Mark Johnson Listened To One Lobbyist Over An Entire Profession – Looking at ClassWallet and iStation

When Mark Johnson announced that he wanted to use ClassWallet to “allow” teachers to “control” their supply purchases and give a private company the power and money to track those purchases without local LEA oversight, he was met with great resistance from teachers and educational leaders.

He deserved it.

When Mark Johnson announced that he signed a contract with iStation to replace mClass right at the end of the year against the recommendations of a DPI-formed committee, it sent shock waves around the state and the brush-back from that was intense – just read Justin Parmenter’s great work on that on his blog Note From the Chalkboard.

He deserved that as well.

It turns out that both ClassWallet and iStation hired the same lobbyist in NC to procure those contracts from DPI. His name is Doug Miskew from the Public Sector Group in Raleigh.

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A simple search on the official Secretary of State of NC website that registers all official lobbyists  for one Doug Miskew reveals:

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The groups and interests he officially represents includes:

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That’s iStation and ClassWallet. Simply clicking on each one of these allows one to see that Miskew is the only lobbyist registered for both in NC.

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Maybe what Mark Johnson meant by his ‘listening tour” was that he was going to listen to one lobbyist and not teachers and education leaders.

 

 

 

Lots of Words & Lack of Action – Why This Veteran Teacher Does Not Trust Rep. Craig Horn

In response to what he called “overblown fears” concerning the new principal pay plan implemented for the 2017-2018 school year:

“Legislation is not an exact science. We do things that we think will help solve an issue.”

In a statement about the class-size mandate in early 2018:

“The gap is closing. There are folks that are working on a reasonable solution with the session coming as quickly as it is next week.”

In using per-pupil expenditure as a measure of the state’s commitment to public schools:

“As the teaching corps matures, the per-pupil expenditure — same number of students, same number of teachers — the PPE will go up,” Horn said. “I have a hard time, personally, using PPE as a benchmark of much of anything, quite frankly.”

“Involved in PPE are the fixed costs of running your school,” he said. “Well, if a school is built to hold 1,000 students and holds 700, your PPE is X. Just do the math. If your student population happens to go up to 800 or 1,000, your fixed costs are the same. Your PPE has gone down. But nothing’s really changed with regard to quality.” 

In a statement concerning why charter schools in NC are not required to conduct lockdown safety drills like traditional public schools:

“I’m glad that you brought it up. There are lots of things we do that we don’t even know that we did,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who serves as house education committee chair.

In a statement about the Rowan-Salisbury district becoming a pseudo-charter district:

“If you are looking at the state to be innovative, you’re looking in the wrong place,” state senator Craig Horn, R-Union, told a group of educators gathered at a NCICU Digital Learning and Research Symposium. Horn then pointed at Moody. “That person,” he said, “is innovative.”

Concerning Apple’s treatment of NC officials prior to a surprise multi-million dollar purchase of iPads in 2018:

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

And in a statement concerning why low-performing virtual charter schools should continue unabated in NC:

To take a snapshot in time I think is unfair as well as inappropriate,” Horn said. “We should allow the virtual pilots to continue, allow parents to see whether or not this works for them.

According to Rep. Craig Horn, our North Carolina General Assembly is full of lawmakers who look at legislating as an inexact science that comes up with unfunded and phantom solutions, that considers per-pupil expenditure as a bad measure of funding, that often forgets what it does, looks at educators as innovators yet does not invest in them, but wants to be treated as a body of professionals and adults.

Oh, and they favorably treat charters and virtual charters differently than traditional schools.

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And just to be certain, the principal pay plan has still not been refined, the class-size mandate still has not been funded, there has been no transparency in how the state got money for iPads, the salary schedule for veteran teachers is still horrible, and the favorable treatment of virtual charters in NC is laughable.

When $52,600 is Greater Than $65,727 – The NCGA’s Assault on Teacher Pension and Retirement

If a lawmaker in Raleigh is really being honest, then he/she would have to acknowledge that the revamped teacher salary scale and removal of graduate degree pay are ways to make sure that when teachers retire, they will not be receiving as much in retirement pay as in the past.

Consider that a teacher’s pension pretty much relies on the average pay he/she receives in the last four years of service as a public school teacher. If a teacher now retires making less than what he/she would have made on the 2008-2009 salary scale (adjusted for inflation and giving graduate degree pay), then the state is literally “saving” money.

Consider the salary scales from 2008-2009:

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Freeze that scale over a thirty-year career for a teacher in NC. If that teacher had a “Bachelor’s” certificate, then the average salary over the last four years would be $51,117 – in 2008-2009 money without adjustment for inflation.

If that teacher had a “Master’s” certificate, then the average salary over the last four years would be $56,230 – in 2008-2009 money without adjustment for inflation.

