An Application for “The Traditional Public School” Charter School

In an educational climate (here in North Carolina and elsewhere) that seems to be changing as quickly as the Earth’s temperature, it might be time to suggest helping traditional schools gain some more resources and support from the North Carolina General Assembly. In the past four years, North Carolina has successfully taken a public education system that was once the most progressive and envied in the southeastern US to one that seems to cater to privatization movements, vouchers, and charter schools.

So I suggest that we as public school advocates go ahead and apply to the Office of Charter Schools under an umbrella application to establish a new kind of charter school. Actually, it would be a return to an older model, but it would certainly be chartering new territory for those in Raleigh hell-bent on dismantling traditional public schools.

It would be called “The Traditional Public School” Charter School.

One can create an online application at a special site set up by DPI – http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/charterschools/applications/ .  All one needs is a login name and a password, but that’s just semantics.

charter-school-app

Opening up the Resource Manual (http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/charterschools/applications/resourcemanual.pdf ) , one can see that there are 53 pages of intricate details to consider, but again since all traditional schools have so many things already in place, it would seem that all one needs to do is focus on certain segments to really set an application apart from others.

The following are the main sections for the application.

  1. Applicant Contact Information – This includes grade levels served and total school enrollment.
  2. Mission, Purposes, and Goals – This includes the educational needs, targeted student population, purposes, and five-year goals.
  • Education Plan – This includes the instructional programs, what will be done for special populations, “at-risk” students, and other items such as standards, graduation policies, conduct, etc.
  1. Governance and Capacity – Here is where the tax-exempt status will be along with the governance and organizational structure. It also includes the marketing plan of the school as well as admissions policies.
  2. Operations – This includes the transportation plan, lunch plan, insurance, and liabilities. Also the facilities will be explained here.
  3. Financial Plan – This is where revenues are explained. Simply put, where does the money come from and where is it spent.

Section I – Applicant Contact Information.

Since this application is for all schools already defined as traditional schools, the grade levels taught would be the same grade levels already served by each school. School enrollment would not be set by the number of seats in the school or an arbitrary count. Enrollment would be set by how many students are serviced by the particular area that the traditional school already had in place. The new “The Traditional Public School” Charter School would not limit enrollment as populations change.

Fairly straightforward, is it not?

Section II – Mission, Purposes, and Goals.

Again the information in this section would reflect the mission, purposes, and goals of the traditional public schools before they reach “charter status.”

  • Simply put the mission of each of the new “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools would be to service all students who walk in the doors and help them to achieve academically as well as help mold them into free-thinking, successful citizens.
  • Targeted populations would not need to be identified. The only criteria for students would be that they reside in the district that the school has jurisdiction of.
  • There would also be no need for five-year goals as yearly goals have already been set in place with School Improvement Plans, state mandates, and SACS review criteria.

Once again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel – just simply a need to smooth out the road. Charter schools have smoother roads to travel.

Section III – Education Plan

  • Instructional Programs – same, except now they could be realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools.”
  • Special Populations Programs – same, except now they could be realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools.”
  • At Risk Student Programs – same, except now they could be realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools.”
  • Standards – same, except now they could be really become realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools  will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools.”
  • Graduation Requirements – same, except now they could be realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools.” Furthermore, now that these new charter schools will no longer be the old traditional schools, they can use different tests and measurement criteria to ensure success as charter schools now do.
  • Conduct Expectations – same, except now they could be realized now that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will be fully funded unlike when these schools were simply “Traditional Public Schools” and actions by the administration of the ““The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools would be supported by the state.

It is rather amazing what can happen when a school reaches “charter” status.

Section IV – Governance and Capacity

  • Since “Traditional Public Charter Schools” will not be like other charter schools and be controlled by non-public school entities, there really is no new information to present here. In actuality, the governance will remain with the communities that send their students to the schools and the other stakeholders who support the schools.
    Ironically, communities elect people to be on the local school board already. People even elect officials on state levels. Why the need for another governing body if a legally elected school board is already in place? And if they do not do their job, simply do not elect them again.
  • There will be no marketing There is no need to specifically target students who already have the right to come to the school.

Which means… it will be like it already is without all of the bureaucracy. These new “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will actually be public by definition and be run publicly, unlike other charter schools once they get their financing.

