Every Student Walks Into School With “Baggage” – What the NCGA Could Help Do

When a teacher meets thirty students inside of a classroom and the bell rings, the entire sum of life experiences of all those people collides inside a confined space creating a rather complex dynamic where there is a need to be part of a collaborative community.

Every situation, every stressor, every victory, every defeat, every unknown that affects each student comes with that student.

All in one classroom.

Issues of hunger, poverty, safety, sanity, fear, and uncertainty can permeate throughout  any student’s life. It does not matter the level of class or even the school. Almost every public school has a student body whose members  experience any of those.

To say that a teen or child can put aside what afflicts him or her at the front door of a school and totally open his or her mind to soak in prescribed lesson plans is ludicrous. Just because someone comes from what is perceived as an affluent background does not in any way exempt them from carrying “baggage.”

And every high school classroom has a lot of “baggage” brought in.

Every day. Every class period. Sometimes a little is left. Sometimes people pick up other people’s “baggage.” Sometimes the contents in each “bag” grows and gets heavier.

This teacher doesn’t want for students to have to bring in so much of this baggage.

Do you know how many tens of thousands of students could walk into a school classroom in North Carolina with less “baggage” if the General Assembly simply expanded Medicaid benefits?

Would there be less “baggage” coming in to schools if the General Assembly stopped giving so many tax breaks to the wealthiest and focused on helping get the almost one-in-four students in NC public schools out of poverty?

Do you know how much “baggage” could be sifted through, sorted, and even purged if more counselors and other trained personnel were placed inside schools who not only cared about a student’s academic well-being but even more so about the “whole” student?

What if each school had a registered nurse who could not only diagnose ailments but be able to give medical care to any student enrolled?

What if schools offered more wrap around services for students before and after school?

What if North Carolina’s General Assembly stopped funding unfounded mandates like unregulated charter schools and various unproven voucher systems that take money away from traditional public schools that serve the almost ninety percent of North Carolina’s students?

Imagine how much less “baggage” students would bring in to schools. Imagine how much less “baggage” they could leave with if the NCGA prioritized its schools as they should.

Then maybe those “bags” would be filled with better outcomes and new textbooks.

book bag

 

 

 

 

“Everybody Hurts” – Prioritizing Mental Health In High Schools With Some R.E.M.

Everybody hurts. Sometimes.

Teach for twenty years in public high schools and you become entrenched in the lives of young people. Thousands of them. Literally thousands.

If you take the avocation of being a teacher seriously, then that investment in young people is not confined to the four walls of a classroom and not restricted by one or two school years. You will be invited to celebrate their weddings, meet their children, even work with a few in the same school. And those dividends are worth more than the paycheck.

But you will help families say goodbye to them as well.

Attending the funeral of a former student who seems to have his/her whole life to look forward to is one too many. Yes, there are tragic events that occur, but there are also other forces at work in the lives of many of our students that while unseen to the naked eye could be confronted to give the possibility of renewal and reclamation – if we are willing to invest more in our kids.

Addiction, depression, and hopelessness are becoming more prevalent in today’s youth, and this public school teacher can emphatically state that it is causing us to lose too many of our young people. And while society as a whole can debate the extent to which mental health issues should be dealt with, there should be no doubt whatsoever that more should be done.

I teach in one of the larger school systems in the state of North Carolina. In a workshop during pre-planning for this new school year, I was presented with rather disturbing statistics shared by our school’s social worker.

To summarize, social workers in my school system served 7,688 individual students for an average of 248 students per social worker. Those social workers received 13,995 different referrals and provided 21,716 different interventions – 192 of them were interventions for suicide which is a 53% increase from the previous school year.

Those numbers are for ONE school district in ONE school year. And that was only what was reported.

It is rather sobering that tragedy becomes the very instance that forces us to consider preemptive actions on mental health. Just like the idea that we can physically do things to make our bodies healthier, we can do the same for our emotional and mental well-being.

Because “everybody hurts.” But not everyone gets a chance to heal.

