If You Are A Parent or Advocate of a Special Needs Child in NC Public Schools Then Read This

The state’s funding formula does not adjust for the severity of a disability; there is a flat rate provided for each child, in spite of the fact that the cost per year for a student with profound needs can skyrocket to as high as $100,000 or more.

The above excerpt is from Lindsay Wagner’s report in EdNC.org called “In North Carolina, funding gaps are shortchanging students with special needs” (https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/12/north-carolina-funding-gaps-shortchanging-students-special-needs/).

Read it. That’s right. I used the imperative mood to tell you to read that report.

It can be a rather confusing effort for parents of children with special needs to make sure their children are served well when considering IEP’s, school placement, resources, medical priorities, and other matters.

For a parent like me who is the father of a child with Down Syndrome and a public high school teacher it can be very frustrating. I know the limitations of funding in schools just for typical students. I write about that on this blog almost every week.

But I am a parent foremost. And like any parent, I will fight for what my child needs and is entitled to by law, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

North Carolina has started what is called the Personal Education Savings Account (PESA). It allows parents of a special needs child to receive up to $9,000 in public money on a debit card to pay for services, tutoring, or tuition at a private school.

Personally, it might be the most unregulated voucher offered in this state. And don’t get me wrong, Malcolm could use the money with his therapy and other resources that he needs. But this money comes at the expense of other special needs students who are in public schools. Why?

Read Lindsay Wagner’s article – https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/12/north-carolina-funding-gaps-shortchanging-students-special-needs/. I think it is mandatory to see how much these programs really do not work in a state that refuses to even fully fund schools for traditional students.

Besides, there are no other schools for my son. He actually “wrote” a letter to Betsy DeVos (with my help) last year explaining that he needed traditional public schools to be fully funded for all students, no matter the special needs.

He said,

“When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.

But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.

When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.

My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.

But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.

The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.

But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/17/dear-secretary-devos-from-malcolm-a-special-normal-public-school-kid/). 

Again, Wagner gives a vivid picture of what funding gaps we really have in NC.

Read it.

I think about this stuff all of the time.

Because this kid is mine.

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Mark Johnson Might Have an Apple Problem and Rep. Craig Horn Unintentionally Gets It Right

Today Billy Ball posted as the lead education report on NC Policy Watch a piece concerning an ethics inquiry about the relationship between Mark Johnson and other lawmakers with Apple in the time before a magical purchase of iPads were made this past month with “discovered” funds.

apple

It is damn fine journalism and it highlights the now unilateral decision making that is running DPI. There are questions that need to be answered and accountability enforced. Blow is the summary provided by Ball.

The Takeaway:
· Months before a $6 million purchase of Apple iPads, the company spent more than $5,300 on meals, transportation and lodging for the benefit of Superintendent Mark Johnson, three state lawmakers and two local superintendents at their Silicon Valley headquarters.

· It’s not the first time tech companies courted state officials. Google has spent thousands on luxury hotels and upscale dinners for state lawmakers with budget powers.


· Superintendent says trip had “informal” approval of state’s ethics officials.


· In bypassing approval by Department of Information Technology, iPad purchase may not have followed terms of state’s contract with Apple.


· Public officials face different standards under the ethics law, so it’s unclear whether North Carolina ethics laws were broken.


· Ethics advocates say state’s laws were intended to stop “wining and dining” of public officials (
http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/08/30/pw-exclusive-prior-to-multi-million-dollar-ipad-purchase-apple-bought-meals-hotels-transportation-for-north-carolina-leaders/). 

What the hell is “informal approval?”

It is a thorough and lengthy report that does not lose momentum. Yet, toward the end, there is an interesting portion that highlights some insights by Rep. Craig Horn.

““I don’t expect to be put up at the Waldorf Astoria, but I don’t expect to be put up at the Red Roof Inn either,” said Horn. “Also, I don’t expect to be eating at McDonald’s. I expect to be treated as an adult and as a professional.”

