A Third-Person Open Letter to Darrell Allison and the PEFNC – Why Hide Behind the Ambiguity?

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.

In short, it is easier to hail school choice as a viable means of giving parents freedom as long as what they know about the choices can be controlled.

Wagner focuses much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).

To say that he is the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.

Wagner raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

What Wagner is referring to is the PEFNC’s official reaction to a Duke University report on the Opportunity Grants that contained a flawed conclusion that was later corrected but did not really diminish the results. As Billy Ball reported on July 14th,

The Duke report, released in March by the school’s Children’s Law Clinic, initially suggested the state’s voucher recipients were not performing as well as their public school peers, although the university later edited that portion, arguing instead that the state lacks sufficient data to draw that conclusion (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/14/school-choice-advocates-blast-duke-voucher-report-flawed/#sthash.76QLNaKS.dpbs).

However, the corrected statement by the Duke study team coupled with PEFNC’s statement still gives every indication that people like Darrell Allison do not want to adequately measure how well voucher recipients are performing compared to their public school peers.

“The bottom line is this: We do not yet know how most scholarship students in North Carolina are performing on nationally standardized tests, and we do not know how scholarship students compare to other low-income students not using scholarships,” the group’s paper states.

That refutation from Allison and his cohort is weak. It’s saying that in the three-plus years the state of North Carolina has enacted the Opportunity Grant program and expanded it greatly, it does not really know if it is working.

Allison is claiming victory in the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity that he wants to remain in the forefront to cloud what really may be the truth: that voucher recipients are not doing as well.

That’s opaque transparency with lots of tax-payer money which is siphoning the resources of traditional public schools which service a vast majority of the low-income students that Allison and PEFNC claim to be helping.

Wagner comments about how hard it is to actually get student achievement data concerning voucher recipients.

… only 11 percent of all voucher schools (that’s 34 schools if you’re counting) were required to publicize their students’ test results at the end of 2016. How students fared at nearly 300 other private voucher schools in North Carolina is unknown…

That’s ridiculous. That’s ludicrous. That’s egregious.

Almost a billion dollars has been set aside in the next decade to fund a program which Allison and PEFNC gleefully defend against Duke’s study as something that is not even measurable. But there is a reason that it is not measureable.

Wagner noted that “Efforts were made this past legislative session to require all voucher schools to use just one national test so that, ultimately, parents can make more of an informed choice—but those efforts failed.

Why did those efforts fail? God knows with as much back-door dealing in this last session of the NC General Assembly, this “failed effort” was craftily thwarted by those who want vouchers to remain in North Carolina. Would it be too far of a stretch to think that Allison and PEFNC lobbied for that “effort” to fail?

No, because it would have removed any doubt as to whether voucher recipients were doing as well as their public school peers. But if there is any indication that they were not, then the voucher program would be shown to be a “failed effort” in and of itself.

So, “in this context, one must wonder how a parent is supposed to know whether or not a private voucher school is a good choice for his or her child.”

This past week, NC State released a research study entitled “NC State Research Explores How Private Schools, Families Make Voucher Decisions” that explored perceptions of families of voucher recipients (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/).

Some very curious observations came out that could use a little explanation from Allison and the PEFNC to shed some light on what the voucher program is actually doing.

Consider:

IMG_5490

And…

IMG_5489

And..

IMG_5488

That’s not flattering because it can easily be concluded that what vouchers are doing is not allowing for “low-income students” to actually attend reputable private schools because those schools cost lots of money. Private schools are not non-profit entities. They cost money for a reason.

Secondly, students who did use voucher monies tended to already be behind the academic curve. To bring those students up-to-par would require remediation or it may be symptomatic of the fact that many of these students may have come from under-resourced public schools.

And if 71% of parents thought their kids were safer, it may be indicative of the lack of personnel and lack of support the traditional public schools receive. Most private schools are smaller and have lower teacher: student ratios.

But that racial diversity satisfaction percentage? That’s not encouraging if you investigate the socioeconomics of the almost %20 of school age kids in the state.

