Like every other year, 2018 has been a rather contentious, perplexing, and frustrating year for public school advocates. There is simply a lot working against us.
However, that only means that we keep fighting for public schools. As the new year arrives, it might be worthwhile to review the top ten public education issues that surround North Carolina’s public school system.
And they are not listed in any particular order as all of them have an incredible amount of gravity.
Over 20,000 teachers and public school advocates. Around half of the schools in NC were closed for the day. Aside from the Women’s March of 2017, it might have been the largest demonstration on the NCGA in history. Not a single time was there a word given to discourage what teachers and public educators were trying to support. There was a single purpose. Complete focus. And support from others.
2. School Performance Grading System Still Shows How Poverty Affects Student Achievement
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. 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.
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.
3. HB514 – The “Resegregation” Bill
This past spring, the NCGA voted to approve the Municipal Charter School bill 64-53. And because it was a local bill, it did not require the governor’s approval.
This is beyond egregious and potentially sets North Carolina back decades as far as treating all people equally. It exacerbates an already fractious situation that has endured gerrymandering, a Voter ID law, cowering to big industry instead of protecting the environment, and giving massive tax cuts to corporations that hurt public services.
This bill allows for cities to use property tax money to fund local schools. It also allows for cities and towns to establish their own charter schools with enrollment preference for their citizens using taxpayer money.
And with the recent veto override of the Technical Corrections Bill, HB514 can be a reality for any municipality in NC.
4. Mark Johnson Vs. State School Board Decision
It is not that all sides won in this lawsuit. It is that all lost.
Remember that this lawsuit came about because of a special session after the election of Johnson as state superintendent that granted him more power than any previous state superintendent ever had.
A GOP-led NCGA transferred powers from a GOP heavy SBOE to a GOP State Super. For almost 18 months, this lawsuit has been floating in the courts and funded by the very taxpayers who also fund public schools.
And in the end, what happened? Certainly not winning.
What adds to the “defeat” is the timing. Less than two weeks removed from a budget that really does not address key issues that 20,000 teachers marched for and was passed without debate and amendments, this court decision only reaffirmed what most public school advocates already know: Mark Johnson is the face not of DPI, but of the puppet used by the NCGA to control DPI.
Interestingly, three republican school board members resigned their posts to allow for Gov. Cooper to appoint new people to combat the policies of the state superintendent.
5. Calendar Flexibility
With the loss of days by other school systems due to the recent winter weather and subsequent snow and ice will be eating away at more days. And if the NCGA is to keep pace with its previous decisions, there will be no flexibility given because of the almighty exam schedules and rigid norms that obey special interests and not the schools wishes.
In October, those school systems wanted flexibility to extend the school year so that they could physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually begin to heal from the disaster that was Hurricane Florence. Now many other school systems will need to figure out how to make up days in due to more weather inside of a constricted school calendar.
Weekends, holidays, nights, and early mornings be used to rebuild and recover. If the state was serious about helping weather-affected schools, then it would allow for local school systems to have calendar flexibility to address the academic needs of their students in the time frame that would be best decided by the local school systems.
Forcing the schools to still end at the same calendar date (with the missed time) as other systems that may never have missed school days is forcing those students to take state tests without the same preparation time and affect school performance grades. That can be really severe to school systems who are already dealing with the after effects of weather-related closures.
6. DPI Reorganization and Audit
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.
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:
This is what it looks like now.
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.
7. Supermajorities in Both Chambers of the NCGA Were Defeated
The breaking of that supermajority this November of 2018 did a lot to help public school advocacy in North Carolina.
- A pro-public education governor can now use a veto. That’s really a big deal.
- Budget process now has to be open. There is no way that a budget can successfully go through a “nuclear option.” Debate and amendments must now occur and that means that people like Berger and Moore have to actually talk about the budget.
- Many municipalities and local LEA’s had school board shake-ups. For instance, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County schools now have a school board that has a democrat majority. Look at Wake County.
- Many privatizers and “non” public school advocates lost in races or had very close races. Nelson Dollar lost. He was the chief writer of the budget. Bill Brawley might might be gone after absentee votes due the HB 514 affair. Jeff Tarte lost handily after the stunt he pulled with DonorsChoose.org being used to fund affluent schools in his district.
- With more seats to Democrats, Mark Johnson is held in check. Think about it. With current makeup of lawmakers, secretly crafted bills that take power away from the state school board and give it to a puppet of a state superintendent would be harder to pass.
- The power of the judicial branch was preserved. Those two amendments were defeated and most all of the races for state-wide judicial races went to people favored by education advocates.
And there were some trends that were established that are incredibly encouraging for the 2020 election which will feature lots of state-wide races.
- Look at the numbers of people who voted. It was a midterm election and over %50 of registered voters came out in a time where public education was a hot button item on many platforms.
- Young people came out. Those civic lessons are working. Imagine what kind of force they could be in 2020 when state level positions are up for elections.
8. Read to Achieve Just Is Not Working
In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation for the “Read to Achieve” initiative. Six years later, it has not really achieved.
From a 2018 Charlotte Observer report:
The General Assembly passed Read to Achieve legislation in 2012. It was modeled on literacy efforts in other states, including the “Just Read, Florida!” program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. The goal in North Carolina was to end “social promotion” by keeping students in third grade until they could read at grade level and providing extra support to help them get there.
But in the years that followed the percent of North Carolina third- and fourth-graders graders passing state reading exams stayed flat or declined. National reading exams showed equally discouraging results.
First, we should never try and emulate anything that Jeb Bush does to “reform” education. Read to Achieve and the School Performance Grading system have done nothing to help our students except funnel money into private hands and create empty excuses for other “reforms.”
Secondly, this is a failure that lies on the part of Phil Berger who was one of its biggest champions when it was introduced as a NC initiative. He needs to own it, but he seems too busy trying to blame people for his election signs disappearing in his race with Jen Mangrum rather than backing up his claims for his #NCSuccessStory.
The scores for those 3rd grade reading tests are eye-popping.
The Charlotte Observer report references a recent study by NC State in conjunction with the Friday Institute that found really no success in the Read to Achieve initiative on a state level.
9. That NC State Study on Vouchers
In June of 2018, NC State released another evaluation of the Opportunity Grants Program. It is entitled ““An Impact Analysis of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program on Student Achievement.” A link to the report can be found on EdNC.org (https://www.ednc.org/2018/06/04/researchers-release-an-impact-analysis-of-north-carolinas-opportunity-scholarship-program-on-student-achievement/).
It states that there are “large positive impacts associated with voucher usage in North Carolina.”
When reading about the recruitment of the students to be used in the study, the researchers relied heavily on the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). From page 11 of the report:
That reads “the bulk of recruitment support was ultimately provided” by PEFNC. To say that PEFNC has an extreme bias as to needing to show a positive spin on vouchers is an understatement – a giant understatement.
And there’s so much that this study could not even begin to measure as the voucher system in NC is the most non-transparent in the country.
10. Class Size Chaos
Remember when Sen. Chad Barefoot said this in February of 2017 concerning House Bill 13?
“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money? …The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request. What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (http://www.wral.com/law-reducing-class-size-has-music-art-pe-teachers-anxious-about-future-/16628678/).
I do. We only got a yearly reprieve. In 2019, we will have to fight for “specials” again.