It is interesting if one looks at Horn’s observations in light of the teaching profession.

That whole idea of being treated as a professional seems to be something that this NCGA has totally forgotten when it comes to how it has treated the teaching profession.

It might just as easy to take Horn’s intention and reword it in the framework of teaching: “I don’t expect to be teaching in rooms that look like Oxford University, but I don’t expect to be teaching in rooms in bad need of repair. I also don’t expect to have to have a second jib to make ends meet. I expect to be treated as an adult and as a professional.”

About That Carolina Journal Piece Concerning Red4EdNC – Proof That Many Fear The Power of Teachers Who Come Together For Schools

When teachers come together and act as a cohesive group to affect positive change, it does scare the hell out of some who benefit from privatization efforts.

Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

graph6

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Remember May 16th when 20,000 teachers plus thousands of supporters went to Raleigh to march and rally for schools? They called it a “strike.” Some may even have called it a “special session” by the people. Remember that the NCGA went nuclear with their budget right after that and squashed any chances for debate and amendment?

This past week Red4EdNC held some press conferences across the state to formally give elected officials a list of grievances that outline what has happened to public education in the few years under current NCGA control.

And again, some showed  an absolute fear of teachers who come together to affect positive change.

Today the Carolina Journal posted a piece called “Red4EdNC wants to fix N.C. public education system” which extensively quoted Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and his views of what Red4EdNC has done and stands for. Please remember that the Civitas Institute, John Locke Foundation, and the Carolina Journal are all really under one metaphorical roof.

That piece is worth the read: https://www.carolinajournal.com/news-article/red4ednc-wants-to-fix-n-c-public-education-system/.

But the arguments that Stoops offers to counter what Red4EdNC and other advocates have been working for is weak and easily debunked. In this instance, he relies on two half-baked points: the Teacher Working Conditions Survey and the need for heavy tax increases.

Just follow if you will.

The Carolina Journal piece offers,

“It directly contradicts the 2018 teacher working condition survey,” Stoops said.

The 2018 Teacher Working Condition Survey shows 87 percent of teachers think their school, overall, is a good place to work and to learn. Eighty-one percent of teachers said their school environment clean and well-maintained, and 76 percent believe they have sufficient teaching supplies.

“So there’s a couple of possibilities here,” Stoops said. “Either the working condition survey is baloney and [Red4EdNC] is actually representing the attitude of what most teachers feel, or the survey is correct and these teachers happen to be a vocal minority.”

Stoops doesn’t take the survey; he’s not a teacher. But he also has not read the questions on the survey very carefully. That survey does nothing to address how teachers feel about their treatment from the state and the NCGA.

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 this survey from the state what teachers think about the state’s role in education or how standardized testing is affecting working conditions.

It should ask teachers views not only of their school, but MORE of their perceptions of the county / LEA leadership and state leadership.

Below are the main questions (there are subsets) asked on the survey that actual teachers answer.

  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about the use of time in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about your school facilities and resources.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about community support and involvement in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about managing student conduct in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about teacher leadership in your school.
  • Please indicate the role teachers have in each of the following areas in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about leadership in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about professional development in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about instructional practices and support in your school.

If Stoops was really keen on getting to know teachers concerning their views about working in NC public schools, then the questions should also go beyond the “School” and explore the “state.”

Imagine if  teachers got to answer questions such as:

  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about ho the state helps schools with facilities and resources.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about the state’s support and involvement in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about state leadership at the Department of Public Instruction.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about state leadership.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about professional development sponsored by the state.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about  support for schools from the state.

When NC public schools receive a majority of their funds, mandates, stipulations, guidelines, and marching orders from the state, then should not the NC Teacher Working Condition Survey include teacher perceptions on the role of the state and its influence?

The other argument that Stoops goes to when he wants to dismiss teachers is that they want to do nothing but raise taxes.

“The biggest problem I find with their entire platform is that they’re calling on spending increases without specifying how they’re going to pay for it,” Stoops said. “They refuse to say taxes would have to be increased to pay for the teacher pay increases and the per-student expenditure increases that they’re asking for.”