If most of the recipients of vouchers do not go to proven academic private schools or remain there (over 90% of recipients go to a religious school), and if you negate the ability to actually measure how well academically these voucher recipients are doing compared to public school students all the while slashing funds for DPI and not fully funding existing schools, then it is hard to say that there is really freedom of choice occurring.

Darrell Allison knows that.

If he is certain that voucher recipients are receiving a better education, then he should be the first to push for efforts to accurately measure achievement levels between voucher recipients and public school students.

The fact that he is not and has not for the last few years certainly indicates a willingness to control what many think is a “freedom of choice.”

What The NC State Superintendent Said in November of 2016 – Measure it Against July of 2017

thennow

On November 15, Lynn Bonner of the News & Observer wrote an expose on the newly elected state superintendent Mark Johnson entitled “Next NC superintendent’s Teach for America work was foundation for education views” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article114941948.html).

Below is a list of quotes and other items attributed to that “interview.”

  • Republican Mark Johnson comes to the job of the state’s education chief promising to shake off the status quo.
  • Johnson is a lawyer for a technology firm in Winston-Salem who has been on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board for about two years… Democrat June Atkinson, who has been the state’s education chief for 11 years and worked at DPI for about 28 years before she won the statewide office.
  • Two years as a Teach for America corps member at West Charlotte High School helped shaped Johnson’s views on public education, convincing him that problems need “hands-on solutions.”
  • He taught earth science to ninth-graders in a school where many students lived in poverty and struggled with classwork. Some students didn’t know whether they would eat at night. He knew one student lived in a motel.
  • In Johnson’s classes, he had students older than the typical freshmen; they had been held back.
  • “Through my experiences, I realized that opportunity is not available to every student in this country, and it needs to be.”
  • He also became convinced that “more of the same” won’t improve public education in the state, he said.
  • Later, Johnson concluded through his work on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board that local districts need more support from DPI for their ideas,
  • The state requires too much testing. 
  • Johnson is proud of the work the Forsyth district has done to jump-start one of the state’s lowest-performing schools, Cook Elementary, giving it some of the flexibility afforded charter schools in hiring, pay and setting the school calendar.
  • After two years teaching, Johnson attended law school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

And in the 210 days that he has been in office (the length of a contract that North Carolina teachers have on a yearly basis – the equivalent of a school year for teachers) it is interesting to see what has been done.

  • The status quo has been actually reinforced.
  • Mark Johnson has shown that two years into an unfinished term in office does not lay a good foundation for being the head of DPI.
  • He has been anything but “hands-on.”
  • He has not fought for helping do something about the poverty level in many places when he could be a more vocal advocate for poorer students.
  • Every teacher on the high school level has taught students who are older than the traditional student of that grade.
  • He offered any plan to help offer “opportunity” to every student.
  • He is rubber-stamping “more of the same” by being a stooge for the GOP powers in the General Assembly.
  • He never spoke against the fact the DPI’s budget has been cut by 20% in the next two-year budget and he talked of DPI’s role in supporting local districts.
  • NC still has not done anything with testing. In fact, they still mean as much if not more in state performance grades.
  • He is in favor of ASD’s and charter schools when he seemed to praise school-led initiatives to help turnaround schools.
  • He still has only taught two years in a classroom.

Some foundation.

 

 

A Very Serious Thank You Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Secretary DeVos,

I wanted to write you a small note to thank you for what you have done in your capacity as U.S. Secretary of Education, but not for the reasons that you might think.

It is not because of your zealous crusade to expand vouchers at the expense of traditional public schools to satisfy some sort of personal agenda. The fact that I am a public high school teacher and a parent of students who attend public schools already puts us at odds.

It is not because you displayed absolutely no comprehension of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act during your confirmation hearings. The fact that I am a father of a special needs child already casts you into extreme doubt.

It is not because you have never served in any capacity as an educator, administrator, parent, or even student. The fact that almost anyone who has worked in a public school is more qualified to be secretary of education seems apparent.

It is not because you seemed to have paid your way into your confirmation. The millions of dollars that you have poured into the coffers of lawmakers, many of whom were on the HELP committee that enabled your confirmation, is well known.

It is not because you have not approved a single application for student debt relief for the tens of thousands of students who were targeted for bad loans. Your allegiance to for-profit business over actual students was apparent before you came into office.

