Let Us Praise Great Coaches Again – Thinking of Coach Lambros and the North Davidson Community

If you teach long enough in the public schools, you will be fortunate enough to come across some great individuals who coach sports teams all the while teaching these very athletes lessons of life and success even in the wake of defeat.

When winning seems to be the only criteria by which many measure the success of a team, a great coach understands that winning is much more than a final score. That “W” in the “win” column is the culmination of a process by which young people are pushed, nurtured, taught, challenged, and built. That same process is the part rarely seen in the media or by the fans.

In a world where statistics are obsessed over by not only fans and players, but also parents and scouts, great coaches see that as secondary to the chemistry of the team. When people squabble over playing time and egos, great coaches see that team is more important than one individual.

When a team wins, great coaches give the players credit. When a team loses, great coaches look at themselves as the first to be accountable and find ways to help the team reflect on those losses. Why? It’s part of the process.

Great coaches see the team as more powerful than the sum of its parts put together because building a community where a common goal drives the participants is part of that process of being successful. Great coaches praise players in public, encourage loudly, and practice discipline leaving constructive criticism behind closed doors in locker rooms, practice, and dugouts.

Great coaches care about their players as students. It is often that I tell people who do not teach that so many players perform better academically in my classroom while in season than out of season. The time management and the added incentive to keep playing helps many students make the needed commitment to academics and family.

Great coaches have probably kept so many students out of trouble because spending time being mentored and coached negates opportunities to be involved with conflict.

Great coaches are probably one of the more stable influences in the lives of many student-athletes who experience flux in their homes and personal lives. These great coaches become role-models, confidants, and advocates.

Students do not just earn “letters” for football, basketball, and baseball. Think of cross-country, track, lacrosse, swimming, volleyball, softball, and soccer among others. Each has a coaching staff who works with students to make them better people.

Let us not forget that most of these great coaches are teachers in the same schools where they coach. They teach across a variety of disciplines — even Advanced Placement classes. They take care of our students in so many ways. And if they were actually paid an actual living wage for the time they spend preparing players, mowing fields, cleaning courts, talking to media and parents, and other unseen duties, they would be walking home with a much larger paycheck. But they still do it. Why? Because it is for the kids.

If you want to witness what the effect that a great coach can have on a school and its surrounding community, then go to the games or the matches, see the support, watch the passion of the players, and see the pride of the student sections. Roam the hallways on game day and witness the players wear their jerseys or team apparel that showcase their commitment to represent the school on the athletic field. That is pride in school and pride in community. That starts with a great coach.

And if you go to a game or match gladly pay for the ticket. Any money made from a high school athletic contest goes straight back into an investment in our kids. The return on investment is huge and immediate.

Not Saying Much With a Lot of Words – The Disappointing Interview With State Superintendent Mark Johnson

In what might be a first in the nine months that he has been in office, North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson gave an interview that was accessible to the average North Carolinian.

johnson

In “‘Fighting the status quo’: Inside the combative world of NC’s new public schools chief,” Johnson offers some explanation of his vision for North Carolina and reflects on his rather unorthodox term as the leader of the public schools in North Carolina (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/27/fighting-status-quo-inside-combative-world-ncs-new-public-schools-chief/).

For many, this interview might have shed some light on what Johnson really hopes to accomplish. It may have had some substance and some weight to it. It may have offered details not previously known. It may have filled in some empty spaces.

Yet, for many public school advocates, it was another example of not saying much with a lot of words. And that conclusion is based on five specific instances within the interview / profile that glaringly confirm Johnson’s focus on what is to happen in North Carolina’s public schools seems to be in direct contrast to his actions and / or words.

  1. Three initiatives?

Alex Granados and Kelly Hinchcliffe (from EdNC.org and WRAL respectively) write,

During the interview, Johnson spoke passionately about his vision for public schools and the three initiatives for which he has the most excitement:

  • Promoting early childhood learning by encouraging parents to read to their children every day
  • Advancing personalized learning in classrooms so students can work at their own pace
  • Teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success.

Those three initiatives speak to the nebulous approach that Johnson has used in his tenure.

First, what state superintendent has not encouraged parents to read to their children? That is certainly not a new idea, nor is the focus on early childhood education. It usually depends on how much one is willing to invest in the initiative.

In the video interview, Johnson talked about how investing one dollar in pre-K initiatives yielded a return of anywhere between $4 and $16 into the economy. How odd that Johnson not openly fight against the reduction of the budget for DPI that would help in this funding this endeavor.