Think opioid epidemic. Think cyberbullying. Think xenophobia. Think homophobia. Think white supremacists. Think “The Wall”. Think transgender ban. Think Muslim ban.

Then think of how that is just a slice of what is going on. To be frank, it is no wonder why so many of our students look for ways to not hurt so much in a society that refuses to acknowledge that “everybody hurts.”

I am not convinced that people who take their own lives are performing selfish acts. If you have listened to people who suffer from depression or severe mental issues, it becomes apparent that the idea of suicide for many is actually a last resort because so many other options have not either worked or never presented themselves. Obstacles for healing have been placed in their way in the name of profit or taboo.

I am convinced that addiction is not a choice as much as it is a sickness, a disease, and every time there is an active period of substance abuse, the one thing that gets most compromised is the ability to rationally think about what is happening. It is almost like losing the very capacity to make healthy decisions.

R.E.M.’s song “Everybody Hurts” has come to mind for many reasons here in the last few days. During that presentation from the school social worker, I googled the lyrics on my phone. Afterwards, I listened to the song.

The words are sweet, concise, heartfelt and set to a somber, yet inviting rhythm. Stipe’s voice is clear and unfettered.

Later, I took time to look at the video made for the song. It’s been years since I saw it, yet the metaphor of the traffic jam with each individual contemplating what is happening in his/her life that keeps that person from being a shiny happy person is like watching a school day unfold in the halls of the buildings.

rem-everybody-hurts-1965-01

There are a lot of struggling young people in schools, affluent and poverty stricken alike.

Then I realize that the video is shot on I-10 in Texas (primarily in San Antonio).

That’s the same major thoroughfare that runs through Houston which has just been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Yes, houses and schools can be rebuilt. Roads resurfaced. Material possessions can be replaced. Yet “homes” and “pathways” and “memories” cannot be simply restored. Attached to those are mental, emotional, and spiritual ties that need the most attention and most care. Life altering events can cause many teens to be at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

For many students, school might be the firmest “constant” in a life that seems to be hopeless and alone. If we as a society were serious about the welfare of our students, then we would make more of an effort to offer avenues for help. We could make it a priority to staff schools with more social workers, give teachers more resources to confront issues that affect students’ wellbeing, and stop using a profit line as the final determination of health in society.

The same playlist that has “Everybody Hurts” also includes some Soundgarden and Linkin Park. I know that Chris Cornell  is not foreign to today’s high school students. His music spans generations, and Chester Bennington is on a lot of student iPhones. There are students who wear Kurt Cobain t-shirts who weren’t even born until a decade after his death. Does that mean these students are contemplating the same end these musical giants had in the physical world? Maybe not.

Maybe it might be a way to not let go and to “hold on.”

Either way, what a powerful force it can be to always give students a means to “hold on” and not “be alone” in the very setting that most will inhabit – schools.

“Everybody Hurts”

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life, well hang on

Everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand, oh no

Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
Everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes

So hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts

My State Superintendent Will Eat Doughnuts For Me Because That’s What Real Leaders Do

Every two years the Department of Public Instruction issues a Teacher Working Conditions Survey to get a sense of how public school teachers feel about their working environment.

This is the first one with Mark Johnson as the state superintendent. And I have one big (among smaller ones) complaint about the survey: it should ask teachers views not only of their school, but MORE of their perceptions of the county / LEA leadership and state leadership.

I again took the survey and true to form it is a survey that is skewed. It is hard to take a survey seriously from DPI when the questions never get beyond a teacher’s actual school. There is never any way to convey in a questionnaire from the state what teachers think about the state’s role in education or how testing is affecting working conditions.

Then in a boost to get all techers to answer the survey, State Supt. Mark Johnson sent out a video with a “sweet” incentive for teachers to fill out an already slanted survey.

If we as a state get %95 of teachers to complete the survey and are the top state as far as participation percentages are concerned, Mark Johnson said he would compete in the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh next year.

johnson

That race has participants run 2.5 miles to a destination,  eat one dozen doughnuts, and then run another 2.5 miles.