It is not because you removed protections for LGBT students in public schools. As Donald Trump’s nominee, it would be expected that you would continue to push his political views.

It is not because you accepted a $100,000 check for the Department of Education that would have been the president’s second quarter salary. That should go a short way to helping repay the drastic cuts in the budget for public education. It should also make a rather small dent in the almost one-million-dollar-a-month bill you have accrued just for security since you were placed under protection from U.S. Marshals.

It is not because you have surrounded yourself with more neophytes in education and left a vast number of DOE jobs vacant.

It is not because you seem to only visit charter schools and other non-traditional school settings. The fact that almost 9 out of 10 students in this country attend traditional public schools should not be a reason for actually observing public schools (or maybe it should).

It is not because you are hardly a public figure when you are the leader of the public schools. Disregarding invitations to conferences and speaking opportunities to defend your policies has actually become the norm for you and totally expected.

IT IS because you have single-handedly placed public education and its importance back into the national dialogue. And the longer you stay in your office and continue your nebulous approach to privatizing public education, you will convince more people that the need to support public schooling really is important.

IT IS because more people realize that “school choice” really does not entail “choice” at all.

IT IS because more people understand that while someone may have enough money to buy herself an office in a presidential administration, that money cannot buy a true passion for educating any child who walks through the doors of a public school. That still cannot be bought.

IT IS because by your refusal to speak with the press, you actually validate the power of the free press thus confirming that the First Amendment is a foundational part of our country’s fabric.

IT IS because your timidity at talking with special education advocacy groups that many begin to understand just how complex the issue of special education is and that it should be fully funded.

IT IS because that your failures at privatizing schools in your home state become more visible on a national stage and expose the deleterious effects of your platform.

IT IS because knowing that you supposedly lead the nation’s public school without having any public education experience, you are actually confirming that when it comes to education, preparation programs really are vital.

IT IS because when you actually leave office, whether due to a new election or the fact that you are incompetent, the focus on public education will be even more keen and the next individual in the capacity of secretary of education will almost assuredly be infinitely more qualified.

IT IS because that every day that you supposedly serve our students in public schools you validate the very reasons why I advocate for public schools and all students.

But mostly, IT IS because I have never felt so much more committed to be a public school teacher if just to help combat what you stand for.

So, thank you.

I just hope the damage you inflict can be reversed.

The Words “Standing Up For Public Schools” and “Full Communication” Have Never Described State Supt. Johnson

The Editorial Board of the Raleigh News & Observer minced no words in its central opinion piece from today’s edition. It is scathing and worth reading just for the use of diction to carry a rather stern tone (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article164127362.html) .

From “Chipping away at DPI – and hurting kids:”

Mark Johnson, the new state superintendent who taught school for a couple of years before becoming an attorney and served on a county school board, could have fought against the cuts to his own department, and could now be standing up for conventional public schools and teachers and more funding – standing with Graham and Friday.

But he has chosen a different path, to advocate for more charters and more public money for vouchers and to stand with the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. Johnson clearly is the dream superintendent for Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, and state House Speaker Tim Moore. He will do what he’s told.

North Carolina’s public education system is in jeopardy. The public – parents, teachers, advocates – is going to have to stand up for the schools where Johnson will not.

And that observation is spot on. In fact, it was interesting where Johnson was actually standing when this editorial was being written.

From WCTI12.com (and ABC affiliate):

Mark Johnson, the department’s superintendent, visited Contentnea Savannah School in Lenoir County on Thursday and spoke about what is being done. He was at the school for the Teach for America Summer Camp, one of the very few like this in the country. In fact, Lenoir County is one of only two in the state with this type of program.

For the second year, Lenoir County Public Schools have partnered with Teach America for a Summer Camp. The program doubles as both a summer school program for students who need it and also as a training center for Teach for America (http://www.wcti12.com/news/local-news/lenoir/state-dpi-superintendent-assures-work-being-done-despit-budge-cuts/594222676).

Johnson was visiting a non-traditional public magnet school in the summer to observe Teach For America’s program. And in the wake of the drastic cuts to DPI’s budget that he never fought against announced something interesting.