Furthermore, when many kids who struggle in schools come from impoverished areas of the state, they may have parents or guardians who may not be able to sacrifice the time to make reading to their children a priority simply because they are trying to work to get the necessities of life. There is more to getting children “kindergarten ready” than just reading to them.

And is he ready to fight for the resources to make that happen? And will he be ready to reach out to these parents, because he surely has not been all-together approachable so far.

Secondly, advancing personalized learning requires resources and professional development. It also requires allowing teachers to have the time to work with individual students and a willingness to not measure success by timed intervals. There is nothing that Johnson has said that would lend thought to an idea of extra funds, more professional development, smaller classes while maintaining specials, or lightening the restrictive bonds of promoting students when schools are measured by strict graduation rates.

If students are to be encouraged to go “at their own pace,” then what will Johnson do to make sure that teachers are able to spend more time and attention to each individual?

And that “teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success?” Then why allow the state to make all students take the ACT which is a college-entrance test rather than allow career ready students to take another assessment that is constructed for their particular program of study?

  1. About “Taking Orders” From the General Assembly

Johnson said in the interview,

“I have a great working relationship with the General Assembly, and our visions actually align very similarly,” he said. “It’s a give and take. We don’t agree on everything, and we work together on what we do agree with.”

What has he ever publicly disagreed with the General Assembly about? And the fact that their “visions align very similarly” seems more of an approval for the many “reforms” that West Jones Street has enacted.

In fact, Johnson sounds more compliant than leading real change. That’s not “transformation” of public education. That’s “preservation” of the General Assembly’s actions.

  1. “Urgency, Ownership, Innovation, and Transparency.”

It was mentioned by the writers:

Throughout the interview, Johnson frequently returned to his often-used talking points, promising to bring urgency, ownership, innovation and transparency to the state’s education system. He also spoke about his past and how it has shaped his beliefs about public education.

The word “urgency” has become a bit of a mantra for him. He highlighted it in his first state school board meeting. But that “urgency” takes an interesting turn in meaning in this interview. As stated,

But do not expect any major changes right away if Johnson wins the lawsuit.

“I think if you’re looking for a seismic shift, you’re not going to find it. There’s not going to be this tidal wave of change that’s going to come bursting through the doors at DPI,” he said.

Instead, the changes would be systematic, with Johnson hoping to rework the agency’s organizational chart “to make things more accountable and transparent.”

Of course there will not be a “tidal wave” of change coming from the “doors of DPI.” Why? Because those tsunamis are coming from West Jones Street and the powers that be in the General Assembly whom Johnson works closely with.

If one listened to the interview in full, then it becomes apparent that there really are no concrete “innovations” that Johnson talks about, but rather general platitudes and lofty oversimplifications. Talking about having a strong relationship between communities and schools is not an innovation. That’s already happening. If anything, communities are talking about their schools and the need for their schools and have been communicating that with lawmakers and policy makers.

Furthermore, if there are any real concrete innovations that Johnson has, then he needs to be very specific about them and be public with them. That would show some real “ownership” and “transparency.”

  1. Testing

Johnson ran on a platform that said we as a state tested too much.

From the Charlotte Observer on Jan. 27 of this year,

“Too much testing” was a major theme in Johnson’s campaign, and the federal government’s switch from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more flexibility to scale back (http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article128951579.html).

So, guess what word never comes up in the article concerning the interview? It’s the same word that never is voiced in the entire 27 minute video interview linked to the interview.

That word is “testing.”

Not a word.

What is also interesting is that the state recently had to present its plan to adhere to the new ESSA standards. From the Sept. 5th article from the News & Observer by T. Keung Hui:

Despite pledges to try to cut back on high-stakes standardized testing, North Carolina schools will continue to largely be evaluated based on how well their students perform on state exams.

… State Supt. Mark Johnson had campaigned on a “too much testing” theme in 2016, saying the state could take advantage of the flexibility given in ESSA to scale things back. In an interview Friday, Johnson downplayed the significance of the new plan, saying it’s a living document that can be changed over time (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article171279007.html).

Downplaying it is not the way to “not talk” about it. Giving a coherent plan as to how he will reduce testing in the state in an open, transparent manner would show that Johnson plans to “own” this part of his platform. It would be great if he was “urgent” about it as well because news that the ACT will become a central part of how each student will be measured no matter what “pathway” he/she chooses.

Or maybe they can take it when they are ready at their own pace. Or better yet, let’s not force each student to take a test designed for college admittance when not all students want to go to college.