Mark Johnson will run that race and eat doughnuts for us.

Mark Johnson will literally throw up, yak, hurl, puke, upchuck, heave, vomit, and blow chunks for us.

Just so that he can hear from us in the most impersonal ways possible.

Oddly enough,  as a teacher I usually run around campus a distance of about five miles a day (according to my FitBit), eat in a rapid fashion because of time constraints around halfway through the “race” of a day, and listen to my students, parents, and fellow teachers in a personal manner without a survey or need for technology.

Daily.

But I do not use that as an incentive to get people to raise a percentage or to look like I am really going the extra mile.

Because, it’s the job.

Mark Johnson seems to think that he can incentivize teachers with eating doughnuts to make him look as if he can galvanize the public school teaching force into solidarity.

Actually, the best way he can incentivize teachers is by actually doing his job, fighting for more resources, standing up to the NCGA instead of bowing down to them, and  LISTENING to teachers authentically.

That’s his job.

Besides many schools use Krispy Kreme doughnuts to raise needed money to keep vital activities running and get resources that Johnson should be fighting for.

 

 

 

 

 

Our “World Leader Pretend”

worl leader pretend2

If one was to choose a song that played through unseen speakers when a self-important individual like Donald Trump walked into the room, “World Leader Pretend” would be hard to overlook.

And it isn’t just because of the obvious parallels to the lyrics, but the fact that the first person point of view so brilliantly frames and profiles the inner workings of a narcissist who happens to be the “Leader of the Free World.”

Using this song to express dismay with the current POTUS is certainly not an original idea. The title alone places it on an unofficial soundtrack for Trump. But it’s the constant proof presented in Trump’s everyday words and actions that reinforce that the lyrics of this song serve as a strong warning of the kind of leader this country does not need to have sitting in the Oval Office.

This week Sen. John McCain delivered one of the more powerful criticisms of Trump when he said that “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” Apparently, against the advice of those who told him to not congratulate Vladimir Putin in winning another sham of an election to remain in totalitarian power, Trump openly “celebrated” Putin’s victory. This is on the heels of making a positive comment (maybe jokingly) about China’s own leader winning the constitutional “right” to stay in office for life.

Throw in some tariffs, some non-disclosures, some staff turnover, and some scandals involving elicit affairs, and you have just last week’s events. So “World Leader Pretend” becomes the song that is on constant “repeat.”

“I sit at my table” might just be an ample euphemism for “Executive Time,” those hours spent in seclusion before public business where Trump supposedly “lets his machine talk to him” through daily doses of the Fox network.

No doubt Trump has shown that he is a “master” of his own defenses. His constant use of the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic has been used countless times so that many have become desensitized to it. And it is rather ironic that the wall he places around him like “barricades” resembles the same isolationist wall that he wants raised on our country’s southern border. Stoking the fire of an electorate helped provide the mortar to that wall.

Trump knows Trump best. He has a “rich understanding of his finest defenses,” and he has his own clear vision of his pretend “world” and the fact that he is its “World Leader Pretend.” But there are many cracks in the “mortar” of his wall, the one that he has designed. Those “tax cuts,” those “improvements” to healthcare, and those promises to stand firm against Russia are weakening his fort.

When the only person who seems to be important in the world of Trump is “I,” then the collective “we” that “I” is supposed to work for suffers. But with the midterm elections approaching and more possible indictments looming, that wall might be compromised soon.

In fact, we “will be the ones to knock it down.”

worl leader pretend

 

“World Leader Pretend”

I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I’ve used them well

This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

I’ve a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated
I demand a rematch

I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I’ve practiced them well
I fitted them myself

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
Empathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me
Hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me
Let my machine talk to me

This is my world, and I am the World Leader Pretend
This is my life, and this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
Empathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar
You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar
I raised the wall
And I’m the only one
I will be the one to knock it down

 

Our Public Schools Are Better Than the NCGA Would Want You to Believe

Our public schools are better than you may think.

