EVAAS, The Iceberg Effect, and Stranger Things – The Secretive Way NC Measures Teachers and Schools

In October 2017, the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

In 2013, the state of North Carolina started using a value-added measurement scale to help gauge teacher effectiveness and school performance. Developed by SAS which is headquartered in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, EVAAS collects student data and creates reports that are used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

Think of the Colonel’s special blend of spices on Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Think of the formula for Coca-Cola Classic.

Think of the recipe for Crabby Patties.

Think of whatever is happening Hawkins National Laboratory.

Hawkins_National_Lab

If you do not know the last reference, then watch Stranger Things on Netflix especially if you grew up in the 1980’s because they nail it.

Actually, think of the iceberg and what is seen and what is under the water line.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

There is even a nice little video that one can go to in order to “understand how EVAAS” works (https://ncdpi.sas.com/videos/EVAAS/WhatIsEVAAS.mp4).

EVAAS pic

The whole video is an attempt to validate the use of EVAAS by the state. Except it does not tell anyone how “EVAAS performs value-added analysis.” The only people who know how that works are inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory or as we know it, SAS headquarters.

This past March, Angela Scioli wrote a powerful piece for EDNC.org entitled “EVAAS: An incomplete and painful system for me.” In it she stated,

I did not change anything else about my teaching.  I did not know what to change.  No one met with me to intervene.  No one even spoke to me about the results.  It just sat there, like a black eye I couldn’t cover up, but no one wanted to talk about it.  

The next year, I received my EVAAS results, after using the same methods, and I was now deemed “highly effective.”  I was relieved and confused.  How could that be? (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/21/evaas-incomplete-painful-system/).   

Justin Parmenter’s op-ed entitled “The cost of doing business in the education world” (August 9, 2017) was another powerful expose of a world in which EVAAS is being used to measure teachers and schools. He said,

In the years that followed, EVAAS was rolled out on a larger scale across the district and state, and similar data measuring teacher effectiveness was made available to more teachers. I was dismayed to see that, while some years I apparently had made a difference, there were other years when I did not make much of a difference at all. Some years I even made a negative difference (https://www.ednc.org/2017/08/09/cost-business-education-world/).

This criticism of EVASS is not limited to North Carolina. From the National Education Policy Center:

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the European software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers” (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/houston-you-have-problem).

And the ambiguity of how SAS uses data within the EVAAS program is not lost on many people. From a 2014 WUNC report called “Ranking Teachers: NC Bets Big On A Complicated Stats Model,”

EVAAS is based on that student growth, not the test score itself. And the software is complicated – and some say largely secret. Teachers, principals, even administrators at the state level don’t know everything that goes into the model.

“Now the statisticians, and I’m not a statistician – I’m not the smartest guy in the world – they would say that stuff should even out, and I think they are correct, I’m sure it does even out, when you look at statewide data,” says Jim Key, an assistant superintendent in Durham. “But within a particular classroom? You could have more than a normal share of students who are going through some challenges with their personal lives” (http://wunc.org/post/ranking-teachers-nc-bets-big-complicated-stats-model#stream/0).

That last quote from Mr. Key accurately sums up the relationship between the EVAAS program and the Iceberg Effect.

Simply put, EVAAS only measures what is the tip of the iceberg that is above the water and then it tells us how to view it. It completely disregards what is under the water level.

LET ME REPEAT: EVAAS ONLY MEASURES WHAT IS TO BE SEEN, NOT WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH. IT IS ONLY CONCERNED WITH STUDENT OUTCOMES. IT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR “INEQUITY & INEQUALITY,” “STRESS & VIOLENCE,” “SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS,” AND “SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES.”

Teachers and schools measured by EVAAS actually have to battle against all of the iceberg, not just the tip which is by far the smallest part of the iceberg.

