Wake Education Partners; In Context 5/9/13

May 9, 2013
Study: School standards
“unhinged” from reality

A detailed study of the nation’s community colleges suggests students spend too little time in high school learning what they need, too much time learning what they’ll never use and don’t master enough of the content that actually matters.

That typically lowers the math and English standards for what is expected of many first-year community college students, according to the study by the National Center on Education and the Economy.

The study, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on community colleges because their purpose mirrors today’s push for “college and career ready students.”

About half of today’s community college students hope to enroll in four-year universities. The rest are usually there to get a better job. Community college classes aren’t rigorous enough for either group, partly because first-year students are so ill-equipped, according to the report.
Also In This Issue
School leaders propose $940 building plan

House bill restricts eligibility for pre-k programs

Green, Lake Myra get new leadership programs

Search narrows for school superintendent

System approves $1.3 billion budget

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Marc Tucker, president of the center, suggested in his executive summary that the current debate about standards is “unhinged from the realities in our community colleges.”

The study looked at a wide range of colleges from small to large in rural, urban and suburban areas. Its findings about math and English standards were based on a review of syllabuses, textbooks, tests, graded assignments and interviews.

The states and colleges were not named, although the review panels included a retired head of the math and physics department at Wake Technical Community College. North Carolina Community College System President Scott Ralls also called the findings “entirely consistent” with reports from faculty throughout the state.

The report did not review the success of community college graduates, which is worth noting because test scores of community college graduates in the UNC system typically exceed the grades of those who enroll in the four-year universities as freshmen.

Instead, the study focused on the skills of students entering community college, where dropout rates in some programs exceed 50 percent.

In a news article about the study, Ralls mentioned a key finding that highlights the mismatch between the math students learn in high school and the math that’s often needed to get a job. While calculus is important when it’s needed, it would make more sense if all high school graduates simply mastered ratios, proportions, expressions, simple equations and the underpinnings of Algebra I, according to the report.

Instead, students are placed on a fairly rigid track that emphasizes the delivery of calculus graduates to a four-year university. That tends to reduce students’ mastery of material and largely eliminates the chance to offer classes such as complex application of measurement, geometric visualization and schematic diagrams – pathways that can lead to high-paying jobs when coupled with a community college degree.

The new Common Core State Standards, the study said, should increase rigor across all levels of education and place more value on the ability to apply classroom skills. That, in turn, should help close the gaps between high schools, community colleges and employment. But there is a lot of ground to cover before most first-year community college students can expect to graduate “college and career ready.”

School leaders propose
$940 million building plan

Wake school leaders will ask county commissioners next week to approve a $940 million building program that will run through 2016. It will add about 20,000 new seats for enrollment growth and spend about a quarter of the total on renovations.

The proposal, approved by school board members this week, responds to commissioners who wanted more emphasis on new schools and less on renovations.

The package calls for 16 new schools, six projects that would renovate entire campuses and $167.1 million for costs such as future school sites, security, technology, general repairs and start-up money for the next building program.

If commissioners agree, they will place a bond request before voters in October to pay for the construction. A property tax increase will be needed. Commissioners would like to keep that increase to six cents or less per $100 of assessed home value.

The average home in Wake County has a tax value of $263,500. A property tax increase of five cents on that home would cost $135 per year.

The county and district are expecting about 3,000 new students a year for the foreseeable future. That means the proposal won’t do much to alleviate crowding in the long-run. Middle school crowding could actually increase.

But it will allow the district to address the most immediate needs for new seats, especially in the west, while addressing severe overcrowding and outdated schools in places such as Garner. The emphasis on new seats means renovations at some schools will be delayed until 2018 at the earliest.

The two boards are scheduled to discuss the newest proposal May 16 with final approval by the school board May 21. The commissioners will then hold a final vote on the financing, which must be done by June in order to get the question on the ballot in October.

Current proposal for a $911.6 million building program
New schools 11 ES, 3 MS, 2 HS $522.8 million (56%)
Renovations 6 completed/3 started $244.1 million (26%)
Support and other costs Land for future sites, security, technology, more mobile classrooms, etc. $167.20 million (18%)

House restricts eligibility for pre-k programs

The number of children eligible for the state’s free pre-kindergarten program would be cut by roughly 50 percent based on a bill approved by the state House last week. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Those who support the bill say it would bring the state’s eligibility standards more in line with its current pre-k expenses.

About 60,000 children currently qualify under the current income standard, which is roughly $39,000 a year for a family of three. But only 25,000 are currently served. The House bill would set the standard at 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $19,500 for a family of three.

The bill’s opponents say that threshold is too low and virtually guarantees needy students will be denied even the chance of enrolling in pre-k.

Numerous studies have shown quality day care and pre-k programs increase the chances for academic success in school. A report released in March by the advocacy group America’s Edge cited 123 studies spanning four decades. The summaries suggest up to one-third of the achievement gap can be closed by quality early education programs.

America’s Edge is supported primarily by business leaders and organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Hagedorn Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, PNC Bank and others.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget also tightened eligibility for pre-k programs, but not as much as the House bill. He also recommended spending an additional $52.4 million and adding 5,000 slots to the program over the next two years.

The final number is likely to fall somewhere between the House bill and McCrory’s proposal.

The coming week is important for a flurry of education proposals – and all other bills – that must be approved by at least one chamber of the General Assembly to remain eligible for debate in the current legislative session. The “crossover” deadline is May 16.

…Green Elementary and Lake Myra Elementary were told this week they will be awarded five-year grants to start new programs based on Stephen Covey’s book “The Leader in Me,” which is used to teach students leadership principles. The award comes from the “I am a Leader Foundation,” which traces its roots to Stephen Covey. Wake Education Partnership was involved in helping both schools secure the leadership grants. The leadership program is currently offered only at Combs Elementary.

.. A new student assignment policy that seeks to balance student achievement, assignment stability, proximity and operating efficiency was given tentative approval by the school board this week. The policy is a precursor to a detailed plan that is still being developed, although board members have made it clear that proximity and stability will play a larger role in future decisions. An Office of Equity and Diversity will address issues related to concentrated poverty. (See Framework emerging for long-term plan).

…The search for a new Wake County schools superintendent was narrowed to four people this week. School board members, who did not release the names of the finalists, will interview the candidates before reducing the field one more time. A selection could be made by early June. The person hired will begin this summer.

…School board members approved a $1.3 billion budget proposal for the 2013-14 school year that would provide a small increase in classroom spending. The request is contingent on approval by county commissioners and a final budget from the state. The school board requested an additional $8.3 million from the county for a total of $326.6 million. The budget will not have an appreciable effect on the district’s overall rankings. Per pupil expenditures in Wake are below the state average. The state ranks among the lowest in the country.

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 .

About TARR Report

S.M.A. Publications was formed in 1997 with a mission of providing real estate information for practitioners within the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. The company produces the T.A.R.R. Reports which are published monthly, quarterly and annually, covering all aspects of the residential real estate market. The publisher, Stacey P. Anfindsen, has over 23 years of residential experience in the Triangle market. He is an active real estate appraiser, educator and consultant.
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