This Is What Has Happened to NC’s Public School System in the Last Eight Years. It Can Change Starting November 6, 2018.

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.

Specifically, the last seven-year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – With all of the talk that the current NCGA has used in claiming that teacher pay has gone up over the last several years at historic rates, NC TEACHERS ARE STILL 16% BEHIND THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Push for Merit Pay and Bonus Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students? Those legislators who push for merit pay and bonus pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.
  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation has also taken away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  2. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
  3. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

Actions Against Schools

  1. Reorganization and a Weakening of the Department of Public Instruction – It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided. After a reorganization of DPI and a layoff of many positions, two of the five most important positions that directly report to Mark Johnson have ties to a charter school chain whose owner makes plenty of direct political contributions to people in the NCGA who prop up Johnson.
  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument the GOP-led General Assembly has made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students. Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.
  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula. Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.
  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are among the most nebulous terms in public education today.

    When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

    “Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom. In fact, NC has lost nearly 7500 teacher assistant jobs in the last ten years.

Actions To Deceive The Public

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring. Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.
  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students. Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming.
  1. Virtual Charter Schools – There are two virtual charter academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction. Both also have rated poorly every year of their existence.
  2. Innovative School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan crafted a piece of legislation that was rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. With a name change to ISD, this is the first year of its actually taking over schools – one to be exact.
  3. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
  4. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”. Yes, it was reintistited, but as a shadow of its former self.

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

One can only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

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The “Department of Private Interest” – DPI’s Transformation Under Mark Johnson

It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.

In short, it was a power grab. And the new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.

And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.

The state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. Just look at the recent constitutional amendment for judicial elections and appointments and one sees attempt at power grabbing.

In June of 2018, Johnson entertained former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a multitude of other politicians who have made it their job to privatize public education in North Carolina.

meeting1

jebmark1

Days later, he laid off 40 people from the Department of Public Instruction due to a budget cut made by many lawmakers in the same room as Johnson and Bush in a year where the state supposedly had a surplus.

The next month, Johnson did a reorganization of DPI. Below is what DPI organizational flowchart was prior to Johnson’s actions:

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1 with this:

With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/17/state-board-of-education-loses-power-over-dpi-leadership/).

What that means is that those people who held those positions not only now answer to Johnson alone, but he has total control over what they do. A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget is being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson and passed that original HB17 bill.

Also in the older chart, Johnson reported to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.

Another change is that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation along with a Chief of Staff. That’s five people who run DPI and directly report to Johnson and no one else.

This week, Johnson named a new Chief of Staff.

Joseph Miamone was the headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County. He is also a member of the Charter School Advisory Board which reviews applications for charter schools in the state and makes recommendations to the state board as to which applications should be accepted.

This hire is yet another move to cater to private industries to receive monies from NC taxpayers as Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy is a charter school affiliated with TEAM CFA.

tjca

That affiliation is shown right at the top left of the homepage. Click on it and you get:

CFA

That outfit operates over 10 charter schools in North Carolina.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently opened with Dr. Eric Hall as the original superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB17 which gave Johnson more power as a state superintendent than any other in the state’s history. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Actually, Hall now reports directly to Johnson as the Deputy Superintendent of “Innovation” and that ISD that now has a foothold in NC was heavily involved with TEAM CFA.

That’s two of the five most important positions that directly report to Mark Johnson have ties to a charter school chain whose owner makes plenty of direct political contributions to people in the NCGA who prop up Johnson.

You might want to see who all has received political contributions from John Bryan. All one has to do is look at FollowtheMoney.org (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=2181444) .

Among the other North Carolinians John Bryan has donated to include:

  • Chad Barefoot
  • Phil Berger
  • Tim Moore
  • Ralph Hise
  • Jason Saine
  • David Curtis
  • Jerry Tillman

That’s quite the list of privatizers.

Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County is the only school in the new Innovative School District. Over a long period of time only one school was chosen and that is now run by a for-profit charter school company – Achievement for All Children.

Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178169451.html) .

Now TEAM CFA seems to have more of a foothold in DPI thanks to Mark Johnson than people who have actual experience in the state’s public schools.

Those political contributions to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is advertising his own run at the governor’s mansion, and the rumor that Johnson is preparing a run at Lt. Gov. at the behest of Forest, seem to point to some rather seedy underpinnings.

And it’s no secret that Forest loves charter schools. That is well known among public school advocates.

Public education in North Carolina receives the highest amount of money in the state budget each year. It’s supposed to. It’s literally in the state constitution. How it goes about funding public education is a process that involves numerous checks and balances to ensure fairness.