Section V – Operations

  • Transportation – Already taken care of. The ““The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will use the same buses and routes as the “Traditional Public Schools.”
  • Lunch Plan – Already taken care of. The “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will use the same lunch plans as the “Traditional Public Schools.” The cafeterias are already in place. Have been. Ever since the original “Traditional Public Schools” were built.
  • Insurance and Liabilities – Already taken care of. The “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will use the same insurance and assume the same liabilities the “Traditional Public Schools.” In fact, this may be one of the easier “changes” to make since the “Traditional Public Schools” have already been assuming those responsibilities for years. Even decades.
  • Facilities – Believe it or not the “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will use the same buildings and facilities as the “Traditional Public Schools.” The new schools can even keep the mascots and uniforms of the previous “Traditional Public School” sport teams.

Actually, this change would almost be seamless.

Section VI – Financial Plan.

The ““The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools will actually be fully funded by the state, local, and federal governments, but particularly where the state comes in. While the “Traditional Public Charter Schools” were “Traditional Public Schools”, the state lowered the amount of resources and per pupil expenditures, but because of the new charter status more money would be given to the new “Traditional Public Charter Schools” to ensure success.

Maybe, this would be so unique that the “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools could also accept Opportunity Grants?

There is much more to consider when making the actual application; just look at all of the appendices that must be completed. However, since these “Traditional Public Charter Schools” will present themselves as public schools and then run as public schools, the transparency will be tremendous. Removing the “private” elements that other charter schools usually have (not all, but most) will go a long way in showing the powers that be that these “The Traditional Public School” Charter Schools are surely worth the commitment.

NC State Board of Education Vs. Mark Johnson and the Fight to Keep Public Schools “Public”

The North Carolina State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the lawsuit that the State Board of Education has against State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

dpi

Rather it is a lawsuit that the state board has against the certain GOP stalwarts within the NC General Assembly who view Johnson as the perfect puppet to help push through their efforts to expand charter schools and vouchers to private schools.

The State Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case means that it is considered so important that the appeals courts are being bypassed. Simply put, it might be the most important battle in the five-year fight against privatization of the public school system here in North Carolina.

It is a fight to keep the “public” in public education.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson says in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is saying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

Johnson has stated many times that the state board is standing in the way of what he was elected to do by the state’s voters. But what the lawsuit fights against is the power he was granted by the General Assembly after the election within a special session supposedly to address HB2. The general public did not vote for that.

As Kelly Hinchcliffe reported last Friday on WRAL.com, that newly seized power included, “ more flexibility in managing the state’s $10 billion education budget, more authority to dismiss senior level employees and control of the Office of Charter Schools (http://www.wral.com/nc-supreme-court-agrees-to-hear-state-board-s-lawsuit-against-superintendent/17171092/).

Add to that extra money for Johnson to hire people only loyal to him (and the General Assembly) even though it duplicates much of what others in DPI already do who have many times the experience. Add to that extra money to fight the lawsuit against the state board who is left to spend its budget to defend its constitutional right to help govern the public school system. Add to that the fact that DPI’s budget has been slashed by nearly %20 over the next two years without a fight from the person who is supposed to lead DPI.

This “lawsuit” has taken up almost an entire year – and the entirety of Johnson’s tenure as state superintendent, a tenure that has seen absolutely nothing.

An editorial from today’s News & Observer Editorial Board perfectly summed up the current job performance of one Mark Johnson. It stated,

“…Johnson, a hard-right Republican with limited experience in education (he served on a county school board) who’s now building a staff of his very own without much control of the State Board, thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money for his own use from his friends on Jones Street. And Johnson’s been none too eager to lay out his views on the state of public education very often. For someone who’s supposed to be the face of public education, he’s been a behind-the-scenes leader, taking his instructions apparently from legislative leaders (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article189061714.html).

Therefore, this court case about to be heard and decided upon by the State Supreme Court is not just the most important legal decision for the public school system in the last twenty years.

It’s the most important for the next “God knows how many” decades to come.

When .gov Allows .edu To Be Governed By .com – North Carolina’s Allegiance to EVAAS

At the beginning of each school year, I am required to fully disclose my syllabus to all perspective students and parents.

On the first day of class, I give each student a set of rubrics that I use to gauge written work throughout the year.

Any student can ask how any assessment was graded and conference about it.

That’s part of my job.

Does the state do that for each school when school performance grades and school report cards are published?

Last month, this blog published a post on the opaque relationship that our state has with SAS and and its EVAAS value-added measurement tools – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/.