The state pays more than three million dollars annually to SAS which was co-founded and is still run by Jim Goodnight who according to Forbes Magazine is one of the top donating executives to political campaigns. In 2016 he donated much to a PAC for Jeb Bush who while in Florida instituted the school performance grade system that North Carolina uses now – the same one that utilizes EVAAS reports to measure schools (https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/10/forbes-sas-goodnight-among-tech-execs-for-top.html).

It also is worth looking at the fact that his wife, Ann Goodnight, is a co-founder and board member of BEST NC. When BEST NC had its annual legislative meeting it brought in the toxic Michelle Rhee and her campaign for value-added measurements to discuss policy. That “closed-door” meeting was held at SAS headquarters.

The recent principal pay schedule that has garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer utilizes EVAAS data.

Too much is being dictated by a private entity that is privately calculating data in a secret fashion to measure a public good and how much should be spent on that public good in a state that wants to privatize that public good.

There’s too much incestuous synergy there. And all of it is purposefully ignoring the part of the iceberg that is beneath the water line.

In using EVAAS, what the state of North Carolina is doing is sending schools on expeditions in remote icy waters without the use of radar and sonar to navigate themselves. It’s like the Titanic.

But instead of being surprised at the fact that the “unsinkable” actually succumbed to a lonely iceberg, the state has already made a hole in the hull for water to leak in, so even if the “ships” avoid hitting icebergs, they would already have a hard time reaching port. As the “unsinkable” ships begin to sink, the state says we must invest in other alternatives like charter school reform and vouchers, so the money starts going to other modes of “transportation.”

The problem is that the icebergs in our state are getting bigger and more are breaking off. As the income gap widens and as segregationist tendencies begin to take firmer root, systems like EVAAS will still serve as a façade of the actual truth which lies beneath the water.

Of course, SAS could release how it uses data and calculates its reports but that would require transparency.

But icebergs work best in cold, murky, choppy waters. And people in Raleigh like having big icebergs.

WFXC – Two Titan Teams You Should Be Following

WFXC

This past weekend West Forsyth’s Girls Cross-Country team won the 4A Midwest Regional meet after capturing the conference title the weekend before. The Boys Cross-Country Team placed second in the regional after a second place finish in the conference.

If you are unfamiliar with all of the ins-and-outs of the sport, just remember that it is one that measures individual and team accomplishments. Runners are gearing up to perform with a personal best, but their placing in the overall meet helps schools win as a team.

West Forsyth knew it had something special when this story was released earlier in the fall talking of their third place finish in the Adidas XC Challenge as the top NC 4A school in the field (http://nc.milesplit.com/articles/221653?page=2).

Next weekend is another chance for the school to win a state-championship – for both the girls and boys.

Good Luck.

 

Our Schools Are Not Failing; Our Policy Makers Are – On Raleigh’s New Way of Measuring Schools

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to stop a string of court decisions that have declared your unconstitutional acts “unconstitutional,” then you change the judicial system in your favor. Or at least try.

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to remain in power on West Jones Street even when a majority of the political landscape does not favor your policies, then you create gerrymandered districts and discriminatory Voter ID laws.

And when you are the North Carolina General Assembly that is trying to privatize the public school system, you undertake a series of actions that weaken public schools such as school performance grades aligned with achievement, intentionally not fully fund schools, create class size caps with no funding of new classrooms, and throw millions of dollars into vouchers.

You try and disenchant the teaching profession by removing due-process rights and graduate degree pay from new teachers to a point where state education programs have experienced a significant drop in candidates.

And yet public schools are still doing the job.

So what do you do now? You change the rules. You change the criteria of measurements.

You simply change the playing field – all to create the illusion that public schools are failing.

For the last three years, schools in our state have been measured with school performance grades, a system adopted from Florida developed by the Jeb Bush administration with the intent on creating a false situation that public schools are failing.

Much of a school’s performance grade is determined by a school’s “achievement score:” a series of indicators put into an algorithmic formula to calculate a score that is then put into another formula to then determine a school performance grade.