But those checks and balances have been removed somewhat by a super-majority in the NCGA elected in a gerrymandered manner that has allowed for the greatest expenditure  in the state budget to be a more open coffer for private entities to profit from.

And it’s certainly changing DPI from a public service agency to a haven of private interests.

 

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

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

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

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

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

We did not seek an abortion; it was not an option for us, but it was rather surreal to receive phone calls from health providers talking about that option because they had to legally inform us of our rights/options/legal restrictions. You might be shocked to know the percentage of people/couples who choose to abort with the information we had. I was.

It’s 93%. That’s right. 93%. And I am not about to judge those who did choose what is legally their right in the eyes of the law. There are too many variables in lives that I do not live to run around and make judgement calls.

I also will never carry a child in a womb.  Neither will Phil Berger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think of our responses to Puerto Rico.

Think of our responses to Hurricane Matthew. Remember the special session to address aid to victims? It turned out to be more focused on HB2.

Think of our responses to Hurricane Florence. Or maybe yet what could have been done to prevent some of the damage that came from the floods, such as tighter penalties to Duke Power over coal-ash pits and the hog industry for its treatment of waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule in the very places where many who profess to help would never set foot.

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

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people.

That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

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Making DPI the “Department of Giving The Charter School Industry More Power in NC” – Concerning Mark Johnson’s Latest Hire

Today, State Supt. Mark Johnson named his new Chief of Staff.

Joseph Miamone was the headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County. He is also a member of the Charter School Advisory Board which reviews applications for charter schools in the state and makes recommendations to the state board as to which applications should be accepted.

The irony here is that a person who is obviously loyally tied to the charter school industry has become a rather big cog in the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina which oversees all PUBLIC SCHOOLS in the state.

This hire is yet another move to cater to private industries to receive monies from NC taxpayers as Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy is a charter school affiliated with TEAM CFA.

tjca

That affiliation is shown right at the top left of the homepage. Click on it and you get:

CFA

That outfit operates over 10 charter schools in North Carolina.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently opened with Dr. Eric Hall as the original superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB4. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Actually, Hall reports directly to Johnson as the Deputy Superintendent of “Innovation” and that ISD that now has a foothold in NC was heavily involved with TEAM CFA.

Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Robeson County is the only school in the Innovative School District. Over a long period of time only one school was chosen and that is now run by a for-profit charter school company – Achievement for All Children.

Per Lynn Bonner and T. Keung Hui of the News & Observer last October:

A company tied to a wealthy Libertarian donor who helped pass a state law allowing takeover of low-performing North Carolina schools is trying to win approval to operate those schools.

Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina.

The company was formed in February and registered by Tony Helton, the chief executive officer of TeamCFA, a charter network that Bryan founded. The board of directors for Achievement for All Children includes former Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who introduced the bill creating the new district, and Darrell Allison, who heads the pro-school choice group Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178169451.html) .

Now TEAM CFA seems to have more of a foothold in DPI thanks to Mark Johnson.

Those political contributions to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is advertising his own run at the governor’s mansion, and the rumor that Johnson is preparing a run at Lt. Gov. at the behest of Forest, seem to point to some rather seedy underpinnings.

And it’s no secret that Forest loves “him some” charter schools.

Maimone’s appointment also bring to light a rather ill-conceived comment he made this past school year about school lunches in public schools. From T. Keung Hui this past March 5th:

A charter school advocate who helps North Carolina pick which new charter schools should be approved is charging that traditional public schools are serving subsidized meals to students who don’t need them – such as children of doctors and lawyers.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow, such as those requiring participation in the federal school lunch program. Joe Maimone, a member of the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board, argued Monday that the school lunch program results in the number of economically disadvantaged students being under-reported in charter schools and over-reported in traditional public schools.

School districts typically rely on families to self-report their income for their children to qualify for free and reduced meals. Some audits have found evidence of fraud.

“There is no doubt that school systems across this entire country are milking the federal government for free and reduced lunch, serving 100 percent of populations of doctors’ kids and lawyers’ kids that shouldn’t be getting it,” said Maimone, who is also headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County.

“So I’m frustrated every time I hear a charter school criticized for having low EDS (economically disadvantaged students) because they choose to pick a healthier alternative for their lunch programs for kids.”

The latest state charter school report found that 30.6 percent of charter students were considered economically disadvantaged in the 2016-17 school year compared to 50.4 percent in traditional public schools.