Johnson also mentioned programs like the Teach for America Camp and STEM camps would not be impacted. Nearly 300 students and 40 teachers participated in this year’s camp.

Remember what that N&O edictorial said about Johnson not standing up for traditional public schools? Well, it could not have been more perfectly timed.

And to add more salt to the NCGA-inflicted wounds to traditional public schools, Johnson announced today that “full communications from the state’s top public school agency will resume Aug. 1” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/28/superintendents-office-full-dpi-communications-resume-aug-1/#sthash.BKGQBSP2.dpbs) .

Odd that the words “full communiation” and a person like Mark Johnson would collide in the same sentence.

Because “full communication” and Mark Johnson have never collided in reality.

 

 

 

 

What Should Really Be “Special” in North Carolina

special-1

From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

Definition of special

  1. :  distinguished by some unusual quality; especially :  being in some way superior
  2. :  held in particular esteem
  3. a :  readily distinguishable from others of the same category :  uniquethey set it apart as
    b :  of, relating to, or constituting a species :  specific
  4. :  being other than the usual :  additionalextra
  5. :  designed for a particular purpose or occasion

Over the last year, the North Carolina General Assembly has used five “special sessions” to craft policy and law that has done some rather “nonspecial” things.

They have been called by people who think themselves “special” to create “especially” bad legislation for “special” reasons to make others feel not-so-“special” and unequal.

Those “special sessions” are certainly “designed for a particular purpose or occasion” and are “readily distinguishable from others of the same category” called by people who hold themselves in “held in particular esteem” in order to make others feel like they are “other than the usual.”

In holding themselves as “being in some way superior,” they have distorted what should really be “special” in North Carolina such as:

Protecting “Specials” in Public Schools – Sen. Chad Barefoot’s championing of measures that would allow much needed flexibility to overcome rigid class size requirements is yet another example of why public school advocates view many lawmakers as hypocritical, piously partisan, and “especially” unrepresentative of their office. Without such flexibility, school systems will have to consider eliminating valuable physical education and arts classes (known as “specials”) or with fewer resources, “especially” in rural areas.

Fully Funding Teacher Assistants for All Public Schools, Especially for Special Education Classrooms– It is no “special” secret that cutting teacher assistant positions has been on the table in many of the NC General Assembly education discussions. But doing so would have incredibly “unspecial” Fewer teacher assistants for early grades “especially” limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom. For students who need extra modifications, teacher assistants can mean more than something “special.”

Special Elections – The first “special session” of 2016 was to deal with the gerrymandered districts that were intentionally drawn by the very NC General Assembly that considers itself so “special.” They were declared unconstitutional, meaning that those very people who are calling future “special” sessions to make “especially” heinous policies like HB2 to make others feel not-so-“special” are actually not very valid in many people’s eyes. We need to have those “Special Elections” to democratically regain a hold of this state.

Make All People Special – Every NC citizen who has been marginalized by lack of Medicaid expansion, tainted water, Voter ID intimidation, gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, and other dehumanizing measures to allow for others to profit should not be continue to be disregarded.

Those in power in Raleigh need to stop thinking of themselves as so “special” and begin to think of all North Carolinians as “special.”

“May the Good Lord be With You Down Every Road You Roam” – Rod Stewart And Being An Advocate

Not going to lie, I do like many a Rod Stewart song.

But now I really think a lot of Rod Stewart as a person.

Just take a look.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/27/health/rod-stewart-disabled-kids/index.html 

(CNN)Three weeks ago, a group of children with disabilities and their parents chartered a bus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and headed to Washington to protest proposed cuts in Medicaid, the government health insurance they all rely on.

 

There was one problem. The trip cost about $30,000, and they’d raised only $7,000.
“I’m so nervous,” organizer Angela Lorio said as she boarded the bus with her 4-year-old son, John Paul, who has severe disabilities.
She never dreamed that relief would end up coming from Sir Rod Stewart.
And it continues…

 

Trying to Own What Is Not Yours – BEST NC, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, and Opportunity Culture

When it pertains to academics, it is not a good practice to not cite sources or to claim credit for ideas and concepts that are not yours.

The same applies to the business world especially when it is relates to a business consortium talking about academics.