  1. Blaming Previous DPI Leaders

One final note concerns Johnson’s insistence that previous leaders were simply not accomplishing what needed to be done.

However, it is interesting that Johnson blames others who had to work under a more restrictive atmosphere than he supposedly will if he wins the lawsuit against the state board. In fact, Johnson’s entire tenure has centered around trying to win a lawsuit to not have to work under the same conditions that previous leaders had to.

It really only proves that if Johnson is going to “transform” anything, he is going to have the legislation do it for him, specifically in special sessions.

Now that’s transparency.

A Prayer For Coach Mike Lambros

News tonight that Coach Mike Lambros had entered hospice care as he continues his battle with cancer struck this West Forsyth Titan softball fan with a myriad of feelings for a man I had seen coach on numerous occasions and had met one time.

Coach Lambros has been at the helm of one of the premiere softball programs in the state, if not the Southeast, and if there is one game you attended in Clemmons during softball season, it was the home game against North Davidson.

When North Davidson made its championship run this past spring, many outlets covered Coach Lambros’s battle with cancer. Reading about the Black Knights’ sweep of Cape Fear in the 4A championship series, I could not help but think of the absolute positive influence he has had over literally hundreds of young ladies he has coached and the thousands of people in the North Davidson community.

As I thought about writing this post, I remembered a story on Coach Lambros from the June 27th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal by Jay Spivey entitled ” North Davidson’s Lambros cherishes birthday after tumultuous 10 months” (http://www.journalnow.com/sports/prepzone/north-davidson-s-lambros-cherishes-birthday-after-tumultuous-months/article_0aead7ae-9dff-5d51-9f17-85ac4777e244.html).

Coach Lambros said something in that piece that came to mind tonight.

“Lambros said he couldn’t have gotten through the past 10 months without his family and his softball family.

“It’s everything. They’re your rocks. If you don’t have a good day, they’re the reason you do have a good day,” he said.

 

He talked about family – his nuclear family and his school  / community family. It’s what he preached to all of those players and all of those students for well over 30 years in Welcome, NC.

Actually, he’s still preaching it.

To find someone who spends an entire career at one school is becoming a bit of a rarity these days. But when it becomes part of that person’s extended family, then that place becomes another home.

Coach Lambros will always be living proof of that.

For him and his family and his school family, there are a lot of people in the West Forsyth community who wish and pray for grace and comfort.

lambros

 

 

It’s Banned Books Week – Ray Bradbury Would Want You to Read One

Below is a list of the most challenged books of the first decade of the 21st century. From the American Library Association (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009). Have you read any of these?

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the creators of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

And for added measure, take a look at this article about eh most surprising banned books from The Week recently updated from its original 2011 version – http://theweek.com/articles/459795/americas-most-surprising-banned-books. It includes:

little red riding hood

So, “How does North Carolina rank on a list of best and worst states for teachers?” – Take a Guess.

Today we learned that North Carolina is 45th on WalletHub’s ranking of 2017 Best and Worst States for Teachers. According to T. Keung Hui’s report today in the News & Record.

North Carolina was 45th on WalletHub’s ranking of 2017 Best and Worst States for Teachers, finishing as the seventh-worst state on a list that included all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The personal finance website developed its rankings based on 21 metrics, ranging from teachers’ income growth potential to pupil-teacher ratio to teacher safety (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article175276116.html).

What is most surprising about this ranking is that it is not surprising. You can view the study and its findings here: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-teachers/7159/#kimberly-kappler-hewitt.

Wallethub1

Last year, North Carolina was 44th (http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2016/09/26/nc-ranks-44th-among-best-and-worst-states-teachers/91107988/). That means that this year is a setback of sorts, and with all of that “reform” going on.

In 2015, NC was 50th (http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/09/28/nc-ranks-50th-list-worst-states-teachers/72971156/).

In 2014, NC was 51st. Remember that the District of Columbia is included.

The validity of a study will always come under fire by those whose narrative does not fit with the results and conclusions. Hui’s report includes comments from Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation.

But Terry Stoops, vice president for research for the John Locke Foundation, said the study is just an attempt by WalletHub to get more clicks on its website. He questioned the methodology used by WalletHub for the many different rankings it produces.

“This isn’t truly about finding out best and worst places for teachers,” Stoops said. “This is about driving people to WalletHub’s website.”

