Judicial smackdown

The tough-talking judge who decided a school funding case four years ago by ruling that North Carolina law requires high-quality public education, now says he's tired of waiting for consistently lagging high schools to improve. Judge Howard Manning, Jr., sent a letter to state education officials warning that high schools with less than 55 percent of its students passing state tests for five years or more shouldn't (and won't) be permitted to re-open in fall 2006 "unless principals are replaced." Manning wrote, "Superintendents and principals have run out of room, and run out of time.... The major problem with these schools lies within the category of school leadership, not money." (Emphasis added.) According to the Charlotte Observer, this is the first time a judge has demanded a change of leadership in schools and threatened dire consequences (school closings) if no progress is made. The judge's letter caused a predictable uproar among administrators and parents in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, whose interim superintendent vowed, "We are not shutting down those schools." Say what you may about the perils of judicial activism, but at a time when most states dance around NCLB's requirements to "restructure" persistently failing schools, it's heartening to see a public official take bold action. Secretary of Education Manning, anyone?

"CMS: Judge's threat goes too far," by Ann Doss Helms and Peter Smolowitz, Charlotte Observer, March 8, 2006

"Judge issues schools directive," by Todd Silberman, Raleigh News & Observer, March 4, 2006

"Judge may close 12 high schools if test scores lag," by Ann Doss Helms and Peter Smolowitz, Charlotte Observer, March 4, 2006

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