Education Reform Bill (S795) Update, 19 June, 2012
A modified form of the Education Reform Bill (S795) sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) made its debut in the House Education Committee yesterday, but no votes were taken on it as it was being presented for discussion only. The changes made by the bill’s House sponsors, Representatives Linda Johnson (R-Cabarras) and Paul Stam (R-Wake) have no direct impact on charter schools and are summarized below. The most important elements of the bill from the charter perspective remain the new K-3 literacy program, additional money to pay for the five instructional days that were added last year to the school calendar, and a change in licensure requirements for K-8 teachers.
The literacy program remains largely as I described it last week. Upon entering kindergarten, all students must be administered a set of state-developed tests to determine each child’s readiness for school. Students who don’t pass the third grade literacy test by the end of third grade must be given remedial instruction, and will not progress to the fourth grade until they test at grade level. You may have seen reference to this part of the bill in news stories about ending ‘social promotion.’
The bill specifies a range of remedial steps that most public schools are required to take, including summer reading camps taught by certified, compensated reading teachers, to bring rising fourth graders up to grade level. But charter schools are given more flexibility to choose the programs and techniques they will use to ensure that all fourth grade students can read.
Senator Berger explained to the committee that the section on licensure establishes minimum PRAXIS scores that would-be K-6 teachers will have to make to earn a clear license. It also institutes a new requirement that North Carolina colleges and universities with K-8 teacher preparation programs include courses on teaching literacy as part of their curriculum.
The version of the bill that passed the Senate had a section establishing a new ‘grading system’ for North Carolina public schools giving each public school a grade from A to F, based on student scores on end-of-grade tests. This would have replaced the current system which used terms like “schools of excellence” and “schools of progress” that critics charge are sometimes misleading and poorly understood by parents. That section of the bill was taken out before the bill was presented to the committee.
Also dropped from the bill were sections making adjustments to the calendar, setting limits on the number of days that could be taken up by testing, prohibiting teachers from being paid in advance, and directing LEAs to establish ‘performance pay’ plans. Some of these issues have been or will be taken up in other legislation.
It’s not clear whether the bill will make it to the House floor for a vote this session at all. Several House members who spoke on the bill during the committee hearing expressed concerns about instituting what they described as major changes to the state’s education system on such short notice, and there is little time left before the General Assembly expects to adjourn. To get around those concerns, legislative leaders may decide to incorporate all or parts of the bill into the budget bill that must pass in the next week or so. I will keep you posted.