Of course Stoops would say that. He works for the John Locke Foundation. If he agreed with the study, then it would go against JLF’s narrative that teachers do not deserve the “rights and privileges” they supposedly currently have. But it is interesting that he claims it is an attempt to get people to WalletHub’s website.

Maybe if North Carolina was ranked a little higher, say maybe in the 30’s, it would not have caused as many people to go to WalletHub’s site. Maybe WalletHub should have ranked NC in the top ten for how it treats teachers. That would really drive down the traffic from NC to their website.

Probably not. Either way, he certainly clicked on WalletHub’s site.

Yet, the parameters and variables they used to conduct the study do seem rather solid. Think about it. It is easy to quantify the results of qualitative data points and surveys and plot them.

The study ranked each state on (as Hui reports):

  • Average starting salary for teachers (adjusted for cost of living) – 36th
  • Average annual salary for teachers (adjusted for cost of living) – 34th
  • Quality of school system – 13th
  • Pupil-teacher ratio – 34th
  • Public-school spending per student – 43rd
  • Teachers’ income growth potential – 38th
  • Ten-year change in teacher salaries – 46th
  • Teacher safety – 43rd

Those are not flattering numbers for our state. And they are consistent with what has occurred in the last few years.

Stoops had one other comment in Hui’s article.

Stoops said that if the rankings were consistent then North Carolina would have finished much higher based on the mark it got for the quality of schools.

Actually, that is the most interesting part of the entire piece. What Stoops is referring to is that North Carolina ranked 13th in WalletHub’s 2017 States with the Best & Worst School Systems.

You may find that study here – https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/#.

Wallethub2

The variables used for that study include:

  • Graduations Rates
  • Dropout Rate: Double Weight
  • Test Scores
  • AP Scores
  • Median SAT Score
  • Median ACT Score

The actual list has many more items that are more thoroughly explained.But Stoops cannot seem to marry the idea that NC ranks 45th in one study and 13th in another. He cannot seem to fathom the idea that our schools are maybe doing a good job, but the state does not treat public school teachers well, especially veteran teachers.

I can.

That “discrepancy” of 32 places on the WalletHub rankings just might be due to the most non-quantitative and most qualitative factor in our schools besides hard-working students – the role of teachers.

So what if the WalletHub studies do hold water? If you look at them, you will see that there is included some “Ask the Experts” sections. The scholars in these sections seem rather “bonifide.” It would be hard to imagine they would lend their names to the studies if they did not approve of the methodologies. Sure they can have political bent or an area of focus that may sway their opinions, but they are scholars.

Stoops works for a libertarian think tank associated with a man named Art Pope who was instrumental in former Gov. McCrory’s first budget and policy shift toward alienating teachers. In other words, Stoops has a very political bent.

And the writer of this post is certainly of a political bent and has an extreme bias when it comes to public school teachers.

However, we both have something in common: we apparently went to WalletHub’s website.

 

 

Every Principal in NC Has The Right to Speak Out Against This New Principal Pay Plan – It’s “Political Crap”

“Legislation is not an exact science. We do things that we think will help solve an issue.”

– Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

Rep. Craig Horn’s quote was in response to what he called “overblown fears” concerning the new principal pay plan newly implemented this school year (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/principal-pay-situation/).

However, considering what this current slew of lawmakers, including Horn, has done to “reform” public education here in North Carolina, it is rather ironic that he says that educators should not have “fears.” Anyone who has been an advocate for public schools in North Carolina knows full well that this state has every reason to fear what is brewing in Raleigh concerning educational reforms.

Horn mentions that legislation is not an exact science, but it is odd that he refers to it as a science because if it is then we have some lousy “scientists” in Raleigh. Consider the need for scientists to thoroughly investigate all possible scenarios and constantly experiment before declaring something a “law.” Consider that scientists usually have their work peer-reviewed before publishing.

But that would go against the special sessions of Horn’s constituents and their use of secret midnight meetings. Furthermore, if Horn is claiming to be practicing a science, then why not listen to actual scientists when it concerns matters like coal ash spills, GenX, and fracking?

The problem with Horn’s comments found in response to criticism of the principal pay plan is that those comments are simply weak and do not even pass the basic tenants of the scientific process. In fact, they are insulting to educators and those looking to see past the smoke and mirrors which have come to define the political process in Raleigh.

Horn continues (as Granados explains),

“Did we intend to get it done perfectly? Well, we would have liked to have, but we don’t kid ourselves,” Horn said. “Did we intend to screw somebody? No. Period.” 

Intentions can be debated all day, but actions speak truly. This principal pay plan simply does “screw” people, both literally and figuratively.

