Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Sept. 6

The News & Observer of Raleigh on North Carolina using testing as its main school evaluation tool:

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states a chance to cut back on their reliance on standardized testing as the main way to evaluate schools. But North Carolina will remain tied to testing as its main evaluation tool. This is an opportunity missed - to come up with innovative ways to measure school progress and thus the progress of students.

Teachers, school administrators and for that matter, parents, have complained for years that the emphasis on testing forces teachers to "teach to the test" for the sake of the kids - who need to pass to advance - and of schools, which are evaluated in terms of their effectiveness based on their test scores. That affects teachers as well, who also are judged based on the performances of their students.

But much is not factored in when it comes to the numbers. What about that teacher in a school with a high number of low-income students from troubled homes? Some progress by those students might speak to a teacher's tremendous work, though those students' scores might still be lagging when measured against statewide or national standards.

There is just a lot, in other words, that tests don't reveal.

But when the State Board of Education approves a plan for evaluation, it will not include much innovation. Bobbie Cavnar, the teacher adviser to the board, said, "What we're getting is more of the same, the same thing we've been doing for decades. We're doubling down on test scores. This is our chance to be innovative."

But Bill Cobey, the Republican chairman of the state board, rightly notes the board was held back by the legislature's limits on what the state can do because Republican lawmakers want to keep their "grading system" for schools, giving each an A, B, C, D or F. This is a bad, bad system, because it's mostly based on the percentage of students in a school who pass state exams. Republicans say, see, here, it helps parents judge schools. Critics - who are right - say it guarantees high-poverty schools, where test scores tend to be lower, a stigma of a low grade they'll not be able to overcome. It also hurts those schools' chances to get better, because some teachers will be reluctant to go to those schools knowing the challenges they'll face and the likelihood that those schools will be underfunded.

Cobey and his board are working on changing the system, to their credit. But GOP leaders on Jones Street continue to make public schools a political target and to use the example of schools with bad grades as a reason to create more charters and to invest even more public money in private school vouchers. It's a disgraceful use of the conventional public schools to which most North Carolinians send their children as political fodder to the detriment of public education.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, who seems to take his orders from GOP chiefs in the legislature and has tensions with the state board, downplayed the issue, which is unfortunate.

Lawmakers are sticking with a grading system that doesn't work, for all the wrong reasons. But as long as their cynical view of public schools prevails in terms of governance, that doesn't seem to trouble them.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/

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Sept. 5

Winston-Salem Journal on North Carolinians helping those impacted by Hurricane Harvey:

It didn't take long for North Carolinians to begin pitching to in help our neighbors who are suffering under the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey. That's just how we operate.

There were immediate donations to the Red Cross and other national organizations, including some that focus on the pets that many families had to abandon for their own safety. These donations will go directly to hurricane-relief efforts. But local churches and North Carolina-based organizations have also pitched in, making us proud.

United Way of Forsyth County is hoping to raise $200,000 for hurricane relief efforts in three weeks, the Journal's Sarah Newell reported Saturday. It has committed to donating $50,000 and will match money the community donates through Sept. 21, Cindy Gordineer, its president and CEO, told the Journal.

And two local churches in particular began coordinating donations, the Journal reported Thursday: Centenary United Methodist Church and Calvary Baptist Church. More information can be found on their websites, www.calvarynow.com and www.centenary-ws.org, respectively.

Samaritan's Purse, a Christian organization based in Boone that provides aid around the world, quickly responded with volunteers and supplies. The agency is collecting donations and looking for more volunteers who can stay a minimum of three days. Volunteers must be at least 14 years old. More information can be found at www.samaritans purse.org.

The Journal and other local newspapers are also collecting donations, school supplies in particular, though we will also accept drinking water and pet supplies. Christy Trucking Co. of Mocksville has volunteered to deliver the supplies if we fill a truck.

It could have been us, just like it was on May 5, 1989, when a tornado ripped through Winston-Salem, destroying property and downing power lines. Another tornado on May 7, 1998, ripped through Clemmons, damaging more than 350 houses.

It may be us in the future. That's one reason we all pull together in times like this. But mostly we pull together simply because compassionate people give when there's a need.

Southeast Texas will be a long time rebuilding. Let's all pitch in if we can.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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Sept. 4

The Wilson Daily Times on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's announcement not to rent space for a speech by National Policy Institute president Richard Spencer:

By denying them a place to speak, some American colleges are playing right into white nationalists' hands.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill became the latest school to unwisely make a First Amendment martyr out of a racist blowhard last week when it announced it will not rent space to the National Policy Institute for a speech by its president, Richard Spencer.

Texas A&M University and the University of Florida previously turned away Spencer, who advocates for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" and the formation of a homeland for a "dispossessed white race."

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt cited "serious concerns about campus safety" after consulting with university police and local and state law enforcement. Administrators declined to host the event in fear of violent demonstrations.

Under North Carolina's new campus free speech law, public universities are required to make space available to "any speaker whom students, student groups or members of the faculty have invited." Since Spencer had not been invited to speak and was seeking to rent space, UNC is off the hook there.

It gets murkier, however, when we examine Folt's decision through the lens of First Amendment case law. As government institutions, public colleges are forbidden from using viewpoint-based discrimination in choosing who to allow on campus. That prevents government from playing favorites by granting special access to preferred groups while blackballing the opposition.

Using safety as a justification to prevent speech is known as the heckler's veto. It allows those who threaten violence or disruption to decide who can and cannot speak. It's a pernicious form of censorship, as the government shuts down expressive events to mollify mobs.

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an ordinance in Forsyth County, Georgia, that allowed county officials to charge security fees to groups applying for parade permits.

"Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob," Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the high court's 5-4 majority opinion.

Spencer's views are reprehensible, but banning him from UNC's stately halls says more about the inability of North Carolina's flagship public university to keep students and visitors safe than it does about him.

Did Chancellor Folt receive specific threats of violence, and if so, will those responsible be arrested and prosecuted?

Will colleges allow brutes, thugs and vandals to decide who may speak, or will they remain true to their mission as a marketplace of ideas? In such a marketplace, noble views defeat racist blather through open discourse, not suppression.

Spencer might have an actionable First Amendment claim against UNC, and no matter the outcome, North Carolina taxpayers would be put in the position of defending government censorship. A vile racist could flip the script on a state that's made strides to improve free speech protections.

His courtroom arguments would be more persuasive than the bigoted nonsense he'd spout in a lecture hall. By denying him a small platform, UNC may have unwittingly handed him a bigger one.

Online: http://www.wilsontimes.com/