Actually, Dr. Stoops and I have had this discussion – in the “Comments” section of a post I wrote back in July – “When The John Locke Foundation Validates A Collective Voice For Teachers and Red4EdNC.” He expressly asks what tax increases needed to be put in place to fund our schools to the level we wanted. I think I give him a good response – one that he did not ever reply to.

That exchange is below.

Terry Stoops:  Nice try, Stu. This entire essay is an attempt to ignore the elephant in the room. Red4EdNC refuses to put a price tag on the group’s demands and outline a plan for paying for them. If the group is not afraid to call for a massive tax increase, then it wouldn’t have used the ridiculous line, “Cessation of tax practices which favor individuals over the collective good.” How many billions will North Carolinians have to pay for the “collective good?” It sounds expensive.

Caffeinated Rage: Oh, Terry.

Terry Stoops:  Great response! Just enter the dollar amount here: ______________________ and the corresponding tax increases here: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
If you don’t mind, please define “collective good” and let me know who decides what that is. You’ll need more than just a few lines for that one.

Caffeinated Rage:  Well Dr. Stoops, I will give you another great response and use your previous response as a template. But first, I would like to send your previous responses to the other 20,000 teachers who came to Raleigh on May 16th. They seem to agree that public schools need more funding.

You said: “Great response! Just enter the dollar amount here _________________:”

Well, how about the amount of money that would bring NC’s average teacher salary to the national average. Add to that the amount of money to bring per-pupil expenditure to pre-recession levels adjust for inflation. Add to that funding for the over 7,400 teacher assistants we as a state have lost in the past ten years. Add to that the money needed to restore graduate degree pay. Add money for textbooks and professional development. How about also adding enough to fully fund those class size mandates.

There’s a start. I have more in mind. I talk a lot about them on my blog.

Next you professorially stated, “ and the corresponding tax increases here: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.”

Well that’s funny you mention that when the NCGA just passed a budget that allows for property taxes to be used to fund local schools and possibly state mandates. Seems that taxes are going up there.

Let’s not raise taxes right now for argument’s sake, but maybe not extend more corporate tax cuts for businesses and people who make significantly more than the average North Carolinian. We haven’t really seen the trickle-down effect from that here in our schools. Next, maybe not invest almost a billion dollars’ worth into a voucher scheme over ten-year period when it has not shown any real success and put that back into the public schools (yes, I know you said it “hits the mark” in your latest missive in the op-ed circuit but I can’t help it if you misread the conclusions of the NC State study that was financed by your boss’s foundation). How about taking some of the money earmarked for Special Needs Education Savings Accounts (which might be one of the most unregulated versions in the country) and allowing parents to invest it back into services for their children in public schools? Maybe we could also not extend so much money into new unregulated charter schools.

By the way, aren’t you trying to open one up in Wake County? And if you are, will you be going to the county commissioners and asking for funds from property taxes to help fund your school in a county that has more nationally certified teachers than any other county IN THE NATION? Apparently, Wake County Public School System had a big meeting last night in which cuts had to be made because of a shortfall that most board members said was because of lack of funding from the NCGA you support which is also sitting on a surplus it likes to brag about. Did you go there and explain your thoughts to set them straight?

You concluded with, “If you don’t mind, please define ‘collective good’ and let me know who decides what that is. You’ll need more than just a few lines for that one.”

I thought about this part as I was driving back on state and county maintained roads, transporting my younger child who happens to have special needs from speech therapy to a summer enrichment program established by the local school system to help him maintain academic growth. I also returned a book to the public library that I was using to help formulate a reading list for next school year and passed by a waste disposal truck, a recycling center, and the city police department. Then I thought about how the only schools that would even consider taking my child as a student were the public schools, but that is another post.

So while the word “collective” may spark some vision of the Borg trying to assimilate our human race, I will just refer to the very state constitution that the NCGA you support is trying to alter in six different ways this November.

