This past week, BestNC’s president and CEO Brenda Berg published an op-ed on EdNC.org focusing on Charlotte’s Shamrock Gardens Elementary School and its success at transforming itself into a school where all teachers are high-performing and student proficiency has risen “by 15 points – from 42% to 57% – an achievement reached by fewer than 5% of schools in North Carolina during the same time period.”
That op-ed can be read here: https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/17/shamrock-gardens-elementary-school-blueprint-educator-innovation/.
It is worth the read. There are some good points to be made, but this piece is also indicative of the cursory nature of investigation that many use to make claims about what happens in schools and what affects school culture in positive ways.
More precisely, it is another example of how corporate reformers try and frame a situation to fit a profitable narrative when the truth is much more involved and resides on a much deeper plane.
Mrs. Berg begins her perspective with the following introductory paragraph:
For several years, a primary focus of BEST NC’s student-focused advocacy work has been around the importance of having strong, well-supported educators in every classroom from; pre-K to higher education. Without great educators, anything else we advocate for is unlikely to work. That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation. It is based on the premise that the status quo systems and structures for recruiting and supporting educators are dangerously outdated, and, most importantly, cannot adequately prepare students for a new economy.
From the very beginning, it is not really about Shamrock Gardens Elementary. It is about BEST NC.
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.
If you are a public school advocate who works inside of schools and has weathered the reform-oriented agendas of many in the business community here in North Carolina, it was refreshing to see that EdNC.org published a piece a couple of days later about Shamrock Gardens Elementary’ amazing transformation from the perspective of someone who was actually a part of the process – a member of the school’s community.
Pamela Grundy in “Charlotte parent on sending son to failing school, importance of integration” went beyond the surface of what Berg discussed and exposed what really helps to transform schools – not a top-down model, but rather a foundational shift in priorities that can be most enabled by the removal of societal obstacles.
The first few paragraphs of Ms. Grundy’s op-ed are enough to show the very focus on transforming schools is not the instilling of “core-business principles” like Berg suggests, but rather the vast wealth that resides in the school’s indigenous community and the human capital that no test or metric can truly measure.
But this next paragraph near the start of the piece stands out as a most insightful observation for anyone who wants to improve public schools and one that Mrs. Berg seems to downplay.
This is a crucial concept for those who wish to improve struggling schools. A school is not a business — it is a community that reaches well beyond its walls. Building schools that reflect the society we want our children to live in is a more daunting task than simply reorganizing internal operations and monitoring test scores. But it is a necessary one (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/19/charlotte-parent-sending-son-failing-school-importance-integration/).
Pamela Grundy’s piece is a must-read because it does not talk about the appearances of schools and how they measure on random tests. It talks about changing the foundational fabric of the community that the school serves and the removal of obstacles that stand in the way of school success that could be easily be tackled by better legislation – issues like poverty, healthcare, and economic disparities.
In Mrs. Berg’s piece she references BEST NC’s “Educator Innovation” plan. Click on it and you get this.
That’s a top-down reform model based on business practices and full of redundancies.
Again, with a copious amount of “we’s,” this “plan” seems to celebrate the act of incentives and rewards. In fact, this is not the entire “Educator Innovation Plan.” There is actually another page.
There is no argument that “elevation” of educators is a great thing coming from any public school advocate. But there are some glaring glittering platitudes in this “plan.”
- “Educators are not treated as professionals.”
- “School leaders are inadequately supported.”
- “Teacher recruitment is inconsistent.”
- “Economically disadvantages students” exist and are in schools that are harder to staff.
- “The teaching profession is outdated, negatively impacting recruitment, development and retention.”
This is simply another example of claiming to identify problems that teachers in North Carolina have been screaming about for years and that the current lawmaking powers and those who influence policy (some of whom are on the board of BEST NC) have fostered.
If “educators are not treated as professionals,” then it might be the fact that they are not respected.
“Inadequate support?” That’s not new. Look at the budget priorities of the NC General Assembly and you see how much support is not there. Vouchers, unregulated charter growth, and less per-pupil spending might be part of the problem.
Teacher recruitment is hard because the NC General Assembly has de-professionalized the teaching profession. In fact, there has not really been a statement by BEST NC on SB599 which fast-tracks “teacher preparation” to provide teacher candidates.
When over %20 of students in NC public schools live in poverty and rural hospitals are declaring bankruptcy and having to close because of a business model stipulating profits makes GOP lawmakers decide not to expand Medicaid, then poverty and health will remain obstacles in schools.
Teaching profession is “outdated”? No, the way that West Jones Street views the teaching profession is outdated.
Take a closer look at this part of the “plan” by BEST NC.
This is nice proposal for differentiated pay. What Berg’s op-ed seems to miss is that “advanced roles” for teachers already exist. Mentors, supervising teachers, committee chairs, PLT leaders, and department chairs already are working in schools. Successful schools have been using this approach for years. What this fails to show is that in the time that BEST NC has been working “to advocate for teachers and schools,” legislators have removed caps for classroom size, many teachers are now teaching more classes in a school day, and more public tax-payer money is being funneled to private schools and charter schools that can set their own admission standards.
Add to that, monies for professional development really do not exist, so any training that teachers need to help keep up with new research and best practices has to be done during planning periods or summers at the expense of schools. Time is not a malleable variable and time to plan and grade is always needed. In fact, collaboration amongst teachers has to occur at some time.
AND TEACHERS ARE STILL DOING THE JOB! Why? Because improving outcomes for schools is an “inside-out” job. It is a community-driven initiative that talks about relationships and looking at students as more than a product, but as individuals and members of a community.
Besides, NC has a horrible history of funding initiatives to “reward” and “incentivize.” Remember the ABC bonuses? Teaching Fellows? What about funding the ASW evaluation?
It’s also funny that Berg highlight this “innovation” plan right after the current NC General Assembly cut the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by nearly a fifth over the next two years and is about to force class size restrictions on elementary schools in the state forcing each LEA to prioritize limited amounts of monies. Just look at Wake County’s predicament.
Furthermore, considering the invitation to Michelle Rhee this past winter to a legislative retreat without either educators and or the press involved does not bode well for the civil discourse that BEST NC claims to foster.
Now, if you go back to the entire “plan”…
The word “incentive” occurs four times. The word “recruit” occurs nine times. The word “reward” appears three times.
“Poverty” never appears (except in a table).
“Community” never appears.
“Respect” never appears.
It is ironic that many of the very people Grundy talks about in Shamrock Gardens Elementary’s transformation were not incentivized by titles or bonuses, overtly recruited, or rewarded monetarily. In fact, they did not receive monetary recompense. Grundy was not paid to write that op-ed.
Berg is paid to write them as part of her duties to BEST NC.
Those parents and community members respected the school, the teachers, and most of all the students in such a way to remove obstacles that may stand in the way of the community’s school from prospering.
BEST NC often talks about engagement with teachers and communities. Selecting schools whose appearance helps them further their “business reform” narrative seems to be more of a public relations activity.
That’s not what our public schools need.
They need obstacles removed, not models placed over them.
To conclude the “Educator Innovation Plan for North Carolina,” BEST NC quotes Eli Broad.
When it comes to privatizing public schools, no one is more well-known than Eli Broad. He does not preach innovation. He preaches an agenda, which seems to be what this Educator Innovation Plan is.