The first edition of NCED updates for 2020 includes an update on the battle over the state’s reading assessment tool, Istation, as well as several national headlines and school choice stories of note.
#1 – The Istation Battle Continues
The battle continues over the selection and implementation of the Istation reading assessment tool for North Carolina elementary students.
In December, the Dept. of Information Technology (DIT) held a hearing and DIT officer Jonathan Shaw’s ruling sided with Amplify’s request for a stay, which effectively put the Istation contract into limbo.
Supt. Johnson shot back almost immediately, stating in a press release that “Jonathan Shaw of NC DIT can point to nothing to back up clear factual errors he made today in his ruling.”
“Shaw and DIT have not in any way, shape, or form followed the legal standard of review for ordering a stay,” said Johnson. “The stay they put in place in August was inappropriate based on the simple fact alone that they never even gave DPI or other parties the chance to respond.”
After DIT’s ruling Istation made an agreement with NC DPI to let the state use the tool for free, but that agreement ended December 31. NC DPI was then left in the position of waiting until the hearing to see if the contract would be allowed to continue and Johnson filed a petition with the courts to settle the matter.
But nothing was settled.
On January 7, in a court hearing, the judge assigned punted it back to DIT. Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally said that she was “not convinced that I have jurisdiction in this matter.”
“Today, a superior court said it shouldn’t consider the concerns raised by the handling of this protest until after NC DIT’s final decision. Now, with both the courts and our schools held up, we are exploring other options to ensure that students, teachers, and parents continue to have access to a reading diagnostic tool this year,” said Supt. Johnson.
On Dec. 8, Supt. Johnson sent an email to all employees notifying them they should continue the use of Istation. NC DPI had made an “emergency purchase” of $928,570 in order for schools to continue conducting reading assessments using Istation.
Johnson is well within his rights in terms of authority of his job role and that of state procurement rules.
Following the emergency purchase, members of the State Board of Education were angry with Johnson for not informing them or sending them a copy of the emergency contract despite the fact the state board had no role in the purchase to begin with.
Johnson’s first year as Supt. was spent in a legal battle the State Board of Education over his job roles and authority. Johnson won.
It’s worth remembering that the State Board of Education was silent when former Supt. Atkinson entered into a no-bid multi-year contract worth millions with the previous vendor, Amplify.
Not unrelated is the fact that since the state began using Common Core, elementary and reading proficiency for elementary students has largely stagnated and in some cases has declined. Neither Read to Achieve nor the Amplify products have improved outcomes.
#2 – Read To Achieve
Supt. Johnson is also battling with legislative leaders when earlier this month Johnson said in a memo presented to the State Board of Education that roughly 70,000 third-graders were promoted to the fourth grade without meeting the requirements of Read to Achieve.
“Read to Achieve specifically directed the State Board of Education to end social promotion of 3rd graders – promoting students from one grade level to the next on the basis of age rather than academic ability,” Johnson’s memo states. “Sadly, the State Board’s policy aggressively avoided that directive.”
Johnson pointed to problems in the crafting and the implementation of Read to Achieve that occurred under his predecessor, June Atkinson, and he also took aim the Board of Education.
“The unelected State Board of Education members will face no accountability,” Johnson wrote. “The DPI employee who crafted this policy left DPI early in my tenure, apparently not caring for my system of greater transparency and accountability.”
Read to Achieve is Sen. Phil Berger’s legislation. According to an article by Carolina Journal, Berger’s office has questions, the main one being how possible artificial promotion of students may have impacted the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
“If fourth-graders took the standardized reading exam without being able to read because they were improperly promoted from third grade, then it stands to reason that North Carolina’s scores are artificially low,” Berger spokesman Pat Ryan told Carolina Journal.
Below are the documents on Read to Achieve presented at the State Board of Education’s Jan 8-9 meetings by Supt. Johnson:
- 0120_Dec 2018 RtA annual report_01062020.pdf
- 0120_SLA 2_RtA_MMorris_01062020.pdf
- 0120_SLA 2_RtA Steps_Attach 2.pdf
- 0120_SLA 2_RtA Parent Letter_Attach 3.pdf
- 0120_SLA 2_SuptJohnson_Memo_Attach 4_01062020.pdf
- 0120_SuptJohnson_RtA Retention Statute Slide_Attach 5
- 0120_SuptJohnson_EPSA Timeline_Attach 6
- 0120_SuptJohnson_RtA Retention Backup Docs_Attach 7
#3 – School Choice News
- Legacy Preparatory Academy in E. Charlotte closes abruptly. (Note: major investor did not come through with funds needed for the school to complete through June.)
- Revolutionary Academy applies for $19M loan for “Educational Facilities Revenue Bonds.”
- Asheville Charter would target minority and underprivileged kids (Note: Asheville schools are 70% white)
- Baker Mitchell: Why do Charter schools keep growing?
- Terry Stoops: NC school choice and its support continue to grow
- “Charter school facility investments funded outside of the county tax base is conservatively estimated at over $1 billion.”
- “According to the second-month Average Daily Membership (ADM) figures certified in November 2019, 116,316 students are now being served by charter schools. This represents 7.6% of the total public school population (1,526,144).”
- “In 2018-2019, charter school average daily membership (ADM) accounted for 7.2% of the state’s total ADM. Of the $9.44 billion in state funding for public education, 7.1 (or $674,314,240) was allotted to charter schools.”
- “In a survey of the state’s charter high schools, an estimated $122 million dollars in scholarships were awarded to the graduating class of 2019. The number of reported graduates in the 88 charter high schools returning the survey was 3,432. That averages to $35,548 per graduate.”
- “In the 2018-19 school year, charter schools enrolled 11,455 students with disabilities, which represented 10.34% of the total charter school enrollment at that time. During the same period, 12 district schools enrolled 176,837 students with disabilities, which represented 12.53% of total district school enrollment (not including enrollment at DOJ, NC HHS, and NC DJJ schools).”
- “As of November 2019, charter schools enrolled 22,069 economically disadvantaged students, which represents 18.8% of total charter school enrollment.”
- A federal grant likely spurred 21 schools in 2019 to request permission to use a weighted lottery system to enroll more minority students versus six the prior year.
- “As of November 2019, 98 charter schools (50% of all charter schools in the state) indicated that they provide bus transportation for students.”
- “As of November 2019, 61 charter schools (31% of all charter schools) are participants in the National School Lunch Program, and the remainder have alternative plans to provide lunch.”
- Data seems to suggest the longer a charter is open, the better students perform academically. (See Figure E on Pg. 28)
Finally, the majority of North Carolina counties have some level of charter school enrollment. Only 20 counties fall into the 0-.9% enrollment category below denoted in white.