Below is the salary schedule in the latest budget proposal for the 2019-2020 school year that is over a decade removed from the ones listed above.

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Freeze that scale over a thirty-year career for a teacher in NC. If that teacher had a “Bachelor’s” certificate, then the average salary over the last four years would be $52,600.

If that teacher had a “Master’s” certificate, then the average salary over the last four years would be $52,600.

If one adjusted those 2008-2009 figures for inflation  (from August 2008 to May 2019 on the CPI calculator) then it would be $59,751 for the Bachelor’s certificate and $65,727 for the Master’s certificate. 

The state says that $52,600 is better.

And they want to require a financial literacy class.

 

To “Find the River” And Then to Cross It – An R.E.M. Reflection on Immigration

A photograph of an El Salvadoran father and his small child face-down and washed ashore on the edge of the Rio Grande has quickly haunted the minds and hearts of many here in the US and abroad. It intensifies the already tense debate on immigration and the ethics of how to treat so many who seek to come to this country in hopes of a better life.

That father and daughter were embraced in each other’s arms when they washed ashore. He was 25 years old. She was 2. The mother saw them succumb to the waters of the running river.

An NPR report on the local radio station as I was driving home with my youngest child today was desperately trying to objectively discuss the story surrounding this stunning photograph while preserving its humanity. That’s a very hard thing to do.

That image of the river will probably stay in my mind for days.

As a high school English teacher, I try to highlight the use of symbols, tropes, and motifs. I ask students to constantly find repeating images and the repetitive use of objects and actions that extend far beyond the physical and apparent.

I ask them to look for rivers and bodies of water: the Mississippi in Huck Finn, the creek that frames Of Mice & Men, the rushing river waters in As I Lay Dying, the Congo in Heart of Darkness, the frozen sea in Frankenstein. Water can take a character to safety, offer baptism, give cleansing. It can also bring devastating floods and show nature’s power over humankind.

And then there are songs – poems set to music. Many times I will have students explicate the meaning of a favorite song, one that has personal relevance. Poets and songwriters tend to be able to talk of stark realities while exploring their effects on the Everyman. That’s why I reread them or listen to songs repeatedly throughout life.

“Find the River” has always been one of those songs that allows for me to actively reflect on my ever-growing past. Slow, melodic, and methodic, “Find the River” almost seems like a lullaby for the end of a long day that spans years. Fittingly, it is the last song of the album Automatic for the People.

Listening to that NPR report a few hours after seeing that photograph online, I thought of this particular R.E.M. song. Much like the “ocean is the river’s goal,” reaching this country was the goal of that nuclear family and still is the goal for so many who want to live a different life, one that allows them to build pleasant memories with others that will become fodder for reflection.

But the obstacle for these two (and so many others) is not in “finding” the river; it’s in crossing the river and knowing that the other side of the river may not be welcoming. The river in R.E.M.’s song seems to be a channel to wash into the great expanse of the ocean and the hereafter, where all eventually “empty to the tide.” Maybe it is the wish of the song’s narrator that in life one gets to live fulfilled with few regrets, but no matter what happens in life, we all will go “to the ocean.”

However, for these two that flow through life was cut short.

I cannot in any way place myself in the shoes of people whose lives are filled with just surviving – with just “finding the river” and then to find that the river is unforgiving and is a boundary meant to keep them out and apart from.

My life has been one of “privilege” where I get to live by the river and wade through it whenever I choose.

That father and daughter will never get “to pick up and chase the ride.” That alone should make us as a country think more about building more bridges of promising and effectual immigration policies for those whose sole aim is to “find the river” –  especially in this “Christian” republic.

Because whether we are privileged or “weary,” we will all eventually go with the tide.

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Find the River” from Automatic For The People

Hey now, little speedy head
The read on the speed meter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve
Don’t be shy
Your just deserve
Is only just light years to go

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river’s goal
A need to leave the water knows
We’re closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river
Bergamot and Vetiver
Run through my head and fall away
Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

There’s no one left to take the lead
But I tell you and you can see
We’re closer now than light years to go
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way

 

From Orwellian Censorship of Teachers to Cronyism – Remembering Rep. Justin Burr’s “Movies Shown” Bill

Remember Rep. Justin Burr, the five-time incumbent to the North Carolina General Assembly who was defeated in his primary for another term in 2018?

He filed a bill in the General Assembly last summer to force local school boards to provide a list of all movies shown in any classroom in the district to the state superintendent’s office.

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A man who belongs to a party that prides itself on “smaller government” wanted to keep tabs on every video used for instruction even when he had no idea of what using supplementary materials in class involves.

A man who helped enable a budget to be crafted secretly and passed without representation wanted to make sure that Raleigh knew what is being displayed on screens in classrooms.

A man who supported actions like HB541 that will pass costs of properly funding schools to local systems wanted the local systems to tell Raleigh how they were spending the money they now must raise on their own.