But for Horn to say that “screwing” somebody with this principal pay plan was not intentional? The “we” he refers to must mean the GOP establishment in power on West Jones Street. And frankly, those people do not have a good track record with having good actions backing up their intentions.

Maybe the representative should explain how HB2 did not intentionally target transgender citizens of North Carolina. Maybe he should explain how the unconstitutional Voter ID law did not intentionally target lower-income minorities. Maybe Horn should explain how the racially-gerrymandered redistricting plan that his own party enacted was not intentionally constructed to screw people over.

To continue with Horn’s scientifically unsound comments:

Horn also expresses frustration with some of the critics who he said have unfairly used the hold harmless provision to demonize Republicans. He said their fears are theoretical. 

“That may happen. This may happen. The Earth may explode. To use that as a bludgeon is patently ridiculous,” he said. “It’s fear mongering and political crap at its worst.” 

It’s funny that someone like Horn talk about frustration. Ask any veteran public school teacher or administrator about how Raleigh has totally changed the landscape of public education in North Carolina morphing it from a once nation-leading progressive system to a playground for privatizing, then you will hear some scientifically supported frustration.

The irony is not lost on Horn’s use of the word “theoretical” since he and his cronies will pass a hint of a baseless hypothesis into law within the matter of a day – like HB2. Or HB14. Or SB4. Without any experimenting! Yet, the people who actually are practicing the scientific method and have advanced degrees and conducting research are telling us that we are doing everything in our power to make the Earth explode. People in Houston, Puerto Rico, and Mexico have sure seen things explode.

Horn would call that last statement “fear mongering” and “political crap,” but what he is actually selling is “crap mongering” because of “political fear.” Why? Because the principal pay plan is so shallow and thin that it shows the lack of “scientific process” used by lawmakers to pass it. And people immediately recognize it.

If one looks at the actual steps of the scientific process as taught in our high schools based on the curriculum that the state prescribes, then one can see the steps real scientists use to explore. The steps listed below actually come from DPI’s K-12 Standards page for science (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/science/).

  1. Asking questions and defining problems
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

Except in this instance the problem defined was how to make principals and schools do more with less. The model came from some political playbook used by ALEC-leaning bodies. The planning occurred behind doors without actual educators. The data that was analyzed involved monetary bottom lines. The math and the computational thinking come from entities that benefit from this pay plan like SAS. Given explanations have been broad and nebulous. There is no evidence. And lastly, a body of lawmakers that uses special sessions and secret meetings which shut out other points of view does not practice communication well.

Horn’s comments still do not explain why the principal pay plan simply assumes that principals were not already focused on helping students achieve. He never explains why their getting advanced degrees to become more qualified to handle tasks and duties of an educational leader who has to navigate the terrain of today’s educational reality is not important. And he sure as hell does not explain how the same lawmakers who champion this plan resolve to help alleviate poverty’s effects on student performance.

Until he does that, then all he is giving us is a lesson in political scatology.

Open Letter to BEST NC About Their Principal Pay Plan (and Their Shallow Response to the Push-back).

Dear. Mrs. Berg and BESTNC,

Today I read your reactionary response on EdNC.org concerning BESTNC’s explanation of the new principal pay plan that has received some much well-deserved criticism. It was nice to finally see BEST NC take responsibility for this absolutely detrimental policy.

Without taking the time to mince words, I want to thank you for further proving what many of us public school advocates have known for a while concerning BESTNC and its principal members – that you and BESTNC are a special interest group who claim to represent a non-partisan, non-profit coalition that actually is helping usher in an agenda here in North Carolina which benefits those who wish to profit from the privatization of public schools.

One only has to read your latest attempt at amelioration entitled “North Carolina’s new principal pay schedule, explained by BEST NC” to understand that it is nothing more than damage control for an ill-conceived yet purposeful plan (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/north-carolinas-new-principal-pay-schedule-explained-best-nc/).

You start it by stating,

“This year, North Carolina made the largest investment in state history in principal salaries through an updated salary schedule and bonus opportunities.”

That sounds great, but when you say the word “bonus,” you already have aroused suspicion. The words “bonus” and “public education” have never really collided successfully in North Carolina. Remember the ABC’s? or the 25% of top teachers get a raise concept? Probably not, because you are not an educator or administrator. Rather, you are a mouthpiece for a special-interest group without an authentic understanding of public education but a clear understanding of profit.

When many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary, you come back with the horribly safe “average bear” concept.