Probably a lot better.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s recent assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was nearsighted, closeminded, and rather uneducated because she is displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

What she did not say was that:

  • “The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
  • “A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
  • “Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
  • “If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
  • “On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”

Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Either DeVos does not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.

Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the supermajority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost %90 of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

schools 2

If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

When Our Secretary of Education Chooses to Remain Uneducated About Public Education

From last Sunday’s interview with Betsy DeVos by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes:

Betsy DeVos: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level And we have seen zero results.

Lesley Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?

Betsy DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.

Lesley Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that, over the–

Betsy DeVos: But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated.

The embarrassment of that entire interview could be felt by even DeVos’s most ardent detractors, but the amount of tweets that DeVos sent the following two or three days were nothing more than damage control.

She tweeted four original tweets on March 12th. Ten on March 13th. Three on March 14th.

devos tweets

But it was a tweet from a week before that DeVos alluded to in her interview with Stahl that shows DeVos’s purposeful ignorance of what really happens in public education.

Simply put, DeVos is and has chosen to remain uneducated about education.

Here it is:

devos tweets 2

That’s in reference to the test commonly referred to as the PISA. What DeVos gets wrong is that we as a country are not average. We actually do very well when one considers the very things that DeVos is blind to: income gaps, social inequality, and child poverty.

Bob Herbert wrote an iconic book published in 2014 called Losing Our Way. He explored three different facets of our country that are foundational but are deteriorating because we as a country are not investing in truly remedying them but rather politicizing them. One he talks about is public education.

In the chapter “Poverty and Education”, Herbert discusses a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers (as Herbert explains on page 155 of his book), “made a detailed study of the backgrounds of the test takers in an extensive database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

From that actual report (and I would encourage any reader to take a look):

Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.

  • Because in every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution perform worse than students higher in that distribution, U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.
  • A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample. This error further depressed the reported average U.S. test score.
  • If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.
  • A re-estimated U.S. average PISA score that adjusted for a student population in the United States that is more disadvantaged than populations in otherwise similar post-industrial countries, and for the over-sampling of students from the most-disadvantaged schools in a recent U.S. international assessment sample, finds that the U.S. average score in both reading and mathematics would be higher than official reports indicate (in the case of mathematics, substantially higher).
  • This re-estimate would also improve the U.S. place in the international ranking of all OECD countries, bringing the U.S. average score to sixth in reading and 13th in math. Conventional ranking reports based on PISA, which make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors, and which rank countries irrespective of whether score differences are large enough to be meaningful, report that the U.S. average score is 14th in reading and 25th in math.
  • Disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform better (and in most cases, substantially better) than comparable students in similar post-industrial countries in reading. In math, disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform about the same as comparable students in similar post-industrial countries.
  • At all points in the social class distribution, U.S. students perform worse, and in many cases substantially worse, than students in a group of top-scoring countries (Canada, Finland, and Korea). Although controlling for social class distribution would narrow the difference in average scores between these countries and the United States, it would not eliminate it.
  • U.S. students from disadvantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the three similar post-industrial countries than advantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers. But U.S. students from advantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the top-scoring countries of Finland and Canada than disadvantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers.
  • On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.

Because not only educational effectiveness but also countries’ social class composition changes over time, comparisons of test score trends over time by social class group provide more useful information to policymakers than comparisons of total average test scores at one point in time or even of changes in total average test scores over time.

  • The performance of the lowest social class U.S. students has been improving over time, while the performance of such students in both top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries has been falling.
  • Over time, in some middle and advantaged social class groups where U.S. performance has not improved, comparable social class groups in some top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries have had declines in performance.

The entire report can be found here: https://www.epi.org/publication/us-student-performance-testing/.

DeVos should maybe take a look at that report. In fact, she should read Bob Herbert’s book.

 

 

 

I Just Became the Father of a Child With Autism

Actually, I have been his father and dad for over ten years.

But this past week, our family received a diagnosis that our son has autism. So now we are a family with an autistic child who happens to have Down Syndrome. Or we have a child who just happens to have both Down Syndrome and autism.