For high schools the following was used to define a school’s achievement score this past year:

High schools will use the following indicators to calculate the achievement score:

  • End-of-Course Math I
  • End-of-Course English II
  • End-of-Course Biology
  • The ACT (percent of students who score 17 or above – UNC System’s minimum composite score requirement)
  • ACT WorkKeys (percent of students who achieve a Silver Certificate or better)
  • Math Course Rigor (percent of students who successfully complete Math III)
  • 4-year Graduation Rate (percent of students who graduate in four years)

Again, when calculating the achievement score for each indicator, the percent of students who meet the standard is divided by the total number of students for that indicator. To get the total School Achievement Score, the total number of scores or benchmarks meeting the standard for all indicators is added and then divided by the total number of scores or benchmarks for all indicators (from 2014 READY ACCOUNTABILITY BACKGROUND BRIEF SUPPLEMENT: North Carolina School Performance Grades – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/reporting/spgbckgrndpack15.pdf).

Of course, it does not consider the socio-economics that students live in, but the scores certainly reflect it.

school grades

So, to guarantee that this school year’s scores will not be as good as last year’s, the North Carolina General Assembly is changing the rules, or rather the indicators. Since science departments have been doing so well with preparing students for the Biology EOC, that indicator will no longer be used.

That’s right. A state that is pushing STEM education to a point that “specials” are being threatened, the Biology EOC is not considered a “good” indication of school achievement.

Why drop Biology from the indicator list? Because that’s the one we as a state do best on. Simply check out the NC School Report Card Site. Look at your own district and it will be compared to the state averages. My school system from 2015-2016 is below.

EOC

To be proficient, a student must reach Level 3 at a minimum. Look at the state figures.

Those who scored 3,4,5 in Reading (English) was %67.2.

For Math – 54.7

For Biology – 72.7. That’s the highest one.

They are taking out the highest score and then using the rest.

Try telling a student that you will not be using the highest test grade in teh final average. Well, that’s what the state is doing.

It’s almost as if the NCGA saw that schools were doing too well and being too successful that it necessitated some sort of action to counteract that “growth” to help substantiate the need for all of the unregulated reforms.

With the removal of the BIOLOGY EOC indicator, school achievement scores will go down; therefore, school report cards will go down as well as school performance grades.

Add to that, the increased reliance on ACT scores. As relayed in an earlier post:

But now in the coming year, the ACT is about to become the most “important test” that will be given in all of North Carolina high schools. That is thanks to CCRGAP, or the Career and College Ready Graduate Alignment Partnership.

It cannot be helped that taking out a “C” and the “G” from the acronym gives us “CRAP” was not noticed.

According to Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241 (and a presentation found created by the NC Community Colleges),

What this is saying is that if any high school junior does not make a certain score on the ACT (or its particular subject areas), then they must go through remediation during their senior year using a curriculum chosen/designed by a local community college but delivered by the high school teachers within already prescribed core courses.

In short, teachers would have to take time in their already crowded and time-constrained classes to deliver more curriculum.  No extra time will be given. Curriculum standards for the actual classes still have to be met. Why? Because there will be a test for them.

Debate over what scores will be the threshold for whether a student must be remediated maybe just starting. What was reported to this teacher in a professional development workshop was the following:

GPA of 2.6 -or- 18 on English and 22 on Reading (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/10/01/we-should-not-allow-the-act-to-have-this-much-power-over-our-schools/).

However, that last sentence needs to be changed, because what was communicated recently was that it was not an “OR” situation, but an “AND” situation. To repeat, students would have to make a certain threshold score on the ACT portions of the test AND have a certain GPA. As of this post, it was a 2.7.

Let’s add to that. School report cards will now not only have one grade. It will have a multitude of them: a grade for each student population break down. It would take a textbook to show how that alone would allow the NCGA and DPI to use cursory grades to confuse the public about the effectiveness of a school. Imagine if there are 10 students identified within a certain “subset.” One student did not show up for the test and two students do not meet proficiency even though the students are identified by an IEP which highlights particular learning disabilities that are exacerbated by standardized tests. Seven out of ten of those students passed, but the report card for the school may reflect a letter grade lower than a “B” for that “subset.”

