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

    Republican Phil Berger of Eden is president pro tempore of the state Senate.
    http://www.ncleg.net/

    Republican Senate leader Phil Berger made blunt remarks about public school reform at a recent gathering held by Best NC, a business-backed education advocacy group.

    He suggested “scrapping schools of education” and likened investing in teacher assistants to investing in manual typewriters.

    “The stakes are too high to be risk and conflict adverse when it comes to education policy,” he argued.

    Students used a ratings chart to help select their candidates.
    Carolyn Kreuger / Kids Voting Durham

    Durham voters will elect their mayor and city councilors Tuesday, but thousands of Durham kids and teenagers will be holding their own election.

    Last week at Hillside High School in Durham, civics teacher Nicholas Gruber-Grace set aside a few minutes of third period for his students to review the candidates in Durham’s municipal election.

    A group of students, parents and community organizers held a press conference Wednesday to urge Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to provide a more supportive environment for people of color.
    Reema Khrais

    A coalition of students, parents and community organizers is calling on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools to close the achievement gap between minority and white students.

    In a recent report, the group, The Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools, urges school leaders to increase access to gifted education programs, provide a race-conscious curriculum and to require training on implicit bias.

    School officials say they’re listening to community members and have been developing a long-range plan that holds teachers more accountable. 

    The map above shows changes in eighth grade reading scores from 2013 to 2015. North Carolina was one of 13 states that lost ground.
    National Assessment of Educational Progress

    Eighth grade math and reading scores fell in North Carolina, but fourth grade reading scores increased according an assessment known as the Nation's Report Card.

    ASRC members listen to public comment by anti-Common Core activists and parents. The commission was formed at the behest of lawmakers who oppose Common Core.
    Jess Clark

    Wake Ed Partnership, a business-supported education foundation, is urging parents to tell the commission reviewing the state’s K-through-12 academic standards that they want to keep Common Core. 

    Jennifer Schrand was one of several anti-Common Core activists who spoke at the meeting.
    Jess Clark

    A state commission reviewing the Common Core standards heard from a few parents and activists yesterday. Opponents were especially vocal.

    Jennifer Schrand was one of several speakers aligned with anti-Common Core groups. She told the academic standards review commission her fourth-grade daughter struggles with the new math standards, which stress more theoretical understanding.

    Chinese Educators Tour North Carolina Schools

    Oct 16, 2015
    Chinese educators from Xuzhou checked out a middle school art class at DSA.
    Jess Clark

    Principals and administrators from the city of Xuzhou visited Durham School of the Arts (DSA) on Thursday.

    They are the third group of Chinese educators to tour North Carolina schools this year through UNC’s Center for International Understanding (CIU).

    Julie McGaha, K-12 program director for CIU, said the purpose of the visit is to give Chinese leaders in education a more nuanced understanding of American public schools.

    "They can take these things back to their province, to their school," McGaha said.

    Reema Khrais

    This summer, North Carolina senators pushed a plan to cut thousands of teacher assistants. Educators from across the state rallied against the idea, and in the budget compromise unveiled this week, lawmakers decided to keep funding for teacher assistants.

    But there’s a catch, and it’s one that many educators say is problematic.

    Under the budget deal, schools would be required to use money for teacher assistants for only that. Nothing else.

    classroom
    Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

    Almost thirty percent of public schools in North Carolina have received D and F grades, according to data the state released today.

    Most of those D and F schools have high percentages of students who come from poverty. Last year’s scores showed a very similar trend. Democratic leader Larry Hall said he’s not surprised, and that the state needs to invest more in public education.

    Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
    Wikimedia Commons

    For the first time in North Carolina, public school students can take all of their classes online by logging on to their computers at home.

    This summer, the state opened two virtual charter schools, N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy. Both schools have met their enrollment caps of 1,500 students, and families are on wait lists, according to the principals.

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

    Parents and local groups have filed a lawsuit against the Halifax County Board of Commissioners, arguing that it fails to offer every student with the opportunity of a sound, basic education, as required by the state constitution.

    Plaintiffs, which include three parents/guardians, the local NAACP chapter and the Coalition for Education and Economic Security, contend the board should merge the county's three school districts into one system. 

    Glenwood Elementary students
    Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

     A state commission reviewing the Common Core standards is proposing major changes to the Math and English goals.

    The 11-member group presented draft recommendations on Monday that call for a restructuring of high school math, a stronger emphasis on writing and, overall, clearer goals that are more “developmentally appropriate.” 

    A picture of an empty classroom.
    f_a_r_e_w_e_l_l / Flickr

    In Raleigh, Senate lawmakers are proposing a controversial tradeoff.

    They want to cut funding for teacher assistants to hire more teachers and reduce classroom sizes in the early grades. Republicans argue that smaller classes will lead to better student outcomes, even if it’s at the cost of fewer teacher assistants.

    An image of a person typing on a computer
    Public Domain

    In an effort to bridge the digital divide, the Obama administration has selected Durham, as well as 26 other cities and a tribal nation, to help connect more public housing residents to high-speed internet.

    Photo: The state Department of Public Instruction revealed a dramatic drops in student performance on standardized tests.
    sandersonhs.org

    State education leaders are slowly rolling out their ideas on how to reduce high-stakes testing in public schools.

    The State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to conduct a study in the coming school year to examine whether their proposals are doable.

    classroom
    Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

    Local school officials are struggling to make budget decisions without knowing how much money they will receive from the state.

    House and Senate lawmakers passed a temporary spending plan earlier this month to keep the state running until August 14.

    For school officials, that's a tight deadline.

    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.

    Classroom
    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.

    Swartz
    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 Ancestry.com.

    “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.

    Classroom
    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.

    North Carolina legislative building
    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?”

    Classroom
    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.

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