December 13, 2012
Board approves new approach
to student assignments
A majority of the Wake County school board approved a new approach to student assignment this week hoping they have found a way to marry elements of a now defunct school-choice plan with more traditional student assignment zones.
The plan focuses on stability for families who are already enrolled in Wake County’s public schools by promising students they can at least complete the grade span of the schools they now attend.
Borrowing other elements of the choice plan that began this July, it also puts far more emphasis on grandfathering students, keeping siblings together, capping enrollments at overcrowded schools and establishing clear priorities for students who want to attend a school outside their base area.
But unlike the choice plan, the new approach returns to specific school assignments for each address, reassigns students to help fill new schools, does not guarantee transportation for all school choices and downplays the promise of K-12 feeder patterns.
New school board Chair Keith Sutton, Vice Chair Christine Kushner and board members Kevin Hill, Susan Evans and Jim Martin voted in favor of the plan. Board members Debra Goldman, John Tedesco, Deborah Prickett and Chris Malone voted against the plan.
Also In This Issue
Common Core exams shortened
NC fares well on international tests
County, school leaders to discuss school bonds
Early release days set for 2013-2014
Applications sought for teaching programs
Board beings process to fill Chris Malone’s seat
Help keep others informed next year
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Parts of the plan will take effect this week for families who are just moving to Wake, but for most students the new rules will govern assignments for the 2013-2014 school year.
Both supporters and opponents acknowledged there was more work to be done as board members try to figure how to balance the often competing issues of stability, growth, proximity and diversity.
But in comments just before the vote, both Sutton and Evans said they would like to see the new rules become the foundation for a long-term student assignment solution.
“I respectfully disagree with those who call this a stop-gap plan,” Sutton said. “I would like us to think of this as part of a long-term approach.”
Details of the 2013-2014 plan can be found here.
States agree to use shorter Common Core exams
Trying to find a balance between exams that are useful and exams that are practical, a group that is developing Common Core assessments for 25 states has decided to significantly shorten the highly-anticipated test.
North Carolina is among the states scheduled to use the shorter exams.
According to an article in Education Week, the tests will still be long. The plan calls for exams that would take up to 8.5 hours to complete depending on the grade level. The estimated combined time for current end-of-grade tests in reading and math is about six hours.
While debating the length of a test might seem like a small detail, the issue is important because the Common Core is supposed to bring states’ academic standards into basic alignment with each other.
That means agreeing on tests that can be compared across states so schools throughout the country have a clear and consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn. Sample questions also illustrate how the longer exams are trying to shift classroom emphasis from memorizing content to applying knowledge.
NC fares well on international exams
North Carolina was singled out this week for an impressive showing on the first direct comparison of its students against the performance of students in other countries on a highly-regarded math and science exam.
The results released this week came from a report issued by The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – also known as TIMSS. It showed NC students scored above national and international averages in fourth- and eighth-grade math.
Science students in the same grades scored above international averages, but not significantly higher than national levels.
TIMSS has been measuring the achievement levels of students since 1995 in more than 40 countries. In addition, the study added several states and provinces from around the world in 2011.
The countries that topped the lists in math and science were familiar – Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and others. North Carolina’s scores, while good, did not come close to those levels.
But there was plenty to celebrate for a state that has worked hard the past 25 years to separate itself from the South and now from the nation.
“These results offer proof that North Carolina students can be competitive with their peers across the globe, especially in the critical areas of math and science,” said state Superintendent June Atkinson. “Our efforts in early childhood education, providing professional development for teachers, and setting higher expectations for students are paying off.”
New study offers context to superintendent search
Given Wake County’s need to hire a new superintendent, studies that look at the tenure of a district’s top administrator get more attention these days in the nation’s 16th largest school district.
One of the most recent studies involved the departure of more than 200 superintendents from California school districts beginning in 2006. It was published this month in the American Educational Research Journal.
One of the key findings confirms a trend established during the past two decades. Specifically, the average tenure of a superintendent in a large school district is about three years. The average tenure regardless of size is about six years.
It helps to appreciate what researchers mean when they talk about large school districts. In the California study, a large district was any school system with more than 29,000 students. By that measure, Wake County has been large for a very long time.
It also has been fortunate. Prior to former Superintendent Del Burns, the average tenure of Wake County’s superintendents was more than five years each dating back to 1984. Burns’ service lasted just shy of four years. Tony Tata served about 20 months.
The amount of time matters because earlier studies have shown that superintendents are more likely to succeed at large systemwide changes when they remain on the job at least five years.
And that becomes almost impossible, according to the California study, when a school board is dysfunctional. That’s because board members that do not get along with each other often have a difficult time getting along with the superintendent.
Those studies and others are discussed and linked in a recent article in Education Week.
The Wake school board this week selected Stephen Gainey to serve as interim superintendent while a search is conducted to find a replacement for Tata. The search is expected to begin in earnest next month.
…The leaders of the Wake school board and Wake County Commission are scheduled to meet Dec. 21 along with top administrators to discuss plans for a possible school bond referendum in 2013. The interest in restarting the discussion coincides with the selection of new leaders for both boards. A News & Observer story can be found here.
…School board members gave final approval this week to using a set of Friday afternoons as the early release days for students in 2013-2014. Teachers use the early release days for staff development and training.
…Two education groups based in Wake County are seeking applicants for statewide programs. The Kenan Fellows Program, which provides teachers with mentors in research and industry, opened its application period Dec. 1 Applications are also being accepted for NC STEP by North Carolina New Schools. NC STEP is designed to attract college graduates and mid-career professionals who are interested in becoming secondary science, technology, engineering or math teachers.
…School board member Chris Malone will resign Dec. 31 following his election this fall to a NC House seat. Residents who live in Malone’s district in northeastern Wake can apply through Jan. 4 to fill the remainder of his term, which runs through November 2013.
… This is the final issue of In Context for 2012. Thanks to all who are regular readers and take the time to send a question or reply. Please forward this summary today and encourage others to subscribe. A new school board member, a new superintendent, the first look at Common Core results and decisions about bond issues and student assignment will be waiting on the other side of the calendar. Enjoy the holidays.
Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications,or visit our website .