The state seems unwilling to explain why the sudden change in how schools are now measured, so the state probably will not go out of its way to explain fully what each subset report card score actually communicates.

Actually, the state is being willingly unwilling to explain.

Is it not also interesting that the new principal pay system is now linked to school performance? These new parameters to ensure lower school achievement scores will translate into lower school performance scores, hence a more “controlled” way of paying principals. If BESTNC, who brokered this new flawed principal pay system, did not know about this change in how schools are to be graded, then every school in North Carolina will be receiving a “B” or higher.

But we know better.

In a day when our General Assembly wants to use performance incentives and merit-based pay scales, it is rather obvious that they will also redefine what performance is and what merits actually receive the most “reward.”

So, what has our State School Superintendent said about all of this?

Nothing.

At least his “performance score” will not get any lower.

But teachers will continue to do the very job of educating students DESPITE what lawmakers do. They understand that the constant change in measuring public schools does not reflect that schools are failing.

It reflects that lawmakers are failing.

The Misguided Narrative Over Differentiated Teacher Pay In North Carolina

“This idea that the school is a harmonious community and that teachers aren’t competing with one another is patently false. Teachers are constantly competing with one another. They want to outdo each other. They want to be a better teacher than the teacher down the hall. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to collaborate.” – Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation.

differentiated pay

The above quote is part of EdNC.org’s coverage of the debate concerning differentiated pay in Newton, NC on October 24th by Liz Bell.

The comment made by Dr. Stoops is more than interesting. It’s more than contradictory. It’s the very epitome of the mindset that is seeking to “reform” public education in North Carolina by undermining the teaching profession.

In fact, it’s (to quote Stoops) “patently false.”

If one looks at Dr. Stoop’s mini bio on the John Locke Foundation website, it mentions that he taught English in a Virginia public school (for 11 months according to LinkedIn) before embarking on a doctoral program and then becoming the Director of Research and Education Policy Studies for the libertarian think tank.

Dr. Stoops is literally paid to be a mouthpiece for JLF. It’s his job to tell people that teachers would rather compete against each other than collaborate. Devoid of the ability to look at education from the classroom perspective, he makes the above comment because it fits the narrative of his employer and aligns with the Art Pope mantra of free market competition even within the realm of a public good protected by the state constitution.

And that year in a classroom does not qualify Dr. Stoops to speak from a teacher’s perspective. Eleven months does not a veteran make; however, in the political terrain that was created by the likes of current GOP stalwarts, it would almost qualify him to be the state school superintendent.

As a veteran teacher, it would be great to say that every school is a harmonious community. But schools are literally fighting forces that are aimed at disrupting them. If anything is causing disharmony in schools, it is not the “competitive” streaks that exist in the teaching force; it is the constant placement of obstacles in the way of schools that teachers have to combat to help students achieve: vouchers, school performance grades, due-process right removal, graduate degree pay removal, constant flux in assessments, too much standardized tests, per-pupil expenditures lowered, charter school growth without regulation, and the list goes on.

And each one of those “initiatives” that are actually obstacles is championed by the very “think-tank” that Dr. Stoops shills for.

Furthermore, all of those obstacles are compounded by the growing income gap experienced by many of the students who attend public schools that the current NC General Assembly is enabling.

As a teacher, I do not compete with other teachers to “outdo” them. My success as a teacher is so dependent on other teachers that to work against them would be to sabotage my own effectiveness. It’s insane to think that I am competing against other teachers when there is not another person in the school with my exact schedule or teaching load who teaches the same students.

