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Both Sides Now: Education Reform from the House and Senate

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It didn’t take too long for the Senate Education Committee to favorably recommend [2] Berger’s 2013 Excellent Public Schools Act (SB 361 [3]) last week—and on its heels came an announcement of an opposing bipartisan education reform plan put together by Reps. Holloway, Glazier, Blackwell and Hall.

The Education Improvement Act of 2013 (HB 719) [4] differs from Berger’s vision on teacher tenure, school grading systems, and teacher compensation, among other issues. Rep. Glazier spoke about his education reform plan in a radio interview with NC Policy Watch that you can listen to here [5].

Let’s compare the major parts of the two education reform plans.

Teacher tenure/career status

SB 361: would eliminate teacher tenure, aka “career status” by 2018 and offer teachers one year contracts for the first three years of employment. After three years, teachers become eligible for contracts that could last anywhere from one to four years, at the discretion of the superintendent and local board of education and only if they “demonstrate effectiveness on the teacher evaluation instrument.”

HB 719: using model legislation from Colorado, all tenured teachers start out as non-probationary. If a tenured teacher receives negative evaluations for two years in a row, then that teacher is moved into probationary status and will remain probationary for two additional years with the opportunity to improve performance and move back into career status. If no improvement is made, the teacher is recommended for non-renewal.

School grading system

SB 361: schools receive a grade of A-F that is calculated by student performance on test scores and, for high schools, graduation rates. A separate measure indicating student growth over time would be displayed next to a school’s grade, but not factored into the grade.

HB 719: schools would also receive letter grades, but student growth over time would be factored into the school’s grade.

School improvement teams and plans

SB 361:does not address this issue.

HB 719: amendment of current law is intended to strengthen school improvement teams and plans so that they are more accountable for bringing the school and its students up to agreed upon end goals

Teacher salaries and merit pay

SB 361: does not address these issues.

HB 719: would create a task force to consider alternative compensation systems and other ways to improve teacher compensation and teacher recruitment. The task force would also consider the effectiveness of correlating student outcomes with effective teaching.

Teacher prep/licensure requirements

SB 361: teacher licensure requirements would be amended to include the requirement of continuing education credits that are linked directly to a teacher’s academic subject area and also credits related to literacy. There are also higher standards for teacher preparation programs, although it is unclear how this would be applied to those who pursued teacher preparation programs outside of North Carolina.

HB 719: teacher licensure requirements would be amended to include the requirement of ten continuing education credits that are linked to digital learning and innovative and alternative methods of teaching.

The House proposal would review teacher compensation plans that recruit and retain effective teachers and provide a better salary schedule for educators. It also preserves career status and offers a more moderate plan to dismiss teachers who don’t perform well, allowing them a chance to improve before termination.

Berger’s proposal, which some assail for attacking teachers, places a huge emphasis on getting rid of poor performing educators. It also focuses on grading school performance, which could open the door for students at poor performing schools to jump ship for private or charter institutions. Under Berger’s school grading system, 73 percent of North Carolina high schools would receive a D or F.

Berger did take steps to modify his A-F grading system so that fewer schools in North Carolina would receive a D or F. His modified grading system includes student performance only on reading and math ACT scores, rather than all four ACT subject test scores as was originally the case.

Last Friday, the Department of Public Instruction shared with NC Policy Watch the new numbers resulting from Berger’s modified A-F grading system. Sixty-seven percent of North Carolina high schools would still receive a D or F – not a huge improvement over the 73 percent with the initial grading model. (Click here for the full breakdown [6].)

“The reason there is little change,” said June Atkinson, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction, “is because the grading model continues to factor in student achievement on ACT scores,” she said.

Factoring student performance on tests like the ACT into school grades is puzzling, given that the high school curriculum is not developed around the ACT specifically and students who excel on these tests are often able to take advantage of test preparation coursework outside of school.

Atkinson did express her support for the House plan. “The House bill would more accurately depict the grades of our schools because they will reflect growth,” she said. “If you don’t factor in growth, then you don’t see the true value of what happens in our schools.”

Rodney Ellis, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), is also a supporter of the House plan. “The House bill addresses our major concern, which is the elimination of due process,” said Ellis.

“And at least with the task force, the alternative compensation package that comes out of it will include input from educators. But we need to increase the base salaries to begin with,” explained Ellis.

Edward Pruden, Superintendent of Brunswick County Schools was pleased with the House plan. “It is refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats standing together and sponsoring a sensible middle ground proposal. The House bill takes a more fair approach to reforming teacher tenure and includes a growth component in its formula for grading schools,” Pruden said.

“Without the growth component, schools that serve affluent communities will always rate high, and schools that serve children of poverty will always be graded low, regardless of the improvements they make,” said Pruden.

The House Education Committee will take up HB 719 Tuesday at 10 am in room 643 LOB.