- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Jan. 26

Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer on General Assembly’s agenda:

When Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011, lawmakers arriving for opening day were given red rubber bracelets emblazoned with “JOBS-JOBS-JOBS.”

Four years later, as a new session opens Wednesday, the bracelets may be gone but the agenda is the same. Revival of North Carolina’s economy will be a top issue when the legislature goes back to work.



While the Great Recession had ended in 2011, real recovery, at the household level, hadn’t arrived. For many, it still hasn’t. Urban economies are growing stronger, and in the Triangle, boom times are back.

But in Fayetteville, so dependent on declining Defense Department spending, it feels as if we could slide back at any moment. In rural counties, there haven’t been boom times since the mills died.

Gov. Pat McCrory says he has an urgent need for more economic-development funding - especially incentives. He’s right. McCrory is also campaigning to revive tax credits for the film industry and historic-building restoration. Both of those credits bolstered our economy, creating a thriving film industry here and fueling resurrection of crumbling downtowns, including Fayetteville’s. The loss of those programs has brought projects to a standstill and has driven film producers and their money to neighboring states.

There will be efforts once again to get this state into the expanded Medicaid program that will bring health insurance to about half a million more lower-income residents. The expanded federal-state program would be funded entirely by the federal government for the first three years and then at 90 percent. But because the expansion is tied to the Affordable Care Act, many Republicans - especially Senate leader Phil Berger - are deeply opposed. Ideology is trumping the health of state residents and of our hospitals as well, which often must provide free care. It appears the governor is leaning toward expansion. We hope that’s contagious.

Teacher pay will be in the spotlight too, as it should be. Lawmakers provided gains last year, but not nearly enough.

And a local bill to end the spat between Fayetteville and the PWC may be filed, although it’s doubtful it will have broad local support. We still hope lawmakers won’t fiddle with our city charter. The possibility of mischief is too large.

There also will be more tax talk, as we measure the effects of major tax cuts that have cut revenue to a worrisome degree.

And then there will be the surprises - issues and laws we never saw coming.

That’s why we need to watch carefully.

Online:

https://www.newsobserver.com

____

Jan. 27

Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal on groundwater contamination:

It’s troubling that Hanes and Lowrance middle schools sit adjacent to contaminated groundwater in northern Winston-Salem, although Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school officials say that the air quality inside the buildings has not been affected. But what’s really troubling is the fact that the school system wants to put a $15.4-million replacement for Lowrance on top of that contamination.

There will be a meeting tonight at 6 on the Hanes and Lowrance campus for parents with questions on the environmental issue.

The school board should drop the idea of putting the Lowrance replacement in the contaminated area, if it hasn’t already by the time you read this. It can find another site with the county money it is seeking for the replacement. School officials, who emphasize that the two schools are safe, should do more air testing to ensure that. And they should keep the parents of students of both schools, as well as school employees, fully informed on the process.

The plume of underground toxic waste adjacent to Lowrance and Hanes has been flagged as one of the worst hazardous waste sites in the state and contains at least one chemical known to cause cancer, the Journal’s Bertrand M. Gutierrez and Arika Herron reported in Sunday’s Journal. Lowrance, in a 63-year-old building, is the school system’s middle school for special-needs students. Hanes is a magnet school.

The plume, an old chemical dump, stems from a factory that was once across Indiana Avenue from the schools. Kaba Ilco, the manufacturer on the old factory site now, is in charge of the cleanup and has a pump and other measures in place to work toward that end.

The schools are connected to city water, so their drinking water is safe. “But since the contaminants can turn into vapor and seep up from the ground into buildings, it’s the air quality in the schools that raises questions,” the Journal reported.

Most of the air testing in the schools has shown no danger. But as the Journal reporting has shown, it has apparently not been done often enough or extensively enough, given the results of testing on the groundwater contamination that is moving toward the school property. And some parents are questioning why they weren’t informed about the contamination. Craig Dishner, whose two sons attended Hanes from 2009-13, all told, said, “You would think if they were aware of an environmental problem, something of that level of potential danger, they would notify (parents).”

He’s right.

And we don’t know why the system would want to put millions of dollars into putting a new school on the site. Maybe the system could ensure that the school is environmentally safe, but probably only through a costly ventilation system to protect against hazardous vapors.

A new site won’t be free. But nothing is more important than protecting our children. And that also means more testing to ensure that the current schools are safe.

Online:

https://www.journalnow.com

____

Jan. 25

News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on the grading system:

In a couple of weeks, some Guilford County schools will be wearing a big, fat F. The state will give them that grade based on last spring’s end-of-course and end-of-grade tests.

While it’s simple and attention-grabbing to grade a school with an A, B, C, D or F, it’s also misleading. So Guilford County Schools leaders and other educators around the state don’t like it.

They have a point. State assessments and accountability measures are constantly changing. Students who are deemed to be at grade level one year find themselves below grade level the next year, or the other way around, even if they’re doing just as well - or poorly. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning questioned state education leaders last week about “academic double-speak” when it comes to reporting student progress. He relented a little when he learned standards had been raised, but his skepticism probably reflects the public’s confusion. These A-F school performance grades won’t help.

Specific complaints focus on how they’re calculated. In grades K-8, everything depends on the outcome of the standardized tests. Raw scores count for 80 percent of the grade, while annual progress - how much students gain during a school year - counts for just 20 percent.

This means a school whose students come from advantaged families - living in comfortable homes with two well-educated parents - will almost automatically have higher scores than a school with disadvantaged children. The teachers in the second school might be miracle-workers, raising their students’ achievement level beyond expectations, but the school may still get a low grade. So annual growth should be weighted more heavily on the report card. It’s more important where children end up than where they start.

High schools are graded on more criteria - not just end-of-course test results but graduation rates, ACT scores and academic “rigor,” measured by how many students pass Math III. Letter grades generally will be better and likely more representative, although they still won’t account for students with special needs or other unique circumstances that create different challenges for different schools.

This year, a school grade of 85 and up will earn an A. Next year, it will require 90 points to get an A. Who knows about the year after that? This system is supposed to tell the public at a glance how well a school performs, but it doesn’t say what an A or an F really means or shed light on what happens inside the classrooms.

Schools ought to be evaluated, but assessments should be based on comprehensive criteria that make allowances for the challenges each school faces. Furthermore, schools should be given the tools to earn good grades. After years of funding cuts, Guilford County Schools can no longer provide the smaller classes and extra funding it once did for struggling schools, according to Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green: “We’re moving away from the very things that we know make a difference for our children.”

It may be the politicians who created these circumstances and devised this grading system who deserve a big, fat F.

Online:

https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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