And here is another item to consider.

Last week, State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson released a video to all public school teachers announcing the new revamped state school report card system.

Here is a frame that is closed captioned –

src1

It says, “Recently, I launched the brand-new website for school report cards: schoolreportcards.nc.gov.”

That means it should be controlled by the state, correct?

Put that into your search bar and you get:

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It’s not the actual report card site – just a “Welcome” page. Notice that it has a link to the actual school report card site along with the following text:

The School Report Card website has been completely redesigned for 2017. This interactive website, designed and hosted by SAS, includes printable versions of the North Carolina School Report Card snapshots. For researchers and others who want to dig into the data further, an analytical site is available here.

The actual “School Report Card” website has a different domain name.

src3

It’s https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src.

Actually, the chain is from a .gov to a .org to a .com.

There is a link “for researchers and others who want to dig into the data further – an analytical site.”

There is a lot to explore in the analytical site, but where is the actual rubric, the formula for calculations, the explanation of how achievement and growth come together to get this report card?

If a teacher could not explain exactly how a grade was calculated, then that teacher’s assessment would be called into doubt.

Except here, we have an entire state spending taxpayer money to a company that will not publish its “rubric” and “calculations” for its own assessment.

 

 

 

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Still Cannot Really Be Measured

Dear Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness –  including EVAAS.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
  • We have an Innovative School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness in its other forms.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And consider that we still have less money spent per-pupil in this state (adjusted for inflation) than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement.” There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art,” “science,” and “craft.” These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner.” A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student sends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the Voter ID law.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund political races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.
  • Think that our own state school board and state superintendent are suing each other.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

The New North Carolina State Report Cards And What They Really Show

“The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.”

 – Mark Johnson, September 7th, 2016 from an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

 

This week State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson presented a new school report card interface and “updated features” so that the public can view school report cards (https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/index). It has a lot of bells and whistles.

The letter attached to its new release by Johnson seems well-meaning. The text can be found here – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/src/welcome/.

Yet, no matter how much glitter and glam can be used to create an interface that appeals to the eyes, it doesn’t cover up the fact that there really is so much more that makes up a school than a school report card in this state chooses to measure.

Yes, Johnson does make note in his letter that there is more to a school than a “grade.” He states,

“As a former teacher, I can tell you this information, while important, cannot tell you the entire story of a school. These facts and figures cannot voice the extra hours put in by your teachers preparing for class and grading assignments, the school spirit felt by families, the involvement in sports, arts, or other extracurriculars that build character, and other crucial aspects of a school community.”

But the school report cards still do not reflect those very considerations that give a school so much of its identity and define its true outreach to the students and the communities they serve. In fact, that is one of the many glaring items deficiencies that come to mind when reviewing the new interface.

  1. It totally ignores the fact that what affects so many schools is POVERTY.

As soon as one accesses the site, a map of the state is shown.

Picture1

One can then drill down from there. But one has to wonder if there is any measurement of certain socio-economic trends besides the number of kids on free and reduced lunches.

What about the effects of the gerrymandering that has occurred in recent years in the drawing of districts? What about how the unconstitutional VOTER ID law affected how people could vote and put representatives in Raleigh who would fight more for their students?

EdNC.org has a useful tool on its site called the Data Dashboard. You can find it here – https://www.ednc.org/data/.  Take the time to peruse this resource if public education is a top issue for you.

Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) .

Picture2

Take notice of the pink and burgundy dots. Those are schools in the “D” and “F” category.

Now look at a map from the dashboard for Free and Reduced lunch eligibility for the same year.

Picture3

If you could somehow superimpose those two images, you might some frighteningly congruent correlations.

What if that capability was allowed within the new interface of the school report cards?

Now take a look again at the quote from Mark Johnson at the beginning of this posting:

“The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.”

I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more. Besides showing people how many textbooks there are per student (which is probably not correct as school systems are constantly shuffling textbooks around to cover the needs), what about the per capita measurements?

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education. This revamped site seems to totally ignore that.

And maybe Johnson’s revamped school report site should also include this graph.

Picture4

That is from the 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

  1. This site is being used as a way to promote more privatization through the veiled crusade of SCHOOL CHOICE.

Mark Johnson is about “school choice.” He has said so.