“The new principal salary schedule provides the average North Carolina principal a 10 percent raise, built on a student-focused, nation-leading foundation.”

There is a seismic difference between “average” and “actual.” Just ask a veteran teacher to explain “average” teacher salary raises in the last five years. And that “built on a student focused, nation-leading foundation” comment? What “nation-leading” foundation are you referring to? I have a hunch.

Your VP at BESTNC is the former executive director for Carolina CAN, the state affiliate for 50CAN which is partnered with an outfit named Students First.

Students First was founded and is run by Michelle Rhee who I have stated in the past in a letter to you as someone who is “the antithesis of how to approach helping public schools. In every endeavor she has undertaken in ‘improving’ educational outcomes, she has left disunity, damage, and a large void in her wake” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/29/an-open-letter-to-best-nc-concerning-meeting-with-michelle-rhee-every-public-school-teacher-needs-to-be-aware-of-this/).

You invited her to speak at BESTNC’s Legislative Gathering for 2017 in which no teachers, education advocacy groups, or even press were allowed to attend. There was only a press-conference in which you offered “soft” questions in hopes that it would ameliorate the concerns people had with Rhee’s coming to talk to the very legislators who passed the principal pay plan you praise.

Michelle Rhee had once instituted a plan for bonus pay with performance “carrot-sticks” called Project IMPACT in Washington D.C. that has been widely scrutinized. This new principal pay plan that you are having to defend in this op-ed makes that Rhee visit come into a lot more focus. That is unless you are willing to share the nature of Rhee’s visit with the legislators that evening and prove the opposite.

But back to your recent missive:

“BEST NC is committed to working with state leaders to build on the state’s new plan and correct unintended consequences.”

Do those state leaders include actual teachers and teacher advocacy groups? If they do, please identify and explain how that was part of the collaboration to come up with this proposal for a principal pay plan in the first place.

“Since this summer, we have worked in consultation with state associations and educator groups on technical corrections to ensure that no principal sees a loss in pay this year, and to create greater stability for all principals by extending the provision into future years.”

What state associations and educator groups are you referring to? And I am not asking as a way of pressing the issue as much as I am genuinely asking whom you are collaborating with who fits those descriptions because I have not heard a word from other groups praising this plan.

I am also referring to your own words when it comes to having discourse with all parties involved. You even explained the need for “open discourse” in another EdNC.org op-ed called “(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

You said,

“Choosing to listen to other perspectives; especially ideas that may challenge our own beliefs – requires us to recognize that no one is perfect or has a monopoly on the best ideas – and this is hard. But when it comes to our students, it’s the right thing to do.”

So, when you help to craft this pay plan and push it through legislation, did you have those conversations with actual principals, public school administrators, and superintendents who have to hire principals to help lead schools, especially the hard-to-staff ones? And if you did, were they enthusiastic about the plan that was released this fall because BESTNC sure was.

On July 17th the same VP for BESTNC, Julie Kowal, who once was with Carolina Can penned an opinion piece that praised the very plan that you seem to be gingerly defending now. She even said,

“Not only is principal pay too low, but for years North Carolina – like other states – has paid school leaders based on school size, along with their level of education and years of experience, with no accounting for the difficulty of the job or the principals’ effectiveness in their role. This structure and level of principals’ compensation have made recruitment and retention increasingly difficult, particularly in high-needs and smaller schools.

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years” (http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/).

That letter seems to be a rousing approval of a plan that has in a short time done more to disturb high school principals than empower them. Reports given on the pay plan by educational groups have said that this plan will actually hurt “recruitment and retention… in high needs and smaller schools.”

And that removal for advanced-degree pay bumps is rather ironic when looking at the profiles of the staff of BESTNC on their website as they list all of the graduate degrees they have obtained to help validate their position.

And when you talked about helping “struggling schools” did you or BESTNC ever lobby for programs and initiatives to combat the very poverty that seems to go hand-in-hand with schools who receive chronically low school performance grades. You can easily see that correlation if you explore EdNC’s Data Dashboard.

But it is the last paragraph that shows your and BESTNC’s total disconnect with public education. You say,

“These corrections and improvements are critical. It is unfortunate, though, that they overshadow such a significant investment and important step forward to pay North Carolina’s principals as the executives they are.”

Of course they overshadow what you think is a great plan because you have not really improved the situation. You have rammed a business model down the throats of something that cannot be run like a business.

Furthermore, PRINCIPALS ARE NOT EXECUTIVES! THEY ARE EDCUCATIONAL LEADERS!

