From the Vault – An Open Letter to Rep. Rob Bryan concerning his Surreptitious Achievement School District Plan

On March 30th, 2016, Rep. Bryan will hold another committee meeting concerning his championing of an ASD pilot in the state. Most of this planning was done secretly and then was presented in a fashion that smelled of back-door politics.

In reference to that, I wrote Rep. Bryan an open letter that was reprinted graciously by NC Policy Watch. I have reprinted it below.

With all that is going on with HB2 and the backlash that has occurred, please do not forget this “reform” that is certainly geared to make someone a profit.

Enjoy again or for the first time.

 

 

This is an open letter to Rep. Rob Bryan, Republican-Mecklenburg. He is the Chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Rep. Bryan,

After reading a recent report by the McClatchy Regional News printed in the Winston-Salem Journal on August 10th, 2015 entitled “Plan being crafted for charter takeover of worst schools”, I am saddened that you would consider pawning off our “failing schools” to an entity that has not really produced discernable results when examined carefully. You can review that article here: http://www.journalnow.com/plan-being-crafted-for-charter-takeover-of-worst-schools/article_ad7601f1-834f-52a4-bc75-927efe9eedbb.html.

It is egregious that a leading legislator has to “craft a proposal behind closed doors” by “talking to lawmakers, educators and advocates of his choosing.” Oftentimes when one secretly meets with others of his choosing, then those “others” tend to have like-minded views. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, you choose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools that need your help, not your ignorance.

Think about it. As a two-term representative, you have helped create a system by which poverty-stricken schools are not only labeled as failing (Jeb Bush school grading system), but you have fostered an environment that keeps schools under the foot of government by lowering per pupil expenditures and vilifying veteran educators. And now you meet behind closed doors with those who are willing to siphon money to charter schools run by out-of-state private entities?

You were quoted as saying, “I think the question is how long are kids allowed to be in failing schools” when asked about your reasoning for crafting a charter takeover. Yet, the question you ask is the wrong one. Rather, you should have asked, “How long are we as legislators going to continue creating an environment that keeps schools from being successful?”

Anyone objectively looking at what the North Carolina General Assembly has done in the last three years to public education can easily understand that the biggest obstacle in helping schools achieve actually resides in the Legislative Building on West Jones Street in Raleigh. But when you meet frequently behind closed doors, you do not get that objective point of view. You fall in love with your own ideas because you surround yourself with people whose motives are as single-minded as yours.

Any public servant or elected official like you should be willing to surround yourself with those who may disagree with you. That promotes true debate, careful consideration, and the opportunity to appreciate others’ viewpoints.

But when the McClatchy report recounted that you planned “to substitute your bill for another one introduced in February, circumventing a spring deadline for introducing new legislation,” then that’s not just sneaky; it’s devious.

You claim to have talked with the Tennessee governor and those responsible for the Achievement School District. Simply do a “Google” search on ASD in Memphis and you see the polarizing results of Tennessee’s experiment with the charter school takeover. Whether the criticisms are all valid or not, the fact that so much animosity exists begs for there to be more open discussion about the use of charter schools to “takeover” failing schools. And Rep. Bryan, the words “open discussion” never really apply to you when it concerns your phantom bill.

In reading the Oct. 29, 2013 article from The Atlantic entitled “When Outsiders Take Over Schools: Lessons From Memphis”, I noticed that those who praise the ASD’s efforts talked about the smaller classes, more one-on-one teaching, and tighter structure. If those are ingredients for success in turning around schools, then why are you advocating policies that remove class size caps, lower per pupil expenditures, and abolish teaching assistants in the very schools you hope will be taken over?

Other accolades given by parents to the ASD vouched for the dedication of the staff and teachers. Oddly enough, in North Carolina you and other GOP members have abolished due-process rights for new teachers, removed graduate degree pay, and targeted other ways to keep teachers from retiring in the profession in our state. If claiming that failing schools are the result of undedicated teachers, then you may need to consider the fact that current veteran teachers not only withstand government scorn, but work in worsening conditions, and still go out of their way to help all kids. That is the real definition of dedication. And you want to replace these dedicated professionals with unproven and often uncertified replacements?

Another disturbing element to your legislative maneuvering is that your involvement in certain committees in the NCGA suggests an incestuous relationship with all parties who would benefit from charter school takeovers. Just take a look at the list of committee assignments on your profile page on the NCGA website.

You are a chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee that stipulates what monetary resources are given to school districts in the state. You literally control the money. As a member of the Education K-12 committee, you help determine how schools are rated and judged. You literally control how schools are graded. Add to that your vice-chairmanship on the overall state Appropriations Committee as well as voting membership on the Banking, Commerce & Job Development, Elections, and the University Board of Governors Nominating Committees, and it can be deduced that you wield a wide influence on how education and the private market could collaborate.

Yet, what really disturbs me is that you represent an area whose public school district probably suffers from one of the worst teacher shortages in the Southeast – Charlotte/Mecklenburg. So many teachers left the CMS system this past year (some estimate that it was over 1000), that the school system participated in over 50 job fairs according to a May 25th WBTV report. As of last week, over 300 teaching positions were still posted.

Just travel down I-77 to York County, SC and you may see where many of the former CMS teachers are surely making a better salary with more support and without the fear of a corporate, I mean, charter takeover. Even the NC Teacher of the Year chose an advocacy job over returning to your district. That is a direct statement on the eroding conditions that you have helped create in your own backyard.

Last February, I wrote an op-ed concerning the state’s grading system of schools and I closed with an observation that seems even more true now than it did six months ago. Schools provide a great reflection of a society and how it prioritizes education. When our schools are told that they are failing, those with the power to affect change are really the ones who deserve the failing grades.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT

Public School Teacher

 

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