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Changes in classroom lessons and state tests featured on UNC-TV

State Superintendent June Atkinson and two state Department of Public Instruction administrators will be on UNC-TV this week explaining changes in public education and how parents can help students.

The network will air "North Carolina Schools and You: What Changes in Our Schools Mean for Parents and Students" at 10 p.m. on Thursday.

It will repeat Friday, Sept. 27, at 4:30 p.m.

Atkinson, chief academic officer Rebecca Garland, and Garland deputy Angela Quick will talk about the new state curriculum, the Common Core standards, and new state tests.

University experts to work on early-childhood evaluations

Child development experts from around the state will begin meeting at Duke University this week to come up with new ways to measure children's readiness for school and to evaluate their progress in the early grades.

The effort related to a new law aimed at curbing social promotion by having third graders pass the state reading test before they enter fourth grade. The law requires the state to come up with ways to measure student progress in kindergarten through third grades. The "assessments," as they're called, must be individualized, and schools can't use standardized end-of-grade tests for students in kindergarten through second grade as they do for older students.

Experts from public and private universities from across the state will work on the project for six months, and their recommendations will be used to create the assessments. The effort is funded, in part, by the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant the state won two years ago.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is sponsoring the meetings, which they're calling a "think tank." John Pruette, director of the office of early learning in the state Department of Public Instruction, and Kenneth Dodge, director of the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy, are in charge.

Dodge said in a statement that the new measures would help create a more complete picture of young children's progress.

"This is an opportunity to change the dynamic for teachers and children in the early grades," Dodge said.


The group will also focus assessments of health and physical development, social and emotional development, and a child's approach to learning, Pruette said.

State education board to take stand on spanking

The State Board of Education wants to weigh in on the issue of school spanking with the aim of making recommendations for a new law next year.

Child advocates for years have pushed the board to oppose school spanking, but members have been reluctant to wade into a local policy issue. That appears to have changed.

"I just think it's wrong," state school board member John Tate said today.  "I think it's an instance that we have to stand up for what's right for kids and say stop this nonsense."

A report earlier this year shows that three counties - Robeson, Columbus, and McDowell - did 87 percent of the spanking in 2010-2011.

Seventeen districts used corporal punishment a total of 891 times, according to the state Department of Public Instruction report.  Ten of those districts have since banned school spanking, the report said. Most local school districts don't spank students.

Boys, disabled students, and minority students - particularly American Indian students - received a disproportionate amount of physical discipline at school.
Eighty percent of the students spanked were boys. Twenty-two percent of the children spanked were disabled, though disabled students make up 8 percent of the student population.

American Indian students make up nearly 43 percent of Robeson's enrollment, and that district spanked more children than any other by far.

Bills attempting to outlaw spanking have failed, but the legislature has moved cautiously to restrict the practice.

"Founding principles" in the classroom

One thing is certain about the state Republicans' impact on education - they have succeeded in renaming a high school history course.

The state Board of Education is set to rename a high school U.S. history course "American History I - The Founding Principles" as a new law requires.

The GOP-led legislature passed a law this year requring schools teach a course that includes: "The Creator-endowed inalienable rights of the people; structure of government; separation of powers with checks and balances; frequent and free elections in a representative government; rule of law; equal justice under the law; private property rights; federalism; due process; individual rights set forth in the Bill of Rights, and individual responsibility.

Under the law, students must pass the course to graduate.

The state Department of Public Instruction says the curriculum the board adopted last year for courses in civics and economics and U.S. history includes instruction on all the principles legislators want taught. Staff has gone through the curriculum to note the points in the history course where teachers can emphasize  these principles.

Public comment session in Raleigh today on closing state school for disabled children

A session to collect public comment on closing one of the state's three residential schools for blind and deaf students starts at 5:30 today in the Raleigh City Council chambers, 222 W. Hargett St.

The public comment session in Raleigh is the last of three scheduled. Sessions in Morganton, home of the N.C. School for the Deaf, and Wilson, home of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf, together drew more than 1,000 people.

Raleigh is home of the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind.

The state legislature instructed the state Department of Public Instruction to come up with a recommendation for closing one of the three schools.  The recommendation will go to a legislative committee early next year. The plan is to close one of the schools in summer 2012.

Hearings on state blind/deaf school closure

The state Department of Public Instruction is holding a series of public hearings, beginning tomorrow, to gather comments on the closure of one of three state residential schools for blind and deaf students.

The legislature told the department to give them the name of a school to close by  January 15, 2012 . The chosen school will close July 1. 

The three schools are the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, the N.C. School for the Deaf in Morganton, and the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson. About 220 students attend these schools.

