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New report reveals progress and problems in NC public schools

The annual North Carolina public schools accountability report was released Thursday — prompting discussions about how the education system should move forward. 

The report presents data on the growth, performance and participation of the state’s public schools. It assigned each school a grade of A through F, showing minor improvements in proficiency exams in reading and math and a connection between student poverty and school performance.

Curtis Sonneman, section chief of analysis and reporting at North Carolina Public Schools, said graduation rates continue to go up, the majority of schools are meeting and exceeding growth and there are positive increases in the percent of students proficient in most assessments. 

Of the schools receiving an F- rating on performance and improvement, 98 percent were schools reporting poverty at 50 percent or more of their students. Of the schools that received an A+NG rating — meaning they were a high performing school without a significant achievement gap — 90 percent reported poverty at less than 50 percent of their students.

Fenwick English, an education professor at UNC, said he attributes lack of progress among impoverished schools to poor conditions for teachers. 

"If your pay isn't wonderful, if all the props that made the profession attractive are gone and the students are extremely difficult to teach — why would anyone put up with that if they didn't have to?" he said. 

English said improving teacher conditions is not a quick fix but some things can be done immediately. 

"You can provide better salaries," he said. "You can provide better work stability."

He said he is not optimistic about improving conditions for teachers and that conditions will have to get a lot worse before anything changes. 

"In the current political atmosphere that exists, I don't see whole-scale improvement occurring anytime soon," he said. 

Kermit Buckner, an education policy expert at East Carolina University, said the state is moving in the right direction in accountability and testing, and the difficulty of improving a school hasn't been accurately presented to the public. 

"It's very, very hard to do that work," he said. 

Sonneman said North Carolina shows lower performance on the ACT than other states because it requires all students to take the assessment. 

"In other states, their performance appears to be higher" he said. "But their groups tend to be more targeted toward students who intend to go to college."

Buckner said lack of improvement in education systems is not related to partisanship. 

"I don't want to make it a partisan issue because once you're elected I don't care if you're Democrat, Republican or Independent — your responsibilities under the constitution are the same," he said.

He said he thinks legislatures are making the best decisions they know how to make.

"I think in some cases legislatures make decisions based on priorities that come above education and that causes education to suffer as a result," he said. 


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