It’s Article IX, Sections 1 & 2:

“Section 1. Education encouraged.
Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, libraries, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
Sec. 2. Uniform system of schools.
(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”
Of course, all of this is up for debate, but that NCGA you support doesn’t seem to like debate and open discourse. Just look at how they passed the recent budget.
Thanks for reading my blog, one that is maintained by an actual public school teacher on a public school teacher’s salary and not sponsored by a political think tank.
And you are right. I did need a few more lines for that one.

Ironically, Dr. Stoops has one year of teaching experience – in another state. Those people in Red4EdNC have a little more experience teaching in public schools in this state and have all seen the changes under the very NCGA that Stoops praises.

I think I will believe the teachers who advocate on their own time and penny instead of the paid employee of a political think tank.

 

 

 

 

Sen. Phil Berger and the #NotAnNCSucessStory

If Sen. Phil is going to brag about what wonderful actions he and his cronies have performed to strengthen the public school system and make teaching in public schools rewarding in North Carolina, then can he explain…

  • Why our college teacher preparation programs are seeing a decline in candidates of over 30%?
  • Why we have a teacher shortage?
  • Why the state passed SB599 and it courting alternative paths for teacher recruitment?
  • Why is the average teacher pay in North Carolina still %16 behind the national average?
  • Why do teachers who are hired now not able to obtain career status?
  • Why are schools measured by secret algorithms not made public through EVAAS?
  • Why are we spending less per-pupil now than before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation?
  • Why are there 7500 fewer teacher assistants in our schools now than 8 years ago?
  • Why are teachers no longer receiving longevity pay?
  • Why is it that the NCGA brags about an average teacher pay of over $53,000 for our teachers now, but the salary schedule they just passed for teachers will never be able to sustain that average?

And finally, why did this happen?

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The Lie of #NCSuccessStory – Sen. Phil Berger’s Latest BS Propaganda

Sen. Phil Berger is playing politician again. In this election year, he and his GOP comrades have ramped up their “strong talk” on their commitment to adequately fund public schools and pay teachers a comparable salary on the national level.

And part of his talk is defending himself against the vicious attacks from those who rightly do not agree with his actions surrounding public education these past seven – eight years. His Twitter account is being very active with teacher pay propaganda:

ncsuccessstory

“In the last years under Democrats, thousands of state-funded teaching positions had been eliminated, teachers were furloughed and their pay was frozen. Since taking over in 2011, Republicans have focused on significant pay raises for teachers.

It’s funny that Berger never mentions that in 2008 we had ourselves a bit of an economic downturn. No one party is immune from criticism, but it is interesting to point out that Berger and his minions really never point to the GREAT RECESSION. No one got raises in any government jobs. McCrory gave raises as state revenue started to gain momentum, but those raises came with a price.

And many teachers voted to furlough days back then – to save jobs for others.

A website appeared on the landscape in 2016 that expands on the Berger BS and it is being pushed out again for 2018. Here is the home page for www.ncteacherraise.com. Notice it has the red, white, and blue of the American Flag.

berger1

A few questions/concerns arise when first looking at this patriotic website. The first is the banner at the top, “The Truth About NC’s Rising Teacher Salaries.” Nothing could be more antithetical to the truth. Why? Because the very same NC GOP party that created this website also has done or enabled the following in the last six years:

  • Removed due process rights for new teachers to keep them from advocating loudly for students and schools.
  • Removed graduate degree pay bumps for teachers entering the profession.
  • Instituted a Value Added Measurement system which are amorphous and unproven way to measure teacher effectiveness.
  • Pushed for merit pay when no evidence exists that it works.
  • Attacks on teacher advocacy groups like NCAE.
  • Created a revolving door of standardized tests that do not measure student growth.
  • Lowered the amount of money spent per pupil in the state when adjusted for inflation.
  • Removed class size caps.
  • Instituted a Jeb Bush style school grading system that is unfair and does nothing more than show how poverty affects public schools.
  • Created an uncontrolled and unregulated system of vouchers called Opportunity Grants.
  • Fostered charter school growth that has not improved the educational landscape and siphons money from the public school system.
  • Created failing virtual schools outsourced to private industry.
  • Allowed for an Innovation School District to be constructed.
  • Eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program and brought it back as a former shell of itself.
  • Created an atmosphere of disrespect for teachers that teaching candidate numbers in colleges and universities have dropped over 30%.

