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

    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.'

    multiple choice test
    Alberto G. / Flickr Creative Commons

    Education leaders are considering drastically cutting the number of standardized tests for public school students.

    Members of a state task force charged with studying how often students are tested have drafted a proposal that would eliminate almost all end-of-grade tests and end-of-course tests.

    “Right now, we know that too much weight is put on end-of-grade tests and end-of-course tests,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor, who’s on the task force.

    WUNC File Photo

    All North Carolina high school students will be graded on a 10-point scale starting next school year, a change State Board of Education members approved Thursday. 

    That means students will earn A’s if they score between 90 and 100. Currently, they’re graded on a 7-point scale.

    State officials had previously decided in October to phase in the new 10-point scale with next year’s freshmen class. But Rebecca Garland, Deputy State Superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction, said that decision upset parents, students, teachers and superintendents.

    high school students
    Vancouver Film School via Flickr/Creative Commons

    Wake County School leaders hope to spend millions over the next few years to help support their high-poverty schools.

    Officials identified 12 “high-needs” elementary schools earlier this year that will receive extra resources like professional development and more pay for teachers.

    “One immediate need that we saw in a lot of the schools had to do with vacancies,” said Cathy Moore, Wake's deputy superintendent for school performance, at a recent school board meeting. 

    Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
    Wikimedia Commons

    The state is closer to opening two virtual charter schools. A special committee on Wednesday cleared two applications of proposed charter schools that would be operated by for-profit companies.

    North Carolina Virtual Academy would be managed by K12 Inc., which has had student performance problems in other states, while N.C. Connections Academy would be affiliated with Connections Education.

    On Wednesday, the state committee took turns firing off questions to the two eager applicants.

    There was the biggest and most obvious question:

    Interstate 40 traffic
    Dave DeWitt

    Wake County school leaders said Thursday that the state’s decision to eliminate funding for driver’s education could put students at risk and lead to higher costs for families and taxpayers.

    This summer, state lawmakers passed legislation to eliminate the $26 million school districts now receive to fund the program. That means starting next July, when the new fiscal year begins, districts will have to find other means to cover program costs.

    students with laptops in classroom
    Enokson / Flickr/Creative Commons

    Members of a state commission have identified their top priorities for revising the Common Core academic standards used for North Carolina’s public school students.  

    At a meeting Monday, they said they want to focus on increasing flexibility for teachers and school districts, rewriting the standards so they’re clear and understandable, and identifying standards that are developmentally inappropriate.

    Melissa Hayden teaches her AP U.S. History class in Pittsboro, North Carolina at Northwood High School.
    Reema Khrais

    At a high school in Chatham County, Melissa Hayden reminds her students about tomorrow’s big history test. They’re learning about the populism movement and western expansion.

    But before they delve into those lessons, Hayden begins class with something she read in the news.

    “Let’s see, this is an article that I printed off in Newsweek last night,” says Hayden, an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Northwood High School.  

    House Under Construction
    Dave DeWitt / WUNC

     Members of the Cary Town Council are calling on county officials to help address the issue of overcrowding in Wake County public schools.

    Earlier this month, the council tabled a request to rezone about 58 acres in west Cary that would have created 130 new homes.

    Some members say they don’t feel comfortable moving forward with the plan just yet – at least not while many of the nearby schools are at or above capacity.

    iPad with a notebook next to it
    Sean MacEntee / Flickr/Creative Commons

    Thirteen public schools in Wake County will soon be asking students to bring their tablets, smartphones, iPads and laptops to class.

    The elementary, middle and high schools are participating in a pilot program called BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, that will be rolled out over the next couple of months.

    Fayetteville teacher assistant Grace King works with first graders on sight words.
    Reema Khrais

    Public school districts throughout the state have fewer teacher assistants in the classrooms this academic year than the previous year, despite assurances from lawmakers that the state budget would not lead to TA reductions.  

    Since the 2008-09 recession, state funding for TAs has been reduced by more than 20 percent, leading to thousands of cuts.

    In Cumberland County Schools, teacher assistant Grace King begins her day driving a school bus.

    The Academic Standards Review Commission met for their third meeting on Monday.
    Reema Khrais

      A commission charged with making changes to the state's Common Core academic standards is facing a very elemental question: how will it get the money it needs to complete its work?

    Legislators passed a bill this summer to create a commission to review and recommend changes to the Math and English academic standards for public school students.

    In the legislation, lawmakers outlined that the commission should have money to hire staff and conduct research, but did not make clear how much money the commission will receive and where it will come from.

    Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

      The State Board of Education on Thursday placed Charter Day School Inc. on “financial probationary status” for not turning over salary information of school employees to the Department of Public Instruction.

    The state gave all 148 charter school operators until the end of September to provide salaries of school employees who are hired by for-profit companies.

    Charter Day, which oversees four charter schools in the Wilmington area, was the only operator to not comply.

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

    Slightly fewer teachers left North Carolina last year than the year before, but more left because they were dissatisfied with teaching or wanted to teach in another state, according to a state Department of Public Instruction draft report.

    Of the 96,010 public school teachers employed last year, 1,011 said they left because they were dissatisfied with teaching or had a career change. The year before, nearly nine hundred teachers left for those reasons.

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

    With Election Day almost here, it’s become clear that one issue has headlined almost all of the races: education.

    Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis have traded barbs over issues of teacher pay and education funding, while similar conversations are playing out in legislative races throughout the state.

    East Chapel Hill High School students
    Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

    A state commission in charge of reworking the Common Core academic standards has begun reviewing them.  

    Members spent hours on Monday learning what's expected under Common Core in terms of English and language arts. Some of those goals include when students should know how to explain their ideas or comprehend certain texts.  

    The 11 members were politically appointed to review and possibly make changes to the academic standards after lawmakers heard complaints from parents and teachers that they do not progress in a natural or developmentally appropriate way.

    Students at lunch
    U.S. Department of Agriculture

    About 650 schools throughout the state are opting into a program to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students.

    It is part of a new program called Community Eligibility Provision, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea is to allow schools with high percentages of low-income children to offer free meals for all, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals.

    In Durham, 10 schools are offering free meals to all students.

    high school students
    Vancouver Film School via Flickr/Creative Commons

    North Carolina’s average SAT score from high school seniors is slightly improving, but is below the national average.

    The 2014 senior class posted an average score of 1483 on the SAT college admission test, up four points from last year’s. A perfect score is 2400, with the three sections on the test graded on a 200-800 point scale.

    The average score is 14 points below the national average of 1497. North Carolina students did not perform as well as their national peers in writing and math.

    school supplies
    Flickr via Robert S. Donovan

    In North Carolina public schools, formal assessments do not begin until third grade, but many students develop learning problems long before then. That’s why education leaders say they are rolling out a statewide plan to begin assessing students in the earlier years.

    Now, that does not mean five- and six-year-olds will have more paper and pencil tests. Instead, the responsibility will fall on teachers to track the development of their students.

    Formative Assessments In A Kindergarten Classroom

    Reema Khrais

     Across the state, 79.2 percent of third-grade students showed they were proficient last year, according to a report presented to the State Board of Education on Thursday. 

    A total of 12.7 percent of third-grade students were either retained in the third-grade or placed in transitional or accelerated classes. The remaining students were exempt because they are either English Language Learners or have learning disabilities.