Simply put, Brenda Berg and BEST NC attempted to take credit where credit was not due to them. In fact, what happened on July 17th when as the CEO and President of BEST NC, she wrote a perspective piece for EdNC.org entitled “Shamrock Gardens Elementary School: A Blueprint for Educator Innovation,” Berg seemed to claim that the ideas used by a unique transformative school  (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/17/shamrock-gardens-elementary-school-blueprint-educator-innovation/) validates what BEST NC does.

In reality, she inadvertently validated the power of teachers when they are allowed to be agents of change and given the professional freedom that reform-minded individuals in Raleigh do not respect – the same reform-minded individuals who claim to be using business models.

Mrs. Berg attempted to crudely explain how the transformation of Shamrock Gardens was made possible because of a model that engages “core business principles.” She made statements such as:

  • “That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation.”
  • “In fact, the BEST NC Board and Team was recently extended the privilege to visit this school so that we could better understand how educators utilize many of the core business principles that we believe are critical for empowering great educators and improving student success.”
  • “However, the rest of their recipe for success revolves around sound design principles that private sector employers strive for every day: supporting developing employees, creating clear career paths for leaders, and adapting their delivery of services based on data to meet ever-changing needs.”

There are numerous references to “we” (BEST NC) before the name of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is even mentioned at the end of the second paragraph. It establishes a scenario that what enabled Shamrock Gardens Elementary to change were the very ideas that BEST NC has been championing and sharing.

Two days later, Pamela Grundy, a Charlotte historian, writer, Shamrock Garden parent and public school advocate, penned another piece that clarified what really happened at Shamrock Gardens. She talked of a transformation that took years and was community-driven, not catalyzed by business (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/19/charlotte-parent-sending-son-failing-school-importance-integration/).

A version of Grundy’s response was recently printed in “The Answer Sheet,” part of The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/25/the-real-story-of-how-a-failing-north-carolina-school-became-a-success-story/?utm_term=.46983b3426b3#comments).

That version is entitled “The real story of how a failing North Carolina school became a success story” and it begins with this statement.

“Back in May, trustees of the business group BEST NC paid a visit to Shamrock Gardens, my son’s elementary school. They came for a presentation on a new staffing structure called “opportunity culture,” which has been quite successful at Shamrock. The report written by BEST NC’s president, however, overlooked a key reason for Shamrock’s success. This was my response.”

Grundy explained the use of a model called “Opportunity Structure” developed by Public Impact (PI). In fact, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has used that model for years in some of their schools like Shamrock Gardens Elementary (http://cmssuccessbydesign.weebly.com/).

Grundy1

Clicking on the link for Public Impact, one comes to the opportunityculture.org website that explains the model and gives clarity for what was used by Shamrock Gardens Elementary.

Grundy2

Ironically, the word “business” shows up on this webpage exactly zero times.

In Berg’s op-ed perspective, she mentions “Opportunity Culture” exactly zero times.

In fact, Berg’s piece highlights BEST NC’s “Educator Innovation Plan” before she even mentions Shamrock Gardens when it had nothing to do with anything that happened with Shamrock Gardens.

Grundy’s perspective in The Washington Post has received lots of reads and while comments are sometimes overlooked, one really stands out because it came from the people who created the Opportunity Culture model. It reads,

“As the chief architects of the Opportunity Culture school models, we appreciate the positive words about Opportunity Culture.

We just want to clarify that Opportunity Culture is not an initiative of any business group. While we appreciate and laud philanthropic support from business leaders for schools, we did not consult any business leaders from BEST NC or elsewhere about the design or implementation of Opportunity Culture.

Instead, our hardworking team consulted dozens of teachers to design the initial Opportunity Culture school models and have improved them with input of hundreds of teachers, principals and other school staff. Teachers, principals and other staff in schools are ultimately responsible for the successes that many OC schools, Shamrock included, have achieved for students. The OC models simply give educators the roles and collaboration time to ensure learning success for more students — and pay teachers more for this.

As you note, at Shamrock, and elsewhere, Opportunity Culture does not stand alone. We very much respect, and count on, the many complimentary efforts of teachers, staff, parents, and communities to serve children and improve schools.”

