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Judge: Early education, accountability keys to student achievement

Posted May 4, 2010

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— Better early education and accountability for teachers, principals and schools staff are keys to improving student performance, says a judge charged with ensuring school districts meet minimum state standards.

School officials from Durham, Forsyth and Guilford counties testified Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning. He monitors compliance with the Leandro case, a state Supreme Court decision that set minimum standards for a quality education.

Manning ordered those school systems in March to show him their plans to meet the Leandro standards. Citing test scores, he said that thousands of students are being badly served by schools in those counties.

Judge hears about urban schools' performance Judge hears about Durham schools' performance

On Tuesday, Manning expressed the most concern about elementary and middle school education. If students fall behind, he said, they have an almost impossible time catching up.

"These children are dead in the water at the time they are in sixth grade. If you didn't get that out of today, you missed it," he said. "The whole thing boils down to you've got to start in kindergarten."

He emphasized that teachers and principals need to be held accountable for low-performing schools.

"We've got all these little children who aren't reading. You've got to clean up the classroom," he said.

"Get rid of the principal. Get rid of the staff. That's what you need to do," he continued.

Manning said he will give the districts time improve student performance and then re-evaluate their test scores. He wants to see if the districts can fix the problems on their own without requiring more state oversight.

Durham Public Schools officials told Manning about an accountability plan the school board adopted last week to raise student achievement.

"We want to put in a model that is sustainable," said Stacey Wilson-Norman, assistant superintendent of Elementary curriculum and instruction. "It holds each person accountable for their performance, for high expectations."

Schools would be ranked into three categories based on performance. Schools in the lowest-performing categories must show improvement within three years or face closure. Teachers and staff might also have to reapply for their jobs in some cases.

The right people and leaders need to be in place to make drastic changes in schools, Wilson-Norman said.

"It could mean we could need to change a few teachers out," she said. "We would look at turnaround when we feel like we don't have the human talent in the building.

Durham County Board of Education Chair Minnie Forte-Brown said that she thinks that incoming Superintendent Eric Becoats will push Durham schools forward.

"We are staying focused on reform," Forte-Brown said. "We selected a new superintendent to come in as our who is transformative."

Manning said he did like some measures Durham schools are taking. He praised the East Durham Children's Initiative, which tries to incorporate the community in academic success at Y.E. Smith Elementary, Neal Middle and Southern High schools.

Y.E. Smith has adopted an extended day to provide 90 more minutes of instructional time, Wilson-Norman said. The school has also partnered with museums for field trips.

"I am seeing a significant culture change at the school," Wilson-Norman said.

In particular, Manning was impressed by testimony from Lowe's Grove Middle School Principal Kathy Kirkpatrick about programs to improve student achievement. Students are offered behavioral incentives, and the school day has been restructured so that there is time reserved for tutoring and homework if students don't complete it the night before.

Kirkpatrick said the changes have put more pressure on teachers. The school, which has more than 70 percent of students on free or reduced lunch, saw a 20 percent turnover among teachers this year and last year.

"You are with me or not. If you are not, you've got to go," she said.

Kirkpatrick said she aims to create a culture of achievement and expectation for students and teachers. The motto for students is "Go to high school, go to college," college banners are hung around the school, and awards have been created to motivate and reward teachers, she said.

"I am absolutely seeing progress," Kirkpatrick said. "Our kids have the capacity to pass EOGs (end-of-grade tests), and that's what we are going to do."


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  • qw3367 May 5, 2010

    I taught for two years in NC and just gave up completely. I was tired of taking the blame for students who didn't want to learn and parents who weren't concerned about their child's education. I once called a parent about her son's behavior, and she asked me to "never call her again because once her son walked into my classroom, he was MY problem, not HERS."

    I was also observed constantly by administrators and district officials who complained about my instructional techniques, stating that all of my lessons lacked rigor! How can you teach with rigor if they lack the basics? In the middle schools in Greensboro, students are allowed to fail one core class and still go on to the next grade level. That means...if a child fails 6th grade Math and passed Lang. Arts, Science, and Social Studies, then off to the 7th grade next year. STOP passing kids along who DO NOT have the basics and START pointing your fingers at these worthless humans called PARENTS!

  • whatelseisnew May 5, 2010

    "I am an eighties baby and I know I didn't even start learning to read until first grade. Now, they are expected to read a little in kindergarten."

    Apparently things are regressing. I am older and I was able to read before Kindergarten and everyone else in the classroom with me could read. In examining the curriculum that I see here in Wake County it is well behind what I had when I graduated from High School, and I graduated a long time ago.

  • whatelseisnew May 5, 2010

    "He emphasized that teachers and principals need to be held accountable for low-performing schools.

    "We've got all these little children who aren't reading. You've got to clean up the classroom," he said."

    If a child does not have good reading skills when they show up at the K5 doorway, that is the fault of the parents. Maybe we need some entry criteria included in our State constitution for being accepted into K5. Granted the schools have problems but I think it is time to start having strict standards for kids to occupy a seat in a classroom.

  • NotFromHere May 5, 2010

    Yes, the answer is accountability. The problem is Judge Manning is just another politician. His answer is blame society and blame the system rather than blame the individuals responsible. It isn't the teachers and principals who need to be held accountable. It is the parents and the children who need to be held accountable for their own success or failure. But easier for the politicians to blame the school system than to point the finger where responsibility really lies.

  • OhBella May 5, 2010

    I find it funny that people say we are dumbing down the learning and kids aren't prepared for global competition, YET when kids start third grade (just an example grade), parents look at the math and say..I never learned that in third grade! I am an eighties baby and I know I didn't even start learning to read until first grade. Now, they are expected to read a little in kindergarten.

  • catfisherman May 5, 2010


    Testing is actually done year-round, but you might only see 1-2 tests at your level. On average, there are 1-2 big tests per month. The rest of the time is spent preparing, editing, printing, packaging, instructional meetings, collecting tests, grading, data collection, sending data back to the schools, aggregating data for reports, making sense of the data for the layperson (charts, graphs, etc.), sending data to the state, getting the next test ready, rinse, repeat. The only slow time is July, and you spend the month filing paperwork that built up over the course of the year. You may even get to take a couple days for vacation (because it's so busy that you work several weekends and on days everyone else is off).

    No, I'm not a director of testing, but I know one, and it's one of the harder positions in school administration. There are federal tests, state tests, local tests, school-specific tests... it never ends.

  • Kelondris May 5, 2010

    Part of the solution would be to allocate the same amount of money to each student countywide, that way all student have the chance for the same resource no matter what school they are at. The problem is that some schools get more money per student that others and that affects what resources they get. We need a standard base for resources for all the students and then each school can improve upon that with fundraisers and such. That would at least help out.

  • venitapeyton May 4, 2010

    I hope Judge Manning will consider inviting about 20 parents of the low achievers in Wake Co to his office for a 'discussion'. Only they can speak up for themselves...not by a shadow group.

  • Kbo May 4, 2010

    josephlawrence43 - I don't blame teachers, I blame bureaucratic red tape that has teachers playing a million roles other than teacher, leaving them little time to actually teach.

  • truthinadvertising May 4, 2010

    Accoutability??? I just don't believe that there are so many teachers out there that don't care or don't try. If there are, then there probably needs to be some changes in college education programs. If you want accountability, read the article about the 16 year old in the high-speed chase...but I'm sure that is somehow the responsibility of the teachers/school too. Schools have to be accountable. Teachers have to be accountable. Students and parents aren't held accountable. Nowhere in this article does the good judge mention what the parents and students are responsible for...and that is the real problem.