Look at the fine print at the bottom of that initial screen shot.

berger 2

It says, “This chart compares only state funded base teacher pay and does not account for other pay that generally increased overall teacher pay, including: longevity, performance bonuses, supplemental pay for National Board Certification and advanced degrees, local teacher supplements – which can be as much as an additional 24.5% of state base teacher pay, and a robust benefits package worth an average of $23,629.37 per teacher per year.

Read that fine print closely. Because it is spin.

  • WE DO NOT HAVE LONGEVITY ANY LONGER.
  • WE DO NOT OFFER ADVANCED DEGREE PAY TO TEACHERS HIRED AFTER 2014.
  • NOT ALL SYSTEMS OFFER LOCAL TEACHER SUPPLEMENTS. AND THE GOP IN RALEIGH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LOCAL SUPPLEMENTS! 
  • “AN ADDITIONAL %24.5?” REALLY? WHERE? FOR HOW MANY?
  • “AVERAGE $23,629.37 BENEFITS PACKAGE PER TEACHER PER YEAR?” PROVE IT.

Further along this website you see these:

berger3

And this…

berger4

The first chart with the line graph simply says that a teacher in North Carolina will get to the near maximum salary within 15 years of experience. So, what would veteran teachers have to look forward to after year 15? Not much.

It still shows that the highest amount of salary a new teacher will ever make is @ 52,000. That’s terrible. As one sees his/her children grow and want to go to college, the amount of money being netted still amounts to the same. Not many teachers will appreciate making almost the same amount of money in year 30 as he/she did in year 15. And it totally negates that there is no longer longevity pay for veteran teachers, and no longer advanced degree pay or due process rights for new teachers.

And it is comparing it to a plan that was made YEARS AGO.

The second screen shot highlights some spun numbers and explanations of those numbers. Allow for some translation of the information.

  1. $53,600 – Teacher average salary (including local supplements). This number is putting into account current teachers who do still have advanced degree pay and due process rights. They will retire first if they do not change professions. If the proposal shown in the first table is to go into effect, the average will go down over time as the top salary would be 52,000 for those who just entered or will enter the teaching profession. It’s hard to have an average salary over the highest amount given for a salary.
  2. $8,600 – Average teacher raise since 2013. First it shows how bad salaries were, but this number is truly aided by the fact that most of the raises since 2013 were for newer teachers. Veteran teachers like myself did not receive those raises. Teachers who are just starting out got them. And it does not count graduate degree pay that many veteran teachers receive in order to help them stay in the profession. Oh, and longevity pay? Gone, as teachers no longer get that. And there is also that word, “average,” which so many times does not even equate to “actual”.
  3. %19 – Average percentage pay increase since 2013.That is the most recycled, spun statement used by West Jones Street concerning public education in the last five years. And it barely has validity. Why? Because this fastest growing teacher income designation is only true when it pertains to “average.” It does not mean “actual.” Again, those raises Berger refers to were funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget he mentions simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.
  4. $233,000 – Increase in lifetime earning potential of a North Carolina teacher since 2013. Misleading. First, the $52,000 salary cap is designed to make sure that veteran teachers do not stay in the profession. Secondly, this projection is not taking into account that the current retirement system may change. Look at all of the changes that have occurred in only the last six years. Imagine what might be planned for the next thirty. Oh, no longevity pay.