Or we have a child whose name is Malcolm who chooses not to be defined by terms, so we shouldn’t define him with labels or a diagnosis.

I like that last one the best.

Maybe what we received this past week is a huge clue and more answers than we had in how to best approach helping, nurturing, communicating with, and advocating for Malcolm.

One of the greatest gifts that someone can give to another is an unabashed and honest view of the world that the other did not know through another set of eyes and filters.

If you are around Malcolm, you might immediately sense his acute ability to be in the present time. He is not consumed with what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. He is totally grounded in the now. I envy that. And he is very open with his view of the world and how he sees things.

But there were some behaviors that his mother and I could not really understand under the scope of someone who has Down Syndrome. So we explored. We questioned. We wrestled. We asked for help.

And we found out something.

I would be untruthful if I did not say that I am still a little in surreal shock. But I would also not be truthful if I did not say that there is a lot of relief. DS-ASD is very real. DS-ASD is Down Syndrome – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I feel like I just got to know my kid a little better, and I think we got another clue in how he views the world and filters what he actualizes.

He’s still Malcolm.

Think of it this way: we just got handed the actual prescription of another lens that he uses to sense his world.  A better idea of what might be happening. And a better idea of how we might be able to help him make sure that he is as comfortable in this world as he can be.

glasses

It’s like we found the “bright” setting for the headlights while driving and we can see a little more of the road, but more of the surrounding area. The more we see, the more we know is around us.

So what do we do as parents? More of the same in many respects. We love him actively. We remove obstacles when we can and help him overcome his own obstacles. We research and be inquisitive. We explore avenues that may hold keys to helping him.

And we advocate like any parent would for his or her own child.

This kid did not change because of a diagnosis. He still wants to get doughnuts, swim at the Y, go to West Forsyth to see his favorite people, pet his dog, watch his movies, play basketball at weird hours of the day and night, and ask for a hug.

Same kid.

With more aware parents.

 

 

 

Local Supplements Mean More Than You Think

North Carolina can make the claim that the average teacher salary is over $50,000 / year. That is at least until it gets rid of its veteran teachers.

T. Keung Hui’s report for McClatchy Regional News entitled “N.C. teachers are now averaging more than $50,000 a year” clearly shows that average salary is being bolstered by the very people that the NC General Assembly wants to rid the state of: veteran teachers with due-process rights.

Hui, the venerable education reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, begins:

The average salary for a North Carolina teacher has increased to more than $50,000 a year for the first time.

Recently released figures from the state Department of Public Instruction put the average salary for a North Carolina public school teacher at $51,214 this school year. That’s $1,245 more than the previous school year.

The $50,000 benchmark has been a major symbolic milestone, with Republican candidates having campaigned in 2016 about how that figure had already been reached. Democrats argued that the $50,000 mark hadn’t been reached yet and that Republicans hadn’t done enough, especially for highly experienced teachers.

The average teacher salary has risen 12 percent over the past five years, from $45,737 a year. Since taking control of the state legislature in 2011, Republicans raised the starting base salary for new teachers to $35,000 and gave raises to other teachers (http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/n-c-teachers-are-now-averaging-more-than-a-year/article_e3fe232c-1332-5f6e-89e5-de7c428436fb.html ).

There’s a term in that statement upon which the truth really hinges. Do not mind that the average pay will decrease over time as the highest salary a new teacher could make in the new budget is barely over 50k. That is fodder for another argument like this one, /https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/ .

The term I am referring to is “local supplement.”

You may be wondering, “What the hell is that?” Well, a local supplement is an additional amount of money that a local district may apply on top the state’s salary to help attract teachers to come and stay in a particular district. While people may be fixated on actual state salary schedule, a local supplement has more of a direct effect on the way a district can attract and retain teachers, especially in this legislative climate.

My own district, the Winston-Salem /Forsyth County Schools, currently ranks in the teens in the state with local supplements. Our neighbor, Guilford County, ranks much higher.

