Will there be 115 plans to reopen schools in the fall? State Board hears an update

The State Board of Education tackled everything from literacy to social studies standards at its June meeting this week. But during the portion of the meeting reserved for State Superintendent Mark Johnson, he revealed news with implications for how schools will move forward in the fall.

Johnson said the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has had “blunt conversations” with the state Department of Health and Human Services about its draft guidelines for schools. He said many people expected a defined list of requirements, but instead, DPI received guidelines. Because they are guidelines instead of requirements, Johnson said that DPI will release a tool kit for school leaders rather than coming up with one overarching plan. With those tools, districts and charter schools are supposed to devise their own reopening plans.

In an email sent out yesterday to members of a task force on reopening schools, advisors, and local superintendents, Johnson spoke further about the reasoning behind the tool kit.

“Given the Cooper administration’s decision to potentially put forth recommendations rather than requirements for the fall, I expect North Carolina may see many unique plans for the school districts and charter schools that we support,” he wrote. “As such, state education leaders should move away from a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Also included in the email were documents from the Georgia Department of Education and the Arizona Department of Education, both of which are taking a similar took kit approach to reopening in the fall. See them below.

K-12 social studies standards

After more than a year of development, the Board delayed voting on new standards for world history, American history, and civic literacy for K-12 students. The plan involves combining the current two American history courses into one to make room for a personal finance class, and it comes with suggested objectives for each course.

“These standards and objectives are not intended to be the curriculum, nor do they indicate the whole of a curriculum which will be written by a local public-school unit (LEA) or school,” the draft says. In addition to this framework, DPI will provide training and resources for teachers as they install the curriculum.

You can find the draft standards the Board examined here.

Some Board members voiced concern about just how much variation the standards will allow. Matt Bristow-Smith, principal advisor to the Board, said he appreciated the inclusivity of the standards but wondered if the flexibility within the frameworks could actually go against the intention.

“The standards we’re discussing today are intended to be a framework. As such, without more specific detail in the actual standards and guidance to LEAs about how the standards can be translated into practice, we can very easily … start the school year off with 115 LEAs teaching 115 versions of American history,” he said.

For example, the standards for American history don’t include terms like women’s suffrage, slavery, or immigration, which could leave too much room for interpretation, he said.

Board member James Ford compared studying history to taking a group photo: you can focus on some groups and crop others out. He said he’s been thinking about that as these standards were being developed.

All the words that were said yesterday about us working to absolve racism and white supremacy, this to me is a document that is a tangible way for us to do that,” Ford said.

The Board voted unanimously to revisit the standards for all the courses next month except for economics and personal finance, which the state legislature mandated to be implemented this upcoming school year. Until then, DPI staff will work to provide more clarity within the framework.

Literacy task force recommendations

The Board’s Literacy Task Force presented its recommendations for improving K-3 reading instruction. In the 2018-19 school year, 57% of third-grade students scored proficient on their end-of-year reading tests.

The recommendations addressed the areas of:

  1. Pre-service preparation and licensure to train and recruit teachers and refine coursework
  2. Curriculum and instructional resources, committing to identifying and funding evidence-based resources
  3. Professional development

Here’s the task force’s full list of recommendations, which the Board approved unanimously.

Like the social studies standards, some Board members connected this work to their discussion from the previous day.

“I want to connect this work right now with the sentiments that we talked about at the beginning of our meeting with the message of being committed to the equity of our black and brown students across the state,” Mariah Morris, teacher advisor on the Board, said, adding that she hopes equity will be a focus of the next steps for implementation.

Quality reading

The B-12 Literacy Committee, which includes staff from across DPI, researched and developed a draft definition for quality reading that it presented to the Board on Thursday.

Read more about some of the concern about that draft definition here.

The definition says high-quality reading instruction is “grounded in the acquisition of language, high-quality reading instruction is guided by the science of reading, state-adopted standards, evidence-based planning and teaching, and the ongoing monitoring of essential skills and understanding to support the learner in comprehending and engaging with increasingly complex texts.”

There will also be more specific definitions for different grade spans. Definitions for pre-K and K-3 have already been developed with definitions for later grades still in the works.

Courtesy of DPI

DPI staff presented how they developed the definition and how it can be implemented within schools, which you can read more about here.

The Board moved on with little discussion and will vote on the definition in July.

What else you need to know

  • The Board allocated $70 million for remediation and Summer Jump Start programs aimed at helping students in kindergarten through fourth grade who were not on track to meeting end-of-year expectations in reading and math due to COVID-19. To receive funding, districts have to send DPI a plan and proposed budget. You can find more information about the program here.
  • The Board approved changes to the department’s policy for identifying and evaluating students for special services through the state’s special education program. DPI reviewed public comments, which resulted in changes to the definition of “evidence-based” and clarifications about what conditions are included. You can see the specific changes here. Matt Hoskins, assistant director of the Exception Children Division, said the Board felt the terms in the federal definition were outdated, so they wanted to be more inclusive.
  • North Carolina’s teachers and principals rated their work environments in several areas including class size and device access, as well as the newly added categories of school safety and equity. You can explore how schools in your district responded on the survey’s website.
  • The Board unanimously approved a request from N.C. Virtual Academy to exceed its statutory enrollment cap again this year, citing COVID-19 concerns. The virtual charter school may enroll up to 2,592 students, but the Board allowed the school to increase its enrollment to 2,945 for the 2019-2020 school year. Board member Amy White said the Board doesn’t have any accountability data to look at from this last school year, so any future requests will be considered based on the school’s academic growth.
  • As the state legislature works on a new budget, the Board approved its request and priorities, found below.

Anna Pogarcic is an engagement fellow for summer 2020 with EducationNC. She is a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill with a double major in journalism and American history, and she is the incoming editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

Before joining the team at EdNC, she worked in community journalism as both a metro intern for the Charlotte Observer and the City & State editor for the DTH. Though she has more of a background in reporting, she has found herself more and more interested in audience growth and outreach, especially in these changing times for journalism. When she isn’t in the newsroom, you can find her hiking with her dog or testing out new baking recipes.

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