Malcolm’s Minions – A Chance to be Ultra-Cool For a Day

This Oct. 13th the Piedmont Down Syndrome Support Network (PDSSN) will be hosting its annual Buddy Walk.

For those who are not familiar with the Buddy Walk, here is the blurb from the PDSSN.org website:

The Buddy Walk® was created by the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in 1995 to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and to promote awareness, acceptance and inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome.

It also raises funds for the PDSSN to help with programs and services for families who have members with special needs.

This year’s Buddy Walk will again be held at West Forsyth High School where it has been held for the last six years.

If you want to have a great time for a great cause then come on out. And even if you can’t make it to hang out with the cutest red-head with blue eyes who just happens to be genetically enhanced, then you can still help by sponsoring.

Malcolm’s team is called Malcolm’s Minions. The link is http://pdssnhome.ezeventsolutions.com/BuddyWalk/MalcolmsMinions.

Thanks for considering.

And if you need a little more motivation, then:

 

 

 

Made of Hubris and Political Ambition- Mark Johnson’s New Website www.ncsuperintendent.com

This week State Superintendent Mark Johnson launched a new website totally devoted to him alone as someone filling the seat for the state’s top public school official: www.ncsuperintendent.com.

johnson3

Interestingly, there already is an established website for the Department of Public Instruction: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/. Notice that one is “.org.” The other is “.com.” And that raises a series of questions and some obvious implications.

Why does the state superintendent need his own website? Well, probably so he can control the content of it and make himself look greater than he is. In that regard, this could easily be taken as an initial campaign move for branding himself as a potential candidate for office in 2020 (LT. Gov.?). Just look at what is highlighted: his quote about the American Dream, favorable and carefully selected press releases, and nicely manicured pictures.

johnson5

There is even a place to request a “letter” or an “award.”

johnson4

Is this an official website for a state official or a personal website for Johnson? Well it is a “.com.” Look below:

johnson6

The third search result says, “The official website of North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson.” And it does have this at the bottom which makes it look like it is supposed to be a part of DPI:

johnson7

In fact, the superintendent’s new website is actually being “advertised” on the original website.

johnson9

johnson8It’s as if he is using the opportunity of a major storm to guide people to his website to have them use that as the default website to get info on what is happening in public education.

What does a website like this implicitly communicate? First, Johnson’s relationship with the state board (who grilled him on this at the last meeting) is really not that good which might be the worst kept secret of the last 20 months. Secondly, he does not wish to associate himself with DPI as he is the only person focused on in this website. No other division in DPI is highlighted here. Another insight offered might be that this is an attempt at further degrading those in DPI with simple disassociation: the best things DPI does he can put his stamp on and put on this new website, and the worst that he does can stay on the other DPI website.

And another insight is that Johnson is not a good speller –  “recieve.”

johnson10

Were taxpayer funds used to make this website? That is to be determined, but if DPI’s brand is on the website and time was taken out of the last board meeting to comment on it, then it has become part of the official record and the need for an audit here would be important.

But probably the most telling part of the super’s new “personal” website is this:

johnson1

Put in your name, phone number, and email address and you become part of a list – a list many candidates for office would use to push out campaign material. Remember, this is a “.com” website – for commercial use.

And with all of those new iPads in this state, maybe Johnson saw an opportunity to push more of his spin on new screens.

 

 

 

 

Those Schools That Will Serve As Shelters From Florence Are All “High-Performing” – No Secret Algorithm Needed for That

Just because schools may not be having classes for students this Thursday and Friday does not mean that schools will necessarily be closed. Some will be serving a role that is invaluable to the community that goes beyond the classroom.

If you read anything about evacuation shelters in places like Houston and Florida last year, you may have seen that many of those shelters were local public schools.

Here in North Carolina, it is no different.

shelter

Check out https://www.ncdps.gov/florence.

Those schools in my opinion are high-performing. Don’t need an secret algorithm to calculate that.

 

 

Those Schools Are Not Low Performing; Our Policy Makers Are : Raleigh’s Amorphous Way of Measuring Schools

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

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

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

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

And yet public schools are still doing the job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

school grades

So, to guarantee that this school year’s scores would not make much, if any gains, the North Carolina General Assembly changed the rules, or rather the indicators; since science departments have been doing so well with preparing students for the Biology EOC, that indicator will no longer be used.

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

Why drop Biology from the indicator list? Because that’s the one we as a state do best on. Simply check out the NC School Report Card Site. Look at your own district and it will be compared to the state averages. My school system from 2016-2017 is below.

EOG

To be proficient, a student must reach Level 3 at a minimum. Look at the state figures and in parentheses next them are the district averages.

Those who scored 3,4,5 in Reading (English) was %60.7 (58.2).

For Math – 64.8 (62.6).

For Biology – 56.2 (57.9).

The only one where the district outperforms the stat average is Biology. That will hurt the report for my district. Furthermore, it only allows for two scores to balance out each other and not three.

Try telling a student that you will not be using the grade he did best on according to the class average in his final average. Well, that’s what the state is doing to many districts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, the state is being willingly unwilling to explain.