Those school performance grades that appear so quickly when one drills down on a district are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

Consider this:

Picture5

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE! AND THE SCHOOL REPORT CARD SITE WILL HIGHLIGHT THAT!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

This comes from the same legislative body that literally is propping up the very state superintendent who is championing this very site.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion! From the recent session that gave us our current budget:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section: 


Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018 $44,840,000
2018-2019 $54,840,000
2019-2020 $64,840,000
2020-2021 $74,840,000
2021-2022 $84,840,000
2022-2023 $94,840,000
2023-2024 $104,840,000
2024-2025 $114,840,000
2025-2026 $124,840,000
2026-2027 $134,840,000

Bottom line is that this site is helping to fuel the slanted and loaded argument that what this state needs more of is SCHOOL CHOICE! However, what is happening in this state is that “school choice” really is a euphemism for unregulated charter schools and vouchers – neither of which have produced results that show improvement for student achievement.

  1. The site is maintained by SAS.

Look at the web address – https://ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src/. That “sas” represents SAS, the same SAS that controls EVAAS which measures schools by a secret algorithm. That “.com” means it’s maintained by a commercial entity. It gets paid taxpayer money.

Back to Johnson’s letter accompanying the new website:

“We launched the new website, a completely redesigned online resource that provides the transparency you need into the characteristics and performance of your school in an easy-to-use format, to better inform you. I encourage you to follow the link to a school’s individual website to find out more about the school’s full story.”

There’s a word there called “transparency.” EVAAS is the very epitome of not being transparent.

Actually, it is rather mindboggling to think that a measurement which comes from EVAAS is so shrouded in so much opaqueness. With the power to sway school report cards and school performance grades, it would make sense that there be so much transparency in how it calculates its data so that all parties involved would have the ability to act on whatever needs more attention.

And people are literally invited to take action on the data presented by the school report card website. In fact, SAS’s measurement slaps you in the face as soon as you choose a district or school.

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In fact, if one chooses to look at a district, then all schools are displayed according by color to whether they met growth and with a large letter grade. It’s like they are already being compared against each other when the very makeup of the schools and the obstacles each faces could differ a lot.

Think about what a school report card might not show.

  1. Does the school report card show how successful graduates are in post-secondary educational endeavors like Virginia which has dropped the performance grading system?
  2. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the parents whose students are being taught? school report card
  3. Does the school report card consider the viewpoints of the students and how they feel about the learning experience and their security in the school and the classroom?
  4. Does the school report card consider how many students are taking “rigorous” courses?
  5. Does the school report card consider the amount of community service done by students in the school?
  6. Does the school report card consider the strength of the drama department and the quality of the productions?
  7. Does the school report card consider what is seen in the yearbook?
  8. Does the school report card consider the strength of the student newspaper?
  9. Does the school report card consider the strength of the JROTC program?
  10. Does the school report card consider the number of viable clubs and organizations on campus?
  11. Does the school report card consider the amount of scholarship money won by graduating students?
  12. Does the school report card consider the number of student participating in sports?
  13. Does the school report card consider the number of foreign languages offered?
  14. Does the school report card consider the number of students in the Student Section at a game?
  15. Does the school report card consider the number of students who wear spirit wear?
  16. Does the school report card consider the number of students involved in choral and musical endeavors?
  17. Does the school report card consider the number of students who attend summer academic study opportunities?
  18. Does the school report card consider the quality of the artistic endeavors of students through visual and performance arts programs?
  19. Does the school report card consider the strength of programs that hope to help marginalized students?
  20. Does the school report card consider the transient rate of the student body?
  21. Does the school report card consider the poverty levels of the surrounding area that the school services?
  22. Does the school report card consider the number of students who hold jobs?
  23. Does the school report card consider the effect of natural disasters such as hurricanes?
  24. Does the school report card consider the funding levels of the programs?
  25. Does the school report card consider the number of students on 504 plans or IEP’s?
  26. Does the school report card consider the rations of nurses and counselors to students?
  27. Does the school report card consider the class sizes?

Yes, this new interface for the school report cards of NC’s public schools looks modern and it does show data in a more eye-friendly manner, but what it really displays is how unwilling this current crop of policy makers are in confronting what really affects our schools, especially poverty.

It also is proof that Mark Johnson is more interested in the appearance of doing well.

And appearances are deceiving.

 

Hamlet Tweets With The Hashtag #ClassSizeChaos

Search “#ClassSizeChaos” on Twitter and you will find the beginnings of a grassroots movement to get the North Carolina General Assembly to take action on the class size mandate that it is currently using to hold public school systems hostage because it is an unfunded directive designed to force LEA’s to make cuts to certain aspects of education.