There is a massive difference. And to think that principals are executives only further proves your disconnect. If you really wanted principals to be executives, then let them operate without the need for complete transparency, or having to publicize salaries, or run on protocols established by outside entities, or even having a limit on what they can spend on the resources they think they need.

Oh, and let them choose their customers and set a price point.

But that will never happen because public schools are a public good, not a private business. And principals are educators by trade, not business executives.

If there is one thing that BESTNC’s involvement in the new principal pay plan has shed light upon, it is that being fully financed does allow for groups to take action and have influence, especially behind closed doors in Raleigh.

Now, just imagine if public schools were fully funded and fully staffed.

Fight for that.

Why BEST NC is Not “Best” for NC

A recent WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 19th on WRAL.com attested that the inflated rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina General Assembly’s so-called support of public education was nothing more than partisan hot air.

“Editorial: N.C. school budget’s defects emerge as students settle in” highlights two specifically glaring shortcomings to come out of the legislative sessions of the past summer: class size restrictions which have been rather publicized of late and the new principal pay plan (http://www.wral.com/editorial-reality-of-n-c-school-budget-s-defects-emerge-as-students-settle-in/16957746/).

That new principal pay plan has just come into light and has received some rather harsh but deserved criticism. Why? Because it was poorly planned and seems to have been implemented behind closed doors without thorough vetting and an understanding of what works in schools.

On Sept. 8th, Lindsay Wagner reported on a State Board of Education meeting that discussed the initial feedback from principals about the new pay plan (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/). In it she quoted one of the board members who seemed rather perplexed as to who designed the new plan.

Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.

“When I get the phone call from our local superintendent about this, or from some of my friends who are principals, I want to know specifically who designed this [principal pay plan] and who I can tell them to call,” said Willoughby. “I want to know who designed it, and we may not get that answer today, but I’d like an email in the next day or two [explaining] to whom I refer these questions.”

If the State Board doesn’t know who designed the pay plan, then one of two things has happened – either there has been an extreme case of amnesia or the plan was crafted behind closed doors on West Jones Street without the input of the State Board, DPI, or other educational leaders, especially those who talk closely local superintendents and principals.

It turns out that it was the latter with the help of a supposedly “non-profit,” “non-partisan” group called BESTNC.

BESTNC stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation North Carolina. Their legal name is North Carolina Business Leaders for Education. They tout a very impressive list of business leaders among their ranks, but their name is in direct contradiction to what they have practiced in helping shape policy like the principal pay plan.

The WRAL op-ed actually calls them out on their role in the plan.

One of the top priorities of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders focused on improving education, was bettering public school principal pay – which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Following the session, the group praised legislators for “what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure” in the nation.

However last week the state Board of Education was told that the new pay plan may end up discouraging good principals from working at the schools that need the most help and could force the most experienced principals to opt for retirement.

While building in pay incentives for increased performance of students, the pay structure eliminated the additional money principals received for advanced degrees and years of experience (longevity). In some scenarios, some experienced principals would see their pay drop $20,000.

That link in the story referencing the praise heaped upon legislators by BESTNC leads readers to July 17, 2017 op-ed by Julie Kowal (VP for BESTNC) on BESTNC’s website – http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/. It is worth the read, but particularly enlightening is:

State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s top priorities since our founding. As business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. We believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5M, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community…

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years.

BESTNC was founded in 2014. If principal pay has been a priority since its founding, then this principal pay plan has been in the works for years and the amount of publicity that the process has received has been rather miniscule.

That is purposeful. And it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

For public school advocates, BESTNC is not unfamiliar. There was a rather interesting op-ed written by BESTNC President Brenda Berg in 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well in 2015 was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. That deliberate disconnect is still evident with the principal pay plan of 2017.

While BESTNC seemed to praise its own good works at the annual America Succeeds EduVenture convention last week, it had to quickly defend itself for actions that no one really knew happened because instead of being that non-profit and non-partisan group they showed themselves to be a rather well-funded lobbying group – for businesses.

BestNCtweetBestNCtweet2

Again, it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

And again, it is all deliberate.

Consider that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians and business leaders, it only makes sense that teachers and principals not only come to the defense of public education but loudly question the powers that be.

Yet, those same teachers and administrators are having to fulfill their teaching and leadership duties in schools that receive less resources and less support from a harshly partisan legislation that supports a puppet state superintendent, gerrymanders districts, discriminates against portions of the population (Voter ID and HB2), and works behind closed doors with lobbying groups like BESTNC to craft dangerous reforms.