I did not fill out a self-assessment at the beginning of the year with a state approved rubric that will be used by my administrator to evaluate me on the basis of pitting myself against others. In fact, that evaluation form (the NC Educator Effectiveness System) uses the word “collaborate” and its other forms over 20 times. The word “competitive” comes up only once – as a descriptor for students after they graduate.

Teachers demonstrate leadership by taking responsibility for the progress of all students to ensure that they graduate from high school, are globally competitive for work and postsecondary education, and are prepared for life in the 21st century.

I did not renew my National Boards this past year to show how I am competing with others. In fact, part of the process is to show how I collaborate with my fellow educators for students and the community. In fact, there is a section devoted to “collaboration and Ethics.” Did I mention that NC has more NBCT’s than any other state?

I do not meet with my fellow teachers in Professional Learning Teams to figure out ways to “outdo” them. In fact, they are the best resources I have in education.

I do not have students work collaboratively in class just for show. I do it because it works.

Interestingly, Dr. Stoops referred to schools as communities. “Community” is an interesting word. I think of schools as being a “community” in the way that it is a group of people trying to build “community” with common goals and fostering a positive school culture.

I also believe that teachers who want to become better do not measure themselves in a competitive way with other teachers. They use the wealth of knowledge and perspective from other teachers to help them become better than they once were.

Ironically, Dr. Stoops works for an entity that supports and is supported by people who have much control over the dealing on West Jones Street. When it comes to public education, the efforts to work against teacher advocacy groups such as NCAE has been rather intensified. In this “right-to-work” state that allows no unions, organizations such as NCAE and local chapters, pose the biggest obstacle to the agenda that is proffered by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an agenda that wants to privatize a public good like public education.

It’s that collaboration within groups like NCAE that is keeping public education as a public good rather than allowing it to be thrown into the private market where the rules of operation have already been rigged.

If anything, it’s the very collaboration that public schools naturally have and nurture that poses the greatest opposition to “reformers.”

And Dr. Stoops is having a hard time competing against that.

keep-calm-and-collaborate

“Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?” – Sen. Flake Invokes “Exhuming McCarthy”

There is no doubt that President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and initial actions in office had a most direct influence on the 2016 Dictionary.com “Word of the Year”: xenophobia.

Xenophobia – noun: Fear or hatred of foreigners.

In a nation that was built on immigration it seems interesting that 2016’s word of the year would be so appropriate when it has such negative denotations and connotations. But the word “xenophobia” captures so much of what is happening in this nation and in other nations. One just needs to follow the “nighttweeting” and comments of the president.

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I might just send them down to take care of it.”

The fact that “xenophobia” was 2016’s “word of the year” also shines further light on the fact that irony makes this nation and world “go ‘round.”

Trump’s home state of New York is home to Lady Liberty who stands off of Manhattan, surely within sight from atop buildings near Trump Tower. She would never tweet what Trump has tweeted or even allowed what he has said to pass her lips. What she says directly is in the form of a poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colussus”, that is affixed on the base of the Statue of Liberty near Ellis Island.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

How that poem and the word “xenophobia” can collide in the same sentence seems implausible, except we are talking about a country that just elected Donald Trump as president. And we are talking about a country that not so long ago immersed itself into a Red Scare led by the one and only Joseph McCarthy.

Donald Trump fanned those very flames that McCarthy originally ignited when he suggested that we ban all Muslims from coming into America. That, and he helped cement the word “xenophobia” as the Word of the Year when he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border. It did not stop with that. In fact, it is has escalated since the beginning of his term (or even before). And it is not relegated to foreigners now. He is attacking his own countrymen and women.

Think the birtherism conspiracy theory against the first minority POTUS.

Think about targeting a Muslim Gold Star family.

Think about Charlottesville and never denouncing the white-supremacists until prodded endlessly.

Think about his feud with Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Hell, think about Steve Bannon being a top advisor for months in the White House.

