American Graduate Series

WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. 

These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders:

      Project Funders:

    • GlaxoSmithKline
    • The Goodnight Educational Foundation
    • Joseph M. Bryan Foundation 
    • State Farm
    • The Grable Foundation
    • Farrington Foundation

    More education stories from WUNC

    UNC-Chapel Hill senior Jailen Wallis (center) loves the idea of teaching, but the pay and the working conditions loomed too large as drawbacks to the profession.
    Courtesy of Jailen Wallis

     UNC-Chapel Hill senior Jailen Wallis has always been tempted to become a high school English teacher.

    Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

    About one out of ten black students in Wake County’s Public Schools were suspended last school year, according to an annual report presented to Wake County School Board members on Tuesday.

    Black students accounted for 63 percent of Wake’s total suspensions, while making up about of fourth of the overall population. Black students also made up 59 percent of Wake’s individual suspensions.

    The North Carolina Supreme Court will likely have an opinion on teacher tenure within six months.
    Jess Clark

    The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the state's fight to get rid of teacher tenure.

    The State Board of Education wants to get rid of Standard VI, a piece of teacher evaluations some say is too punitive.

    Standard VI requires teachers to meet expected student growth on state standardized tests. If they don’t, principals have to take action against them. That action can range from placement on an improvement plan to dismissal.

    Image of June Atkinson, who has been the North Carolina state superintendent since 2005.
    North Carolina Democratic Party

    Senate Leader Phil Berger is criticizing the Department of Public Instruction for a budget it proposed in January. Documents show the department wanted to use about $2 million meant for a literacy program to fund positions the department axed to meet state-mandated budget cuts.

    Wanda McLemore teaches a transitional fourth grade class at Falkener Elementary. The first half of her class is whole-group instruction.
    Jess Clark

    Forty percent of the state’s third-graders tested below grade level in reading last school year. Those are levels of achievement many parents and legislators say are unacceptable.

    The state has been trying to boost reading scores for the last two years with a law called Read to Achieve. But is it getting schools what they need to improve scores?

    classroom
    David Schott / Flickr Creative Commons

    Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow charter school organizations and charter management companies to take over the state's lowest performing schools.

    Reema Khrais

    In Durham’s Central Park School for Children, classrooms look and feel different than they did just a few years ago. Frankly, the charter school is not as upper-middle class or white as it used to be.

    “There’s a greater diversity of viewpoints, there’s a greater diversity of perspectives,” Director John Heffernan explains.

    Teacher pay increases may be a possibility in the upcoming legislative session, according to Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), who chairs the House committee on education spending.

    children reading
    U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

    Guilford County Schools says it needs more resources and teacher training to boost reading scores.

    DeShannon Korrea and Dwayne Taylor head home, lottery tickets in-hand, from the BP on Lakewood in Durham.
    Jess Clark

    At Saturday night's Powerball drawing, one very lucky ticketholder could win more than $900 million—the largest lottery jackpot in the nation's history. Ticket sales from Powerball and other lottery games offered in North Carolina are billed as a benefit for the state’s schools. Sales in 2015 were almost $2 billion, and about a quarter of that went to fund public education in the state. But what does that really mean for school funding?

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

    The State Board of Education has approved a policy that allows struggling charter schools to stay open if they are less than five years old.

    As part of the 2013-14 state budget, the State Board of Education is required to study virtual charter schools and propose draft rules.
    Ian Usher via Flickr

      UPDATED Jan. 11, 2016

    Twenty percent of students who enrolled in the state's first virtual charter schools left before the end of the semester, according to a report from the state department of public instruction.

    State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine says she wants to find out why so many students are pulling out.

    Lt. Governor Dan Forest has asked the State Board of Education to delay the approval of an annual report on charter schools because he says he thinks the report is too negative.

    The state board planned to approve the report this week in order to send it to the General Assembly before a January deadline.

    Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

    The State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday this week, and charter schools occupy much of the agenda.

    According to the U.S. Department of Education, data from a few years ago show that about a fourth of NC teachers work a part-time job.
    Flickr user Mike Mozart

    In the popular teenage movie Mean Girls, there’s a scene where a few high school students spot someone unexpected at the mall.

    “Oh my god, that’s Mrs. Norbury,” one student exclaims.  

