October 4, 2012
Wake school board caps tumultuous week
In a chain of events reminiscent of early 2010, the Wake County school district last week lost a superintendent, released new student assignment maps, drew the ire of public speakers and watched board members blame each other.
At the same time, the district’s official attendance topped 150,000 students last week – an increase of more than 3,500 compared to last year.
Taken together, those developments helped crystallize a debate that is now three years old about how Wake should govern its popular, high-performing school district that is now the 16th largest in the nation.
Given the often-partisan twists and turns during those three years, it is difficult to select a specific event that triggered last week’s decision by five school board members to dismiss Superintendent Tony Tata at a cost of about $250,000.
School board Chair Kevin Hill opened this week’s board meeting by listing several reasons for the dismissal.
He cited a lack of trust, inexperience, problems with the new student assignment plan, creating new programs without fully vetting costs and an unprecedented series of busing errors affecting thousands of families at the beginning of the year.
His remarks drew immediate rebuke from board members who supported the superintendent, including John Tedesco, who referred to Hill’s comments and his timing as “cowardly” and “tactless.”
The new assignment maps, which are preliminary, suggest many schools could see significant changes in their draw areas. Those changes would not happen all at once, but any hint of reassignment typically draws an immediate response from parents who are affected.
This week, those parents found themselves sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded board room with others who had come to chastise the board for removing Tata.
While many speakers simply came to vent their frustrations, several pleaded with the board to find a bi-partisan compromise that would bring stable leadership.
“You are the board of education,” said one parent after detailing a long history with Wake’s public schools. “You are not the board of diversity, not the board of conservatives, not the board of liberals.”
By that point, however, it was clear the tension of the past week had not yet subsided among the nine board members. For almost an hour they traded accusations of fiscal irresponsibility, iron-handed rule, bullying and under-handed tactics.
It’s not unusual for the vast majority of parents to judge the quality of a school system on their child’s teacher and principal. If they believe the teacher is “bad” or the school is poorly run, they do not give the district high marks regardless of its overall success.
The opposite is true when parents like their child’s teacher and principal. Wake has about 10,000 teachers and principals. Leaders of other school districts openly wish for the caliber of educators who work here. It helps explain why the district continues to grow and remain popular.
In the meantime, the school board will continue to look for common ground. They are scheduled to meet again tonight in a special session to discuss student assignment.
As mentioned in an earlier summary, one of the oddities about the new Common Core State Standards Initiative is that many teachers have changed their approach to classroom instruction even though tests for the new standards aren’t ready yet.
A recent article in the trade publication Education Week suggests even the length of the tests is now being debated.
This will matter in Wake County because North Carolina belongs to a group of 25 states considering whether to offer longer and shorter versions of the same test. Predictably, the shorter tests cost less to administer.
Neither set of the math and language exams will be short. Students will need 6.5 to 8 hours to complete the shorter version of the exams depending on grade level. The longer version would require an additional four to five hours.
The length of the exams, which far exceeds current testing times, gets at the heart of what schools hope to accomplish with the new Common Core initiative.
In short, Common Core is designed to bring states’ academic standards into basic alignment with each other so schools throughout the country have a clear and consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn. The emphasis also shifts from multiple-choice questions that focus on content to questions that measure a student’s ability to apply that content.
The debate has not weakened the resolve of states to use the exams, according to the article. That is partly because the idea of using common standards was initiated by state leaders throughout the country, not the federal government.
It does, however, represent one of the first concrete choices states must make about the practicality of testing.
A shorter, less expensive exam would still generate valid results for groups of students. But a longer, more expensive exam could generate equally accurate data for each student. That would not only allow specific comparisons at the student level, but also generate better information about each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Education Week subscribers can read the full article at this link.
Wake Education Partnership is dedicating the bulk of its upcoming Education Summit on Oct. 30 to understanding the new Common Core initiative. Registration for that event can be found here.
SAT scores remain high, but dip slightly
Wake County’s 2012 graduating seniors posted the third highest score in the state among North Carolina school districts this year, according to the most recent release of SAT college entrance exam results.
Despite the solid showing, overall scores dropped one point each on the reading, math and writing portions of the test. The combined drop of three points is relatively insignificant as a single year indicator. The district scores have moved up and down the past five years within a fairly tight range.
Previous patterns also held for individual schools, with those in western Wake generally posting higher average scores than schools in eastern Wake. Enloe High Schools and Green Hope High posted the top scores in the district.
Among charter schools, Raleigh Charter High School posted the highest individual average school score.
The following table taken from the district’s web site shows how Wake compares to other large districts in the state. Most districts want to post not only the best average scores, but also the highest participation rates.
…It will probably be late fall before the school district fully recovers from the bus problems that created delays and missed routes for thousands of families at the beginning of the year, school board members were told this week. The primary problem is now finding and training enough drivers to safely operate the vehicles. While temporary solutions have addressed most of the immediate problems, the district is aggressively seeking more drivers with increased pay for qualified substitutes and attendance bonuses for current drivers. Details can be found here.
…A recent news story titled “N Ways To Apply Algebra With The New York Times”takes on the timeless classroom question of “why do I need to learn this anyway?” If you need to get a better handle on your mortgage costs, tuition bills, car payments or just want to modify a recipe when too many friends show up for dinner, you would benefit from a basic understanding of algebra. If you aren’t sure, ask a middle school student. Chances are X-cellent they are working on similar material at school.
…Green Hope and Panther Creek high schools were recently recognized for exceptionally high graduation rates in 2011-12. Green Hope reported a four-year cohort high school graduation rate of 94.7, the highest rate for schools of its cohort size. Panther Creek also had a four-year cohort high school graduation rate of 94.7, the second highest rate for cohort groups of its size.
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 and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.wakeedpartnership.org.