A man who espoused such conservative views that he would want to add to the already existent checks and balances of each school system that already had guidelines on showing videos.

A man who while in office had not helped to return textbook funding to appropriate levels but wanted to spend money to create another government eye on the actions of each classroom.

And he is back!

This is in the current budget being sent to the governor in 2019:

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Want to know who the executive director is? Former Rep. Justin Burr.

From WRAL.com reporter Travis Fain:

A few lines in the $24 billion state budget moving through the General Assembly this week would give a former lawmaker a $52,000 raise.

Former Rep. Justin Burr lost his re-election bid last year in a Republican primary. He started as executive director of the state’s Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council earlier this year after some back and forth in 2018 over just what the salary would be for a position the legislature created in 2017.

An effort to boost that salary eventually fell out of last year’s budget, and Burr makes about $62,000 a year.

The proposed budget that won initial approval in both the House and the Senate on Wednesday would raise that salary to $113,057 and exempt the position from some of the state’s human resources rules.

That’s just juicy. And it makes this teacher want to review what videos he shows in the classroom that might help to teach this use of government abuse as it is represented in literature.

As an English teacher who teaches novels and has a curriculum that asks students to confront social issues, I thought I would go ahead and submit my list of movies that I might want to show students in class to enhance instructional opportunities. So I am providing my list of videos in honor of former Rep. Burr’s failed 2018 bill in hopes that it will elucidate what is happening in 2019’s budget.

And do not think that I am being sarcastic. It’s just verbal irony, which is a rhetorical term and part of the curriculum. But you may take it satirically because satire is also a term we must explain to students.

  • All The King’s Men – This could be used to show how state governments can get to the point that some see it as their little kingdom immune from law. Maybe change Willie Starks’s name to….
  • Animal Farm – This Orwellian allegory could help students realize that in a state where “all are equal” under the law, the General Assembly has decided to make some “more equal” than others.
  • Wall Street – This would help students understand that in Raleigh some politicians run by the mantra that “Greed is good.”
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Maybe he could go to Raleigh as well?
  • Wag the Dog – This one shows how government can run on a false narrative that tries to cover the actual truth.
  • Promised Land – Isn’t there some talk of fracking going on in the state? Burr is representing nature in his new job.
  • An Inconvenient Truth – Again, Burr is representing the environment in some degree.

With that extra $50K in salary, Burr should be able to have the technology to partake of these films as he finishes his first year on his job.

And that extra $50K raise is almost enough to actually to finance a teacher with over 30 years of experience on the teacher salary schedule submitted in the same budget.

A Top Salary of $52,600 Does Not Average $54,600

The following was tweeted today as a celebration of great policy in the current budget.

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And this is the very salary schedule that the budget has in it.

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Since the state doesn’t give out local supplements, it seems rather disingenuous for state lawmakers to take credit for that in their “average.”

Plus, that average is bolstered by graduate degree pay of veteran teachers. New teachers will not get that.

And you see how that salary schedule above treats veteran teachers.

Makes one wonder how a high of $52,600 could sustain an average of $54,600.

 

Devaluing Veteran Teachers – Looking at the Proposed NCGA Salary Schedule for 2019-2020

Want to see how this NCGA values its teachers, especially its veterans?

Below is the proposed salary schedule just released this week for 2019-2020.

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Look at it this way. For the first 15 years of a career in NC, a teacher will receive a 1,000 raise for each year. It will go from $35,000 to $50,000.

In Years 16-20, a teacher will make $50,500 – each year. No raises within that time. And a $500 raise overall compared to Year 15.

In Years 21-24, a teacher will make $51,500 – each year. No raises within that time. That’s a $1,500 raise compared to Year 15 and a $1,000 raise compared to Year 20.

In Years 25+, a teacher will make $52,600 – for the rest of his/her career.

Granted, that schedule may change in the next year or years, but it proves one thing: this NCGA does not value veteran teachers.

Look at the salary schedule above just based on raises.

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Now consider there is no longer longevity pay and that all teachers now coming into the profession in NC will be on an “A” certificate because of the removal of graduate pay.

And the consider this.

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This NCGA budget proposal is a slap in the face of veteran teachers.

 

Mark Johnson, Where is Your !@#$%^& Transparency?

“Urgency.” “Status-Quo.” “Innovation.” “Transparency.”

Of all the words that Mark Johnson claims to not only talk about but adhere to in his actions, the word “transparency” seems a lot more murky of late when it pertains to DPI’s actions.

He talks about “transparency” with school report cards.

This brand-new website provides the transparency parents and educators need into the characteristics and performance of North Carolina’s public schools, all in an easy-to-use format,” said Mark Johnson, North Carolina State Superintendent on December 5, 2017 concerning the school report card system.