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

But we know better.

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

It reflects that lawmakers are failing.

The One Data Chart Left Out Of The State School Performance Grade Report

Last year when DPI released the school performance grades for the state included in the report was a data table that showed a correlation between poverty levels and school letter grades received.

Here’s a table detailing the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

PSFNC2

Here’s a table detailing the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2016–17 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

poverty2

This year’s report did not include the “Grades by School Poverty Percentage” bar graph, but the good people at the Public School Forum did the work for us.

poverty

Sure does look like poverty levels still have a lot to do with school performance grades. Makes one wonder why DPI’s budget was cut and those support positions were eliminated in DPI to help high-poverty LEA’s.

 

 

Mark Johnson’s Politically Convenient Double-Standard Concerning For-Profit Virtual Charter Schools in NC

Last week when school performance grades were released, State Superintendent Mark Johnson again bemoaned the “status quo.” He said, “When you use status quo strategies, you get status quo results.”

status quo

Would Johnson make that applicable to the virtual charter schools that have repeatedly under-performed here in NC?

From the Greensboro News & Record this past Sunday,

North Carolina’s two online charter schools have been open since 2015, but both schools have been unable to shed their state status as low performing.

Statewide test results released last week show that N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy received D grades for their academic performance for the 2017-18 school year. It’s the third year in a row that both public schools have gotten a D and also failed to meet academic growth expectations on state tests, putting them on the state’s list of “continually low-performing schools” (https://www.greensboro.com/ap/north_carolina/virtual-charter-schools-in-n-c-are-still-low-performing/article_23e0be12-c942-5d4c-8ab8-017f1b19a7ca.html).

That’s sounds just like what Mark Johnson was talking about when he made reference to the “status quo.”

But instead of calling it what it was, Johnson actually expressed enthusiasm for them.

The following link is to last week’s press conference on the school performance grades where Johnson expressed “excitement” for the work these two charter virtual schools are doing.

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article217984480.html

That “status quo” he talked about above when speaking about the overall public school system performance? It doesn’t apply here obviously.

virtual charter 1

He excused the performance of the two virtual charters on their unique population. But Johnson as the top official in public school in North Carolina should know that every school deals with a population that needs a little extra help sometimes. In fact, every school deals many populations. Every school: elementary, middle, high school, magnet.

And every school needs a little extra help sometimes. Every school.

But why are these two virtual charter schools given a constant “pass” when it comes to performance when the state super keeps speaking tough on the performance of traditional schools? In fact, “state lawmakers showed their support for the two schools this summer by passing legislation to let them stay open until at least 2023.

K12 Inc. and Pearson are receiving money to run two low-performing virtual charters when the state public school system actually has a successful online school running. Why would Mark Johnson express such enthusiasm for those two privately run virtual charters?

Just ask him and see if he actually answers the question.

I have an idea what the real answer is.

 

 

 

Someone Please Tell Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore That Public Education is a Common Good, Not a Consumer Product

Early in the fall of 2016, I was asked to do a panel discussion on public education at UNC-Charlotte with a variety of other stakeholders in the state. There were teachers, social activists, think tank reps, and a couple of advocacy groups.

At one point in the conversation, a representative from a well-known libertarian think tank expressed that what was needed in public education was a move to a free-market model where parents made all the choices and the state should no longer have as much to do with regulating public education.

It was at that point I thought of a quote from Eric Schlosser, a contributor to The Atlantic, who might be most well-known for an expose of the fast food industry called Fast Food Nation.

In 1995, he wrote a piece entitled “In the Strawberry Fields” which investigated the practice of low wages among an immigrant work force. He ended it with this quote:

“Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap—a work force that is anything but free.”

I have thought about that quote often as teachers in this state keep fighting for a more balanced distribution of salary increases and equitable treatment. I think a lot about it as a member of a profession that so needs its collective voice to affect positive change in a right-to-work state controlled by people who follow personalities and not principles.

The idea that public education should become a consumer good in a free market is asinine and seems totally contradictory to both the state constitution and the ideologies of those who helped pioneer our nation. Why?

Because public education is a common good.

In 2001, PBS produced a documentary called School: The Story of American Public Education. A companion book was also published with an introduction by the education scholar David Tyack. He ended his portion with the following prescient paragraphs:

“The politics of education has never been more fluid and complicated than today. As in earlier periods of contentiousness, some critics – especially advocates of vouchers and school choice – have put a new spin on the concept of democracy. The challenge this time is even more fundamental than the earlier attempt to rely on experts. These critics do not seek to replace politics with professional administration.  Indeed, they consider public education already too bureaucratic, too constrained by government regulations inflicted by special-interest groups.

The solution, they say, is to replace politics with markets. Treating schooling as a consumer good and giving parents vouchers for the education of their children solves the problem of quality and decision making: parents choose the schools that will best suit their children. The collective choices engendered by democratic institutions produced bureaucracy and gridlock, they say; the invisible hand of the market will lead the individual to the best personal choice. The market in education will satisfy and liberate families through competition.

