North Carolina's education system got some praise while the Wake County schools system got a warning from the number two man at the U.S. Department of Education.
As noted in today's article, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller was in Raleigh Thursday for an education roundtable discussion at William Peace University. The roundtable discussion was closed to the media, but in an interview beforehand Miller said he was here to recognize North Carolina's education accomplishments.
Miller cited how the state is increasing its high school graduation rate, developed an alternative method for assessing student performance under the federal No Child Left Behind program and has slowed college tuition growth.
“We still as a country and a state are not where we need to be, but I think we need to celebrate and recognize the leadership and courage where it’s making a difference,” Miller said.
But not enough of an educational difference is being made in North Carolina’s education system, according to Wake school board member John Tedesco.
“We still have large pockets of failure in North Carolina where many of our children are not being well served,” said Tedesco, a candidate in Tuesday’s Republican Party runoff for state schools superintendent.
Miller was here while Wake is facing multiple probes from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
Miller didn’t directly comment on what the Wake school board has done so far this year, such as asking staff to develop a new student assignment plan for the 2013-14 school year that includes a diversity component.
But Miller talked about the importance of diversity. While it's not typical for officials like him or Education Secretary Arne Duncan to talk about individual districts, he said it happens when commenting on a local issue helps highlight key issues that they think are relevant.
“When you get to the dynamics then of diversity here locally, we think embracing that diversity and using it to the advantage of developing 21st Century skills is in the best interests of students,” Miller said. “How that plays out with specific policy really is not the best interest of the federal government to opine on, but we are going to be looking at what’s the impact on kids and how prepared are they going to be.”
Tedesco said what federal investigators should see is how in the last few years Wake has increased its graduation rate, narrowed the achievement gap and reduced the number of suspensions.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Tedesco said.
Miller also gave some advice on how school leaders in Wake should act when it comes to not being partisan on education issues.
"There's a lot of dynamics going on in Wake County," Miller said. "At its core, at least at where we understand it from afar, our view is this is about the needs of students. In essence, how are we going to provide the best education for all students at a time when you see changing growth and demographic patterns going on across the country? So what's happening locally, you've got the school board, the school leadership and the community grappling with what are the set of solutions to meet that need.
Often what happens you can get ideology and individual views. It can shift to be more about adult interests than kids interests. Our view is it should be about the kids interests first and foremost. That's our view in Washington.
If you talk to our folks in the Hill, they'd say Secretary Duncan and this Administration on education policy is not a bunch of ideologues. We are much more practical and we will reach out to the left and to the right because we see education as not being a partisan issue. It is about kids so I would just hope and implore folks here to do the same thing.
You've got to get the right capacity for the kids and you've got to ensure - which we are concerned about - that all kids have access to a quality education and frankly we think it's in the country's best interests to make sure all kids are developing the kinds of skills that they are going to need to be successful in the 21st Century."
"I do think it should be non-partisan," said Wake school board member Chris Malone. "But I think it's funny that it's the Republicans who stand up for choice and it's the Democrats who stand up for bureaucracy."
Malone said it wasn't until there was a Republican board majority that the Obama Administration decided to launch a civil rights investigation of Wake.
"They say that they’re non-partisan if you agree with them,” Malone said. “But if you don’t then they say you’re partisan.”