About That Email from Mark Johnson Concerning “Important Updates”

Teachers in North Carolina received the following email from the State Superintendent last week as the school year ended for students.

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Thank you for all your work over the 2018-19 school year. This year brought unprecedented challenges. Your dedication to students helped us overcome these challenges and is so greatly appreciated — especially here at the Department of Public Instruction. 

I wanted to let you know of a few important updates going into the summer. 
Our legislative team and I continue to work daily with members of the General Assembly. Some highlights:

  • We have strong support from legislators on bills that would eliminate the NCFinal Exams as well as launch a collaborative effort with local leaders and take other steps to reduce the amount of testing in our schools.
  • My team and I have secured significant increases for classroom supplies in the state budgets presented by the Governor, the NC House, and the NC Senate. We are excited to continue our efforts to give teachers direct control of hundreds of dollars each school year out of the allotment for classroom supply funds.
  • We are working to secure more funding in the state budget to help keep students from going hungry with state funds to cover the cost of the meal co-pay for students who qualify for reduce-price lunches.
  • We are supporting legislative measures to reduce unnecessary burdens placed on teachers when going through the licensing process. Proposed legislation would move the requirement for passing certain licensing exams from the second year to the third year of an initial license, create a path for effective teachers to continue to teach in their local district before having to pass these exams, and reduce the requirement for a lifetime teaching license from 50 years to 30.

Also, our team is working with local districts on exciting launches this summer:

  • We recently announced our partnership with Sandy Hook Promise to launch an anonymous tip reporting system including the Say Something app (NC will be only the second state to have the Say Something app statewide).
  • ECATS, our new system that includes Special Education and Service Documentation modules, will roll out in July and the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) module will start rolling out during the 19-20 school year. All modules are free to schools and training began this month. 
  • For K-3 teachers: We will be launching the new reading diagnostic tool, Istation, as required by the Read to Achieve legislation. (See the separate email on Istation.)

One important note to math teachers: Yes, the math EOG scores will be delayed and won’t come until after the summer. The delay is because after the State Board of Education adopts new math standards (as it did recently), standard-setting must follow. The standard-setting process must wait until all tests have been administered and scored.

Thank you for everything you do for our students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.

Stay tuned for more updates over the summer.

Johnson highlighted seven specific “highlights” and “launches.” The timing of this particular message certainly was purposeful, but it would be beneficial to maybe look at each a little more closely.

  1. The first actually mentions two items: reducing testing and legislative report. Please be reminded that on May 30th Johnson sent out an email concerning what all he had done for reducing testing so far.

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It was really not that much – three tests out of around 50 given in the state and a few that were reduced by a number of questions (which ironically makes each question still on the test that much more important to the grade).

Furthermore, to brag about legislative support in this state is not building hope on a strong foundation. Just look at graduate degree pay. It came up in the House budget and never was mentioned in the Senate budget. This teacher will not believe it until he sees it.

2. That “increase” in classroom supplies? This move has brought about so much criticism that it is rather surprising that Johnson keeps touting this as a victory. Actually Lisa Godwin, the 2017 NC Teacher of the Year, put it best in NC Policy Watch.

“I realized it was just a reallocation of funds,” Godwin said. “It felt like there could be repercussions for districts. Districts could be hurt from a purchasing stand point because they buy so many things in bulk and they have capacity to buy more at a lesser amount. If we took that money away from them that could prohibit them from being able to do that.”

Godwin said there could also be repercussions for teachers if the bill is approved by the General Assembly.

“This $400 is going to run out pretty quick, and they’re (teachers) going to go to their districts and say the need copy paper or toner, and the districts are going to say, sorry you got your $400,” Godwin said.  “I don’t want to do anything that would hurt districts or teachers.”

3. School lunches. No child should ever have to go without something to eat at school. And asking for extra funding for lunches should never have to be a selling point for a state official when the economy in NC is supposedly going so well. But if Johnson is going to ask for more money to feed students, he could fight harder to help ameliorate the causes of why students may be hungry in schools.

Over 20% of our public school students live at or below the poverty level.

4. Licensing burdens? Well, it might be interesting to look at some of the tests that prospective teachers must take to become licensed in NC. Take for instance the math test as reported last year in the Charlotte Observer.

The math exam that has made it difficult for hundreds of new North Carolina teachers to get their license could be phased out as early as February, based on a recent vote by a panel of state education experts.

