If The iStation Contract Seems Shady, What About the Six Million Spent on iPads Last Year?

Remember when Mark Johnson announced that reading teachers in k-3 would receive a brand new Apple iPad to use in classrooms this year? It was almost one year ago to the day.

On the surface, it seemed like a positive notion. But…

ipad_hero

From Travis Fain at WRAL last August:

Reading teachers across the state, from kindergarten to third grade, will get computer tablets from the state this school year in an effort to track and improve student reading.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced the plan Tuesday morning, holding up an iPad for the media, the governor and other members of North Carolina’s Council of State. Johnson’s office put the statewide pricetag for the devices at about $6 million.

There was also a video attached to the story. Take a look at it. Judge for yourself.

Apparently that money came from a “discovered” account of unused funds that DPI had from years past. Johnson claimed that it is money that previous DPI officials just sat on. Dr. June Atkinson said differently in this piece from NC Policy Watch that Fain cites within his report.

That announcement about iPads came a little over a month after Johnson purged many jobs within DPI as part of a budget cut.

Layoff notices were given Friday to 40 employees at the state Department of Public Instruction — including several who work with North Carolina’s low-performing schools — to help meet a $5.1 million budget cut ordered by state lawmakers.

Most of the cuts were in Educator Support Services, a division that helps low-performing schools and districts, and in the Information Technology Division. In addition to the 40 layoffs, 21 vacant positions were eliminated, according to State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“Today, we implemented the budget reductions required by law for the 2018-19 fiscal year,” Johnson said in a written statement. “The plan we developed, drafted by members of the DPI leadership team with the understanding and support of the State Board of Education, was informed by the recommendations contained in the third-party operational review of the agency completed earlier this year by Ernst & Young (EY).”

A 5.1 million dollar shortfall on top of a 1 million dollar audit and 700,00 extra for lawyers and loyalists to Johnson and it caused a massive layoff of vital people in DPI who helped low-performing schools.

And all of a sudden Johnson talked about six million that just appeared? That six million could have more than offset the DPI budget shortfall and it isn’t as if DPI really needed to be “reduced.” Why? Because that million dollar audit by Ernst & Young came back and said that DPI needed more funding.

Yes, having resources are a good thing for teachers, but it seems really cheap when the same General Assembly that props up an educational neophyte like Johnson in the office of state super fails to even allow a school construction bond to appear on the 2018 ballot.

School buildings are wasting away across the state and students are attending classes in dilapidated conditions in places where Educator Support Services from DPI will no longer be provided, but there might be a couple of new iPads to help out?

So here are a few non-rhetorical questions:

  • How much have those iPads really helped in North Carolina’s classrooms?
  • How many have not been issued and are still in the warehouse?
  • Was there an RFP for this or was it a unilateral decision?

 

 

Still Trying to Get Perspective on the State Health Plan Debacle? Me, Too.

The last few weeks have certainly seen more discussions, questions, complaints, and arguments surrounding what is happening with the State Health Plan and State Treasurer Dale Folwell has been trying to do as far as getting hospitals to agree to a new reimbursement scheme.

Currently the state plan through Blue Cross / Blue Shield covers approximately 700,000 people in a state that has around 10 million people in it. That’s a huge percentage of people under the same health plan.

Only a handful of hospitals (under 5) have signed on. Many bigger hospitals have been very outspoken about not willing to sign on to Folwell’s plan.

Communication about what is really going on has not been very good, but a couple of resources might be beneficial.

First, the Public School Forum of NC dedicated its recent episode of Education Matters to this topic. Folwell was interviewed by Keith Poston as well as two teachers (separately). You can view that episode here.

poston.PNG

Watch it. And be reminded that Poston is a very good interviewer. In fact, Education Matters is a vital resource for all people in the state concerned with public education, and the Public School Forum is a place I go to for research into and journalism concerning public schools.

Then yesterday, my local NPR station, WFDD, aired a segment that was sent through all NPR affiliates called Fact Check. This particular episode dealt with the claims by Folwell about the state plan.

poston2

A transcript of what was included on air can be found here.