Respectfully, Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

Read it again. Among other things, it states that what happened was the use of a model that was created by teachers, principals, and other staff members.

Also they make perfectly clear:

  • Opportunity Culture is not an initiative of any business group.
  • …we did not consult any business leaders from BEST NC or elsewhere about the design or implementation of Opportunity Culture…
  • …our hardworking team consulted dozens of teachers to design the initial Opportunity Culture.
  • The OC models simply give educators the roles and collaboration time to ensure learning success for more students…

What Mrs. Berg saw as an opportunity to tout the business model reform structure championed by BEST NC for public education was really an attempt to steal credit for something that educators and community members did.

Taking credit for something that is not yours in academic classrooms is called “plagiarism.” It happens in the business world when using concepts, ideas, and branding from another entity and not giving credit.

Not once did Berg talk about the very model used by Shamrock Gardens Elementary when it was clearly identified by Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and people at Shamrock Gardens.

The chief architects of the Opportunity Culture model went out of their way to explain how they never consulted BEST NC or the business community in creating this model. They gave credit to teachers as they view teachers as the catalysts for change.

But Berg did go out of her way to promote BEST NC and how what is in its “Educator Innovation Plan” had obviously been in good practice at Shamrock Elementary.

What Berg did and what she purposes as the goals of BEST NC are not what is needed in North Carolina. We have the teachers. We have the communities.

What we need is for people to get out of the way and for legislature to remove obstacles instead of being one.

This North Carolina General Assembly has already gone out of its way to ram a business model into public education with non-innovative ideas like unregulated charter schools, vouchers, and Achievement School Districts with nothing to show for it except elevated language, unproven claims, and fatter pockets for for-profit companies.

It seems that if BEST NC really wanted to improve public education in North Carolina, it would help remove those obstacles instead of trying to garner credit for something it did not do.

It would also help if BEST NC and Mrs. Berg did more background research like examining what Shamrock Gardens Elementary and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools did to create such positive changes.

It wouldn’t take long for them to find out about Public Impact and the Opportunity Culture Model which is trademarked. They are literally right down the road from BEST NC’s Raleigh headquarters.

In Chapel Hill.

 

Being a Teacher Who Lives With a “Special -Needs” Child

 

I am the proud parent of a child. Actually, two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”

He looks like his mother as well.

Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.

Some may say that I am the parent of a Special-Ed, Down Syndrome child.

I rather think of being a parent of a child who happens to have Down Syndrome and an IEP.

And both my kids are special to me.

I also teach high school coming into contact with as many different personalities and learning styles that can possibly be contained in overcrowded classrooms with overarching standards.

In my almost twenty-year career, nothing has made me more attuned and more aware of the spectrum that exists in all classrooms for learning than being a parent of a child who happens to have Down Syndrome and needs modification in school.

That includes:

  • The need to keep engaging and reengaging students.
  • The need to have individual tie with students to focus on individual work.
  • The need to allow students to engage with each other collaboratively.
  • The need to allow students to be exposed to various options for learning.
  • The need to expose students to other students’ methods.
  • The need for sufficient resources and space.
  • The need to revisit parts of the curriculum to ensure mastery.
  • The need for unstructured time spent in curious endeavors.
  • The need to offer some choices in what is pursued as far as learning is concerned.
  • The need for students to be exposed to all subject areas as each student is intelligent is multiple ways.
  • The need for students to have self-guided learning.
  • And the list goes on and on.

When you live with a child who happens to have special needs, you learn to celebrate tiny victories that mark moments of growth. But before you can do that you have to learn what those moments of growth really are. You have to learn how to be more “holistic” in your approach to “assessing” what is learned and mastered.

When you live with a child who happens to have special needs, you learn to not necessarily compare your child with others. Nothing could be more self-defeating. What you learn to do is to relate with other parents and teach your child to relate to others. If any comparison needs to go on, then compare what you once were to what you would like to be.

So that “special” child that I live with probably has taught me more about teaching because I think that it is my job to help each student grow. If there is growth, the achievement comes.

What we have in the bureaucratic view of public education that exists in government buildings is a mindset bent on comparison, narrow in its scope, and focused on a product rather than a process. That mindset also depersonalizes students and looks at formulas to set policy on class size, resources, and what it means to have “learned.”