    If Berger wants to make that claim, then he needs to explain this as well:
    1

  5. 5 – Number of consecutive teacher pay raises. Not for all. Refer to graph above.
  6. % 9.5 – Percentage pay increase that Governor Cooper vetoed. Actually, Gov. Cooper vetoed the entire budget, probably because lawmakers in power refused to listen to debate and hear amendments and passed the budget through a “nuclear” option. Cooper’s plan called for higher raises to be more evenly distributed across experience levels.
  7. 44,677 – Number of teachers who have received a pay raise of at least $10,000 under Republican leadership. Again, misleading. Republican leadership started when – 2013? Do you realize that much of that was financed by the removal of longevity pay from veteran teachers. That changes the numbers a lot if Berger would account for that. Again look at the graph above.
  8. $7,000 – Bonus available to third grade reading teachers whose students show the greatest growth in reading proficiency. What about first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade teachers? EC teachers? Kindergarten? Teacher assistants? Other vital staff and faculty?

A success story? Bullshit.

All of that propaganda and we are still %16 behind the national teacher pay average (which it was last year as well), and we are spending less per pupil than we did before the recession adjusted for inflation.

Fully Funding Schools Means So Much More Than Salaries. It Means…

Work or volunteer in a public school for a period of time and you will see there is so much that needs to be maintained and financed in order to just give our kids a place where they can learn.

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Did you ever think of:

  • upkeep of athletic facilities
  • grounds maintenance
  • fuel
  • bus maintenance and purchasing
  • textbooks
  • insurance
  • worker’s compensation
  • contracts to outside entities
  • nutrition
  • leases
  • instructional support
  • extracurricular support
  • staff development
  • administrative costs
  • communications
  • testing and accountability
  • research and evaluation
  • financial sevices
  • human resources
  • supplies for schools
  • technology – hardware and software
  • extended day programs
  • grants for innovation
  • furniture
  • land
  • remodeling
  • advertising
  • printing
  • waste management
  • utilities
  • repairs
  • local supplements
  • and more…

First Day Back to School, 2018 – Day 4,321– An Open Letter to Teachers

august-27-2018

Tomorrow begins my 14th year at my current school, the Home of the Titans.

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching – three schools so far. Hope I stay at my current school the rest of my career.

Tomorrow is my 4,321st day in high school as a student and teacher (non-workdays) That does not include my stint as a student teacher.

Ironically, that number is much higher if I count all of the days in the summers I am at school making preparations for the coming school years and the official workdays.

If I was a coach, that number would be still much higher. But many people do not see that because they are fixated on teachers having “summers off.”

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 361st day of high school. Maybe she will say hello to me if I pass her in the hall.

And I am still nervous. Why? Because I want it to do well. Not just for me, but for my own children, and the students who will be in my classes.

I know what my lesson plans are. Copies are made. Notes ready to talk about. Books ready to assign. Webpages are ready and linked. Introductions rehearsed. Even some homework is planned. I have more ready to do than could ever be done in the allotted amount of time. Yet, I am still nervous.

But I am nervous for the right reasons. I want students to do well. I want them to succeed. I want them to become self-learners, and I want them to use me as a resource, not just a guide.

However, if you teach in North Carolina, there is a lot working against you. The the General Assembly has not been kind to public education in the past four + years. Vouchers, rapid growth of charters, disproportionate raises, school grading systems, misguided standardized tests, a neophyte for a state superintendent, etc. That list goes on and on.

Our collegiate schools of education are not at capacity. Governor’s School has been on a chopping block. There is SB599. There is SB514. Specials in elementary schools are threatened in the name of “class size.” Per pupil expenditure is lower than it was before the recession. Our state superintendent and state board of education have spent more time in court than on the job.

Yet…

I know that when I walk into my classroom tomorrow morning, I will be the teacher – constant,  inspired, ready to engage students, many of whom do not want to be there.

I want to be there. And my students will know that I want to be there.

If you are a veteran teacher in North Carolina (and that means you are not new), then I am proud to be called one of your ranks. If you are new to the teaching world, then I hope you will see that this is a noble profession filled with wonderful people. And we will gain back the respect of those who have put obstacles in our way.