That’s comparable to the gap shown in data from the federal Title I program which showed 33 percent of students enrolled in charters in 2016-2017 were low-income, compared to 53 percent in traditional public schools.

Mark Johnson better make sure that Maimone pays for all of his lunches while at DPI. And now that he is “working” for the school systems that might be “milking” the federal government, he now gets to be part of the government.

But if Maimone really to stop the “system from milking the government,” then he can start with Johnson himself.

Maybe that purchase of iPads could be first?

 

 

So, Am I “a Pawn in a Political Chess Game” or a Public School Advocate? About that #JustAsk School Board Meeting

The following was said in an open discussion during a scheduled meeting of a group of elected officials who represent the local taxpayers of the Winston-Salem /Forsyth County School system. It is also on a publicly maintained video stream that can be be viewed by anyone who could not attend the meeting.

It is public record and there was a brief, yet memorable monologue by a board member that was delivered in such a way as to be a parting shot at many who have pursued answers to questions that arose upon the release of a May 10th video.

And it was not taken lightly by many, especially since it happened toward the end of a three and one-half hour meeting.

That one school board member said the following:

“Teachers continue to be manipulated as pawns in a political chess game between two parties in North Carolina who show an equal responsibility for the ills we all suffer.”

It doesn’t sit well with me or others.

I don’t remember being manipulated. And having served as a teacher in this system much longer than this person has been on the board, I can confidently say that what is  being manipulated in this political “chess” game is the public school system. The teachers who are speaking up and calling for answers are combating the very manipulation that this board member claims teachers are caught up in.

Ironic that the school board member speak of political parties. Yes, both parties have responsibility, but the ills we suffer in public education have been spawned and nurtured primarily by one party for the last six years here in North Carolina. In 2016, I wrote a piece posted by the Washington Post that outlined many of the very actions that the NC General Assembly has enacted ad still in 2018 champions. It included 21 specific items: “The assault on public education in North Carolina just keeps on coming.”

In the two years since, as the state has been sitting on a surplus, that same party has mandated even more statutes that have weakened public education, and many of those actions force local school systems to shoulder more of the burden in financing school systems as the state seems to be absolving itself from its own obligations. Think of the class-size mandate. Think of HB 514 and what it may mean for the use of property taxes to finance charters.

If a school board is not fighting against these actions loudly and boldly, then it is not serving its local school system well. In fact, if a school board member is not fighting for his school system against what the NCGA has been doing, then he is the political pawn in this chess game.

Funny that the WSFCS School Board is a partisan collection of elected officials. The party in control right now in Raleigh was the party in control when it allowed for local school boards to have party affiliations.

The push toward partisan school board elections in North Carolina has gained momentum since 2013, shortly after the federal government loosened the reins on Voting Rights Act restrictions under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder decision, and after Republicans took control of the North Carolina legislature. The state now has 35 school boards that will be elected on a partisan basis—at least 10 of them added to that pool by lawmakers this year alone” (https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/12/13/shift-to-partisan-school-board-elections-looms.html).

If this school board member did not want to have partisan politics associated with what was going on with the current teacher supplement debacle or any issue, then maybe he would have pushed earlier to have the school board not have partisan associations.

Soon thereafter, in the same monologue, this member stated,

“What’s disappointing is that these issues did not come to us in a more civil, more cooperative format.”

Teachers and advocates were nothing but “civil” in this process. There was no violence. There was honest talk. There was debate on the side of teachers and advocates. There were questions asked (many remain unanswered). People used their “civil” rights and practices their “civil” duties to hold elected officials accountable for actions or lack of actions.

Certainly what these teachers and school staff members were doing was for the benefit of keeping the school system strong and viable. That means they were fighting for the citizens. What could be more civil?

The board and superintendent were assertively questioned. In fact, many seemed to go out of their way to try and answer and even some people in the board meeting said they were responsible for not communicating well.

And that was before the comments from this particular board member were made.

Ironically, what board members and the superintendent were being asked about was the fact that they did not seem to “ask” for what the school system needs.

If that is the reason that this board member wants to accuse us of being “pawns” in a “political chess game,” then I will state that he is wrong; I and these others are not pawns. We are advocates –

holding elected officials accountable for the jobs they sought to perform.

Sen. Phil Berger’s Absolute Fear of the Veteran Public School Teacher

Veteran teachers openly discuss, study, and collaborate.

And they fight for public schools.

