The School Board Watch: School Grades, Common Core and Spending Issues


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Common Core Syndrome

At that same work session, the segment entitled “Curriculum Assessment Presentation” took an unexpected turn. Instead of a presentation on the pros and cons of current curriculum choices, 9 principals and 5 teachers gave a scripted presentation of the testing associated with the common core standards and N.C.’s Read to Achieve program. For some time parents have raised concerns with stress-related illnesses (Common Core Syndrome) due to developmentally inappropriate and confusing testing for young children. Obviously, parent input was not sought for this discussion (no parents in attendance or on the panel), nor were any opposing viewpoints presented by panel members. A positive spin was put on the assessments until Board member Chip Craig asked, “Are we testing too much?” Obviously, Mr. Craig had forgotten about the May 2014 Common Core (CC) panel discussion, which also occurred without parent knowledge or input. I had proposed a resolution addressing concerns with the CC standards and testing in December of 2013; I was asked by the Board Chair to remove the resolution from the agenda because we would have a common core forum. When this didn’t occur in a timely manner, I moved to send the resolution to the state legislature again in April, 2014. My motion failed when Chip Craig, Pat Bryant, Amy Churchill and Ann Franklin opposed it (4-3 vote).

Now the state legislature has appointed a commission to come up with more rigorous, developmentally appropriate standards for our children. Appropriate tests will follow. This panel discussion was too late to be of any effect. Yet Pat Bryant asked the panel, “What can the Board of Education do to help teachers with this problem?” If he wanted to help, why did he vote against sending the resolution proposed in April of 2014 to the Legislature? Thankfully, other school districts and parents didn’t shy away from letting the state know their concerns. Members of last Thursday’s panel suggested smaller class sizes and teacher assistants but the school board majority has consistently approved annual budgets that prioritize capital projects and construction over the classroom. Money from several different funding streams (e.g., Article 39, 40 or 42 sales taxes, county commission or school fund balances totaling over $50 million) could have been directed toward hiring more teachers to reduce class size, increasing teacher assistant hours or hiring more assistants. (As for Read to Achieve, changes have been made to reduce the number of assessments and it continues to be monitored.)

Pay For Performance Plan

In other news, the Board approved a lukewarm pay performance plan (each school district is mandated by the legislature to submit a plan). A $2500 “signing bonus” will be paid for hard to staff areas like math, science and special education. School Improvement Team Chairs for each school will receive $1000. While this is a move in the right direction, it stops short of rewarding excellence in teaching.

More Capital Project Spending

By putting the Discovery Academy STEM high school in the central office (former Square D plant), warehouse space was compromised. Most school districts put STEM academies in existing high schools (eg., Asheville High’s SILSA) to get the most bang for their buck while allowing students to participate in music/arts and sports. Due to Buncombe’s poor choices, the building of a 7600 sq. ft. metal warehouse was approved unanimously by the Board for $619,000. After this, the Board will then go forward with building a gym in the central office for the STEM school students. (NC law requires 1 semester of PE in high school.)

Lisa Baldwin is a past member of The Buncombe County School Board.

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