    “I love seeing teachers outside of school, it’s like seeing a dog walk on its hinds legs,” a second student adds.   

    It’s their math teacher, played by Tina Fey. But she’s not shopping.

    “No, actually I’m just here because I bar-tend a couple of nights a week,” she says.

    Taking On A Retail Job

    Sen. Jerry Tillman addresses the Academic Standards Review Commission before their vote on final recommendations.
    Jess Clark

    The state commission charged with reviewing the Common Core voted yesterday on its final recommended changes to the state’s academic standards. But the final suggestions may be not be satisfactory to Common Core opponents in the legislature who want a total rewrite.

    The North Carolina Association of Educators is endorsed Democratic candidate Roy Cooper for governor in early December.
    Jess Clark

    UPDATED Dec. 15, 2015

    The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is the state's largest teachers' group, but Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Madison) is concerned it's not large enough to be eligible for the state to collect dues for the group out of its members' pay checks.

    10-year-old Tiylar Friday
    Reema Khrais / WUNC

    Tiylar Friday is a long-time reader.

    "Ever since I was, I think, five," he says.

    Today, he's 10. And he's got a lot of books.

    "Sometimes I wouldn't like to read a book, but after I get in the middle of it, I just want to keep going cause I’m curious about what would happen next."

    When Tiylar was in the third grade at his school in Greensboro, he and his peers were tested for gifted classes.

    The North Carolina Association of Educators is endorsed Democratic candidate Roy Cooper for governor in early December.
    Jess Clark

     UPDATED Dec. 10, 2015

    The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is endorsing Attorney General Roy Cooper for governor.

    Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said the report shows investing in Wake schools has economic benefits for the county.
    Jess Clark

    Investment in Wake County schools is increasing property values, job growth and spending according to a study out of N.C. State. Wake schools and a local nonprofit called Wake Ed Partnership commissioned N.C. State researcher Mike Walden to conduct the study.

    George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.
    Wikipedia Creative Commons

    Congress might be close to an overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the North Carolina State Board of Education is preparing for the reboot.

    Fayetteville math teacher Kenneth Williams creates a life-sized right triangle in his classroom.
    Jess Clark

    Since the Common Core was implemented three years ago, high school math has been taught in a new way. Instead of taking algebra, geometry and statistics in separate semesters, students now learn parts of those subjects in every math class. But the shift to an "integrated standard" has caused challenges for teachers, students and parents.

    History teacher Karla Albertson goes over civil rights cases with her students at Louisburg High School in Franklin County.
    Reema Khrais

    Over the last couple of decades, many of North Carolina’s public schools have become increasingly segregated. But in Franklin County, it’s a different story.

    The district stands out as having some of the most racially balanced schools in the state—a bright spot in a system working to overcome several challenges.

    school bus
    Reema Khrais

    Franklin County Public Schools are one of a handful of districts in the state bound by court desegregation orders. The federal orders are what helps keeps the schools among the most racially balanced in the state at a time when many districts are re-segregating.

    The Durham County Board of Education passed a resolution demanding the legislature repeal the A-F grading system.
    Jess Clark

    UPDATED Dec. 4, 2015

    Friday was the deadline for schools and districts labeled low-performing to submit their improvement plans. State law has designated 581 schools as low-performing based on student test scores. But some districts are speaking out against the A-F school grading system and lawmakers’ moves to toughen it.

    A group of student protesters interrupted a UNC town hall meeting about race and inclusion to present their demands.
    Reema Khrais

    A town hall about race and inclusion on UNC’s campus Thursday drew loud protests and candid reflections from students. The discussion comes on the heels of several campus protests across the country related to racial issues.


    classroom
    Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

    A coalition of community members has filed a federal complaint accusing the Harnett County school board of perpetuating racial inequalities within its school system.

    Litigation, legal, gavel
    Joe Gratz / Flickr Creative Commons

    Thirty-four North Carolina school districts are suing the state for more than $46 million they say should have gone to fund public schools.

    The funds in question are penalties the state collects from drivers for taking unsafe vehicles on the road. Since the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011, the state has been funneling $50 penalties for "improper equipment" to county jails to pay to house people convicted of minor crimes.

    school bus
    wikimedia commons

    State School Board Chairman Bill Cobey and State Superintendent June Atkinson are exploring using a new authority that allows the board to merge adjacent county school districts.

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