And with how money is spent.

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And it is stated in the budget that passed last year through a nuclear option…

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And it is one of his chief overall goals.

One of our goals is greater transparency,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said in a statement on April 16, 2019.

And it is one of his defining buzzwords.

Throughout the interview, Johnson frequently returned to his often-used talking points, promising to bring urgency, ownership, innovation and transparency to the state’s education system. He also spoke about his past and how that has shaped his beliefs about public education” – from a Sept. 2017 interview covered by WRAL.com.

So when it pertains to iStation and how DPI came to recommend it and how those iPads were acquired, where is the transparency?

When it comes to how decisions are now made in DPI since the reorg and the elimination of positions that report to the state board as well, where is the transparency?

And when it comes to engaging teachers in large numbers who come specifically to Raleigh to question policies, where is the transparency?

If anyone should practice what he/she preaches, then it should be a teacher because students are constantly watching.

Mark Johnson claims to have been a teacher. And people in this state are watching.

 

Privatization, a Petri Dish, And a Possible Patsy – A Look at North Carolina Public Education

Long before Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, people like Phil Berger and those he controlled began to institute “reforms” into public education without fear of reprisal.

Those reforms turned a once progressive state system of public education into one of regression. Eliminating longevity pay, taking away graduate degree pay and career status from newer teachers, revamping the salary scales,  and cutting teacher assistants were just a few of the actions taken to “reform” public education.

What Berger and others also started in 2011 and continue to champion today is making North Carolina the literal working laboratory for ALEC-inspired reforms that are targeting the vitality of public schools and enabling a variety of privatization initiatives that are padding the pockets of many at the expense of taxpayers.

In fact, in under a decade, NC has become the nation’s Petri Dish for harmful educational reforms.

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These “reforms” are not original – just maybe some adjustments to make them especially “effective” in North Carolina.

Vouchers are certainly not an NC original, but the fact that the Opportunity Grants are the least transparent voucher system in the country was intentionally determined in Raleigh and most of the money from vouchers goes to religious schools.

The School Performance Grading system came from Florida. Make the formula favor test scores over student growth and then it becomes the North Carolina version. The Read to Achieve model also comes from Florida and has led to a number of interesting purchases and use of money like six million dollars in iPads for reading teachers. The latest scandal with iStation centers around Read to Achieve as well.

Charter School growth has gone rather wild with the number of charter schools doubling in the last few years and many of them are operated by out-of-state entities.

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The Educational Savings Accounts for special needs students is more deregulated than most others in the nation and other states who use it report rampant abuse of the money.

Business model reforms have helped to guide policy on teacher pay with unsuccessful initiatives involving merit pay and bonuses for a select few.

North Carolina now has more than 50 standardized tests given to its students and all high schoolers have to take an administration of the ACT even if they are not college bound.

The push to “innovate” and “personalize” learning has led to more technology in the classrooms that seems to take away students from engagement with a professional teacher. Again, look at iStation and the virtual pre-school idea set forth by Rep. Craig Horn.

And then there was 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 that 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.

He is there to keep the Petri Dish that is North Carolina full of “reforms.”

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. After that win, Johnson reorganized DPI into its own silos.

That reorg made sure that Mark Johnson was in complete control of what happened in DPI without having to answer fully to the State Board of Education.

It also made sure that Phil Berger retained control of public education in North Carolina because it is more than apparent that the neophyte currently serving as the state superintendent is under the control of Berger.

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But what happens if there is some sort of push back against what is happening in educational policy here in North Carolina? It goes against the person whose name is affixed in the head office at DPI: Mark Johnson.

It is Johnson who sends the emails, glossy flyers, and video messages concerning what is happening in NC education.

It is Johnson holding invitation only dinners for delivering news on public schools like TeachNC and #NC2030.

It is Johnson who has to attend the NC State Board of Education meetings.

It is Johnson who gets to deliver news to area superintendents like the following at the superintendents’ quarterly meeting in Asheville this week:

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(That is an actual tweet from a school system superintendent).

Berger is in a position to break that association with Johnson if he needs to distance himself. But the converse is not true.

It makes one think though. What happens if there is a democrat who is elected state superintendent in 2019? Does Berger try and hold a special session to withdraw the powers extended to the office of the state super that came with HB 17?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

The elections for 2020 can not come soon enough because it’s time that this “experiment” of dismantling public education in North Carolina stops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One Tweet to Rule Them All” – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Education Policies in One Picture

If anyone has any doubts as to the educational policies that Dan Forest would champion if he were to be elected governor, then this picture that was tweeted out this week should remove those doubts.

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This from the man who tried to pass along the raising of teachers’ salaries through private donations. One of those ways was with with license plates that honored teachers an idea shared by Forest in 2015.

The plates were to look like this.

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The demand never reached 500 to start the production.