Asheville – At the last public briefing of the Buncombe County Commissioners, Strategic Partnerships Director Rachael Nygaard presented some statistics on Asheville City Schools (ACS), Buncombe County Schools (BCS), charter, private, and home schools. Data was sliced for comparison among ethnic groups, and it showed precipitous drops during the COVID shutdown, with students still not tracking with pre-COVID trends.
Of the 39,000 education-involved children in the county, 59% were enrolled in BCS, and 11% were enrolled in ACS. Since the pandemic shutdown, the number of families opting for alternative education venues has been increasing.
The good news is that a majority of kindergarteners met the criteria for kindergarten readiness. The bad news was that this meant less than 2/3 of them were able to meet over half of the core objectives on the NC Early Learning Inventory.
The percentage of ACS and charter school students in the third through eighth grades demonstrating proficiency in math on their End of Grade (EOG) tests was two points over the state average, 50; the percentage for BCS students was two points below average. The percentage of students proficient in reading was 63 for charter schools, 55 for ACS, 48 for BCS, and 48 for the entire state. The percentages prior to the pandemic were roughly 10 points higher in all categories. The percentage of students scoring high enough to be admitted to a University of North Carolina System school was 65 for charter schools, 59.7 for ACS, 47.7 for BCS, and 41.7 statewide.
High school graduation rates were given as 94.68% for private schools, 92.72% for ACS, 89.88% for BCS, and 86.81% for charter schools. The statewide rate was 86.4%, and it did not include data from private schools. Nygaard did not explain how these rates were calculated. In some contexts, North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has calculated dropout rates as the quotient of the number of students quitting school in one year and the number of students in four high-school cohorts, thus reporting only 25% of the problem.
The percentage of students deemed chronically absent was 28.4 for ACS, 23.9 for BCS, and 21.8 for charter schools. Chronically absent students are, more or less, those who miss at least 10% of school days. Nygaard explained the almost doubling of the rate in the last two years was attributable to quarantines, illnesses, and isolations.
Disciplinary data was presented in terms of the number of incidents per 1,000 students. ACS had 114.91 short-term suspensions per 1,000 students, and BCS had 144.02. ACS had 5.12 referrals to law enforcement per 1,000 students, and BCS had 10.49.
Slicing data for different perspectives, Nygaard reported Whites constitute the majority of students in both ACS and BCS, with Blacks and Hispanics making up strong contingencies. The school districts also have a fair amount of multiracial students. Significantly more white children (71%) were kindergarten-ready than black or Hispanic children (52% and 51%, respectively). Asians were the group with the most students proficient in math, and Blacks were the group with the least. The extremes were greatest in ACS, where Asians led Blacks 81%-11%. Asians outperformed Whites on reading in BCS, but not ACS, where 75% of students were proficient. Blacks had the lowest showing, with 11% and 21% being proficient in ACS and BCS, respectively. In ACS, 75% of whites and 12% of blacks had ACT scores high enough to be admitted to a UNC System school; in BCS, the numbers were 55% and 25%, respectively.
Whites were more likely to finish high school than Blacks in both school districts, but only by a few percentage points. Pacific Islanders were the most likely to suffer from chronic absenteeism (64% in the ACS and 48% in the BCS). Blacks were the next most likely (49% and 38%); Asians, the least (9% and 11%). Blacks were two-to-three times more likely than other groups to experience short-term suspensions.
In BCS, 48% of the student population was economically disadvantaged. The percentages for ACS and charter schools were 32 and 31, respectively. To be economically disadvantaged, a student had to come from a family that qualified for any form of welfare benefit. This is known as “categorical/community eligibility.”
Nygaard closed her remarks by repeating the commissioners’ adopted strategic goal of “envisioning an educated and capable community where all people succeed, thrive, and realize their potential.” She added that this wouldn’t be accomplished by county government alone; instead, in not so many words, it would take a village.
North Carolina General Statutes, of course, limit the powers county commissioners may exercise over public schools. So, Nygaard listed some ways the commissioners might try to address these problems. The first was to prioritize education each year in their strategic planning.
The second was to “deliver and coordinate public services that support a vibrant, healthy, and connected community, such as affordable housing, elections, food and nutrition, economic development, justice, libraries, public health, public safety, recreation, social work, and more.”
Another role for the county was to provide financial support for not only K-12 education but also early childhood education, community colleges, and “education support grants to community-based organizations.” The commissioners could also ensure systemic racism was eradicated from county government and “provide collaborative leadership.”
Nygaard explained the last point as “what we’re doing here today, setting the stage, having this community conversation and forum for the questions on your mind.” She continued, “This data really represents a snapshot of information that didn’t speak to causation, what led to this, and the data doesn’t answer the question about… what actions we can take to create better outcomes for our students.”