My child who happens to have Down Syndrome and needs modification in school could teach these people so much.

Just don’t take away from his pool time.

Or his baseball hats, specifically his Titan baseball hats.

IMG_5473

The Total Soulless Educational Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017 parts of western North Carolina will be subject to a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the state will certainly witness the once in a lifetime event. Ironically, most people affected by the eclipse will be in rural areas.

eclispe

On July 25, 2017 all of North Carolina became subject to another darkening of the light – a soulless eclipse of funding for public schools.

And again, the rural areas will see the biggest effects of this shadow cast on communities that send most all of their students to traditional public schools.

But this instance is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It will be felt for quite a while. What’s even more egregious is that it could totally be prevented.

Yet, the powers that be will hide even more funds from these same areas next year.

As reported in multiple outlets today like WRAL,

The State Board of Education approved $2.5 million in cuts to the state Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday as a result of mandated budget reductions by the General Assembly. Most of the cuts are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. An additional $737,000 in cuts are expected in the coming weeks (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-approves-2-5m-in-budget-cuts-/16840289/).

This comes at a time when our officials in Raleigh are celebrating a state surplus and an expanding “rainy-day” fund.

The cuts made today will especially be felt in the rural areas. Further in the WRAL report referenced earlier,

Board Chairman Bill Cobey declined to say which positions are being cut, citing personnel laws, but said they will be revealed at a later date. He said the majority of the staff cuts will be in the District Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions. The board plans to merge the two divisions into a new one, called District Support.

“Hopefully the districts can pick up any slack that is produced by this reduction,” Cobey said. “We’re further reducing the service to the districts. Hopefully you won’t see any huge impact any place, but there’s going to be marginal impact in certain places across the state. And we’re going to try our best to mitigate that.”

Many of these affected districts are in areas that actually are worried about their local hospitals staying open because many of the same GOP members who mandated the cuts to DPI also refused to expand Medicaid which these rural hospitals rely on so that people can pay medical bills.

That particular eclipse started years ago and it appears that things are getting darker. Ask the folks in Sen. Berger’s hometown of Eden.

Perhaps most egregious is that this soulless educational eclipse comes as the NC General Assembly is shining so much sunshine on both the state superintendent and non-traditional schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

As Billy Ball reported in NC Policy Watch today:

Board members were limited in their choices for handing down the legislative funding cuts. General Assembly members forbade cuts from GOP-backed initiatives such as the teacher prep program Teach for America and the Innovative School District, formerly called the Achievement School District, which could allow for-profit charter operators to take over several low-performing schools in the coming years…

Lawmakers ordered the board to stay away from additional funds allocated to create up to 10 new positions in the department reporting directly to Johnson. The move came with Johnson, the board and the legislature mired in a court battle over the powers of the superintendent’s office (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/25/teacher-development-struggling-schools-chopping-block-state-board-ed-implements-g-mandated-cuts/).

Also worth mentioning is that the General Assembly gave Johnson $300,000 for legal fees in his defense against the State Board’s lawsuit over a transfer of power done by the GOP in a special session to prop up Johnson as a puppet official.

The state board was forbidden to use state funds in its legal actions.

As true to his nature, Johnson was not present at the actual board meeting but was linked through on a conference call.

Ball continues,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, has been silent on the cuts and he did not speak during the public portion of Tuesday’s conference call session, but Cobey has said his office has been sharing proposals for the cuts with board members.

There is Johnson once again not being available to the public as the leader of the public schools.

However, Johnson did release a statement afterwards, one full of pomp, circumstance, and total ambiguity.

“While these funding cuts will be challenging, I did not run for Superintendent of Public Instruction to shirk away from the challenges of leadership. The General Assembly is clearly frustrated with the lack of accountability of the State Board of Education, and I am too. The culture of a non-accountability created by the State Board is one of the reasons I sought funding for a top-to-bottom, third-party review of DPI. By studying the results from this upcoming operational review and working together with the professional staff at DPI, I believe the department will come out stronger, more efficient, and more effective at supporting public schools in NC. The Board seems to prefer to complain and instead focuses only on more of the same. I embrace the positive changes that can result from addressing this substantive challenge head-on. We can and will be a better DPI at the end of this process.”

