November 29, 2009

RALEIGH — Both the Wake and Durham County public school systems improved their grades in the John Locke Foundation’s second-annual assessment of “parent-friendly” schools. Wake’s grade climbed from C to C+, while Durham traded a failing grade for a D.

Click here to view and here to listen to Terry Stoops discussing this Spotlight report.

More than half of the Triangle’s school systems showed improvement, according to a new JLF Spotlight report. Along with Wake and Durham’s improvement, Johnston County schools moved up from C- to C, while Franklin, Granville, and Orange County public schools all traded D+ grades for C’s.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools held steady with a C+ grade, while Chatham and Person County schools earned C grades for a second straight year. Meanwhile, Vance County schools recorded a second straight F.

Districts across the state earned more C grades and fewer D’s in the John Locke Foundation’s second-annual assessment of “parent-friendly” schools. That’s a sign of progress to the JLF analyst who graded every district.

“The good news is that the number of overall D grades dropped from 27 school districts to 19 districts this year, while the number of C’s climbed from 64 to 75,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “The bad news is that most districts are still earning C’s and D’s. No district earns an overall A grade, and the number of B’s dipped slightly this year from 19 to 17.”

This is the second year that Stoops has assigned each school district a “parent-friendly” grade, so it’s the first time he’s had a chance to note signs of progress or back-pedaling. The Clay County public school system raised its grade this year from B to B+, securing the No. 1 ranking in the state. Cherokee County earned the only other B+, ranking No. 2. Fifteen other districts earned a B or B-, while 75 earned some form of C. Nineteen districts earned D grades, while Bertie, Hoke, and Vance counties joined the Weldon City Schools in earning F’s.

Nine school systems improved by a full letter grade since Stoops issued his 2008 report. Henderson County schools tie for the state’s No. 7 ranking after raising their grade from C to B. Durham, Edgecombe, and Warren County public schools joined the Thomasville City Schools in improving from F to D in the past year.

Meanwhile, marks for six school systems dropped by a full letter grade. Catawba, Carteret, and Yancey counties all dropped from B grades to C’s, while Hoke and Bertie dropped from D’s to F’s.

“With no threat of losing clientele to competitors, many schools and school districts behave like the monopolies they are,” Stoops said. “These school districts focus on strengthening the organization’s position and goals, rather than meeting the needs of their clientele. One need not look further than the low regard that many teachers and administrators have toward parents to find evidence of this organization-first mentality.”

As in 2008, Stoops found differences in district-to-district comparisons based on geography and school district size. “School districts in western North Carolina generally fared well in the ‘parent-friendly’ rankings, with seven of the top 10 districts being located in the west,” he said. “In contrast, districts in the Triad, Triangle, Charlotte, and northeastern North Carolina tended to fare poorly.”

“In general, smaller school districts proved to be more parent-friendly than large school districts,” Stoops added. “Most of the top-performing school districts enrolled fewer than 10,000 students.”

The rankings are based on 11 different measures in the four categories of school administration, teachers, safety, and performance. The measures include end-of-grade reading and math scores, four-year graduation rates, and school crime statistics. Also included are statistics linked to teacher turnover and teaching vacancies, the percentage of each school system’s staff devoted to jobs outside classroom teaching, and results of a Teacher Working Conditions survey.

Stoops converted the numbers into letter grades. He assigned each school district four individual-category letter grades and an average final grade. “This report develops a system that’s designed to show the extent to which North Carolina’s school districts provide children a sound, basic education in a stable and safe environment that is responsive to the needs of children and concerns of parents.”

Further research could help school leaders learn more about the steps they can take to become more parent-friendly, Stoops said. “We need to know more before we can pinpoint the combination of factors that contribute to success, but the school districts that fared well in this ranking were generally small districts with stable, high-performing teaching staffs.”

School districts should focus attention on their parent-friendly rankings, Stoops said. “It would be easy for teachers, administrators, and staff to believe the schools belong to them,” he said. “Ratings for parent-friendly schools shift the attention back to the families the schools were designed to serve.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report “Parent-Friendly Schools, 2009: How ‘parent-friendly’ are school districts in North Carolina?” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].