Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dancing to stop standardized tests

The N.C. Senate might be all gung-ho about merit pay for teachers - it's part of the budget plan Republican leaders rolled out today. But a group of local citizens are dancing today against it at the Government Center Plaza - well, at least the standardized tests that are part of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan.

Mecklenburg ACTS is coordinating the protest today from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. before the CMS board meets tonight to discuss the budget and a motion to stop N.C. House Bill 546. The bill gives CMS the authority to create a teacher pay scale based in part on the performance of students on standardized tests. The bill would allow the system to bypass getting educators' approval of the change. CMS developed 52 additional tests for students this year to use for the evaluation. More are expected next year with a standardized test for every subject.

The idea has upset parents and others. Since there is no public comment period before tonight's school board meeting, Mecklenburg ACTS is asking people to protest by dancing to the Test Teacher Anthem found at http://www.mecklenburgacts.org/

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jones' budget a strong opener

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones is on target with the budget he'll propose tonight. After years of cutting, Jones proposes reinvesting in essential public services, including education and libraries. That's vital to this community.

Jones' budget for 2011-12 won't make everyone happy, and county commissioners will debate it and change it in coming weeks. But Jones frames that debate the right way by giving Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools $26 million more than the county gave this year. That still leaves CMS receiving about $23 million less from the county than it did in 2008-2009. That despite the fact that CMS now serves more students, and more poor ones, in more schools than it did that year. With the state legislature poised to impose significant cuts on K-12 spending, CMS will still have to cut tens of millions of dollars from its budget.

Jones also reportedly proposes giving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system an additional $2.3 million. After drastic cuts last year, it's good to see Jones help the libraries. This should allow the library system to avoid closing several branches.

About three out of five taxpayers will pay more in taxes under Jones' proposal. But about two in five won't. And for those who do, tax cuts coming from the state should help cushion the blow.

The state, by the way, is driving a majority of the cuts at CMS. If legislators would agree to keep the one-cent sales tax that's scheduled to roll off, they would have more than $1 billion to spend on education and other needs.

-- Posted by the Observer editorial board

Deployments hurt military kids academically

A new RAND Corporation study finds children suffer academically when a parent is deployed for long months overseas. In North Carolina, with several military bases and thousands of soldiers deployed each year, that's troubling.

The study looked at more than 44,000 students in North Carolina and Washington State who had parents in the active Army or National Guard who were deployed between 2002 and 2008.
They found that children with a parent deployed for 19 months or more have lower test scores than their peers. They found that every month a parent is gone seems to hurt academic achievement a little. The impact on academics falls most heavily on middle school students. The problem is not statistically significant for high school students.

RAND was asked by the Army to examine the effects of parental deployments on children's academic performance as well as their emotional and behavioral well-being in the school setting. The academic problems were the same no matter the state or the academic subject. They were also consistent across rank, seniority, gender of the deploying parent, and gender of the child.

The report only looked at test scores and researchers noted that there are other "dimensions to academic success and learning not captured in this measure."

Among struggles identified for children of deployed soldiers? Homework completion, school attendance, and the impact of new household chores. School officials said they don't have adequate resources to help these children and their parents access the psychological and behavioral health services they may need to deal with the stresses of deployment.

Among the RAND recommendations? Include additional military resources to help kids with their homework. Increase transportation services to facilitate participation after-school activities. Provide better information to schools on deployments and better education about the military culture to educators and mental health professionals.

Read the report at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1095.html1

Friday, May 6, 2011

Students win Law Day essay contest

Each year, the Observer's editorial department partners with the Mecklenburg Bar Association to sponsor an essay contest in observance of Law Day. The winners this year were Katie Rivers, from Covenant Day School, who received $300 as the winner, and Arjun Gupta from Providence High in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, who was the runner-up and received $100.

This year's theme was "The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston to Guantanamo." The Boston refers to the second president's defense of British soldiers who fired on residents during the Boston Massacre. Guantanamo, of course, refers to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the military facility where terrorist suspects are being detained and where trials will be held. In the spirit and legacy of Adams, U.S. lawyers, including two in Charlotte, have provided defense.

Both Rivers and Gupta made impassioned arguments for Adams' precedent-setting defense. Rivers took note of the contradictions Adams presented. He is also remembered for signing into law as president the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The laws were later repudiated as infringing on citizens rights by among other things making it a crime to criticize the government. But she noted that Adams' defense while a lawyer in 1770 of "the redcoats in the Boston Massacre set the standard for American lawyers to eliminate their personal biases in order to give every accused a speedy and public trial."

Gupta concurred: "With his defense of the British soldiers, John Adams gave us a model example of the rule of law: All are judged upon the same standard."

Congratulations to the winners, and to the dozens of other students who sent in great essays. Try again next year.