North Carolina Judge Demands State Action on "Failing" High Schools

Last Updated: April 01, 2006

This article appeared in the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

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The judge presiding over the North Carolina school finance lawsuit known as Leandro has written a letter to state education officials demanding that high schools with records of poor test scores be given new leadership and be restructured or closed if scores don't improve by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning wrote in the letter that schools where less than 55% of students pass state exams for five consecutive years have "run out of time." Manning praised some improvement efforts but wrote, "Money is not the answer to this disparity," contradicting earlier statements made by the court. State school board officials have responded by saying the state intends to do everything it can to boost achievement, "short of going in and wiping out all the principals and creating total chaos." Four of the 19 schools that have been identified are the only public high schools in their respective rural counties. Some officials claim the letter, whose legal enforceability is not clear, will make it harder to attract strong leaders and teachers to struggling schools.

The 19 high-priority schools that Judge Howard, Manning, Jr. has threatened to close are located in 13 school districts, and are the only high schools in four rural districts. Some districts have pledged to do whatever necessary to keep their schools open, while others cite the lack of funding to accomplish needed change. Still others question the judge's chosen measure of performance, as well as his authority to order closings. At least one district superintendent says she has no plans to shut down their district's targeted schools and claims that the judge's letter only exacerbates district difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention.


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