February 07, 2013
Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green held his annual State of Our Schools address at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro on Thursday, Jan. 31, and it was a presentation with a reason to exist.
Since Green released his 2012 four-year strategic plan for Guilford County Schools
at the Koury Auditorium at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) in Jamestown in January 2009, he has held three increasingly elaborate State of our Schools events.
Green's annual State of Our Schools speech has been part pep rally, part update on the successes and failures of the school system under the strategic plan, part marketing event and part chance to lobby the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and members of the Guilford County state legislative delegation for funding.
The 2009 event in Jamestown was important because of the release of the strategic plan – the first for Guilford County Schools
, and one that set relatively ambitious goals for improving Guilford County public schools, particularly ones that had been mired in mediocrity or outright failure for years.
The first three State of Our Schools events were best treated as spectacle and reviewed the same way you would review a movie. Green reported already-known improvements in the school system, sometimes acknowledged already known failures and left the stage periodically so that students could dance, sing, recite poetry and the like.
The State of Our Schools events did nothing to improve schools in Guilford County, but were funded by donations from corporations and foundations, as Guilford County Board of Education Chairman Alan Duncan reminded the audience Thursday, and at every such event. Although, at first, the events seemed a tad grandiose for Guilford County, if companies and foundations wanted to pay the tab, and if the events improved the morale of Guilford County teachers, no harm done.
The 2013 State of Our Schools event had more weight, as it was the fourth anniversary – and the end – of Green's four-year 2012 strategic plan. It gave Green, politicians and the public a chance to measure the success of that plan.
The bottom line is that Guilford County Schools
, despite having significant problems, are better performing, better managed, and (thanks to Guilford County voters, who approved $457 million in school bonds in 2008, better housed and equipped) than they were when Green took the helm of the school system from former Superintendent Terry Grier in 2008.
Surveys released at the school board's retreat on Saturday, Feb. 2, show that parents and, to a lesser degree, the public at large, are happier with Guilford County Schools
than they were four years ago.Guilford County Schools
and many other public school systems were so bad in recent decades that there was room to make significant improvement an still leave a school system with a long way to go before it could be called well performing. Green acknowledged that obliquely throughout his speech, saying Guilford County Schools
has a long way to go in some areas, and a lot of work to do in others.
For example, when Green took over, only 55 percent of fifth and eighth grade school students read at grade level, according to state tests. Now, 68.1 percent are. That's a 13.1 percent increase in reading proficiency, mostly in poorer performing schools – since students in well performing schools could generally read to begin with. It's a strong increase in four years, but still leaves 31.9 percent of elementary schools not reading at grade level.
Improvements in other subjects during Green's tenure jumped similarly. The percentage of eighth-grade students who tested as proficient in science jumped from 51.2 percent to 71.7 percent. The percentage of fifth and eighth grade students who tested as proficient in math increased from 71.4 percent to 82.1 percent.
The percentage of mostly high school students who tested as proficient in the composite of their scores in all subjects increased from 63.7 percent in 2008 to 79.7 percent in 2012.
All of the numbers above have to be taken with a grain of salt. The state and federal governments have been playing games with the testing system throughout Green's tenure. Standards have been changed. The state began allowing schools to retest students and count their scores, and the federal No Child Left Behind Act standards have been virtually scrapped by a statewide waiver for North Carolina. At times, Guilford County Schools
has claimed performance gains that turned out to be statistical mirages.
Even so, numerous Guilford County Schools
are in better shape now than they were in 2008. The average performance composite – the systemwide average of the results of the Guilford County Schools
– increased from 60 percent in 2008 to 75.9 percent in 2012.Guilford County Schools
used to complain about test score comparisons not being "apples to apples," sometimes disingenuously. But with the state and federal governments both having changed their testing systems, that complaint has become more valid. Next year, North Carolina is entirely abandoning its ABCs of Education system for judging school performance, which has been in place since 1995, for a new system called READY.
With the testing landscape continually shifting, perhaps the best measure of Green's success has been the State of North Carolina's ranking system for public schools. It's a rough measurement, but it shows, in general terms, how many Guilford County Schools
are great, good, not so good and lousy.
In North Carolina terms, great schools are "honor schools of excellence"; good schools are "schools of excellence"; decent schools are "schools of distinction"; average schools are "no recognition schools"; bad schools are "priority schools"; and really bad schools are "low-performing schools."
At the high end of the scale, in 2008, Guilford County Schools
had only one honor school of excellence. In 2012, it had 19. In 2008, Guilford County Schools
had nine low-performing schools. It reduced that number to zero in 2011. But in 2012, one school, Cone Elementary, slipped back into that category.
In general, Guilford County Schools
under Green has successfully moved schools from one category to a higher one, although it's important to remember that in some cases the improvements are marginal.
In 2009, the first year of results under Green, The Rhino Times used an only moderately facetious school performance measurement that probably matches the real world better than the state's: the old-timey test grade.
In 2009, taking 70 percent out of 100 as a passing grade (the cutoff for getting a D that most of us are familiar with from our days in school) and applying that cutoff to the performance composites of individual Guilford County Schools
showed that 54 percent of schools were failing and 46 percent were passing.
In 2012, 62 percent of schools were passing and 38 percent were failing, and some of the still-failing schools had improved their performance composites by double-digit percentages....continued on page 2