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North Carolina editorial roundup

July 17, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

July 13

News & Record of Greensboro on the need for change in a system that grades schools:

Good for the state Senate for — finally — joining the N.C. House of Representatives in efforts to change the state’s unfair grading system for public schools.

For several years, the House has supported legislation to modify the grading system, only to see it die in the Senate. This year, though, senators have unanimously voted in favor of a bill directing the state school superintendent and the State Board of Education to come up with recommendations as to whether and how to improve the school grading system.

Change is overdue. The House and Senate should iron out the differences in their versions of the bill, and state school officials should use this opportunity to fix a system that’s doing more harm than good.

Back in 2013, legislators came up with the idea that schools should get letter grades — A through F — the same way schoolchildren do. Republican leaders in the legislature, who love to dictate testing and grades for the public schools, have said giving an easily understood letter grade is a good way to help parents know how their children’s schools are doing.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with schools being held accountable for their performance. But, as usual, the devil is in the details, and there’s plenty to criticize in the way the current system determines which school gets a good grade and which is labeled as failing.

The system bases 80 percent of a school’s grade on standardized test scores. Only 20 percent of a grade reflects the measured growth, or academic improvement, of the students.

The result of this overly simplistic and unfairly weighted system is that schools that have a lot of students who struggle in school get a bad grade, no matter how much the school is helping those children improve.

Schools that start out with a large percentage of children who do well in school — and test well — are the A schools.

There’s little room for an “E″ for “Effort” or extra credit for “Improvement” in this system, and yet those are important factors.

It’s well documented that many of the schools with lower test scores are in poor communities. These are the schools that get bad grades, and yet many of them are schools where teachers are overcoming steep odds to help children learn and make progress. Helping children who don’t have many resources or much support improve in a way that might help them have a better future doesn’t seem to count. Certainly, it doesn’t count as much as it should.

When a school is slapped with a bad grade, it is stigmatized. It’s known as a bad school, and parents who have the means to do so may pull their children out. Supportive families looking for a place to live may avoid that school district. Strong teachers who could help may be discouraged from seeking jobs there, not wanting to be in a problem school, one where they may be judged by their students’ low test scores.

You get the picture. Labeling a school as bad creates a self-fulfilling cycle of failure. Then politicians point to “failing schools” as an excuse for more school choice and vouchers, rather than advocating more support for schools in poor areas.

Legislators and state officials should make good on this chance to fix their failing grading system and work for real improvement.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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July 12

The Robesonian on Medicaid expansion and the North Carolina budget:

For years Republicans, who have carried the biggest bat in Raleigh, have refused to even talk about Medicaid expansion. But that has changed in recent days, and momentum is clearly in favor of some kind of compromise that would provide health insurance for hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents caught in the gap — earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford private insurance.

This newspaper, as we have indicated, favors expansion. The benefits to Robeson County are too much to ignore, even if taken from a nonpartisan study that fixes the number of people who would benefit at significantly fewer than claimed by Gov. Roy Cooper and fellow Democrats.

Cooper and Democrats say Medicaid expansion would deliver health insurance to as many as 600,000 state residents, while the study, by George Washington University, fixes that number at about 370,000 people. The study also determines Medicaid expansion would boost the state’s economy by $11.7 billion a year while creating 37,000 new jobs.

In Robeson County, those numbers are 13,747 more insured, 616 jobs, and $97.8 million. Those numbers, even though more modest than what Democrats promise, are eye opening. Almost 14,000 more people with health insurance, more than 600 more people working and paying taxes, and an economic boost that rivals tobacco in its heyday.

Medicaid expansion might also cure much of what ails Southeastern Health, which struggles with low reimbursement rates. That is why SeHealth, which is critical to this county and region in so many ways, is currently looking for a partner to ensure its financial viability.

The devil, however, is in the details, and that is what separates Cooper and Republicans — but we don’t think permanently.

Cooper, emboldened by the 2018 elections that took from the GOP a veto-proof majority in the House, has made Medicaid expansion a condition of signing the Republican budget, essentially holding hostage as much as $166 million that could help transform Robeson County in the coming decades.

Republicans, in what is clearly a major concession, have told Cooper if he signed the budget, that a special legislative session can be held during which Medicaid can get a worthy hearing. But, in what could be seen as a fall-back position, Republicans in a House committee (last) week discussed a Medicaid “hybrid” that would allow expansion with conditions, such as beneficiaries work and pick up the 10 percent cost of expansion that the federal government requires of the state. ...

We are greedy, and want both — the Republican budget either as it is or a very precise facsimile, as well as Medicaid expansion, in whatever form is palatable to Republicans and Democrats.

We believe that both would benefit all of North Carolina, but this county in many more and larger ways.

Online: https://www.robesonian.com/

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July 11

Winston-Salem Journal on Forsyth County’s reaction to a wristband with the Confederate flag on it:

An incident involving a pool wristband at a Forsyth County swimming pool (two weekends ago) provides a simple lesson for all of us — especially about the power of speaking up.

While swimming at the Tanglewood Park pool last Sunday (July 7), former Forsyth County resident Sage Magness noticed something about the red, white and blue design on the pool wristband she’d been given to signify payment of the entrance fee. “I said, ‘This cannot be what I think it is,’” she told the Journal’s Wesley Young. Examining the band, she concluded that it portrayed a fragment of a Confederate flag. She was “pretty mad because the Confederate flag is something I don’t have in my life.”

Magness complained about the band on Forsyth County’s Facebook page. At first she was met with skepticism from a county employee, who said the bands had been used for years without generating any complaints. But Magness was insistent and finally proved her point. As a result, on Monday (July 8), county officials pulled all of the wristbands with the Confederate design and threw them away.

Forsyth County deputy manager Damon Sanders-Pratt told the Journal that the wristbands had been ordered by a young staffer who thought he was ordering bands with a patriotic theme and “didn’t recognize the connotation” of the name — “Stars and Bars Multicolored” — or the design.

MedTech Wristbands, which sold the bands to the county, was equally repentant. MedTech said that an employee hadn’t been aware that “we do not sell, support or promote these bands any longer, and she also wasn’t aware of what they resembled.”

The company gave the county credit for its purchase.

“We messed up. We made a mistake and have to pay for that,” Sanders-Pratt told the Journal.

He’s right. We appreciate the county’s quick response to this situation, as well as that of MedTech; once the problem was realized, they both did the right thing. Knowing youth, and realizing the subtlety of the wristbands’ design, we have no reason to believe that anybody had an ill intent.

Some, no doubt, will think this is much ado about nothing. As some commented on the Journal’s Facebook page, this isn’t the most urgent issue of the day.

That’s true, and no one claims that it is. Still, once the origin of the design was recognized and acknowledged, a response was required. You can’t unring a bell.

For those who complain about “erasing history,” the Confederate flag and similar imagery had a well-defined meaning when they were used during the Civil War. They supported a regime of white supremacy and slavery. Some have since tried to alter the meaning of those symbols to something more benign, but enough blatantly racist supporters of those caustic ideas have claimed those symbols that no government body should sanction their use.

Symbols have power, as anyone who bristles at the thought of an American flag being desecrated should readily acknowledge. They represent our beliefs and attitudes. Their use by government bodies should be considered, sober and representative of the best of their communities.

Forsyth County and MedTech both did the right thing by disposing of the wristbands. And so did Magness, for having the courage to speak up.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/

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