Ask Anything: 10 questions with State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson
The state's schools chief answers questions on funding for schools, seatbelts in buses and the math curriculum. Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan is now taking questions.Posted — Updated
Lap and shoulder belts such as the ones we use in our cars have been available on school buses for only a few years.
In 2003, the state equipped 13 new school buses with lap/shoulder belts to evaluate. The results are that elementary students are inclined to wear the belts; middle school and high school students are not.
The cost of lap/shoulder belts on buses is over $10,000 per bus (a bus costs about $80,000) and that amount would have to be appropriated by the Legislature.
The General Assembly recognized this kind of disparity several years ago and began the low wealth supplemental funding in 1991. That funding program is now fully funded and provides more than $195 million to districts that qualify for it. These funds are intended to help address the disparities in local supplements and local funding because of differences in the tax base in different communities.
There have been many attempts, initiatives and pilots in the past to find a good way to provide merit-based pay to public school teachers. There has yet to be one that has lasted for very long for a number of reasons.
It is difficult to evaluate individual teacher performance fairly because students are taught and influenced by a variety of teachers within each school.
The ABCs incentive awards are one way to recognize performance, and these are given to all teachers within a school that meets specific student achievement targets.
I do support this and I support incentives for teachers who are willing to teach in schools that are difficult to staff because of their location or in subjects that are in high demand.
Student eligibility for enrollment in school is not based on immigration status, and local districts are, in fact, prohibited from inquiring about the immigration status of a student or family. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe [457 U.S. 202 (1982)] that undocumented children and young adults have the same right as U.S. citizens and permanent residents to attend public primary and secondary schools. A student's undocumented status refers to the inability to provide a Social Security number, green card, visa or other documentation indicating legal residence in the U.S.
The cut-off age for students to enter kindergarten is set for the state as a whole by the North Carolina Legislature. In setting the cutoff point, there will always be some children whose birthdays come close to the date. The recent change in the entry age law means that students must be 5 by Aug. 31 in order to enter kindergarten in 2009. The Oct. 16 cut-off date will remain in effect for those entering kindergarten in 2008. There are provisions for gifted 4-year-olds who do not meet the age qualification to enter kindergarten early. These involve testing and other measures to demonstrate their readiness. Check with your school district office for more information on that option.
Local school boards and their staff members determine how students are assigned to schools and the bus rides that may be necessary. When the state provides transportation allotments to local school boards, we assume that the school assignment for students is a local decision. We consider the distance students live from the schools – districtwide – when figuring the allotment amount for each school district.
North Carolina actually is performing better than the national average with regard to students placed in separate schools and special facilities. It also is significantly better than the national average in placing students in inclusive settings in regular public schools.
Recently, the State Board of Education adopted new standards that focus on the most essential skills and knowledge that students will need to be successful in the 21st century. In mathematics, the level of expertise and knowledge that students need for success at the community college or at the university level continues to increase. Today, many community college programs require students to enter with a proficiency level at an Algebra II level or better. In addition, however, students have some opportunity to select mathematics courses.
North Carolina provides $100 per month for a teacher to mentor new teachers. In addition, the SBE has requested funds for a number of years to provide one mentor for every 15 new teachers. We also have literacy coaches in 200 of our middle schools to help teachers who are working with middle school students who may not have strong reading skills.
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