Listening to Mark Johnson through an impersonal statement is becoming the norm, not the exception. His availability to the people of North Carolina and the educators who work with most of our students has been more sparse than the funds that DPI can now use to staff vital positions in the School Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions.

It is rather funny to hear Johnson talk of not “shirking away from the challenges of leadership.” He hasn’t avoided being a leader per-se. It’s more like run the other way. And his comments about accountability are humorous as well. Why? He has not done anything that would make him accountable for anything.

Studying results? Interestingly, he has never disclosed his findings. That includes his findings from the “listening tour” he is still pursuing. And the words “Mark Johnson” and “addressing challenges head-on” have never collided in the same sentence.

Maybe next year, the General Assembly can set aside some money for Johnson to get a spine to actually help stand in front of people and explain his lack of action.

 

Budget Cuts to DPI – A Case for Laying Off Mark Johnson

cuts

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.

No truer words have been spoken.

Mr. Cobey’s words are in reference to the $3.2 million dollar cuts that are part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget hit on DPI for the next two years.

As reported by Billy Ball today on NC Policy Watch:

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009 (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/24/state-board-education-vote-dpi-budget-cuts-layoffs-tuesday/#sthash.ufZnGu0C.dpbs).

Ironically, the public has not heard the head of DPI, State Superintendent Mark Johnson, on this matter although it has been said by Comey that he has offered suggestions to where the cuts should be made.

It surely would have to do with layoffs of certain positions. And I hope Johnson was looking in a mirror when he came up with his list of cuts. If such a fiscally unsound, politically-motivated decision to cut funds to DPI is to actually be carried out, it might make a great amount of sense to layoff those people in DPI who really have not done the job.

Therefore, it makes total sense that Mark Johnson be the first to be let go in this budget cut.

Think of it. In all of DPI, he probably has the least amount of experience. Next, he has done really nothing. Name one initiative that he has put into place that has really furthered the cause of public education. And more importantly, the state has already spent an enormous amount of money on him for absolutely no return.

As the state superintendent, Mark Johnson makes $127,000 dollars a year as a salary. Add to that the budgetary lines items that allow him to travel around the state without actually being available to the public and the press at large.

He has been given $300,000 for legal fees against the state board of education whose members were appointed by many of the same people who are giving Johnson this money.

300

He has also been given over $432,000 to create positions in DPI loyal to him as DPI is having its budget cut YET ONCE AGAIN.

432

That’s already nearing a million dollars of ill-spent money on one person who has done more to not do anything as a state superintendent than anyone in history.

If this were a business, and forgive the use of a business model in the talk of educational matters (but sadly that is the way that many in Raleigh think), then Johnson would have already been gone.

Consider the costs of special sessions last year for policies and laws that were secretly crafted and had negative impacts on the state.

  • Special session regarding congressional redistricting: 02/18/16-02/19/16
  • Special session regarding LGBT nondiscrimination measures: 03/23/16
  • Special session regarding S4 and HB17 : 12/14/16 – 12/16/16
  • Special session regarding H2: 12/13/16 – 12/15/16

The redistricting sessions are really mute because the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that NC’s maps were racially gerrymandered. The HB2 law that came in the spring was economically disastrous. S4 and HB17 set up the current debacle that cripples DPI and the state board of education. H2 was about helping victims of Hurricane Matthew – people mostly in rural areas where the effects of cuts to DPI will be felt the most.

Each day for a special session costs taxpayers over $42,000.

There’s another quarter of a million at least.

Consider these tidbits:

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a “special session” that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/06/north-carolinas-anti-lgbt-law-has-cost-state-more-560-million-so-far).

AND

Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state’s elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It’s a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state’s top lawyer. (http://www.wral.com/legislature-s-legal-bills-top-9m-in-defense-of-state-laws/15905135/).

What has happened is that the General Assembly spent a hell of a lot of money to enact policies that cannot be defended and enabled unqualified people like Mark Johnson to assume important posts so that more money can be spent on inactivity and stupid legal fees so that people like Mark Johnson can help layoff those people in a vital department who have much more experience in helping public schools.

And our students are hurt by it.