Arika Herron’s, the former education reporter in my town talked about in the August 7th, 2016 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal the effect of local supplements. The article “Schools looking for ways to cut spending, boost salaries” defines teacher supplements as a way “to improve teacher recruitment and retention.” It also talks about how it is viewed in the eyes of teachers and elected officials. Take a look at some of the quotes ( http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-looking-for-ways-to-cut-spending-boost-salaries/article_f487023a-9aec-52a3-b084-20e0bf323091.html?mode=image&photo=).

Trey Ferguson is a younger teacher from Wake County.

Trey Ferguson said salary supplements were a huge factor when he and his wife were looking for their first teaching jobs three years ago.

An N.C. State graduate, Ferguson said they looked in the areas where both he and his wife grew up, but local salary supplements didn’t compare to what Wake County Public Schools were offering.

Jim Brooks is a veteran teacher in Wilkes County.

For veteran teachers, the supplements can be viewed differently. Because the supplements have to come from local funds — those provided by local governments through taxes — supplements can also be seen as a measure of community support, said Jim Brooks, 31-year teaching veteran with Wilkes County Schools.

Brooks said that while salary supplements weren’t something he considered when looking for his first job and are not enough to draw him away from the home he’s made in Wilkes County, they can be a way that teachers get a sense of their value in a community.”

“It’s kind of saying, ‘We value the work you do; We want to go beyond how the state compensates you,’” he said.

One board member here in WSFCS, Lori Goins Clark, says,

“We need to do better for our teachers. They don’t get paid enough to do one of the hardest jobs there is in the world.

Another board member, Elisabeth Motsinger, expressed a different angle.

Board member Elisabeth Motsinger questioned whether the district’s other efforts to recruit and retain teachers, like more professional development opportunities and new teacher-leader initiatives, might be more meaningful than a modest supplement increase that equates to less than $10 each month.

But it is the next quote from Motsinger that really helps to shed light on the discussion concerning local supplements.

“The reason Wake has such huge supplements is they ask taxpayers to pay higher taxes,” she said. “That money has to come from somewhere and somewhere means taxes.”

She said the dreaded word – “taxes.” All of a sudden the local supplement becomes a burden.

In reality, professional development opportunities are always available. They have to be in order for teachers to remain certified. Also, in the past, professional development opportunities were given with stipends because they were conducted outside of school hours and contract times. That required money.

I would be interested in what Motsinger means by “teacher-leader” initiatives, but if it means “merit pay,” it will require much more explanation and buy-in. And money. Besides local and state leaders would need to be willing get out of the way of teachers when these initiatives are brought to light, and there is not a record of allowing educational professionals to have a vital role in initiatives within this state these past ten years.

What gets twisted here is that in creating local supplements for teachers many mitigating factors come into light and when North Carolina began bragging about the new average salary it was telling you that Raleigh was placing more of a burden on local districts to create a positive spin on GOP policies in an election year.

The past few budgets that were passed cut monies to the Department of Public Instruction, therefore limiting DPI’s abilities to disperse ample amounts of money to local county and city districts. When local central offices have less money to work with, they then have to prioritize their needs to match their financial resources.

It is not just about whether to have a couple of program managers for the district. It’s about whether to allow class sizes to be bigger so that more reading specialists can be put into third grade classes, or more teacher assistants to help special needs kids like mine succeed in lower grades. Or even physical resources like software and desks.

What the current GOP-led NCGA did was to create a situation where local districts had to pick up more of the tab to fund everyday public school functions.

What adds to this is that this governing body is siphoning more and more tax money to entities like charter schools, Opportunity Grants, an ISD district, and other privatizing efforts. Just look at the amount of money the state has spent on private lawyer fees to defend indefensible measures like HB2, the Voter ID law, and redistricting maps?

But back to this word “tax” used by Motsinger. What she should have said is “investment in our teachers.” Look at the stats concerning local supplements that Herron included in her report. Wake ranked the highest, Guilford County was sixth, and WSFCS was 19th.