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The powers that rule in the North Carolina General Assembly under Sen. Phil Berger have been waging a war against public schools in our state for the last six years. Under the guise of “reform,” GOP conservatives driven by ALEC-crafted policies have successfully enabled and instituted privatization efforts in many forms: unregulated charter school development, expansive growth of unproven vouchers, underfunding traditional public schools, and even propped an educational neophyte as state superintendent who has passively allowed the very department that is set to protect public schools to be heinously undercut.

These calculated moves against public schools in North Carolina might signal the ultimate goal in overhauling education in the Old North State – the systematic elimination of the veteran teacher.

Let me rephrase that.

A gerrymandered lawmaking body has passed budget after budget further indicating that many lawmakers in Raleigh will go to any length to poach the educational profession of veteran teachers.

In the last six years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the “average” salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers, those pay “increases” do translate to causing veteran teachers to have to make career-ending decisions rather early in their careers.

Without promise of much pay increase and no graduate degree pay bumps, those future veteran teachers may have to leave a profession they not only excel in and love, but serve as models for younger teachers to ensure professional integrity, the kind that was allowed to shine in a North Carolina of yesteryear when Republican governors and lawmakers were in the forefront of making sure public schools were a strength. And those teachers will not have due-process rights that would allow them to speak up about issues like compensation for fear of reprisal.

Students will suffer; communities will suffer.

The taking away of retiree state health benefits for teachers hired after January of 2021 is another step to create a system where students are more or less taught by contractors because the endangered species known as the “veteran teacher” will come to the point of extinction.

That whole idea of getting “the state more in line with perks private-sector employees get” might be one of the most misleading mantras that rules the mindsets of these lawmakers and education reformers. Why make a public sector service run like a business when public schools aren’t allowed to be businesses? If that were a reality, then schools could treat lawmakers like a Board of Directors of sorts and then rally to oust them at any time beside election years.

If a lawmaker wants to argue that public schools should run like a business and that teachers, staff, and administration should be treated like private-sector employees, then that lawmaker might need to look at the converse and see how unrelated those two entities really are. In fact, I would invite any lawmaker who favors this budgetary move to try and see if he/she could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because one is not even comparing apples to oranges. One is comparing apples to rocks.

Right now, we are not attracting the best and brightest. Just look at the past four years and see what has been done to make teaching an unenviable career in North Carolina. This recent action is making sure that anyone who may want to teach in North Carolina in the future will not stay in the profession for long.

Sen. Chad Barefoot’s 2017 bill called SB599 should then not be so puzzling. Bringing in alternate teacher-preparation programs that can be controlled by the state weakens the profession overall. This bill was supposedly introduced to help with the shortage in teachers. Why would we have a shortage of teachers?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

If the trends stay in place and we as a state do not replace those in Raleigh with lawmakers who will fully fund public schools and reinstate the very items that attract the best and brightest, then we will literally make the North Carolina veteran teacher an extinct entity.

Just look at the recent use of a “nuclear” option to pass a budget without open debate or chance for amendment. That budget supposedly does have more raises for teachers, just not for veteran teachers who have served this state for over two decades. If there is one thing that many GOP lawmakers like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, Tillman, and others of their ilk (who don’t have term limits) despise more than veteran public school teachers, it’s open dialogue that may expose their hypocrisy.

And they sure as hell don’t collaborate unless it is in a locked room with only those of like opinions.

Veteran teachers openly discuss, study, and collaborate.

And we will fight.

#JustAskMe Should Not Be #JustAskMeARhetoricalQuestion

When #JustAsk brought the responsive #JustAskMe, what many teachers did not expect was that #JustAskMe would not be very responsive. While either the volume of the questions that were submitted was too great, or the resources dedicated to answering the questions were limited, many teachers have expressed that their questions have remained unanswered.

So, bring them to the Sept. 25th board meeting.

And keep asking them and let others know if they are being answered.

But it is rather ironic that the #JustAskMe google doc application/form asks if you want an answer.

Of course, I would want an answer. It’s not #JustAskMeARhetoricalQuestion.

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Teachers Should Be Political, Especially Here in North Carolina

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In the state of North Carolina, over 56% of the state budget is dedicated to public education, most of which goes to K-12 (and pre-K) education.

It’s specifically stated in Article IX of the state constitution that the state establish a free and viable means of educating school age-children.

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.

That alone makes education a political issue.

If lawmakers, especially those with the most power in Raleigh today, control the fate of funding and measuring public schools, then it is impossible to separate politics and public education.

And with the elections coming in November under the shadow of gerrymandering and a Voter ID law as well as a budget rammed through with a nuclear option, it almost begs for any public school teacher or advocate to do something that sounds like taboo to some: becoming political.

