On Feb. 8, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed House Bill 26, the Education Omnibus, in a 75-42 vote. The bill has passed its first reading in the N.C. Senate and is currently in the Senate rules committee.
The original draft of the bill was submitted by House Republicans on Jan. 26. The bill includes proposed changes to the structure of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, as well as plans to support students' learning after pandemic disruptions.
The first part of H.B. 26 reforms the governance structure of the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, which is an organization that enables teachers to study advanced topics in their field of interest. NCCAT also provides teachers with teaching methods they can use in their classrooms.
UNC professor Ferrel Guillory, a former member of NCCAT’s Board of Trustees, said the bill will have a significant effect on NCCAT’s independence.
H.B. 26 will change the governance structure of NCCAT from a trustees model to being run by the state superintendent and the Department of Public Instruction.
“It diminishes the independence of NCCAT and would make the future of NCCAT more dependent on whoever is elected superintendent of public instruction,” he said.
Rep. Renée Price (D-Caswell, Orange) — who voted against H.B. 26 — said this new NCCAT structure concerns her.
“The superintendent is allowed to designate full authority regarding all aspects of employment contracts, according to personnel policies and procedures, and then the board of trustees advises the superintendent," she said. "That’s really broad power.”
In response to learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, part two of H.B. 26 awards Gooru, a California-based education company that aggregates student data, with a three-year contract "to evaluate and improve student learning and performance."
The $9 million contract was awarded without any official bidding process, which Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said was unconventional.
“It’s not traditional or customary for the state legislature to explicitly award a state agency contract to private companies,” he said.
Buansi also said he was not sure how Gooru was vetted or what the exact process was to select the company.
Despite voting against the bill, Price said she understands the decision.
“My preference would have been to have a better vetting process," Price said. "But, this pandemic has done so much damage already, that we've got to do something now, and hopefully Gooru will be able to jump in and will intervene and help our students.”
School grading study
The final part of H.B. 26 instructs the NCDPI to submit a report to the state legislature on school achievement scores and metrics before Feb. 15, 2024.
The report will include indicators used for evaluating schools' performance, as well as the compliance of those indicators with federal law. It will also include recommendations and suggested legislation for the General Assembly to consider going forward.
Currently, the NCDPI grades schools on an A-F scale. Standardized tests make up 80 percent of the grade while the remaining 20 percent is based on the academic growth of students.
Buansi said these grading systems are inherently unfair. The grading system, he said, stigmatizes high-poverty, low-performing schools — often leading them to be under-resourced.
"I'd love to see a system that is not punitive on those types of schools, but instead is focused on equipping those schools with quality teachers, quality administrators and quality instructional materials,” Buansi said.
Buansi said North Carolina needs education reform to fix school campuses, provide teachers with better pay and provide students with higher-quality learning materials.
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