In August, the state Board of Education learned that almost 2,400 elementary and special education teachers have failed the math portion of the licensing exam. Critics say the test requires middle and high school math skills that teachers of young children may not use, while failing to gauge whether licensing candidates will be effective teachers.

Want to know who constructs that specific test?

Pearson.

5. Anonymous tip line. This is a good step. But considering that we had a shooting at Butler High School earlier this year, it should have been in place much earlier. Like the same day. And it shouldn’t be something to brag about in an email as an accomplishment.

Oh, by the way – the NCGA made Butler High School make up that specific day even after the CMS school system asked for it to be forgiven for obvious reasons. From Fox 46 on May 8th.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Butler High School students will have to make up the day that was missing following a deadly school shooting. 

A message reportedly sent to families from Principal John LeGrand that was obtained by FOX 46 Charlotte, says the school is required by law to have students make up the day. 

The principal reportedly said school officials explored options which included seeking a special waiver from the NC legislature, adding 15 minutes to each day, or having the make-up day. The message says their waiver was turned down by the legislature and the second option would have caused logistical issues such as transportation and meal times.

6. ECATS. If there is a certain facet of the public education system that continues to have the most changes in software and documentation on what seems to be on a yearly basis, then it is special education. The administrative burden and time spent documenting by an EC teacher is quite big.

7. iStation and Read to Achieve. Johnson announced that “software” purchase to help with an initiative that has been shown to be rather ineffective just a couple of weeks ago.

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He stated, “I just signed the contract with Istation a minute ago, so we are informing you as soon as we legally could.”

Ironically, soon after he sent that memo, Dr. Amy Jablonski, a candidate for NC State Super in 2020 and someone who works at DPI, sent out this note:

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Seems that Johnson acted unilaterally on something that negates all of the money spent on the previous system just this year.

This is rather an empty list of accomplishments.

About That Letter to the Editor Concerning Teacher “Indoctrination”

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The following “Letter to the Editor” appeared in the June 15th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal:

Partisan school elections

Many Republicans believe that the Democratic Party has an anti-American agenda, and that its teachers indoctrinate our children to anti-Capitalism, anti-patriotism and occasionally anti-Christianity. The long-term results of this indoctrination are now clearly seen as we approach the 2020 election: some Democratic candidates are brazenly Socialist, and others are willing to bury America in debt as the welfare state grows.

The purpose of a partisan school board is to assist in identifying and avoiding further indoctrination.

No. I am not going to critique the use of grammar and mechanics. Write a blog for a while and mistakes will be made. It’s the absolute lack of logic that needs to be addressed because this person is not alone in this erroneous viewpoint.

The argument this individual is making is clear enough: teachers who align themselves with the Democratic Party are indoctrinating students to be socialists and heathens which is ironic because many of the teachers I know are registered Republicans and I teach in a county that has a partisan school board.

Isn’t also ironic how much power teachers in North Carolina have wielded to cause so many 2020 Democratic Party national candidates to become so “brazenly Socialist?” And maybe he actually was referring to the “corporate welfare state” because it almost boggles the mind to see how much the deficit has actually ballooned under this current president because of steep tax cuts to the wealthy. 

Maybe this gentleman could investigate how hard it would be for a bunch of teachers to indoctrinate students when most are too busy trying to prepare students for one of the 50+ standardized tests that the state dictates schools administer.

And it seems like this gentleman insinuates that schools should teach students nothing but patriotism, strict capitalism, and how to be a good Christian. If that’s the case, then he just told you how sorely underpaid teachers are to be handling so much besides just the academics.

Anti-American? Is he referring to the country that has freedom of religion, democratically held elections for school boards, and the right of people to petition tax dollars to go to social programs?

Or, it could just be another example of how uneducated some people are about public education because he wrote an LTE to a newspaper published in a town that is part of a school system which actually does have a partisan school board.

One that has a Democratic majority.

 

 

Some Are More Equal Than Others – The Orwellian “Animal Farm” on West Jones Street

Art imitates life. It’s one of the reasons why teaching great works of literature is vital in a high school education.

One title that is read and taught in many high school English I classes in North Carolina is Animal Farm.

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Animal Farm is an allegorical fable that Eric Blair (George Orwell was his pen name) uses to comment on the rise of the Soviet brand of communism and the absolute corruption that comes over those who grab power. In it animals take over a farm from their human owner, Mr. Jones, and immediately set up a “utopian” society in which all animals are equal. They even come up with a list of commandment for all to abide by.

They read as follows:

THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.

Idealistic to some, but human (“pig”) greed gets in the way. As a few pigs consolidate control of the farm, abuses of power occur. Think of it as redistricting of sorts. Maybe gerrymandering. Maybe even attempting to restructure the judicial system to gain a certain ideological bent on most benches.

What happens throughout the book is a rewriting of the commandments. Those who retain power get to write the rules. They also get to rewrite the rules. Think of the Voter ID Act or the HB2 bill that targeted the LGBTQ community among other things. Think of the special sessions and the way that the last summer’s state budget was passed within committee instead of open debate.

And then think of education.

In Animal Farm, the rules get rewritten so that those in power can get more power. Eventually toward the end of the book the seven commandments read as such:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
    2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
    3. No animal shall wear clothes.
    4. No animal shall sleep in a bed – WITH SHEETS.
    5. No animal shall drink alcohol – TO EXCESS.
    6. No animal shall kill any other animal – WITHOUT CAUSE.
    7. All animals are equal – BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.

These rules and “revisions” of four of those rules are made in secret and through an undemocratic process. Sound familiar?

Concentrate on that last commandment – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

That brings to mind the passage of HB514 which 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. It’s a a precedent for allowing for the segregating of school students.

It’s saying that some are more equal than others.

Look at last year’s renewal of the virtual charter schools, both of which have always measured incredibly poorly on the very school performance grading system that the same NCGA uses to stigmatize so many schools that deal with poverty.

Look at the opaqueness of the current voucher system and the stubborn allegiance to fund it by the NCGA despite no evidence that it is working (and it doesn’t even use all of the money allocated to it).

Look at the current Seante budget that has a provision to take away funding from early colleges, most of which are shown to be highly successful.

Look at the rapid unregulated growth of charter schools in both rural and urban areas.

And speaking of pigs, or rather hogs, consider all of the legislation that has literally protected the hog farm industry in NC over the legitimate concerns of citizens.

Some are just more equal than others in the eyes of those who are supposed to protect that very equality.

 

The NCGA Senate’s Hypocrisy in Funding Early Colleges in NC

“All schools are equal. Some are just more equal than others.”
– A rewording of one of the change commandments from Animal Farm by George Orwell.

If you want yet another example of how the NCGA seems to treat some  better than others then just look at a recent provision in the proposed budget of the North Carolina Senate led by Phil Berger.

From EdNC.org’s Alex Granados and Liz Bell posted today:

If a provision in the Senate budget makes it into the final spending plan for the next two years, North Carolina’s early college high schools could be facing a reduction in the funding they receive from the state.

Little noticed when the Senate budget passed its chamber, the provision would phase out the supplemental funding the state provides so-called Cooperative Innovative High Schools. The state has 133 of them, 90 of which have early college in their name. Early college high schools allow students to earn college credits while working towards graduation and are paired with institutions of higher education in the area, most often community colleges.

The supplemental funds received by Cooperative Innovative High Schools are above and beyond the traditional funding that schools in North Carolina receive. These schools will still get that traditional funding, but will no longer receive the extra money that, for some schools, enables them to survive. 

133 schools (90 Early Colleges) that have been established entities that could be seriously jeopardized. And these schools span the state – urban and rural.

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If one looked at a list of these Cooperative Innovative High Schools , then he/she would see that most all of them are housed in community college campuses, four college campuses, and universities.

Three of them actually have the word “STEM” in the school name.

The irony is deep here. While the NCGA gives more license to unregulated charter school growth that potentially hurts local traditional schools in multiple ways, it is proposing to weaken some very effective institutions that actually help to create the very bridges that many students travel to successful careers. Think of the incredible relationships between school districts and local colleges and universities that have been leveraged for the good of all parties for years.

Now think of the amount of money that has never been used but remains in the coffers of an opaque voucher system that has not shown the rewards that so many in the NCGA bragged about years ago.

And these Cooperative Innovative High Schools do work well. In fact, a majority of them have received an “A” for their school performance grade.

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That’s 72% to be exact.

Funny how for a state that actually has an office for a Deputy Superintendent for Innovation at DPI, that loves those school performance grades, and that champions “school choice,” it is considering withdrawing funds from these very successful schools – successful innovative schools.

Actually, it’s not that funny.

It’s egregious.

 

 

Dear Supt. Mark Johnson and NCGA, You Are Invited to My Son’s Next IEP Meeting (And While You Are At It, Spend a Day Following an EC Teacher)

I believe every policy maker who touts “personalized learning” and screams  “differentiated instruction” in our schools to reach every child maximally should sit in on some IEP meetings – the tough ones where parents and schools struggle to find what is not only appropriate for the student, but how those needs will be met.

And those policy makers should just be quiet.

And learn.

Because IEP meetings can tell you what the health of the school system is and how that school system lacks needed resources.

I am a teacher and a parent of two public school students. My oldest goes to the school where I teach. She has wonderful teachers (who do not have her last name). My youngest is about to enter 5th grade.  He happens to have Down Syndrome. And autism.

They don’t define him. They just happen to be part of how he actualizes the world.

My wife and I knew through prenatal testing that we were having a child with Trisomy 21. It didn’t matter. He was ours and we were his. Actually, the world is his. He may grow up to be a benevolent dictator and require all people to play basketball with him. Meanwhile, he wears his Space Jam / Michael Jordan jersey and a West Forsyth Titan baseball cap any chance he gets. And he likes going out to eat, especially if the chicken fingers are good.

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His diagnosis for autism came just this past spring. So we did what any parents would do: find out what resources are available to him. Then we will have another meeting soon after school starts with his teachers.

He is not a “typical” child. He has delays. Standardized test results do not show him to be standardized. He is unique – just like every other student.

This vibrant boy has an IEP (Individual Education Program) that is as thick as a 19th Century Russian novel. It is a “work in progress” that dictates how he will be delivered instruction and educational opportunities. The first item that his mother and I put on that IEP was that he would be able to navigate in this world and be as much a part of it as possible.

In short, we wanted him exposed to as many typically developing students as possible and be around students who modeled behavior and skills we wished him to develop.

But that law-binding IEP creates obstacles for most schools as they are funded now. What our son needs is more one-on-one time with a teacher. He needs a teacher assistant’s help. He needs specialized tools to help with a specialized curriculum. He needs to be accompanied to his classes as he goes back and forth between specials (which he loves) and main stream classrooms for some basic classes.

And he is still required to sit for those EOG’s.

We have had IEP meetings that ended without consensus. Without agreement. We have had to consult outside help. We have had to see what our rights are. And as a parent, it frustrates me. As a teacher, I have a more unique understanding. But we all want what is best for him.

Since 2010, this state has lost over 7500 teacher assistants. Veteran teachers have not been respected who are experienced with EC curriculum and practices. Underfunding of resources and a stringent over-reliance on testing have encompassed every grade and every student. Even those specials have been under attack with the class-size mandate from Raleigh.

And the very people who are making so many decisions about schools and how they operate and how they should be funded have never even been a part of the very system to have any idea of what their actions are doing.

No charter school will accept my son. No private school in the county we are in would take him. And the ESA system in this state is so badly regulated it makes one wonder why the state would not just give the school he attends the money they would have given him in an ESA so they could do what is best for him.

And his teachers know what will help him, but they are handcuffed in so many ways.

That’s why I want that policymaker in that next IEP meeting with my family and my son with those teachers so I could ask him or her, “So why can’t this happen for my kid in the very school you are supposed to fully fund?”

Then I will record that answer and hold him / her to it. At least with my vote if not with my voice.

Simply put, tests and assessments that drive data-driven decisions many times can take away the personal link that exists between students and teachers. Solely placing students in situations that are based on numbers can impersonally label people. Add to that an anemic funding pattern that has taken place in the last six years.

But people truly make schools work. In those past IEP meetings, when the data were considered alongside the preferences of parents, the insight of teachers who knew him, and the willingness of administration to find every possible way to make my son successful in an environment that he knew and was comfortable in, we put aside the personal differences and made educational decisions based on the individual.

I wish that happened for all students who truly need their IEP’s. Too many times our public schools are forced to make due with limited funds for both human capital and needed resources – not just some iPads that will be used to track more data and will never be replaced or updated because that’s how policy makers fund schools.

I would like to think that my son and his differently-abled self will teach a lot to the other students about how very similar we all are even if we have differences. But I know he would teach those policy makers so much more about how to better fund our schools.

“PEARSONALIZING” Education in North Carolina

Last month a publication concerning the influence of Pearson Education was released entitled “Pearson 2025: Transforming teaching and privatising educational data.”

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It’s startling to read and yet it’s not so hard to conceive of the conclusions that both researchers come to. And yes, “privatising” is correctly spelled as Pearson is based in London and their reach is incredibly far reaching across the globe.

For many people that reach is too far. And the hold is too tight.

