Judge questions lower student achievement

Posted April 8, 2015

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— In the latest chapter of a 20-year fight over education funding and standards in North Carolina, a judge on Wednesday grilled state officials over why more than half of public school students aren't learning at grade level.

During a three-hour hearing, Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. reviewed a State Board of Education decision changing the definition of whether students have learned what's expected for their grade and problems he sees in the two most recent years of standardized test results.

The state Supreme Court chose Manning to oversee compliance with its decisions in lawsuits that started in 1995 about school funding in poor parts of the state. The so-called Leandro cases test whether the state's education bureaucracy and policymakers are living up to their constitutional obligation to give every North Carolina child the opportunity to have a sound, basic education.

Attorneys for the state say testing standards have been raised in recent years, so more children are scoring lower on reading and math tests than in the past. Manning said he understands that, but he pointed to hundreds of schools – most are in low-income areas – where only a fraction of students are meeting expectations.

Manning says he knows many of the children from the poorer neighborhoods are coming into kindergarten with less preparation than wealthier students, but he said that doesn't excuse the fact that the state is failing to help them catch up.

"They're there, and they're our responsibility," the judge said. "Every day, they're in that classroom. Something's wrong in that classroom. Something's wrong in that school."

He noted that the state has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its 44 worst-performing schools over the past few years, but the money has not improved those schools' performance.

"That's a lot of money, folks, and if you were GE or Google or Microsoft, you wouldn't be supporting any of them. You'd have closed the plant down or either fired everybody in the school and got somebody who could get the job done," he said.

Manning said he would hold another hearing soon to hear what the state plans to do to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the children who go to those schools.

Although he has had a contentious relationship with state lawmakers over the years, the judge did have high praise Wednesday for Read to Achieve, a 2012 law requiring all third-grade students to be reading at grade level before they move on to fourth grade.


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  • Terry Watts Apr 9, 2015
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    Which is precisely Mark's point. Not all fathers and mothers are "parents". So to proclaim that the "parents" are the root of the problem and to leave it at that is a non-solution.

  • Collin McLoud Apr 9, 2015
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    You don't need more than 8th grade education to realize that you should discipline your children and encourage them to do well in school. You should be able to realize you are struggling to make ends meet and want better for your kids. If you don't care if your kids excel, you're not really a "parent", are you?

  • Mark Neill Apr 9, 2015
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    Many timers, ESPECIALLY in these lower-education areas, more parental involvement is not the answer either. If the parents didn't have a good education, they're just as unequipped to help the students learn as the students themselves are.

    People who loudly proclaim "Just get the parents involved", as if the only problem is that the parents aren't doing their share, obviously grew up in families and communities where the rule, and not the exception, was to have a high school or better education. If you yourself didn't get through 12th or 8th or 6th grade, how can you be expect4ed to know what to do to help your kid get through it?

  • Ginger Lynn Apr 9, 2015
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    Get rid of the bottom 5% of teachers. A lot of these low performing schools have some of the weakest teachers. Pay strong teachers incentive to come to these schools. A real, attractive incentive not a token one. It won't solve everything but it certainly will help. I live in Durham and I know that is the case at many of our lowest performing schoools.

  • Jenna Moore Apr 9, 2015
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    The one thing no one seems to mention in these articles is the administrations for these schools. If administration tells the teachers "you're going to do X and not Y" then that's what the teachers have to do. Never mind if they *know* that Y is what works.

  • Collin McLoud Apr 9, 2015
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    I won't argue that more money would be helpful but I will say that isn't the top priority. Parents need to be more involved in their child's education. Parents that don't care normally have children that don't care. Tax breaks for businesses is a good idea considering they are the one's creating jobs. We need to make our state appealing to businesses. I have seen 3 major employers shut their doors in my area and taking 4k jobs with them. That's 4k people not paying taxes to help fund the schools. We also need to put the NC Education Lottery fund where it is suppose to go. Just before leaving office, our lovely Bev Purdue took those funds to balance the budget and then wanted to raise our taxes to fund the schools.

  • Jeremy Krause Apr 9, 2015
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    What it takes is more accountability placed on the students themselves. Children need concrete short term rewards for meeting standards and tangible consequences for not meeting standards. Until policies (and funding) are in place to teach children the importance of education, they will perceive all schooling simply as optional recommendations. Our current system has taught them for many years that they can perform well or under perform and get the same result: A pat on the back and promotion to the next grade.

  • Mary Zulch Apr 8, 2015
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    What it takes is more funding...more money. If the only thing our state sees is shifting money for less for education and more for tax breaks business...than business will suffer. Who wants to bring their children to a state that ranks in the lowest 8% of educational quality? No one i know. I tell everyone I know to stay away.

  • Donna Rasmussen Apr 8, 2015
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    The NC Education system should be asking these other successful states how they are being successful and what they are doing to be successful in educating their K-12 grade students in the public system. If the processes here are not working to educate these children, then research for the better solution in the other states. Find out why they are succeeding. Does that not make sense??