Here is part of what it reported:

WHAT IT MEANS FOR HOSPITALS

Many state hospitals are not happy with the project since the fixed rates set by Folwell do not provide enough money for them to pay extra expenses, such as 24/7 emergency rooms and people who cannot afford to pay for their hospital visits.

“What you’re effectively asking hospitals to do is sign a contract with them performing the same services for the same number of people for less,” Aaron McKethan, a professor of population health sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine and the former chief data and analytics officer for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Signing this contract could also put hospitals on a “slippery slope,” McKethan said. Once hospitals have compromised for one state-set rate, they fear that could give the state the power to change the rates whenever it wants. For this reason, many hospitals and doctors across the state have refused to agree to join the State Health Plan’s new network.

Please read the whole piece.

Then ask yourself what would happen to those smaller rural hospitals that are being compromised because there has not been Medicaid expansion if this plan went into effect?

And why does it seem that teachers have been the pawns in this discussion?

 

 

 

This Veto on Virtual Charters Speaks Loudly

Yesterday, Gov. Roy Cooper issued this veto.

veto730

The text of the official veto declaration says it all.

There are two virtual charters in North Carolina.

Image result for nc virtual charter school performance grades

Remember last September when State Superintendent Mark Johnson was again bemoaning the “status quo.” He said, “When you use status quo strategies, you get status quo results.”

status quo

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

From the Greensboro News & Record in Sept. of 2018,

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” .

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.

Even in a Sept. 2018 press conference on the school performance grades Johnson expressed “excitement” for the work these two charter virtual schools are doing.

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 last summer by passing legislation to let them stay open until at least 2023.

And now they wanted to expand their capacity without the State Board’s consent.

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.

North Carolina Has a Severe Teacher Shortage – Raleigh Deliberately Created It

One of the most overused electioneering blurbs used by many multi-termed lawmakers in North Carolina this past election cycle was that our state has given the highest percentage “average” pay raise to teachers in the last four years.

It was echoed again by Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (a teacher) in a recent misguided EdNC.org op-ed entitled “Governor’s budget veto creates uncertainty for students, teachers, and schools.”

After five consecutive years of pay increases for our teachers, including over 9% in the past two years, this budget includes an additional 3.9% over the next two years with step increases and raises ranging from $500 to $2,600. The budget even includes two bonuses of $500 each for our most veteran teachers. 

Lawmakers like Tim Moore and Phil Berger point to raises given mostly to the lower rungs of the pay scale and then boast that the “average” pay raise for all teachers is now higher. And with all of that NC is still %16 percent behind the national average.

Those lawmakers also point to the NC teacher average salary as being over $53,000 for the first time ever and shout about how that is a sign of their commitment to teachers. What they forget to tell you is that in that figure are local supplements that they do not contribute to and the salaries of all of the veteran teachers who have the very graduate degree pay that was abolished for newest teachers.

In fact, with the current teacher salary scale that has been proposed for this year, there is no way to sustain that average salary, especially after veteran teachers begin to retire or leave the profession.

In late 2018, Wall Street Journal reported that teachers were leaving the profession at the highest rates since the Great Recession. And if you have been paying attention to this state for the last decade, it makes sense.

In fact, many news outlets reported on it. From Fortune in the December 28th, 2018 report “America Is Losing Its Teachers at a Record Rate”:

Frustrated by little pay and better opportunities elsewhere, public school teachers and education employees in the United States are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record.

During the first 10 months of the year, public educators, including teachers, community college faculty members, and school psychologists, quit their positions at a rate of 83 per 10,000, Labor Department figures obtained by The Wall Street Journal show. That’s the highest rate since the government started collecting the data in 2001. It’s also nearly double the 48 per 10,000 educators who quit their positions in 2009, the year with the lowest number of departures.

According to the report, teachers are leaving for a variety of reasons. Unemployment is low, which means there are other, potentially more lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Better pay, coupled with tight budgets and, in some cases, little support from communities could also push educators to other positions.