Pearson’s hold on educational data seems to be evolving more and more. And in the world of standardized testing, concepts like “data-driven” and “personalized learning” mixed in with virtual classrooms and technology create the best conditions for a company like Pearson to have a stronger hold here in North Carolina.

And it’s not just Pearson. We as a state are throwing a LOT of money to software companies and testing corporations.

Consider the following quotes from our state superintendent:

“We will continue to use data-driven analyses, including feedback from classroom teachers, to drive changes ….” – Mark Johnson in October of 2018 concerning the report on the ineffectiveness of Read to Achieve.

“At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.” – Mark Johnson from “North Carolina Public Schools Accelerating into 2018” in December of 2017 on EdNC.org.

New, personalized learning technology allows teachers to get the information they need about students’ progress without high-stakes testing. Especially in the early grades, progress checks can feel like a normal, engaging lesson instead of an examination. In many cases, students won’t even know we are checking in on their progress.” – Mark Johnson from “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna test it anymore!” in January of 2019 on EdNC.org.

Then consider DPI’s relationship with SAS, a private company that generates the School Report Cards, EVAAS Data, and the NC School Finances website.

And do not think that SAS and Pearson do not know each other.

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Consider the magical appearance of funds by Mark Johnson last summer to purchase six million dollars of iPads for elementary teachers. Billy Ball from NC Policy Watch discovered an interesting relationship that may have prompted that “purchase” when he reported about it right after Johnson made his PR move.

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

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


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


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


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


· Ethics advocates say state’s laws were intended to stop “wining and dining” of public officials.

Think also of this Virtual Pre-K initiative being driven by Rep. Craig Horn that would link low-income pre-k students by a screen to prepared “lessons” through a company called the Waterford Institute. The following graphic is made compliments of John deVille, veteran teacher and public school advocate.

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And just this past week, Mark Johnson announced yet another “software” purchase called iStation to help with Read to Achieve, an initiative that has been shown to be rather ineffective.

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He stated, “I just signed the contract with Istation a minute ago, so we are informing you as soon as we legally could.”

Ironically, soon after he sent that memo, Dr. Amy Jablonski, a candidate for NC State Super in 2020 and someone who works at DPI, sent out this note:

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Why is so much money being given to so many private companies to gather and disseminate student data when it could be invested in our own state and people?

The answer is easy – profit.

Think of the great university system we have in this state and the schools of education and educational research who could help fashion the very things that DPI and the NCGA are outsourcing.

This is not “personalizing” instruction. It’s “PEARSONALizing” it.

At a high cost.

“PERSONalized Learning” is Best When PEOPLE Are Involved, Not Screens

“At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.” – Mark Johnson from “North Carolina Public Schools Accelerating into 2018” in December of 2017 on EdNC.org.

In 2018 we saw a reduction in budget and a reorganization at DPI.

And iPads. Six million dollars worth.

And hurricanes along with an election cycle that saw a vteo-proof majority in both branches of the NCGA taken away from the very people who have been “crafting” education policy for years in North Carolina.

New, personalized learning technology allows teachers to get the information they need about students’ progress without high-stakes testing. Especially in the early grades, progress checks can feel like a normal, engaging lesson instead of an examination. In many cases, students won’t even know we are checking in on their progress.” – Mark Johnson from “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna test it anymore!” in January of 2019 on EdNC.org.

The term “personalized learning” has become a bit of a buzzword in North Carolina – a fashionable way to possibly veil an educational reform under the guise of something altruistic.

In its literal and denotative form, “personalized learning” is a rather noble concept. It would allow students to receive tailored-made lessons that match their learning styles, needs, and interests.

It also requires a great amount of time, resources, and PERSONAL attention from instructors.

Time, resources, classroom space, and opportunities to give each student personalized instruction are not items being afforded to North Carolina’s public school teachers. In fact, as state superintendent, Mark Johnson has never really advocated for those things in schools. Actually, he has passively allowed for the class size mandate to proceed without a fight, has never fought against the massive cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, and devotes more time hiring only loyalists and spending taxpayer money to fight against the state board.

And the fact that he is now starting to advocate for a statewide $1.9 billion bond seems more like trying to take credit for something that could have easily been on last November’s ballot when the party he affiliates himself with had the very supermajority to allow for it.

In November of 2017, Benjamin Herold of Education Week wrote an investigative article entitled “The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.” It is a straightforward look at how the amorphous term of “personalized learning” has been used to actually advance agendas that really are not good for enhancing instruction. Specifically, he uses three arguments against “personalized learning.” They are:

  • “Argument#1: The Hype Outweighs the Research”
  • “Argument #2: Personalized Learning is Bad for Teachers and Students”
  • “Argument #3: Big Tech + Big Data= Big Problems”

If what Mark Johnson is trying to accomplish with his version of “personalized learning,” then does it not make sense that he would have to counter the arguments laid forth by Herold?

