State News

Report: Improvement but stubborn shortcomings in NC schools

Posted September 7

— Fewer than half of North Carolina's elementary and middle school students tested last spring were ready to tackle both reading and math in the next grade, according to a snapshot released Thursday of how the state's public schools are doing.

The annual school accountability report shows high school graduation rates and the number of high-performing schools inched up during the last school year. Schools increasingly earned As or Bs under the state's A-to-F grading system.

But just 46 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 showed proficiency in both reading and math at the end of the 2016-17 school year. That was an improvement over 43 percent four years earlier.

The report also amplifies the clear connection between student poverty and the likelihood a school will be considered failing under the state's formula. More than 90 percent of the schools getting D or F grades had a majority of their students living in poverty. More than eight out of 10 schools earning As were comprised of fewer than 50 percent poor students.

A handful of four dozen poorly performing public schools identified Thursday will be taken over by charter school operators next year. Durham, Forsyth County and Robeson County school districts each had five or more schools on the list.

The North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2017 said while educators are doing all they can to help students learn, state legislators haven't provided the money needed to ensure all children succeed.

"We don't have the professional development because there's no money for professional development. I'm just urging the legislators to hear my cry from teachers across the state. We need help so we can help our children," said Lisa Godwin, who teaches kindergarten at Dixon Elementary School in Onslow County. "We want the best for our kids, but we need help with that."

Her criticism was echoed by two state school board members.

The $8,888 spent on each public school student during the 2015-16 school year remained below spending levels, after adjusting for inflation, preceding the Great Recession of nearly a decade ago, according to BEST NC, a nonprofit business coalition that advocates on state education issues.

Asked about the criticism of insufficient resources, new state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson focused on schools better using the money available.

"We're going to be working with the General Assembly over the next few years to focus on the return on investment. What is it that works out in those school districts?" said Johnson, a Republican whose powers were increased this year by the GOP-dominated legislature. "More of the same year after year has not provided the results we need for our students."

Charter schools — which operate with fewer rules than traditional schools — were more likely to be better or worse than conventional classrooms. A quarter of the state's charter schools got D or F grades, compared to 22 percent of traditional schools. Forty-four percent of charter schools earned As or Bs, compared to 35 percent of traditional schools.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio

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