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State Board revamps how it works with Superintendent on contracts

The State Board of Education discussed plans to change how it interacts with the state Superintendent of Public Instruction when it comes to budget matters and contracts at this week’s Board meeting.

The move came after Superintendent Mark Johnson signed an “emergency” contract with Istation for a reading assessment tool last month. That came while a legal fight over the state’s contract with the company was still brewing and after a state Superior Court left in place a stay on the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)’s contract with Istation.

The purchase was for $928,000 and was done without consulting the State Board, which the superintendent is allowed to do if a contract is under $1 million. One of the moves the State Board discussed this week was reducing the amount of money that requires approval from the Board to $500,000.

The other item discussed would require the superintendent to do a number of things, including present an annual proposed budget for Board approval, provide a monthly accounting of funds allocated by the General Assembly, and more.

Out with Common Core

During his superintendent’s report, Johnson announced his plan to have DPI begin work on replacing the state’s standards with new, more rigorous ones that aren’t built around Common Core.

Common Core is a set of academic standards that were widely adopted around the country in an effort to create a more uniform and rigorous set of standards nationally. But the standards have faced pushback from critics who say they are not developmentally appropriate and are confusing.

Johnson said as he travels around the state, one of the big complaints he hears is over Common Core, and after Florida scrapped their Common Core standards and replaced them with newly-created ones, he said that North Carolina should do something similar.

“Opposition to Common Core from educators and parents is what I hear about the most across our state,” Johnson said in a press release. “I strongly disagreed with the State Board of Education’s decision to keep Common Core in place in 2017. Many states, like North Carolina, were ‘changing’ standards by making tweaks to Common Core and then calling it by a different name. But now there’s a clear path we can replicate in North Carolina to remove Common Core, and I encourage the State Board to closely examine this new option with us.”

He said the first step is getting feedback from stakeholders and that DPI will begin work on that. He said he hopes next year to be able to vote for the new standards as lieutenant governor. Johnson is running for the position in the 2020 elections.

Reports to the General Assembly

Every year, the State Board of Education is required to send a number of reports to the General Assembly. The State Board reviewed a number of those reports this month, including ones on Cooperative Innovative High Schools, Read to Achieve, Teacher Attrition, and more.

Here’s a breakdown:

Annual Charter School Report

The State Board voted on the second day of its meeting to approve the annual charter school report. The report was a subject of some controversy last month after the Charter School Advisory Board, which developed the report, had a section taken out that examined the contributions of charter schools to racial segregation before it was sent to the State Board.

At the time, Alex Quigley, chair of the advisory board, said that section was removed because it was confusing.

State Board members asked last month that they be provided with a copy of the report that included the items that were changed.

This month, Board Vice Chair Alan Duncan said he had some issues with what was taken out and said that some of what was included in the document “was less data-driven and more qualitative at best.”

Board member Jill Camnitz expressed disappointment with the lack of context on charter impacts on traditional public schools.

“It’s my understanding that the report was supposed to include impact of charters on traditional public schools,” she said. “I don’t see that topic particularly well-addressed.”

Career and College Promise & Cooperative Innovative High Schools

The State Board heard a report to the General Assembly on the Career and College Promise program and Cooperative Innovative High Schools.

Career and College Promise offers high school students the opportunity to enroll in community college courses (called dual enrollment) and get a head start on higher education credits. Cooperative Innovative High Schools are small public high schools where students can earn college credits while they work to graduate from high school. Many finish high school with an associate degree or postsecondary credential. Most of these schools are on a community college or university campus.

According to the report, 29,606 graduates in North Carolina were enrolled in at least one dual enrollment course, representing 27.1% of all graduates. Meanwhile, 27,905 students enrolled in Cooperative Innovative High Schools, and 5,549 graduated from one in 2018-19. Of the students in the schools, 4,158 earned Career Technical Education credentials, while 2,750 graduated with an associate degree.

Read to Achieve

The State Board heard a report on Read to Achieve at its meeting this month.

Read to Achieve is a law that has been in operation since 2012 and aims to make sure that all the state’s students are reading on grade level by the third grade. As part of that law, students who don’t demonstrate proficiency by the end of third grade are supposed to attend summer reading camps, and if they still aren’t proficient, they are supposed to retake the third grade. 

An analysis of the program from The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation found the program to be largely ineffective and said that it wasn’t being implemented uniformly in districts around the state. Legislation championed by Board member JB Buxton, Johnson, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, was intended to reform Read to Achieve. However, that legislation was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper.

The report stated that 42.7% of the state’s third graders were not proficient in reading when evaluated on state tests. Roughly 20% of students were eligible for priority enrollment in one of the state’s reading camps, and 48.3% of them actually attended. Of those who attended reading camps, only 28.2% were proficient afterwards.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.