I wish every public school teacher the best of first days.

Even if it is hard to sleep the night before such as it is with me.

I think you are the best of people.

Godspeed, Sen. John McCain

I did not always agree with Sen. John McCain’s assessments of how our country should act in many situations, but I have never doubted that he  had only the best in mind when it does come to our country. Political affiliations aside, he is (yes, still present tense) a true patriot.

I do not believe there is  anyone in the current Senate who has done more for his country in a lifetime than McCain has. He literally risked life and limb fighting for what his country asked him to do.

And until the last, he was willing to get “bloody” for America.

When I think of those who fought before I was born to keep America a beacon of hope and freedom and democracy, I think of  Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. I think of my own grandparents. I think of those who stared down Hitler, the rise of Communism, and McCarthyism and fought back to preserve what was truly American.

And then I think of who embodied that right now with what America faces, and John McCain’s face appears.

He has never shied away from a mission for his country.

And veteran senators, especially republicans like Grassley, Hatch, Alexander, and Graham should look to him as an example and show the younger lawmakers who lack their perspective and life experience that what is happening now must be checked and countered now.

Godspeed John McCain.

“Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” -A James Brown Dedication to the State Superintendent’s Latest Message

“Like a dull knife
Just isn’t cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing. 

– “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” – James Brown, 1970

james brown

True to form, teachers received a “back to school” pep talk from Mark Johnson that leans more heavily on air than on substance.

The text of it is below.

Educators:
Welcome back to another school year. I hope you had a great summer. I have seen from recent visits how excited you are to get classes started.
Your excitement is infectious. Thank you for everything you do for our students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.
I have been a student, a teacher, a local school board member, and now I have the honor and privilege of serving as State Superintendent. But everything becomes different for me this school year. In just a week, I become a parent of a child in our public schools when I drop my daughter off to start kindergarten.
At DPI, we wake up every day focused on making sure we better support you. I know that the best way to enhance my daughter’s education, and that of all our students, is more support, flexibility, and innovation for our educators.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to fill out the surveys we send. Your feedback is guiding my work.
This year, we will have updates for you on our progress to reduce high-stakes testing, improve school safety, highlight and encourage all career pathways for students, and recruit, retain, and reward our educators. I also want to share some highlights from last school year.
  • Support
    I’m proud that we secured funding for grants to help hire additional School Resources Officers across the state and to enhance mental health resources in schools and communities. In addition, we obtained $240 million in state lottery funds for low-wealth, rural counties to build brand new school facilities. We also got more money out of the state education agency and into the classrooms where it belongs.
  • Flexibility
    As you may have heard, the Rowan-Salisbury School District will now have flexibility in testing, school calendar, budget allotments, educator pay, and more. And with success there, this model can be scaled across the state to give more decision-making power to local leaders and teachers.
  • Innovation
    We are changing DPI policies to reduce time spent testing – and give you back time to do what you entered the profession to do: teach. We awarded more than $1.2 million in Coding and Mobile App Grants, and we developed a new statewide Computer Science Plan to connect students more than 18,000 open jobs in the computer science field. We also supported Career Pathways for all students with the Future Ready Students legislation for local communities to connect workforce needs with schools.
This school year, I am excited about continuing the conversation about how best to transform our public schools for parents, educators, and students. Through school visits, the NC Educators Perspective Surveys, and the work of the staff at DPI, we will continue to gather your thoughts and ideas about what we can do to serve you better.
Have a great school year. We appreciate everything you do for all of North Carolina’s students.
Sincerely,

One could play a “Buzzword Bingo” game with this letter, but the “highlights” that Johnson wants to talk about really need some more light shed upon them.

I’m proud that we secured funding for grants to help hire additional School Resources Officers across the state and to enhance mental health resources in schools and communities.” – What about more school nurses? What about more teachers who would help to increase the opportunities to help students and closely work with each an very one of them?