This past week, Sen. Jeff Flake wrote a rather scathing op-ed in the Washington Post in which he invoked the spirit of Joseph Welch and his words from 1954’s Army-McCarthy hearings that brought an end to McCarthyism as it stood (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/enough–it-is-time-to-stand-up-to-trump/2017/10/24/12488ee4-b908-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?utm_term=.5c974f308624).

“Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Welch-to-McCarthy_Have-you-no-sense-of-decency (1)

And again, do not let it be understated that the irony in what Flake writes is thicker than the phonebook McCarthy used a prop in one of his earlier speeches. Here is a hardline Republican taking up Welch’s persona against today’s McCarthy when he himself has voted along party lines to some of the more exclusionary pieces of legislation in modern times. But it is a stand nonetheless and it has power considering that midterm elections are around the corner. Furthermore, it captures a vivid still frame of what our country is like right now.

R.E.M.’s song “Exhuming McCarthy” might as well have been composed with Donald Trump in mind but delivers a more poignant repudiation against the current administration than what Sen. Flake delivered. It’s almost as if Flake had it playing in the background when he wrote his op-ed. In fact, one could argue that he quotes R.E.M. quoting Welch.

In a country built on immigration that supposedly practices freedom of religion and freedom of speech and expressions like kneeling at NFL games, this song reminds us to look at history as a living textbook on what to not allow to happen again, lest we repeat mistakes from the past.

Just look at the lyrics.

“Exhuming McCarthy”

You’re beautiful, more beautiful than me
You’re honorable, more honorable than me
Loyal to the Bank of America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Vested interest, united ties
Landed gentry, rationalize
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted, enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

“Let us not assassinate this man further, Senator, you’ve done enough.
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
sharpening stones walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
You’ve seen start and you’ve seen quit (I’m addressing the table of content)
I always thought of you as quick

Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)
Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)

Loyal to the Bank of America? Check! Hell, Mike Pence just cast a deciding vote on protecting big banks and credit companies from getting sued as easily.
You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals? Check! More nuclear weapons make for more coals. And we need coal because it is making a comeback, right?
Look who bought the myth By jingo, buy America? Check! That is unless you are Trump and manufacture your products overseas.
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? Damn right –  Check!

The link between Trump and McCarthy is actually quite strong. Marc Fisher’s piece in the Washington Post last August 11th highlights some of the similarities and lack of decency on all fronts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/trumps-approach-to-the-press-mirrors-another-politicians-joe-mccarthy/2017/08/11/80186b0e-7c6f-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.f9bda2ee03f4).

Just ask the press.

Maybe 2017’s “word of the year” should be “impeach.”

 

Raleigh, Buy Us Some Damn Textbooks!

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks. With real pages and hard covers.

Yes, technology in the classroom can be a great avenue for learning. However, technology for technology’s sake can block many roads for students. And if technology is to be looked at as a simple substitution for other resources to save time and money, then leaders need to be sure that nothing is being sacrificed that may harm our students’ abilities to succeed.

It is important to have all classrooms digitally linked. No doubt about that. It is important that students have technological resources that allow them to easily assimilate information and data and also disseminate findings. Again, no doubt about that.

But we still need the printed texts. We need the textbooks. We need the kinetic and tactile exposure to the text.

We need the textbooks.

Business Insider recently published an article that reports on a research study about how students learn “way” more from printed texts than they do from digital texts. Entitled “A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens,” Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer convincingly speak to this dynamic. From the article:

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it (http://www.businessinsider.com/students-learning-education-print-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10?platform=hootsuite).

“Prefer” is the operative word here.

Further in the report:

Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Think about the state of North Carolina and its failing commitment to fully fund schools. One just needs to look at the textbook funding numbers to see that we as a state do not place a high value on textbooks. And it’s not as if we don’t have the money to do so; the North Carolina General Assembly has been gloating about a budgetary surplus that it has “created” for the last couple of years.

Actually, it’s a matter of priority. This graphic was posted to Twitter this week.

textbooks

If that doesn’t show a deliberate disparity, then climate change isn’t real.