It shows that what is really BEST in NC are the people working in public schools like teachers, students, volunteers, teacher assistants, students, and parents – not those who try and wear the mantle of “BEST”.

Maybe before BESTNC starts another initiative that seemingly is clothed with good intentions but in reality benefits a few, it should look closely at that business / education nonparallel.

Maybe BESTNC should consider running the businesses they represent under the same construct that schools are forced to work under by the same NCGA that BESTNC has surreptitiously worked with, but as a small warning, they should:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
  • Be prepared to allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • Be prepared to not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, be prepared to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to have your work hours, schedule, and calendar dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally be prepared to not MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Until BESTNC realizes that running education like a business does not work, all of their initiatives will have the same effect as their principal pay plan.

That is why they are not “best” for NC.

About That New Horrible Principal Pay Plan? Ask BEST NC. They Seem to Love It.

This past February, Michelle Rhee came to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in a visit that did not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC.

This meeting with Rhee was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – educators.

And while the media did have a chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders. In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 which are still being debated in courts months later after an entirely new school year has begun.

BEST NC also has had an initiative to reinvent how principals in North Carolina are compensated. Until now, we as a state rank 50th in principal pay. Of course that needs to change, but would it not make sense for principals and educators to have a say in that process?

This month, the state released its new principal pay plan and if anything, it was not well received.

From Lindsay Wagner’s piece for the Public School Forum on 9/7,

State Board of Education members expressed shock this week upon learning just how seriously the General Assembly’s newly enacted principal pay plan could hurt school leaders, particularly those who have devoted decades of service to the state’s public schools (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Keung Hui from Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on 9/15,

Supporters say the new plan provides a needed increase for underpaid principals while putting a focus on improving how students perform. But critics worry the change will discourage principals from working at struggling schools and lead to veteran principals retiring.

Lawmakers agreed to make sure that no principals saw pay cuts this school year. But that “hold harmless” budget provision expires at the end of June (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173533601.html).

The backlash from actual veteran principals concerning this new pay plan was swift and fierce. Diane Ravitch even included it on her widely read blog referencing Wagner’s report while adding,

The North Carolina legislature will go down in history as the most anti-education lawmakers in the history of the state. I would say the nation, but Wisconsin’s hostility to educators is tough to beat.

The legislature enacted a principal pay plan that cuts principal pay and drives out veteran principal. In North Carolina, this is called “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/09/15/north-carolina-new-principal-pay-plan-cuts-pay-drives-out-veteran-leaders/).

The traffic for this post quickly made it one of the more read that day and Ravitch’s blog gets a lot of readers. In fact, it just passed 31 million hits this past week.

But BESTNC seems to love the new plan. They even praised it behind closed doors half a country away.

Last week, America Succeeds (the parent of BESTNC) held its annual convention in Boise, ID. It’s called EdVenture. On opening night there is a session for affiliates only. But a tweet did make it out for advocates to see. BESTNC even retweeted it.

BestNCtweet

It says, “Brilliant policy by @BESTNC.org: pay principals by size + complexity of schools AND results w/kids.”

For an organization that seems to only meet with lawmakers about education rather than educators and explains their policies only to like-minded groups, it is hard to look at their description as a “non-partisan group” seriously.

So how does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning? Have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

Despite what they claim, the intention of BEST NC to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other, including BESTNC.

Look at the graphic below:

privatizers

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. The box at the bottom represents the state of North Carolina. All of the other listed players are national.

Consider the following groups:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Civitas Institute
  • SAS Software
  • CarolinaCan
  • North Carolina General Assembly
  • BEST NC

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC.

If you want a full explanation on how all of these entities are involved then please refer to my post last February – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/. But for this post, I will stay with America Succeeds and its direct links.

BEST NC is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for Democrats For Educational Reform (DFER) to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures.

Actually, Teach For America, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee’s outfit), DFER, and KIPP Charters are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

In essence, this principal pay plan seems to have been in the works for a while by a whole consortium.

So, it needs to be asked again:

How does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning and have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

I think I already know the answers, but to get a full explanation you need to be part of a private group that is molding public education.

BESTNC says on its website intro,

“BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.”

But that brings up many other questions and doubts? Like

  • Non-partisan? Really?
  • Advocacy for whom?
  • Broad constituency? Really?
  • Collaboration? With whom?

The actions don’t match the claims and the benefits don’t help schools as much as they help certain individuals.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders.