American Graduate

Reema Khrais / WUNC

In North Carolina classrooms today, students are dealing with far fewer textbooks. Over the last seven years, state money for books has dropped drastically. Those changes come as more classrooms become more digital friendly – a transition that won’t be cheap, or easy.

Photo: An Interstate in North Carolina
Jimmy Emmerson / Flickr

North Carolina teenagers would no longer be required to take driver’s education under the Senate’s budget proposal.

That means they would no longer have to sit in class for 30 hours, or spend a few days behind the wheel with an instructor.

In its place, Republican senators want them to score at least 85 percent of the questions correctly on a written test (instead of the current 80 percent), and spend 85 hours driving with a parent or qualified adult (instead of 60) before getting a license.

NC General Assembly; State Legislature.
Dave Crosby / Flickr Share-Alike

The North Carolina Senate gave preliminary approval on Wednesday afternoon to a two-year budget that would cut funding for thousands of public school teaching assistant positions, and would make significant policy changes to the state's tax code and Medicaid program.

The proposed $21.5 billion budget, which represents an almost 2 percent increase from the current year and was approved by Republicans along a party-line vote of 30-19, is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday.

WUNC File Photo

The state commission charged with reviewing and proposing changes to the Common Core standards heard from a handful of parents on Monday. Many of them already attend the group’s meetings regularly and strongly oppose the Math and English goals.

The group, which first met in September, has been working on collecting feedback from stakeholders through surveys and now public meetings.

“It’s so critical for us to be not only transparent, but inclusive,” said co-chair Andre Peek.

LA Johnson/NPR

North Carolina’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at about 83 percent. State education leaders credit several reasons: early college high school, career counseling, credit recovery programs–just to list a few.

NPR Ed recently partnered with several member stations, including WUNC, to dig into why graduation rates have been climbing. The answer isn’t an easy one – many schools use thoughtful, long-term strategies, while others rely more heavily on alternate, and often easier, routes for struggling students.  

multiple choice test
Alberto G. / Flickr Creative Commons

Testing season is wrapping up for many public school students in North Carolina. They’ve spent hours bubbling in answer sheets, proving to teachers what they’ve learned.

But end-of-year exams only represent a handful of the dozens of tests students take throughout a school year. The assessments are part of a testing regimen that education leaders are trying to rethink.

Since at least the early 1990s, education critics, parents and students have questioned whether there are too many standardized tests.

21-year-old Camirra Wilson graduated from N.C. State University this month. She was one of about 500 students across the state who were part of the last N.C. Teaching Fellows class.
Reema Khrais

This month, thousands of college students are walking across graduation stages and receiving their diplomas. Among them is a small group of 500 students across several campuses called North Carolina Teaching Fellows.

They’re the last of their kind to graduate – the state began dismantling the scholarship program in 2011. While the program has a 30-year-old legacy of recruiting teachers, filling classrooms remains to be a challenge that plagues the state today.

An Instagram photo posted by a teenager was the reason dozens of people showed up to Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meeting.

The photo, which has made several headlines, features two girls waving North Carolina regiment flags at a school field trip to Gettysburg. Many say the photo has been interpreted out of context, but for others it speaks to larger issues of racial insensitivity and inequality in the school system and community.

A screen shot, shown above, shows the post and comments before they were taken down.

Reema Khrais

At the back of the library, Erik Swartz, a soft-spoken 14-year-old with shaggy hair, flips through papers. They’re rosters he found on

“It’s basically the document from the Japanese internment camp from rural Arkansas,” he says.

He scans the document, pointing to several names.

“Francis, my great-grandmother… Jane, one of my great-aunts,” he reads.

WUNC File Photo

North Carolina lawmakers passed several education-related bills on Wednesday, just hours before their legislative “crossover” deadline. Most bills that do not involve money must pass either chamber by Thursday at midnight to have a greater chance of surviving the session. Education bills passed by either chamber include:  

Greater Penalty For Assaulting Teachers

a teacher in a classroom
Bart Everson / Flickr/Creative Commons

A Senate committee approved a plan on Wednesday that would keep school employees from taking part in political activity during work hours.

Senate Bill 480 would prohibit school employees from campaigning for office while they're on the job or using any work resources, like telephones or computers, for political reasons.

Bill sponsors say state employees already follow similar rules, and that the measure is intended to mirror them. Currently, North Carolina’s 115 school districts abide by different rules for its employees.

N.C. General Assembly, State Legislature
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

State Representatives approved or considered bills on Tuesday that would address sexual assault on college campuses, as well as study the possibilities of giving college students fixed tuition and K-12 students competency exams. Representatives defeated a bill that could've given pay to college football and basketball players.

Addressing Sexual Assault On Campus  

Eighth-grade students Yasmine Boufedji, Angelycia Bogart, Dunya Alkaissi, and Nassir Jordan.
Reema Khrais

As principal Mussarut Jabeen makes her way to the playground, two very young girls run to her, pleading for undivided attention. The first shows off a temporary henna tattoo.

“Oh look at your henna, it’s so pretty,” exclaims Jabeen, principal of Al-Iman, a private Islamic school in Raleigh.

The other girl has just fallen and scraped herself.

“Oh, my little,” Jabeen says. “How about we wash it?”

WUNC File Photo

Despite concerns of overcriminalization, a Senate committee on Wednesday gave the first nod to a bill that would make it a felony offense for older students to assault school employees.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said the provision would protect school personnel who faced more than 1,300 assaults in the last school year, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

“It needs some serious attention to highlight that this is a problem and you will get more than a slap on a hand if this occurs,” said Tillman.

students with laptops in classroom
Enokson / Flickr/Creative Commons

Some North Carolina lawmakers are trying to pass a bill they say will help ease the burdensome paperwork teachers face. They want to get rid of “personal education plans," documents teachers are required to fill out to help students who are at-risk of failing.  

Many teachers and advocates see them as inefficient, raising questions about how to adequately support struggling students.

Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

State leaders in charge of recommending changes to the Common Core standards heard on Monday from two national critics who suggested a complete rewrite of the Math and English Language Arts goals.

Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram both served on the Common Core Validation Committee from 2009-10 and refused to sign off on them as being “rigorous, internationally competitive or research-based.” They were among five of the 29 committee members who didn’t approve them.

Wren in Durham admires a snowman she and some neighbors made.
Catherine Brand

Wake County public school leaders say don't intend to change their decision to use spring break for snow makeup days, despite rising concerns from families and teachers.

Officials are assuring students and teachers that schools will do their best to make sure they aren’t penalized if they can’t attend those days.

An online petition has garnered more than 7,700 signatures, urging Wake County school leaders to “bring back spring break.” Many of the comments explain that they've already paid for their vacations and can’t get refunds.

Millbrook High School A. P. Human Geography teacher Mark Grow at work
Reema Khrais, WUNC

Many North Carolina students have been in class for only two days in the last two weeks because of the icy weather. But that doesn’t mean some of them haven’t been learning, or that teachers have stopped teaching.

On Friday morning at Millbrook High School in Wake County, Mark Grow carefully sidestepped an icy pathway where someone was shoveling.

“It’s been pretty slippery trying to get in and out of the building,” he said as he walked inside a school pod.

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday morning on a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s private school voucher program.

The status of private school vouchers in North Carolina has been in flux ever since two lawsuits were filed in December 2013 that seek to end the vouchers, or Opportunity Scholarships. The North Carolina Association of Educators and the NC Justice Center filed a suit on behalf of 25 plaintiffs, while the NC School Boards Association filed a second lawsuit.

Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday we reported that state education officials were expected to vote on whether to approve two virtual charter schools to open next fall.

The schools would serve up to 3,000 students who would take all of their classes at home and interact with students and teachers online. Supporters have argued that it would help students who don’t thrive in traditional settings – especially those dealing with health issues, athletic schedules, or bullying.

teacher with protest sign
Sarah-Jl / Flickr/Creative Commons

North Carolina's Republican lawmakers are trying once more to prevent employees’ associations from collecting their members’ dues via payroll deductions.

a teacher in a classroom
Bart Everson / Flickr/Creative Commons

When North Carolina charter schools were first imagined in the mid 1990s, there were two big dreams: The first was to create something different, a sort of hotbed of innovation. The second was to take all of that new thinking – at least the stuff that worked – and share it with traditional public schools.

“But the second half of that never occurred,” said Jim Merrill, superintendent of Wake County Public Schools.

stack of money
Flickr user 401(K)2013

A failed charter school in Lenoir County mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the state auditor’s office.

Kinston Charter Academy received more than $600,000 of state money two months before it closed, even though it had received several citations for fiscal mismanagement over the years.

The audit says the funds were inappropriately used to cover expenses from the previous year, instead of going toward other public schools that students transferred to after Kinston closed.

Kindergarten teacher Daly Romero Espinal teaches her students basic Spanish commands on the first day of school at Martin Millennium Academy.
Reema Khrais

 Fewer North Carolina students are enrolling in teaching programs, a problem education leaders say they are trying to tackle by strengthening recruitment, improving teacher preparation and supporting pay increases.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students declaring education majors dropped by 12 percent between 2013 and 2014. It’s a statistic education officials repeated and mulled over during Tuesday’s UNC Board of Governors Education Summit held by the SAS Institute.

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

A North Carolina superior court judge will hold a hearing Wednesday on whether the state is providing every student with the opportunity for an adequate education.

Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. is in charge of making sure the state hasn't forgotten about the Leandro case,  a decades-old landmark lawsuit that says all children - regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds - deserve a 'sound, basic education.'