Ask any teacher in public schools about the textbook situation and you will receive an answer that talks about the lack of funds, how outdated they are, or the terrible condition they are in.

When research shows that students achieve more when they have the printed text, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in textbooks?

Yes, it does.

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks.

And don’t take our lunch money to pay for them.

The Pharisaical DeVastation of Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos might very well be the most “not-pro-life” person in the nation’s capital.

“It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding-the-Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country.” – Betsy DeVos, 2001 (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/betsy-devos-education-trump-religion-232150).

For Betsy Devos, this new Shephalah (an area in Israel known for its Biblical battled between the Israelites and Philistines), is the national public school system. And for a woman whose family has donated untold millions to movements against LGBT rights and abortion rights all while promoting “choice” in schools, DeVos has perfectly shown that her agenda is really not “pro-life” at all.

Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing

Just look what she has done to key guidelines to Individual with Disabilities Education Act this past week. As reported in the Washington Post by Moriah Balingit,

The Education Department has rescinded 72 policy documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities as part of the Trump administration’s effort to eliminate regulations it deems superfluous.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote in a newsletter Friday that it had “a total of 72 guidance documents that have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective — 63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).” The documents, which fleshed out students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, were rescinded Oct. 2 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/10/21/devos-rescinds-72-guidance-documents-outlining-rights-for-disabled-students/?tid=sm_fb&utm_term=.d83a2dd43914).

This is after other rather discriminatory actions this past year. Again Balingit:

This is not the first time DeVos has rolled back Education Department guidance, moves that have raised the ire of civil rights groups. The secretary in February signed off on Trump’s rescinding of guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, saying that those matters should be left up to state and local school officials. In September, she scrapped rules that outlined how schools should investigate allegations of sexual assault, arguing that the Obama-era guidance did not sufficiently take into account the rights of the accused.

What DeVos has done in her short and turbulent tenure is in no way “pro-life.” It’s discrimination.

It is easy to confine the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” to the arena of unborn children. But the issue of abortion is not really the subject of this post.

Why? Abortion is too big of an issue to tackle in a personal essay and I am certainly not convinced that declaring yourself “pro-choice” automatically means that you condone abortion in any situation. Life throws too many qualifications into its equations to make all choices an either/or choice.

When my wife and I received a pre-natal diagnosis that our son had Down Syndrome, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to a genetic counselor at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. The state of North Carolina had at the time in its laws stated that an abortion could not be performed after a certain date in a woman’s pregnancy. If we had chosen to have an abortion, we would have had to make that decision in a rather small amount of time.

We did not seek an abortion; it was not an option for us, but it was rather surreal to receive phone calls from health providers talking about that option because they had to legally inform us of our rights/options/legal restrictions. You might be shocked to know the percentage of people/couples who choose to abort with the information we had. I was. And I am not about to judge those who did choose what is legally their right in the eyes of the law. There are too many variables in lives that I do not live to run around and make judgement calls.

I also will never carry a child in a womb. Neither will Donald Trump, Mike Pence, or all of the other “men” who stand to gain from their positions of power.

We had Malcolm and I would not trade anything for the experience of being his parent. Anyone who knows me and my family can testify to that. But he is no longer “unborn.” He is now in our world among others who need help to lead fulfilling lives. He actually needs the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and its guidelines.

I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain (which applies to DeVos). And when I review quotes, interviews, and witness current actions by our secretary of education, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-those who don’t think my way” message.

Because “pro-life” means so much more than that.

Why are we not protecting the lives of those who are already born? I feel that being “pro-life” is not a matter reserved for the issue of abortion and the unborn, but should include those who are living and need help.

Hubert Humphrey once said in 1977, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

If you are “pro-life” then it would make sense that you would look to the welfare of those who cannot necessarily defend themselves without help like the “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Is it not ironic that many who promote a strict “pro-life” platform seem to be in favor of privatizing or redefining the very services that help sustain the lives of those whom they claim to champion.