And why specifically counter those arguments now?

  • Because there has been nothing from Johnson’s office or even his own mouth to offer the research for his claims.
  • Because Johnson has been more concerned with rushing in technology for “technology’s sake.”
  • Because Johnson has not explained how personalized learning in his version will actually allow more teachers to spend more time with individual students.

One of the many people whom Herold refers to is Alfie Kohn, a heavy-hitter in the world of educational thought. He quotes Kohn from his book, Schools Beyond Measure.

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With a “revamped” website controlled by a software company like SAS that uses secret algorithms to show how well schools are performing on standardized tests which teachers don’t even help to write, Johnson’s idea of “personalized learning” in a state that still has a very low per-pupil expenditure lacks credibility.

Alfie Kohn’s work as an author and critic is known the world over. In fact, his book The Homework Myth is one of the choice reads for my AP English Language and Composition classes (which ironically argues against the veracity of AP classes in general).

In February of 2015, Kohn wrote an entry in his blog entitled “Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning.’” In it he outlined four warning signs:

1. The tasks have been personalized for kids, not created by them.
2. Education is about the transmission of bits of information, not the construction of meaning.
3. The main objective is just to raise test scores.
4. It’s all about the tech.

I believe Kohn more than I believe Johnson. In fact, Kohn actually shows his research if you look at the actual post (http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/personalized/). Footnotes galore and a bibliography at the conclusion.

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Until Mark Johnson is able to communicate clearly, candidly, and convincingly how his vision and/or version of “personalized instruction” is going to allow teachers to give all students more individualized attention, then what he is selling is nothing more than a scheme to make a profit for someone else.

Johnson states further in his December 2017 op-ed in EdNC.org,

“Our society uses technology to personalize our news, social media, entertainment options, and even fast-food orders.”

The fact that Johnson equates the use of technology in the classroom with the use of technology in these other venues already shows his huge disconnect with the learning process.

We live in a country where we have a president who trashes most news outlets, where social media companies seem to be more concerned with accruing data to sell for a profit, where entertainment makes us question what actually is reality, and where fast food offers cheap non-alternatives for substantial dietary options from a prefab menu (but great for entertaining college football’s national champions.

And Johnson wants us to rely on their examples to personalize how we teach our students?

Kohn also uses a fast-food reference in his post on personalized learning. But Kohn makes a better choice for the palate of the American education system.

“For some time, corporations have sold mass-produced commodities of questionable value and then permitted us to customize peripheral details to suit our “preferences.” In the 1970s, Burger King rolled out its “Have it your way!” campaign, announcing that we were now empowered to request a recently thawed slab of factory-produced ground meat without the usual pickle — or even with extra lettuce! In America, I can be me!”

I guess Johnson would like to “supersize” that.

But first I might order some “specificity” as an appetizer.

Paying to Play? Outsourcing Public Education (and Dollars) to Out-of-State Charter Chains

In 2012, Lynn Bonner, Jane Stancill, and David Raynor of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote an article entitled “How companies can turn a profit running public schools.” It should be required reading for public school advocates.

In it they discussed how charter school chains are allowed to operate in North Carolina and how some “chains” can actually make great profit from them using NC taxpayer money.

They also specifically profiled the opinion of one Lt. Gov. Dan Forest who has received campaign contributions from some of the bigger players in the charter school industry.

Now in 2019 with over 200 charter schools set to be open for the 2020-2021 school year, it should be noted that over 40 of them are being operated by for-profit charter school chains. Three of biggest chains are from out-of-state and are very much established in NC with multiple schools and one just got its first charter school in the state approved.

It will not be the only school it seeks in the state to open.

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And there is a fifth waiting in the wings that just had an application sent back to the Charter School Advisory Board that is based in Arizona.

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The map above shows those five charter school chains that have and are seeking to (further) sink their teeth in North Carolina.

1. Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale. It is run by Jonathan Hage whose political contributions to politicians in North Carolina are rather numerous.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates. Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

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  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well. He is the national chairman of ALEC.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations. It is also worth noting that Forest is also on the state board of education and is ramping up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2020.

2. 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 given a green light with Dr. Eric Hall as the superintendent who since has gone to Florida.

Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Bryan in NC. Please remember, this is only a screen shot of a much larger list. Notice that Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is on that list.

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Saine and Tillman are on that list as well.

3. National Heritage Academies is based in Michigan in the same state where Betsy DeVos began her quest to privatize public education. They’ve enabled each other. National Heritage Academies has 11 schools in North Carolina. One of them is Greensboro Academy. On the board of that school is Alan Hawkes who sits on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina. That’s convenient.

National Heritage Academies was founded by J.C. Huizenga who is friends with DeVos. He also gives largely to candidates who help his business – even in NC.

Again from followthemoney.org for the profile of Huizenga.

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There’s Forest (and Tillman) again! And there is Hawkes mentioned above who is still on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina.

4. Doral Academy is actually part of a larger charter school group. It is operated by Academica on behalf of Somerset Academy which is a charter management company.

Academica is run by a man named Fernando Zulueta. Plenty has been written about the charter school empire he has helped amass. From a Miami Herald feature from 2012:

Zulueta had reason to cheer. During the past 15 years, Zulueta and his brother, Ignacio, have built Academica into Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Academica runs more than 60 schools with $158 million in total annual revenue and more than 20,000 students — more pupils than 38 Florida school districts, records show.

That was seven years ago. It’s still growing and with the approval of Doral Academy in NC just yesterday, Zulueta now has a foothold in North Carolina. And Zulueta contributes a lot to political candidates.

Would be interesting to see if any in NC receive some of his money for campaigns in the 2020 cycle – maybe someone running for governor?

5. Glenn Way is the owner American Leadership Academy in Arizona. He has been in the NC news circles of late as he is trying to open a charter school in Wake County. His application was one of two who were declined by the SBE and sent back to the CSAB. That prompted Dan Forest to say in the meeting (as he sits on the NC SBE),

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a member of the state board, complained about the “stall tactics” he said were being used by opponents of those two charters. He said the delay is “punishing” the applicants who were already recommended for approval by the advisory board.

“We’re punishing them because other people aren’t going through the proper procedures and process that they have to go through and that we’re requiring of them to do,” Forest said. “I just want to make sure that the charter community and everybody else that’s engaged in this feels like they’re being treated fairly through this process.”

Would be interesting to see if any in NC receive some of his money for campaigns in the 2020 cycle – maybe someone running for governor?

Simply put, many NC lawmakers are outsourcing “public” education to out-of-state entities and paying for it with taxpayer money that should be going to the state’s public schools.

It should stop because the way it looks on paper, one could easily argue that many are “paying to play” in NC and profit off our public school students.

Actually, to say that they aren’t “paying to play” would be extreme ignorance which seems to be in abundance in Raleigh.

 

 

The Hypocrisy of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on Charter Schools and Medicaid Expansion

“If our action in keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protected the life of just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.” – Dan Forest, April, 2016 concerning HB2, the “Bathroom Bill”

Price tag? Priceless?

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Doral Academy was just formally approved by the State Board of Education. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is on that SBE.

He also defended the application of a charter school that is associated with Glenn Way from Arizona. His for-profit scheme is well known and was commented about back in April in the News & Observer by the editorial board.

In today’s N&O, Forest was reported as admonishing the SBE for not giving approval to Way’s school in Wake County.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a member of the state board, complained about the “stall tactics” he said were being used by opponents of those two charters. He said the delay is “punishing” the applicants who were already recommended for approval by the advisory board.

“We’re punishing them because other people aren’t going through the proper procedures and process that they have to go through and that we’re requiring of them to do,” Forest said. “I just want to make sure that the charter community and everybody else that’s engaged in this feels like they’re being treated fairly through this process.”

One could go and see how the advisory board is put together and see how politically linked it is.

And “stall tactics?” The number of charter schools in NC has doubled since the cap was lifted less than ten years ago.

Yet with money going to out-of-state for-profit charter school chains at the delight of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, it seems most hypocritical that as the leader of the NC Senate he has not done anything to help expand Medicaid in NC. It’s especially double-faced in that expanding Medicaid would literally cost the state nothing and funding charter schools to be run by out-of-state entities not only costs tax payers but affects traditional schools adversely.

And wasn’t it Forest who said that there should never be a price tag on people?

 

Mark Johnson is Our Own Betsy DeVos

When Betsy DeVos became the Secretary of Education after a tie-breaking confirmation vote, she brought with her absolutely zero experience in public school education. In fact, her only “qualification” for the job was an agenda that rubber-stamps those who prop her up.

