FROM THE GROUND UP: Family Involvement and Effective Teachers are the Solution

August 21, 2009
By Beth Jacobs
Halifax County Superintendent resigns
Geraldine Middleton, the superintendent of the struggling Halifax County school system, has resigned her position effective September 18. Middleton will be leaving to take a position with the Chicago public schools.
Halifax County Public Schools has come under the scrutiny of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who presides over the Leandro v. NC lawsuit. The case, which sought more state support for school districts in low-income and rural areas, determined that every student in the state has the constitutional right to a sound, basic education.
Halifax test scores show that 71.3 percent of students in grades 3 through 5 are not reading at grade level and 74.3 percent are not reading at grade level in grades 6 through 8. Judge Manning has likened the poor performance to "academic genocide" and said the scores are "irrefutable evidence of a complete breakdown in academics" in the Halifax County schools."
In March, Judge Manning held a hearing and called for a state takeover of the district. Since then, state education officials have been working with the school system in a first-of-its-kind intensive effort to boost student achievement.
During the hearing, Middleton repeatedly claimed that she was not seeking other employment and assured concerned parents that she would remain in the district. In a statement released by Middleton defending her decision, she said, "I was vigilant in my attempts to raise test scores, create positive learning environments, implement new programs and create the financial stability of the district."
Research encourages schools to create "child and family teams"
A study released Tuesday by NC State researchers finds that the formation of "child and family teams" (CFTs) may be extremely useful in helping young people who are having difficulty with grades or behavior become more engaged and do well in school and life.
Dr. Jocelyn Taliaferro, an associate professor of social work at NC State and co-author of the study, explains that a CFT "takes a 'village' approach. A child and his or her family decide who would be on the team - such as teachers, social workers, pastors or other community members - and then work with the team to develop a plan for helping the child succeed both in school and in the broader community. One advantage of this approach is that it removes the 'us versus them' mentality, by bringing in a broad support group and giving the child and family some control over the situation."
The study was funded by DPI and is and is being published online in the August issue of the journal Child and Family Social Work.
Obama speaks about Achievement Gap
President Obama recently spoke about the achievement gap and its affects on the national economy. If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished," Obama told a small group of journalists from black media outlets, including ESSENCE. Here is a link to the full article.
Race to the Top stimulus funds
As states scramble to spend and report on millions of dollars of education stimulus funds already flowing their way, they face another daunting task if they want a shot at even more money: navigating the complex application process for $4 billion from the Race to the Top Fund.
The national competition among states for $4.35 billion will reward states that are making dramatic progress at improving achievement, are effectively using other stimulus funds, and making progress on the following four reform goals:
  • Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
  • Establishing pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
  • Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;
  • Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools.
Gates Foundation focusing on teachers
For nearly a decade, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a leading voice in American education policy. After spending billions on research and policymaking to improve public schools, the foundation has announced it will be focusing future efforts on teacher quality. According to the foundation, teacher effectiveness is the "silver bullet" for reforming education in America.
The Gates project will focus on determining the qualities of the best teachers and how to measure those qualities. Districts participating in the project will use research based methods to rate teachers. The second part of the project involves implementing new ways of recruiting, training, assigning and assessing teachers. Ideas that will be tested by schools include putting the best teachers in the most challenging classes, assigning the best teachers as mentors to new teachers, removing ineffective teachers, and using money to motivate schools to improve teacher quality.
Trainings for your community
The Education & Law Project offers parent and community trainings on a variety of public education issues. Each of the workshops can be adapted for a particular student demographic, audience or school district. Issues include testing, funding, personal education plans, students with special needs and school discipline.
If you are interested in arranging a workshop in your community, please contact Beth Jacobs, Coordinator of Advocacy, Outreach and Training:, 919-861-2064 or 919-971-2329.


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