Think of Medicaid that my own son has been on the waiting list for because he will need its services earlier than most people. If it becomes privatized, it may jeopardize his chances of getting the help he needs when he gets older. Within the state of North Carolina, not expanding Medicaid affects many “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Nationally speaking, think of Obamacare that insures many who would not be eligible if such a plan was not in place. While it is anything from perfect, it has insured many people who were never insured before. And have the parties in charge of the government offered anything else except “free-market?”

Think of the use of tax payer money to fund vouchers and charter schools that are actually privatizing public schools all in the name of “choice” when there should be a push to fully fund all public schools and provide for their resources because public education is a public service and not a private entity.

It seems that many of the politicians and policy makers like DeVos who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. And they are doing it in the name of free-markets, where people are supposed to be able to choose what they want hoping that the “market” controls prices and quality.

How ironic that many politicians who proclaim to be “pro-life” become “pro-choice” when it pertains to those who are already born.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would call himself “pro-life” and allow for big banks (look at what Wells Fargo did) and pharmaceutical companies (think of EpiPens) to literally control prices and the market without a fight.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would have been willing to allow public money to fund private entities without input from the public itself.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule.

When you become an elected official (or a barely confirmed one like DeVos), then your business is all of humankind. Is that not being “pro-life.”

Back to the Shephalah.

Malcolm Gladwell talks of the same area in a TED Talk about his book David & Goliath. It is the place where supposedly David killed the large Philistine with a stone and a sling. Goliath was adorned with armor and weapons of the highest quality and attended by many servants. David seemed to be from very modest beginnings, but capable of so much.

When I think of the dynamics of people like DeVos and other “reformers” who preach their brand of “pro-life,” I don’t see the youngest son of Jesse who was a shepherd like David. I see the glitz and glamor of the golden armor of a giant who wears a shield of big money like Goliath. I see that God could use the gifts of anyone who did not come from a well-known family to help others.

Even if that person was gay or even had developmental delay.

The State Superintendent Needs Someone to Speak For Him – Someone Who Speaks With Details Is Preferred

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has begun to use the $700,000 of tax payer money given to him by the NC General Assembly to begin hiring people who can help carry out his nebulous, amorphous, and ambiguous agenda that has been long in the making but short in the doing.

That $700,000 dollars is specifically for Johnson to fill positions that report only to him as he seems to have a hard time collaborating with others on the state board to make sure schools have what they need.

As WRAL reported late last week,

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has begun hiring new staff for his office, using $700,000 in taxpayer money given to him by the General Assembly this year.

Johnson can create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.

He recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly which slashed the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by over 20% in the latest two-year budget.

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly that financed Johnson’s lawsuit against the State Board of Education which has called into question Johnson’s need to be enabled just to produce results in his job.

And that second job listed above? The Information and Communication Specialist who will make more than almost every teacher with the highest credentials and most advanced degrees and certification who has been working in schools for longer than Johnson has been alive? That job is for a spokesperson.

That’s right. Johnson is hiring someone to speak for him. Just him.

Do not let it be lost on anyone that the Department of Public Instruction, which Johnson “leads,” already has a communication specialist. The problem is that that spokesperson would speak for the entirety of DPI, not just Johnson alone. As WRAL relates,

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a “renewed focus on communication.”

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating things like details and direct answers.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating directly with all school systems throughout the entire year unlike over the summer when Johnson ordered a vital list serve portal to be shut down.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating direct answers instead of giving ambiguous responses like he did in the last state school board meeting when he was asked about his views on the cuts to DPI and the new principal pay plan.

And hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve finding someone who has more experience in being a spokesperson than Johnson has in being an educator and instructional leader.

That shouldn’t be too hard. There’s probably another person from McCrory’s administration ready to take on the task.

Or maybe Sean Spicer or even Anthony Scaramucci?

scaramucci