In addition, we obtained $240 million in state lottery funds for low-wealth, rural counties to build brand new school facilities.” Did Johnson ever fight for the $1.9 billion school bond that would have helped build so much more in this state that could have been on a ballot that will possibly have eight amendments on it – none of which help schools?

“We also got more money out of the state education agency and into the classrooms where it belongs.” You mean those iPads?

“As you may have heard, the Rowan-Salisbury School District will now have flexibility in testing, school calendar, budget allotments, educator pay, and more.” Actually it looks a hell of a lot more like a “charter district.”

We are changing DPI policies to reduce time spent testing – and give you back time to do what you entered the profession to do: teach. ” Johnson isn’t just changing DPI policies; he’s gutting it with the help of partisan puppet masters in the NCGA. And if Johnson is so into reducing testing, then he needs to take a stand against the overuse of the ACT in schools and the school report cards that do nothing more than champion the testing culture here in NC.

We awarded more than $1.2 million in Coding and Mobile App Grants, and we developed a new statewide Computer Science Plan to connect students more than 18,000 open jobs in the computer science field.” How about fighting for that $700 million plus pool of money that was supposed to be given to local systems in a 2008 court decision that said monies from civic fines and penalties would go to public schools? That money was to go to technology funds for each LEA. $700+ million dollars is a lot more than $1.2 million. A lot more.

Nice emails and pep talks may have the appearance of good intentions, but these words lack substance.

And merit.

And vision.

They just have volume.

Back to James Brown’s song from 1970. Below is the first verse:

“You can’t tell me
How to run my life down
You can’t tell me
How to keep my business sound
You can’t tell me
What I’m doing wrong
When you keep driving and
Singing that same old money song
You can’t tell me
Which way to go
Because three times seven
And then some more
You can’t tell me, hey”

It’s still ironic that a man who spent less time in teacher preparation and actual classroom experience can tell so many veterans “how to keep their business sound.”

And with recent budget cuts and suddenly found “funds” for iPads and $200 checks, it really is hard for a teacher in NC to look at Johnson’s words and not think, “You can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong when you keep driving and singing that same old money song.”

Still Not For Arming Teachers And Never Was For Betsy DeVos

From the New York Times on August 22nd:

“The Education Department is considering whether to allow states to use federal funding to purchase guns for educators, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.

Such a move appears to be unprecedented, reversing a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons. And it would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns. As recently as March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms.

But the department is eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases. That omission would allow the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use her discretion to approve any state or district plans to use grant funding for firearms and firearm training, unless Congress clarifies the law or bans such funding through legislative action” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/22/us/politics/betsy-devos-guns.html#click=https://t.co/vdFICrPDb5).

Federal funds for firearms for teachers. Who would have limited training at best. An idea from a lady whose brother ran Blackwater, a mercenary squad accused of killing  innocent civilians in Iraq while being paid as contractors.

But if you do think that arming teachers is a good idea, then consider this report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the paper I grew up reading every day:

What became clear: Accuracy with a firearm depends on training – and the police training is far more extensive, comprehensive and ongoing than anything that would ever be provided for teachers, including scenario practices. 

And the training is not just in how to use a weapon but how to manage stress in a deadly situation. This is not something that can be mastered in a three-day or three-week class. 

Yet, even with all of their training, it’s hard for police officers to hit a target and harder still in chaotic conditions. 

The New York Police Department is the nation’s largest police force and among the best trained, yet its own study showed between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate was 18 percent for officers in a gunfight (https://www.myajc.com/blog/get-schooled/gunfights-trained-officers-have-percent-hit-rate-yet-want-arm-teachers/mDBlhDtV6Na4wJVpeu58cM/).

The New York City Police Department is literally one of the largest standing “armies” on the continent. Their police training takes place over months through their academy.

18% percent?

Ironic that the leader of “academic institutions” in the country does not even look at her suggestion from a purely academic perspective.

Teachers should not be armed.

Bottom line.

devos