From Lindsay Wagner’s recent article ” Will North Carolina schools see a fix in January for the class size crisis?”:

If current law stands and the General Assembly does not fund enhancement teachers or make other changes this January, local school districts will have to begin drawing up plans to comply with the mandate that include the following scenarios, they say: increase class sizes in grades 4-12; cut or displace arts, music, PE and special education classes; reassign students to different schools to alleviate crowding; and, in some cases, eliminate or displace Pre-Kindergarten (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/06/will-north-carolina-schools-see-fix-january-class-size-crisis/).

Wagner is one of our best education journalists and what she also highlights in this article is the Senate’s seemingly purposeful ignorance of doing something about his unfunded mandate that threatens so much in our state’s schools.

Justin Parmenter’s recent op-ed in the Charlotte Observer is another excellent summary of the debacle that this class size mandate has become – http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article186085753.html?. platform=hootsuitev.

Simply put, this is our General Assembly at work. Or rather our General Assembly intentionally not working.

That’s why “#ClassSizeChaos” has become an important movement. Public Schools First NC and NC PTA just hosted a webinar on how to bring more voice to this vital issue — an issue that must be dealt with in the January session.

classsizechaos

Make no mistake, if this mandate goes untouched by the General Assembly, then the effects will not just be felt in K-3 classes. All grades will be affected. ALL GRADES.

That means all students will be AFFECTED by a willful attack on our public schools’ ability to teach the whole child.

One of the more popular electives in my school is the Shakespeare course. It is not a “core” course, but does attract a lot of students who may not have otherwise taken a specific literature course in their high school career outside their English core requirements.

The section I teach this year is currently in the middle of Hamlet considered by many to be Shakespeare’s masterpiece. (Actually, Shakespeare has many masterpieces, but that is my humble opinion).

There is a scene where a traveling troupe of “players” comes to Elsinore and are welcomed eagerly by Hamlet. He sees an opportunity to allow art to imitate life in his quest to avenge his father’s unnatural death. With him at that time is Polonius, the father of Ophelia who represents an older generation who is unwilling to see how the younger generation can further shape the world.

Polonius is a older white man who has made a career of becoming politically powerful so that he can dictate how others should live.

Sound familiar?

Hamlet asks one of the players to give a spur-of-the-moment rendition of a speech about how Pyrrhus’s revenge upon Priam for the death of his father during the latter part of the Trojan War. It is moving.

The uptight and unmoved Polonius does not think much of the speech. Hamlet admonishes him. He says in Act II, scene ii:

HAMLET: ’Tis well. I’ll have thee speak out the rest of
this soon.—Good my lord, will you see the players
well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used,
for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time. After your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.

That’s a stinging admonishment. Hamlet is telling Polonius that the role of these artists is far more important than people like Polonius realize. What the arts allow society to do is chronicle actual history precisely and genuinely rather than hastily within a revised text.

Odd that a tragic character from a play from over 400 years ago tells us that we need to keep the “arts” and specials alive in our own schools lest we be looked upon in history as close-minded. What’s more ironic is that according to NC’s curriculum standards with the Common Core, we have to somehow expose students in all high school grades to some sort of Shakespeare.

Hamlet also teaches us that when a king’s castle is out of order, then the country it supposedly rules is out of sorts as well.

#ClassSizeChaos is a product of a few on West Jones Street in Raleigh. The likes of Phil Berger and Chad Barefoot and Jerry Tillman should take up this issue lest the chaos become more tragic.

They do not need anymore of an “ill report.”

 

 

 

 

Why We Need the North Carolina Association of Educators

Do any of you remember this billboard sprinkled around the state a few years ago?

civitas

It was one of the many times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken NCAE.  In this instance the Civitas Institute tried to lure teachers to “buy” back their membership through a website. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership from NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

 

Why would some people who support the gerrymandered powers that be in Raleigh do this?

Because they are scared of what a group of public school teachers can do when they come together and act to protect public education – organizations just like NCAE.

That alone tells me that North Carolina desperately needs the North Carolina Association of Educators. Yet there are so many other reasons.

When it came to fighting for due-process rights, against unfair evaluation systems, for better pay, for resources in schools, against vouchers, and for fully funded schools, NCAE has been a tireless leader.