But this is telling.

localsupplement

These differences can add up. For a younger teacher, that can swing a decision. And we in WSFCS get a lot of teacher candidates. Look at the teacher preparation programs that surround us – Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, Salem College, App State, and UNCG just to name a few that actually place student teachers in my school, West Forsyth.

For a veteran teacher like myself, a competitive local supplement could mean that I feel valued by the very system that still lacks enough teachers to start the school year fully staffed.

So, what can a district’s community do to help teachers come and stay in a particular district?

  • They can look at local supplements as a way of investing rather than being taxed.
  • They can go and vote for candidates on the state level who support public education.
  • They can go and vote for county commissioners who are committed to helping fully fund public schools.
  • And they can go and investigate how all of the financing of schools works. It is not as black and white as some may believe it is. Rather it is very much interconnected.

The current culture in our state has not been very kind to public school teachers. Competitive local supplements could go a long way in showing value in public schools.

About That NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey – The Glaring Disconnect Between the NCGA and Reality

The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions survey is open for teachers this month. I submitted mine just this week.

survey

The survey happens once every two years. This is the first one with Mark Johnson as the state superintendent. And I have one big (among smaller ones) complaint about the survey: it should ask teachers views not only of their school, but MORE of their perceptions of the county / LEA leadership and state leadership.

The results from the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey from 2016 did more than demonstrate the disconnect between those who work in schools and those who want to re-form schools; they displayed that what really drives the success of a school are the people – from the students to the teachers to the administration to the support staff and the community at large.

Odds are the 2018 survey will show more of the same.

2016’s results showed that what usually causes teachers to leave North Carolina public schools either to another state or to another profession are external forces, most of which are controlled by the people convening on West Jones Street in Raleigh.

Liz Ball reported on the results of the N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey from the spring of 2016 in her feature on EdNC.org (“Most teachers satisfied with their schools”). According to the survey “almost 87 percent of teachers who responded are happy overall in workplace.”

That’s quite amazing. In a state where the General Assembly instituted a school grading system where an incredible amount of schools either received a rating of “D” and “F” (707 schools in 2015), a high percentage of those very teachers who work in those schools were satisfied with those schools. They witnessed something that others chose not to acknowledge – that there is so much that helps students achieve that cannot be measured by random variables.

The formula for rating schools relies heavily on standardized test scores. Yet, of the same teachers who reported an overall “positive” attitude toward their school, “only 43 percent of surveyed teachers thought state assessments accurately test students’ understanding of material.”

There’s where the detachment was evident. Those who saw schools from the inside like teachers and staff reported mostly positive culture and school success. Those who view schools through the lens of government saw schools that need re-forming.

And that lens needs a new prescription according to the last N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey.

Educators tend to see success and student growth as more than an arbitrary number. A multitude of criteria are used by teachers to measure growth beyond state assessments which are usually created by and graded by outside entities hired by the state.

If you want to see how well schools are performing, it probably is wiser to go to the source itself and ask the educational experts rather than ask the General Assembly or government. Why? Because when the state government controls how schools are measured, viewed, and tested, it then controls the dialogue and ultimately the outcomes.
Those outcomes then allow policies to be created that profit a select few. Think of charter school board members. Think of out-of-state virtual school companies. Think of private schools that take in Opportunity Grant money. Think of those who will control the Achievement School District.

Now consider that none of those aforementioned entities are measured by the same criteria that label some schools as failing and many great teachers as ineffective. Why? Because those outcomes can be controlled. It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy.

A couple of years ago, North Carolina earned the satirically charged, but rather adequate new title “First in Teacher Flight”. Consider that enrollment in university/college teacher preparation programs has seismically dropped and that many faculties have lost veteran teachers to early retirement and job changes. Consider that the General Assembly has really only increased pay for beginning teachers and not the veteran teachers. Consider that due process rights have been taken away from new teachers to keep them from loudly advocating for schools once they understand how the system really operates.

