of classrooms and uniform schedules. So a larger magnet school with a unifying theme such as an IB program might work fine. A smaller school, or one that offers a variety of electives such as the Gifted & Talented programs, might be a poor match.
The appeal and cost of a year-round magnet is also uncertain. Almost all of the magnet schools operate on a traditional schedule and none asked to be converted to year-round schedules in a recent survey by the board.

This topic has been discussed before by previous boards, but in the current political environment several groups seemed obliged to pick sides right away. At the moment, it’s not clear why as there isn’t much to debate until this issue at least settles onto a real agenda somewhere.

Budget details begin to take shape

This is what passes for good budget news these days: The Wake school system is cheering a state Senate proposal that calls for “only $6 million” in additional cuts. It also finds itself the uneasy winner in a House proposal that favors K-12 by cutting deeply into higher education.

A final decision is still a few weeks away, but both proposals seem like an improvement compared to a proposed budget from the governor that would have required about $19 million in additional cuts from Wake. The cuts are on top of roughly $20 million the school board has already approved for 2010-2011.

The House expects to approve its budget by Friday with the promise of saving teaching jobs by moving additional lottery proceeds to the K-12 budget. It’s uncertain what that will mean for Wake County, which has had more success than most other districts in keeping layoffs down this year. That is largely because Wake starting freezing and cutting more than 18 months ago, far sooner than most districts.

Differences between the House and Senate bills will be settled in a conference committee. That’s where the public schools might find themselves lobbying against the interests of the UNC system.

It also helps that the House version assumes the feds will provide $500 million in federal Medicaid money, even though that appropriation is not guaranteed. House Democrats were already talking about a contingency plan just in case the Medicaid money doesn’t come through.

With elections around the corner and little money to hand out, both chambers would like to get a budget approved before the fiscal year ends June 30 – a relatively rare accomplishment.


Diversity struck from final assignment policy

Ever since the new school board majority starting crossing out the word “diversity” in almost every student assignment policy it encountered, the board minority has taken a principled – albeit symbolic stand – by voting against the change.

That string was broken this week when the minority was faced with the consequence of delaying hundreds of transfer appeals. The policy being considered outlined how transfer requests should be handled and was the last one in which diversity was still mentioned.

As they have in the past, Anne McLaurin, Kevin Hill, Keith Sutton and Carolyn Morrison all voted against removing diversity from the policy. In this case, the language suggested “greater socioeconomic and achievement diversity” could be considered when granting transfers.

The problem occurred when it became obvious the policy, which required two readings, had to be approved Tuesday because appeals are being held this week. Authority to pass a policy twice in one meeting requires of two-thirds majority vote of the board.

Board members could have waited two weeks and passed it again with a simple majority, but that would have meant rescheduling the appeal hearings and leaving schools without final enrollment counts for another two weeks.

About 500 families have asked for hearings, which is a steep reduction from last year’s list of roughly 1,600 appeal requests.

Faced with the inevitable, the minority relented and the policy was approved 6-2. The vote drew a quick and repeated “thank you” from board Chair Ron Margiotta. If anyone said “You’re welcome,” it wasn’t audible.


… Fourteen Wake County magnet schools were recognized by the Magnet Schools of America as schools of excellence and distinction at the association’s recent annual conference. The 14 schools were the most recognized in any single school district. The district’s announcement can be found here.

… Board members this week approved spending up to $125,000 on a national search to replace Superintendent Del Burns. Burns resigned earlier this year over conflicts with the school board and was then placed on administrative leave. Vice Chair Debra Goldman said she hopes to select a firm soon to formally begin the search and would like the final bill to fall well short of the approved amount.

… The percentage of public schools where more than three quarters of students are eligible for subsidized lunches has increased faster than overall poverty rates, according to The Condition of Education 2010 released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics. Children at these schools are less likely to attend college or be taught by teachers with advanced degrees, according to the report.



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 send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications, at tsimmons@wakeedpartnership.org