And the North Carolina Association of Educators is needed now more than ever.

There’s a task force in Raleigh trying to blindly reformulate how public schools are funded.

There are more studies coming out suggesting that charter schools are increasing segregation amongst students.

There is an unfunded class size mandate that the state senate refuses to deal with.

There’s a court case in which the mostly GOP-appointed state board of education is suing the current state superintendent who is from the same party.

There’s a reduction in the budget for the Department of Public Instruction in a state that has had significant population growth.

And we need to keep fighting because if there is any voice that the North Carolina General Assembly is trying to silence, it is the collective voice of educators in our public schools. NCAE will not let that happen.

When business leaders can literally craft legislation concerning principal pay without input from educators, then we need NCAE.

When per pupil expenditures are lower now than before the recession when adjusted for inflation, then we need NCAE.

When legislators can call special sessions to craft surreptitious policies like HB13 that affect public schools, then we need NCAE.

When we have politicians bent on using vouchers and unregulated charter school growth to promote privatization, then we need NCAE.

When schools are being measured by amorphous standardized tests, then we need NCAE.

When we have a school performance grading system that does nothing more than show how poverty affects schools, then we need NCAE.

When teachers feel like they cannot speak up for schools and students because of fear of professional retribution, then we need NCAE.

It’s also nice to have the headquarters on South Salisbury Street in Raleigh.

Just a short walk to West Jones Street.

north carolina association of educators

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Irony of Mark Johnson’s Latest Hire (And What It Communicates)

There’s a task force in Raleigh trying to blindly reformulate how public schools are funded.

There are more studies coming out suggesting that charter schools are increasing segregation amongst students.

There is an unfunded class size mandate that the state senate refuses to deal with.

There’s a court case in which the mostly GOP-appointed state board of education is suing the current state superintendent who is from the same party.

There’s a reduction in the budget for the Department of Public Instruction in a state that has had significant population growth.

But thank God that the non-communicative Mark Johnson has finally hired a Community Outreach Coordinator (said with three layers of verbal irony).

If Johnson’s ultimate goal is to help preserve as much of the McCrory administration as possible, he is succeeding.

Yet, if Johnson is wanting to construct more bridges to all parts of the state that are navigable from both sides, then this hire may not be the best use of taxpayer money that was never meant to be used in this way to begin with.

Why? Because Graham Wilson is not the most qualified “communicator.”

Wilson is the former press secretary for former Governor Pat McCrory, the only incumbent governor in North Carolina history to not win reelection. That is a doubly dubious “title” to hold when you consider that he lost the gubernatorial race in the same state that voted for Trump on the same day.

A press secretary is someone who is responsible for press releases and public relations for an office or official organization. Think Sean Spicer. Think Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Wilson was the guy who had the hardest job in North Carolina for a period of time – defending HB2 on behalf of Pat McCrory making sure to focus on the effects of non-existent transgender sexual assault in public schools. In June of 2016, this blog had a post concerning Graham Wilson’s attack on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools stance against HB2. You may find that here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/23/the-toughest-job-in-nc-being-gov-mccrorys-press-secretary/.

Someone who attacked the largest school district in the state over protecting some of its students in the name of an unconstitutional law may not be the best person suited to speak for the public school system in the state.

Also worth considering is the need for people to be willing to listen to the very person who is the “Community Outreach Coordinator.” That person should be someone who is what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “connector.”

From Gladwell’s The Tipping Point,

“Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances.”

A “connector” not only knows a lot of people, but is someone who gains the trust of lots of others. Furthermore, if a “connector” is into community outreach, then should he/she not have the trust of the community to adequately represent hose voices?

That’s what makes Wilson an interesting hire. Consider he recently ran for office in his own community.

It did not go well.

Wilson

Maybe Mark Johnson wants to remain non-communicative with the state by hiring someone who seems to not have the ability to bend a lot of ears.

Maybe Mark Johnson needs a communications person used to representing someone who is not straightforward and bows down to West Jones Street.

Maybe Mark Johnson just wants to use taxpayer money to give a job to a former McCrory admin person.

Or, maybe it’s all three.

Again, Why Do We Have Exams After The Winter Break? Change The Calendar!

I am just going to say it.

Again.

We need to start the school year earlier here in North Carolina.

While it is nice to think of having a winter break to celebrate the holidays, the calendar system that North Carolina has adopted for traditional public schools is not helping our students AT ALL.