No wonder the two lowest scores on last year’s survey dealt with the state’s role in schools. Maybe the state could learn something from that.

Now one can see why this survey is so important. It enables every teacher to have input and it verifies the conditions that schools operate under in this state. Oddly enough, those teachers who are “satisfied” with their schools most likely understand on many levels that their schools are working well despite the forces that work against them.

Imagine the results of the survey if West Jones Street was more about removing real obstacles rather than creating them.

We Should Go Back to the 7-Period School Day

Okay. I am just going to throw this out there.

I want the seven-period school day back.

7

It’s better for schools.

It’s better for teachers.

But most of all, it is better for students.

Many school systems have been on a block schedule for many, many years and there are many teachers who probably love the block schedule, but if we as a country are so enamored with test scores, it does not make sense to have more kids taking more classes and therefore more tests and expect them to score more points on those tests without giving them more time.

Block classes force more students to devote less time to each class. With twenty –four hours still the span of a day, keeping up with seven classes per year as opposed to eight classes per year seems logical. That would mean more time per class to study the curriculum and to master the concepts. Furthermore, in the seven-period day, those students would take the class the entire year. That’s more opportunities for tutoring and remediation.

It allows for more continuity of classes. Core classes such as math or science may be predicated on previous material in previous classes. What if a student takes a math class in the fall of one school year, and then takes the next math in the spring of the following year? That’s a very large gap.

It makes scheduling easier. Some may effectively assert the argument that some classes could be on the A/B block which means that they would meet every other day throughout the year for a block of time. That presents more continuity, right? Not always. It is impossible to make all classes do that making scheduling a nightmare even more than it would be for just select classes using the A/B block. If all classes are offered at the same length of time for the entire year, scheduling for large schools becomes more streamlined.

If the block schedule (especially the A/B day block) is to prepare students for college, then it has missed its mark. College students tend to only take a full load of 4 classes per semester. We have students taking eight classes in an A/B block schedule at our schools, many of which are AP classes. Add some extra-curriculars and a job and lack of freedom that college students have and you have a schedule that actually seems harder to manage than a college student has.

It’s hard to keep attention spans for really long periods of time. If this post is too long, then you will not give the whole essay your attention. Sit in a meeting for more than an hour. Sit in church for more than an hour. Sit in traffic for more than an hour.

As a teacher, I want to see my students every day for the entire school year. That’s more face time and personal instruction. Instead of under 90 meetings in a school year, I would have almost 180 meetings. If my classes met every day over a year, my ability to track student progress and student achievement would be much more precise and have more historical data to measure against.

Students would have an easier time coming back from extended absences and breaks. On the A/B block that my school is on for over four weeks of time (winter 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. Not good.

Students would have a better shot at passing their courses the first time around. Students need 22 credits to graduate high school in NC. With the A/B day block or straight block schedule, these students have 32 possible credits they could earn. That’s a lot of wiggle room.

In essence, students in NC could fail 10 classes and still graduate in four years. A seven-period day gives students 28 credit chances, but with more time to devote to each class and more opportunities for face time with teachers and personalized instruction, plus extra calendar days for that class. It seems that it presents a better opportunity to do well in the class their first time.

Plus, students can still fail 6 classes and graduate in four years and that does not even consider credit recovery and summer school opportunities.

ACT scores and GPA now determine a student’s need for remediation (2.75 GPA and 18/22 on reading and math). With the new standards of ACT scores and GPA’s defining college prep diploma attainment, does it not make sense for students to have more time to devote to classes that comprise GPA and more extended exposure to the very subjects that the ACT tests for.

Graduation rates probably would not fall. If graduation rates are so key, then going to the 10-point scale took care of that. With a “50” being the lowest grade possible for a student to receive for a quarter score (at least in my school system) and a ten-point scale in place it means that 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing.

Those are just benefits for the students.

To talk of the benefits to teachers would take another entire post but it surely would talk about less teacher burnout, more opportunities to show leadership, offer more chances for collaboration, and give teachers more flexibility with duties and paperwork.

Again, that’s just a few.