When 20,000 teachers and public education supporters marched and rallied in Raleigh on May 16th, they didn’t go to the offices of the Department of Public Instruction; they went to the General Assembly because that is where policy is decided.

Those who decide and craft policy tend to look at education from the outside in. It has been no secret that much of the educational “reform” that has occurred in this state has been without much (if any) teacher input. And many of those same lawmakers who are up for reelection this November have taken actions to lessen the power of collective teacher voices: career status and due-process rights removed and lack of graduate degree pay bumps to name just a few. Those are political actions.

When NCAE was targeted by the NCGA on its automatic deduction of dues from paychecks it was a political move to lessen the strength of the largest teacher advocacy group in this right-to-work state.

Education simply is clothed by politics.

So when somebody says that teachers should not be political, then that person needs to explain how a teacher cannot be political and still advocate for schools and students. In fact, this teacher would say that all public school teachers and advocates should be very political this election year.

This state has a wide gap in the urban / rural divide. Actually, it’s not wide; it’s expansive. To say that all of the public school teachers in this state have the same partisan leanings is foolish. This state has about as (roughly speaking) as many people registered as democrats as republicans with a healthy dose of independents. North Carolina is about as purple as it gets. In 2016, over 10,000 people who voted for Donald Trump as President also voted for Roy Cooper to be governor.

And everyone has a stake in public education whether it is directly as a parent or student or employee of the school system or as a taxpayer.

Education is political. But it hasn’t always been this partisan.

Write a blog or a bunch of op-eds and you will receive criticism in many forms. Some of it will be negative and personal and because you argue against what Raleigh is doing with public education you may be tagged with partisan labels.

That’s fine. Teach public school long enough and you will come across lots of criticism of the occupation and the perceived performance of our schools. Actually constructive criticism might be one of the best gifts anyone can receive.

It’s funny that decades ago, public education was championed by both democrats and republicans alike. Think of governors like Holshousher and Martin and you will see a commitment to funding public education like NC saw with Sanford, Hunt, and Easley. The governor’s office and the General Assembly were often in different hands politically speaking, but on the issue of public education, they stood much more united than it is today.

The surest way to advocate for public schools is to make sure that those who are in power as politicians are pro-public education, not just with their words, but with their actions. That’s politics.

Education is a political issue.

Teachers and public school advocates should be political as well; therefore, vote.

Look at the Website of the Innovative School District’s Only School – What Does It Tell You About the Priorities of the ISD?

Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County was selected by the state to be the first school (and currently only school) in the Innovative School District back before the end of the last school year.

The first superintendent of the ISD was Dr. Eric Hall, who is now the Deputy Superintendent of INNOVATION in Raleigh having been “promoted” in a coup of control by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

One particularly loud aspect of Johnson’s platform is his wanting to further North Carolina’s hold on technology. And the word “INNOVATION” comes out of his mouth quite often.

So, almost a month into the school year and several months to prepare for this inaugural school year, it was quite interesting to view the website of the new ISD school.

To say that it has a good profile and interface with its community would be a non-truth.

In fact, with the recent hurricane and disastrous weather having decimated much of the eastern part of the state, it would make sense that the school website keep as much info as possible to alert families of school closings and other important notices.

There are none. In fact, it does not even look like the website has even been completed for the first day of school as if it had taken a template of a website and plugged in some identifying markers in a matter of an hour.

You may find it here: https://saes.k12isd.org/.

That .k12isd.org address might be indicative of its being on a different server than other Robeson County schools, which by the way, have kept their communities up-to-date on closures. One guess is that it is maintained in Raleigh, where the ISD district super has had his office.

Look at the first page:

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Those people? Not in that school. Those are “stock” photos. That’s not authentic, much like the purpose of the ISD plan to begin with.

Want to meet the staff and administration? You aren’t.

ISD2

Actually, just more stock photos.

In a comparison with other Robeson County school websites, there is a stark difference between what this ISD profiles online and what other schools under local control have.

Local school websites under the Robeson County umbrella of control have:

  • real kids and real staff who actually are part of the school
  • actual events shown on calendars
  • resources for parents
  • news articles that are relevant
  • and, direct contact info for the administration

The website of the ISD school has:

  • just stock photos –  not real kids or staff from Southside-Ashpole
  • no real current news – the last news was from over a month ago
  • the only ‘parent resource’ is a link to Powerschool (i.e., something the State invested in for everybody; no local resources)
  • no administration contact or message

Does not sound very innovative, unless you want jargon and buzzwords.