And there are striking similarities with our own state superintendent, Mark Johnson. While Johnson does have limited experience in the classroom, it seems next to nothing considering that he is the state’s highest ranking public education official. In fact, contrasting Mark Johnson and Betsy DeVos with a veteran teacher very much shows how unqualified both are for their positions and how similar they are to each other.

Criteria Betsy DeVos Mark Johnson Veteran Public School Teachers in NC Who Have Taught For Five + Years
Has a degree in education or went through a teacher preparation program at a college or university NO NO Most all of them. Lateral Entry in most states still requires that teachers take certain preparation courses.
Has teaching experience NO YES – two school years YES –
Attended public schools NO YES – graduated from Louisiana’s equivalent of a Magnet school for math and science IF 90% of go to traditional public schools, then safe to say MOST OF THEM
Sends children to public school NO YES MOST OF THEM, if they have kids
Believes vouchers hurts traditional public schools NO NO DON’T MEET MANY WHO LIKE THEM
Supports teacher unions and teacher advocacy groups NO NO MOST DO – IF NOT WITH MEMBERSHIP, THEN DO RELY ON GROUPS TO LOBBY FOR THEM
Administrated in a school NO NO Most administrators were teachers
Been through a principal change as an educator NO NO MOST OF THEM
Been through a curriculum change NO NO YES
Seen a group of students matriculate throughout an entire school experience from beginning of high school to graduation to another level of schooling NO NO YES
Managed budgets for public funds NO Served a partial term as a local school board member but was campaigning partially during that time PROBABLY NOT
Talked to teacher advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Talked with special education advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Finished an entire term in elected office NO NO NOT APPLICABLE
Oversaw a budget that expanded resources for students in traditional public schools NO NO A GREAT MANY OF THEM ON A SMALL SCALE
Displayed understanding of IDEA and IEP law. NO NO YES
Led a school in a re-accreditation process NO NO MANY OF THEM – IT’S A SCHOOL-WIDE INITIATIVE
Participated in a PTSA NO NO MANY OF THEM
Coached a public school sport NO UNKNOWN MANY OF THEM
Oversaw a budget for a school NO NO ADMINISTRATION DOES THIS
Had continuing certification NO NO YES
Mentored a younger teacher NO NO YES
Had a student teacher NO NO MANY OF THEM
Sponsored an extracurricular NO NO MOST OF THEM
Written curriculum standards NO NO MANY OF THEM
Led a professional development workshop for teachers NO NO MANY OF THEM
Published scholarly work on educational issues. NO NO SOME OF THEM
Knows difference between proficiency and growth for students NO DON’T KNOW MOST OF THEM
Meet With ALL Parents Who Request Conference NO NO YES
Keeps Open Channels of Communication with students, parents, administration, and community NO NO YES
Does Not Require an Entourage to Explain Concepts of Job NO NO YES

 

Results United States Secretary of Education North Carolina State Superintendent Becoming an Endangered Species 

Furthermore, both Johnson and DeVos have a problem saying “no” to forces that seek to “reform” public education.

Consider the following quotes:

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” – Betsy DeVos, 1997.

“These are things I have learned from my own experience. If I disagree with the policy, I’m not afraid to say ‘no’ to anyone who gave me money.” –Mark Johnson, 2017.

DeVos is well known for advancing “reforms” involved with school choice, vouchers, and charter schools. In fact, she has given large amounts of money to causes that champion those reforms. And Johnson is someone who actually can’t say “no” despite what he said above.

When DPI’s budget was cut by the very General Assembly that extendied him unchecked power over the public school system, did Mark Johnson say, “No?”

No, he did not.

When he said that “local leaders know what we need” for their local schools, did Mark Johnson tell the people pushing for charter takeover with an ISD, “No?”

No, he did not.

Has there ever been a time where Mark Johnson has openly said “No!” to any of the very lawmakers whom he says he might have a disagreement with?

No, there has not been.

Has Mark Johnson ever told the General Assembly “No!” to taking more money out of the budget for public schools to place in a voucher program that has not yielded a positive outcome?

No, he has not.

Has Mark Johnson ever publicly questioned the actions against teachers and the education profession by Phil Berger or Tim Moore?

No, he has not.

Additionally, both DeVos and Johnson seem to attract large crowds of people who do not approve of their performance. DeVos literally has spent millions on security detail as “protection.”

And Johnson seems to leave town when lots of teachers come to talk about education.

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Yes, Mark Johnson is North Carolina’s Betsy DeVos.