Tomorrow's public hearing is in the Morganton Municipal Auditorium, 401 S. College St.

The second public hearing will be held Thursday at Barton College's Hardy Alumni Hall, off Atlantic Drive in Wilson

The third hearing will be Sept. 28 in the Raleigh City Council Chamber, room 201, in Raleigh City Hall, 222 W. Hargett Street.

All hearings will be from 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. Interpreters will be provided.

DPI is to recommend a school to close based on these criteria:

(1)        Minimization of impact on services to deaf and blind students currently served by the residential schools.

(2)        Minimization of costs of modifications at the two remaining residential schools to accommodate students from the closed school.

(3)        Maximization of funds generated or net savings to the State from costs avoided due to the closure of one school and the sale or transfer to other State agencies of the school campus and other physical assets.

(4)        Minimization of required travel for students of the school that is closed.

(5)        Historical and cultural significance of the school.

The department is also collecting comments via online survey.

Lake Wobegon in North Carolina

Maybe all the state's children aren't above average, but a relatively new evaluation system makes it look like nearly all the teachers are.

The State Board of Education got a look at results of teacher evaluations that showed that in 13 school districts, teachers are very, very good at helping children learn. In fact, nearly 97 percent of the 972 teachers evaluated in the 2008-09 school year were proficient, accomplished or distinguished.

It seemed no one at the board's retreat believed this to be true - not board members, state Department of Public Instruction staff, or the consultant helping the board work on its goals. (If anyone thought the numbers reflected reality, they didn't speak up.)

Accurate assessments of teachers are key to state education goals. Could nearly 99 percent of teachers be proficient or better at communicating effectively and planning appropriate instruction? 

Lynne Johnson, director of educator recruitment and development at the state Department of Public Instruction, explained that scores are inflated when a new system is being test, and that more training is needed in how to do the assessments.

The department will eventually incorporate information about student growth and working conditions into the evaluation data, Johnson said. When that happens, she said, the numbers will look very different.

Public school furloughs unpopular

Legislators bowed to a request from school districts to allow them to furlough teachers for up to two days to save money.

It turns out that most districts decided they don't want furloughs after all.

Only one school district, Winston-Salem/Forsyth, told the state Department of Public Instruction that it is considering a furlough.

The permission to furlough came with a lot of strings attached: No one making less than $32,000 a year could be furloughed. People who work only on days children come to school are exempt. Districts who furlough cannot pay bonuses using local or state money.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison said he hopes Winston-Salem/Forsyth decides it doesn't need the furlough since the state will be getting more money for teachers' jobs from a $26 billion bill the U.S. Senate passed this week.

According to an Associated Press analysis, the federal spending bill would save between 4,000 and 8,000 teaching jobs in the state.

State ed board chairman objects to deaf/blind school takeover

Legislators were unhappy with the academic performance of deaf and blind students attending schools run by the state Department of Health and Human Services, so they transferred control of those schools to the state Department of Public Instruction.

But State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison wants to give back the schools to the DHHS. Harrison said this week he'll meet with legislative leaders to talk about the transfer, because he does not think the DPI has the resources or experience to run the three special schools.

The state has two residential schools for deaf children, one in Morganton and one in Wilson. The Governor Morehead School for the Blind is in Raleigh. The DHHS is investigating the Morganton school after allegations that the school's director covered up instances of student abuse.

The education department would be happy to work with the DHHS on academic issues, Harrison said, but control of the schools should stay with the health department.

Reversing the transfer would take some work. Legislators would have to pass a new law.

Legislators eliminated the DHHS Office of Education Services, which oversees the schools, and the people who work there are looking for new jobs.

Liberals hate it, too

It's not just conservatives who think the proposed history curriculum is a bad idea.

A story on Fox News this week unleashed a flood of criticism on the state Department of Public instruction, but Holly Brewer, an associate professor in N.C. State University's history department, said critics cross the political spectrum.

The proposal to limit the 11th grade American history course to the last 132 years would shortchange students, she said.

"We will become a national laughingstock if this goes through," Brewer said.

She has been writing the state Department of Public Instruction in protest, she's circulating a statewide petition, and a friend started a Facebook page, "History did not begin in 1877!"

"There is no discussion of slavery anywhere in the curriculum proposed," she said.  "Teaching about slavery is very much a liberal issue."

The history proposal would push pre-Reconstruction history to the middle and elementary grades, which Brewer said is inadequate. 

"They have to deal with issues in high school when they can talk about things in a complex manner," she said.

The State Board of Education is revising curriculum in all subject areas. Curriculum writers are accepting comments on the history proposal. 


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