This past couple of weeks, more schools were identified as being considered for the ISD – two from my own school system. If a school website is supposed to be a reflection of values and commitment to the community that the school serves, then what has been shown by the ISD here in North Carolina shows a lack of substance and a disconnect with the local population.

State Supt. Mark Johnson, give that school back to the people who know those students best and then get Raleigh to help that community more by increasing funding for schools and students, expanding Medicaid, and putting a school bond back on the ballot for next year to help these schools rebuild what needs to be fixed.

 

 

 

Why This Teacher “Bonus” is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem

The recent exposure of the May 10th Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting (when the WSFCS superintendent and school board chair shared their budget request) has highlighted a rather contentious  issue within the teaching community: teacher supplements. More importantly, it brings to light the need for an audit of how items are communicated between elected officials.

It is no secret that in a rather short period of time, WSFCS’s teacher supplement schedule has begun to lag behind other LEA’s in the state. What once was a “top-five” teacher supplement now ranks 25th in the state. Granted that every system in NC has its own obstacles in how it funds local priorities, what was communicated according the entire video of the May 10th meeting by the system superintendent was that a budget request hinged on what the state was to finance for public education in their summer session.

Ironically, while WSFCS was “waiting,” other LEA’s still raised their teacher supplements under the same conditions as they were waiting for the same state to issue the same final budget decision.

localsupplements

To call raising teacher supplements a “priority” and not even include it in a budget request raises questions. But the idea of a singular “bonus” that is supposed to net a total of $300 for each teacher seems to be a quick defensive measure to cover for a lack of “follow through” should really give those questions more volume.

Yes, a $300 bonus does equal a sum of money that any teacher could use. For some teachers, it would be a higher amount than what they would receive in a teacher supplement increase based on experience. But it is a singular action.

Raises in teacher supplements are not singular. They are ongoing investments to recruit and retain teachers  – good teachers for entire careers to give continuity to schools and help them succeed.

Some may argue that in order to increase teacher supplements in Forsyth County, we would have to raise taxes. Actually, we are sitting on a surplus in the school budget this year, but to dismiss the idea of “raising taxes” to finance a local endeavor that benefits the community just because it is “raising taxes” seems shallow. There’s more to it than that.

What the NCGA has done in cutting corporate tax rates alone forces local systems to rely more on local funds. Look at HB514 and what it could potentially do to not only hurt public schools but also use property taxes to fund those hurtful endeavors. Look at the “class size chaos” debacle and see that the need to not only fight locally for funds is paramount, but the need to fight statewide for them is as important. And part of that is having a BOE and school system that is willing to openly fight for and advocate for the local school systems.

Actually when it comes to property taxes, Forsyth is nowhere near the top of the state counties in rates: https://www.ncdor.gov/taxes/north-carolinas-property-tax-system/property-tax-rates.

In the case of sales tax rates, the same applies; Forsyth is again nowhere near the top: https://www.ncdor.gov/taxes/sales-and-use-taxes/sales-and-use-tax-rates/sales-and-use-tax-rates-effective-april-1-2017.

And a lot about the value of property is tied up in the value of the local public school system. When people look for housing in North Carolina and had school-aged children, they may have asked a real-estate agent, “What school services this area?” It is commonly known that a real-estate agent cannot answer this question because of the Fair Housing Act. Talking about the reputation of the schools can cast an unfair light on an area. That can affect real-estate values.

Schools and real-estate prices are very much connected. This excerpt form an NPR expose is rather telling:

It’s well known in the real estate industry that highly rated schools translate into higher housing values. Several studies confirm this and even put a dollar figure on it: an average premium of $50 a square foot, in a 2013 national study.

Nothing is tied to personal wealth as the value of property owned. And schools do not run themselves. Communities need great teachers to make schools work well. Forsyth County (and North Carolina) is losing teachers.

Back to the bonus versus teacher supplement argument:

The circumstances that these bonuses are being given seem to not even come from a sustained plan.  Most teachers found out that they were to receive a bonus after they found out that a request for funds to increase teacher supplements was never given.

But ultimately, the use of a bonus instead of going ahead and requesting the funds to begin a sustainable increase in teacher supplements is a matter of trying to equate a “reward” with actual “respect.” It brought to mind that there are many stark differences between rewards and respect.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state. Respect would be to bring teacher supplements back to its previous ranking.

And a reward is promising to be more transparent in how issues are communicated between governing entities.

Respect is never having to have this be an issue in the first place.