I have argued this very point before, but it bears reminding.

calendar-image

The following is from a post in July of 2016:

“As it stands right now, a Senate Bill (187) from the 2012 session stipulates the following for school calendars:

Start date no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to August 19.

With such an emphasis on test scores and “student achievement” as measured by those same scores, it would make sense to allow the first semester to actually end with exams taken before the winter break. As it stands now, most students in traditional public schools in the state do not take exams for block classes until after the winter break, a time period which generally lasts two weeks.

Some may argue that that is only a two week hiatus, but actually it is longer than that, and it creates an intellectual and mental lapse that affects student scores and ultimately how schools are measured.

Students tend to get excited for the winter break as many look forward to Christmas and other holidays. Commercially speaking, most students are bombarded with other stimuli. Yet, when school reconvenes for the first semester exams, the state and county systems have to create a testing window so that all required stipulations are followed.

Ironically, a whole new year starts on the calendar, but students and teachers are still stuck in the fall semester. Tax forms and W-2’s are being put together because the tax cycle ended; students are still working on second quarter grades.

With EOCT’s, NC Tests, and teacher made exams plus required makeup sessions built in, many public schools are forced to have at least seven (often more) days of testing to accommodate the laws. Add in that a day or two that students need to reacquaint themselves with school. They are coming off a break and thrown straight into a frenzy of testing and have minimal contact with teachers who need review time for exams. Also, consider the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s observed birthday and students are a little more scattered than usual.

On a block schedule (A/B day), this means that for over four weeks of time (holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame.

In a regular four week A/B schedule time period, a teacher usually engages a class for at least 10 class periods. A true block class, at least 20.

To say that this schedule does not affect test scores is shortsighted at the least.

And there are other concerns that should be considered.

  • Many students work during this time full-time hours.
  • Without guided instruction, students may not actually experience academic atrophy.
  • Many seniors are having to finish college applications while worrying about exams.
  • Winter athletes are having to worry about athletic eligibility ovet the break instead of having already secured it.
  • Winter weather can cause an even linger break.
  • If schools are closed, then tutoring opportunities and academic help is limited.
  • January’s pacing is frenetic at best – not a good way to start the new year.

Besides, to feel that the school year was officially “half-way” finished when the actual new year started is a mentally better approach.

“Pro-Life” Means Taking Care Of Those Who Are Already Born

Since we are nearing the holiday season, I tend to think of this part of Dickens’s classic holiday novella.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

christmas-carol


The above passage from A Christmas Carol also comes to mind any time I hear elected officials talk about the role of government and the role of individuals in a nation that professes to be Christian in its founding and in its morals.

Below are three statements made directly by elected officials or posted on their official websites concerning morals and values. I am most interested in their use of the term “pro-life.”

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.” – Dan Forest, Lt. Gov. of NC

“A pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Senator who believes in religious freedom, Senator Berger has fought to protect the unborn and the rights of magistrates and government officials who choose to opt out of gay marriages or other ceremonies because of religious objections.” – philberger.org

“After 30 years of work on pro-life legislation, we were able to produce significant advances for the protection of the unborn and their mothers.  We ended tax funded abortions and sex selection abortion.  We authorized regulations to protect the health and safety of women at clinics. The Woman’s Right to Know Act with its 72 hour waiting period is reducing abortion rates by about 25%.” – Former Paul “Skip” Stam from paulstam.info

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.

It’s 93%. That’s right. 93%. 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 Dan Forest. Neither will Phil Berger. Neither will Paul Stam. Neither will Trump or Pence or Paul Ryan.

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.

However, I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in such a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain. And when I see the above three statements by prominent politicians, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-abortion” 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 ran on 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 our responses to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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.

Dan Forest once said in reference to the HB2 debacle, “We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.

But hasn’t some of the “choices” that have been made by those in power been made because there was some sort of price tag on it?

It seems that many of the politicians 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 in the very places where many who profess to help would never set foot.

Growing up Southern Baptist in a region of the country known as the Bible Belt, I was constantly (still am) confronted with the question, “When you meet your Maker after you die, how will you answer for your actions?”

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people. That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

Back to Dickens. When Scrooge asked Marley’s ghost, who practiced an incredible amount of selfishness in life, about his afterlife, he was treated to a very terse lesson in what it meant to be “pro-life.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

When you become an elected official, then your business is humankind. That’s being “pro-life.”