But wait. Is education primarily a consumer good or a common good? If Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, and John Dewey were now to enter policy discussions on public education, they might well ask if Americans have lost their way. Democracy is about making wise collective choices, not individual consumer choices. Democracy in education and education in democracy are not quaint legacies from a distant and happier time. They have never been more essential to the wise self-rule than they are today.”

In a year where the General Assembly passed a budget without debate and amendments through committee, gave more money to vouchers, funneled money meant for pre-k services to other ventures, and enabled bills like HB541 to come into existence under the guise of “school choice,” November’s election might really be a decision in whether to keep public education a common good in North Carolina or a consumer product that will profit a few.

PSFNC

 

The Only Real Conclusion About NC’s School Performance Grades Is That Too Many of Our Students Live In Poverty in a Gerrymandered State

Political leanings and lenses aside, sometimes data can create a picture so vivid that it is really hard to argue against the conclusions.

Just like in recent years, the state of North Carolina this week released its school performance grades for the with pretty some changes in the formula but with a similar conclusion.

Test grades actually went down a little across the state and the Biology EOC exam for high schools was not used, which is rather funny considering that there is such a push for STEM curriculum.

The results really did nothing but reconfirm that the majority of schools which receive low or failing grades are usually schools with high poverty rates in their respective student bodies.

Consider what the first set of grades showed in the very first iterations of the school performance grade system. Go back a few years for example.

Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) . And yes, it is 2018, but not much has changed.

map1

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

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

map2

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

Now look at a map that shows the percentage of African-American students in each county’s population. It is also from the EdNC.org dashboard where the previous two maps were taken.

map3

If I could superimpose all three maps then I could show readers how confident I am that the correlation between the population of African-Americans, poverty, and school performance grades is incredibly strong.

And there is a reason that I have not included other minority groups. That’s because when the Voter ID law was repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals a couple of years ago and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the then governor McCrory  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically pointed to the “surgical precision” that the law targeted African-Americans and poorer people.

And remember the  congressional districts, two of which were considered to be “gerrymandered” districts by federal courts, specifically districts 1 and 12. Images come from The News & Observer report  from Feb 6, 2016 entitled “Federal court ruling corrects gerrymandered NC  districts”   (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article58911173.html).

districtmap1

congressmap01

See any correlation to the maps above with the data that appears in the maps concerning school performance grades, numbers of free and reduced eligible students, and percentages of African-American students? I do.

And it is still happening.

As much as it always has.

About the Rumor That Our State Superintendent Will Run for Lt. Gov. in 2020

Lt Gov

The rumor that Mark Johnson might be preparing a campaign to run for Lt. Governor of North Carolina is not really that new. But since it has been asked officially on a filmed interview (to be aired tonight), it does need some sort of mention because the irony of any possibility that this might be happening would be not only palpable, but extremely thick.

If Johnson does run for Lt. Gov., he will undoubtedly be campaigning for at least several months before the 2020 election while he is still in his first term as the state superintendent.

Considering that a large portion of that term was being embroiled in a lawsuit over a power grab meant to enable Johnson to carry out the General Assembly’s wishes without checks and balances, a run for Lt. Governor would be incredibly consistent with Johnson’s political career: trying to rapidly advance in office without establishing himself as capable in order to be a puppet of a higher power that enables him.

Johnson, 34, did not complete even half of a term as a school board member in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County schools and was campaigning for the state super job during that time.

The current Lt. Gov., Dan Forrest, already has indicated he will run for governor in 2020. That’s no secret. And to think that Johnson would not be a rubber stamp for a someone like Forrest (if elected) is unrealistic; Johnson has shown himself as not being the leader he wants to project himself as. He has not been transparent (iPad / Apple) or shown himself as knowledgeable like when he wanted to eliminate board mandated tests when the SBOE does even mandate tests.

Yet, the most stark irony in this idea is that the Lt. Gov. sits on the State Board of Education. If elected as Lt. Gov., Johnson would become a member of the very entity that he spent most of his term as State Superintendent trying to undercut.

It’s almost inviting enough to entertain the imaginary conversations that would take place if Johnson as Lt. Gov. would have to explain why as the State Superintendent he used taxpayer money in a lawsuit that he now claims gives him control over DPI himself.

But he would probably avoid the question or say that he has “moved on.”

From the Charlotte Observer on Sept. 6th,

Johnson defended the iPad purchases, saying he had the authority to make them. He also repeatedly said that the board’s complaints were not good for the staff at DPI or for the state’s public schools.

“Let’s stop the back and forth at board meetings, please,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Let’s move on. The department has moved on. I’ve moved on” (https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article217890560.html). 

Maybe the above statements by Johnson indicate that he has moved on to prepare for a run at the Lt. Gov. position, but if an incomplete term as a school board member and a complicit and ineffective tenure as the state superintendent are any indication, then a possible Johnson term at Lt. Gov. would definitely not prove beneficial to North Carolinians.

And by the way, Dan Forrest is no advocate for public schools.