While my research team prepared for our presentations to DPI staff and the State Board of Education, we began to receive feedback on our work. During this time, I learned the value of being able to succinctly support with evidence any conclusions my team formed about the effectiveness of virtual education and school transformation. As I explore Capstone topics, I am reminded that my work should seek to contribute to the lives of citizens, as the School of Government has set out to do in the state of North Carolina. Therefore, if my team discovered disconcerting truths about the virtual public school program, it is our job to indicate the ramifications of these results in our papers and presentations. Our research showed students in NCVPS are categorically different (in terms of AYP subgroup representation) from students present in traditional classrooms, and their scores on End-of-Course tests were much lower than the scores of students in traditional classrooms. This indicates that these students may require more intensive or simply different support than they are currently receiving. However, believing that the program is not currently meeting the needs of its students is a strong position to take, and my team had to be prepared to answer questions and elaborate if our audience felt it necessary. The good news is our research was well-received during our presentations yesterday, and our work was highlighted during the State Board’s meeting this morning, when several board members agreed with our findings and thought there was more work to be done to improve virtual education for high school students in the state.
On the other hand, these realizations are balanced by a thought I revisited while reflecting on my experience with the state’s education agency. When I worked with Margaret Henderson and Lydian Altman as their research assistant this past year, they would often stress that their local government clients should “celebrate the small successes” during their retreats. As school performance results for the past academic year are publicized, the numbers may surprise and disappoint players in the public arena; however, climbing high school graduation rates demonstrate that North Carolina has made small strides in education. As State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison noted this morning, “North Carolina public schools have something to celebrate.”
As I prepare for my second (and final) year of graduate study, I’m nervous and wondering how everything will fall into place– my thesis research, paper-writing, presentions, and the inevitable job search. But going forward, I know there is something to celebrate: the opportunity to intern in a challenging but stimulating state government environment, which was a goal of mine since my years as an undergrad in Iowa. I also know that I must use this experience to remind me of the importance of public service, and how current times require public servants to be innovative but also be increasingly receptive to what the data tell us.
Thank you for reading this blog over the summer. I hope it was helpful, and I certainly enjoyed recording my experience at NC DPI.