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November 11, 2010

Consensus? Maybe next week

The first effort by school board members to define the goals of a new student assignment plan produced a few heated exchanges this week, but only one clear decision. They’ll talk some more at the next meeting about how to reach a consensus.

School board member Kevin Hill was hoping to pin down a date where the group could define key terms in the debate. For example, what does it mean to promise equity in student assignment? What about proximity? What does choice mean?

The idea, Hill said, is to use a process that allows the board to define its goals first without regard for the specifics of any given assignment plan. He explained it as an approach designed to create consensus.

“A 5-4 vote on student assignment is not a plan that will be good for kids,” Hill said.

But board members proved better at talking about consensus than actually reaching any. They disagreed about whether the costs of any plan could be estimated. They failed to agree on a meeting format. They questioned the intent. They debated the role of public input. (video: 1 hour 30 minute marker)

“I agree that citizen input matters,” said board member Anne McLaurin. “But this board has to work together. That is the hard work for us – and that is what we have yet to do.”

At the suggestion of Vice Chairman Debra Goldman, Chairman Ron Margiotta agreed to have the board revisit the topic at its next meeting. Goldman requested “a decent sized-window” of time, but got no promises.

The board meets again Nov. 16. The agenda topic of consensus will be waiting.

 

Algebra enrollments increase for minority students

More than 60 percent of the minority students in middle school who are likely to pass algebra classes are now enrolled in those courses – a significant increased from previous years.

The enrollment figures for Pre-Algebra and Algebra I were released by the district as part of an ongoing push to place more students in rigorous math classes earlier. The district reported in early October that overall enrollment had increased. The most recent data shows those figures by race, gender and income.

The prediction of whether a student is ready to take a Pre-Algebra or Algebra I class is made using a software program called EVAAS. The prediction is based on a student’s previous math scores on end-of-grade exams mandated by the state.

Students are considered ready if EVAAS predicts they have at least a 70 percent probability of passing.

Using that standard, qualified Asian and white students are most likely to be placed in the two courses. Among most other ethnic groups, about 60 percent are actually recommended. The placement rate is similar, but slightly lower, for students from poorer families.


Asian

African American

Hispanic

White

Low income

Total

86.2%

61.6%

61.6%

75.5%

58.6%

72.3%

Algebra enrollment is often the focal point of curriculum discussions because it is considered a “gateway” class to college-prep classes. The predominant view among educators is that early enrollment is critical.

But the belief is not unanimous. A significant number of educators also say placing students too early can cause more long-term harm than good. This is because students who aren’t completely ready for the class can then find themselves promoted without a solid understanding of algebra’s basic teachings.

 

Poverty counts increase in select schools

The number of schools where more than half of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch has drifted noticeably higher this year in a handful of schools.

More than half of the students in 31 of the district’s 163 schools now qualify for subsidized lunches, according to figures compiled by the district. In five schools, the figure exceeds 70 percent. At the same time last year, one school reported a free and reduced lunch rate above 70 percent. The rate exceeded 50 percent in 25 schools in 2009-2010.

The district’s overall rate this year is 32.4 percent compared to 31.2 percent in 2009-2010.

Year

Schools above 70%

Schools above 60%

Schools above 50%

District average

2009

1

8

16

31.2

2010

5

6

20

32.4

Students qualify for the district’s subsidized lunch program based on income and family size. Documentation is not required, but the figures are considered an accurate indicator of poverty by school officials.  Students in higher grades are less likely than children in lower grade to sign up for the program.

The number of schools where the poverty rate was less than half the district average remained steady.

 

First in flight; last in school funding?

A prominent statewide education group, the North Carolina Public School Forum, has released an analysis suggesting North Carolina could rank last in the country in school spending if the General Assembly approves some of the budget cuts currently being considered.

Titled Race to the Bottom, the report reviews the potential effect on classrooms if cuts of 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent – the levels now being considered – were enacted. In short, spending would drop between $250 and $800 per student.

“Cuts of this dimension would dwarf any cuts in recent history,” the report states, “but the picture is incomplete without factoring in the impact of federal stimulus dollars coming to an end.”

More than $700 million in federal stimulus money will be removed from next year’s statewide budget.

There will be some money available to offset the loss of stimulus dollars. The state is scheduled to receive about $100 million a year in “Race to the Top” money, but only half goes to local school districts.  The state is also scheduled to receive about $300 million in federal “jobs bill” money.

But those two new sources combined won’t come close to compensating for lost tax revenue if the legislature decides not to extend a temporary sales tax enacted in 2009 – a tax that generates about $1 billion.

 

Noteworthy

Dana King of Millbrook Magnet High School was recently named the 2010 Principal of the Year and Robert Grant of Briarcliff Elementary the 2010 Assistant Principal of the Year. King has been in education for 28 years and has been principal of Millbrook Magnet High for eight years. Prior to that, she was principal at East Millbrook Magnet Middle, an assistant principal at Athens Drive High and a teacher at Sanderson High.

… The school district will hold a series of meetings to discuss student assignment changes in 2010-2011 with an emphasis on the opening of Walnut Creek Elementary, schools at more than 112 percent capacity and traditional calendar applications. The format includes small group discussions with district staff members. School board members are not expected to attend.

… School board members are expected to interview three to five finalists in the coming weeks in the hopes of hiring a new district superintendent by January. The board met in closed session Nov. 1 to review a list of candidates. The superintendent will replace Del Burns, who resigned earlier this year over conflicts with the school board and was placed him on administrative leave until his resignation became official on June 30.

… After a trial period lasting roughly three months, the school board voted to reinstate standing committees to help handle board business. Standing committees such as Finance and Policy were eliminated in August in an effort to increase efficiency. But expected budget cuts and a potential backlog in policy approvals helped convince a majority of the board to reinstate the committee structure it had abandoned.

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