From Axios on Dec. 28th, 2018:

Teachers and public education employees in the U.S. quit at the fastest rate ever recorded in 2018, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The big picture: Historically low unemployment could be the cause, as Americans expect “they can find something better,” per the Journal. But there were also a string of teacher protests around the country this year over pay and poor conditions. 83 of every 10,000 public educators quit in the first 10 months of 2018, which is the highest rate since records began in 2001, the Journal notes.

While those reports talk about the nation as a whole, NC is no different. In fact, if one looks at what has happened in the past few years, one could make the argument that lawmakers in Raleigh want to have this teacher shortage.

It would create a less-expensive teacher workforce who will all have no career-status or little chance to earn over $53K a year in the current salary schedule.

It would create a less vocal teacher force because teachers will have no due-process rights and would not be able to speak up for public schools.

And a profession that will have high turnover and less respect will be more easily controlled; therefore, outcomes can be more controlled and the need for profiteering reforms becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy.

In fact, North Carolina might be the biggest laboratory for ALEC-aligned “reform” in the past six years.

But just focus on teacher turnover and the shortage that the Wall Street Journal first reported. And then look at this:

295 to teach3

There is one of these signs in Winston-Salem on Highway 52 going south toward Lexington. It’s literally right past Winston-Salem State University which has a very good teacher preparation program.

Winston-Salem also has three other institutions of higher learning that train teachers: Salem College, Piedmont International, and Wake Forest University. In fact, public schools within ten miles of that very billboard will have student teachers from all of those schools and from App State and UNCG this spring.

Now look at this from Dane West’s post on his blog History With Mr. West:

As of July 23rd, which is approximately one month before school starts for most traditional calendar schools there are 7,228 openings. The list is below. I’m including ALL open positions, because as we know it takes all those positions to properly support our students. This includes coaches, substitutes, transportation, administration and central office people as long as they are listed through the same platform as teachers.

West even broke down all of the vacancies for each LEA on his post according to nc.teachermatch.org, the official site for all school system vacancies.

teachernmatch

That screenshot above is for the WSFCS system. The billboard above is in that system. It has over 200 unfilled positions.

Over 7,000 statewide.

Now think of these actions:

  1. Teacher Pay 
  2. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed 
  4. Push for Merit Pay 
  5. “Average” Raises
  6. Health Insurance and Benefits Changes
  7. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) 
  8. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests 
  9. Less Money Spent per Pupil When Adjusted For Inflation
  10. Removal of Caps on Class Sizes 
  11. Sacrificing of Specialties in Elementary Schools
  12. Jeb Bush School Grading System 
  13. Cutting Teacher Assistants
  14. Opportunity Grants 
  15. Unregulated Charter School Growth 
  16. For-Profit Virtual Charter Schools 
  17. Innovative School District 
  18. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program And Now Its Smaller Version 

And we need SB599 to fulfill teacher shortages? (Oh, by the way, Rep. Elmore championed that very bill as a teacher who actually was a NC Teaching Fellow. There he is on the left.)

Elmore.png

It is not coincidental.

It’s a deliberate plan.

 

About That Mysterious “Exhibit C” – The Supposed Shakespearean Text Message That “Secured” The iStation Contract

By now, many of you have seen the released letter by DPI to Amplify concerning their appeal of the iStation contract. In it, Mark Johnson lays out the argument that the second RFP that had voted to go with Amplify was canceled because of a confidentiality breach.

He offer this text message that was supposedly given to him and DPI by a whistleblower as evidence.

It is known as “Exhibit C.”

exhibitc.PNG

It’s hard to read – so here is the text:

Well, just got off another marathon call with _______. 1 hour 45 minutes all about
RFP what a mess!

————————————————————————————————————————————

Geez! What is going on?

————————————————————————————————————————————

MJ came into their voting meeting to basically (without coming directly out and
specifying) tell them how to vote! However the vote did not go his way so it will be
interesting to see how he gets his way on this.

————————————————————————————————————————————

OMG! I know they were shocked!

————————————————————————————————————————————

Yep, she said they walked out of the building and several people said what just
happened?

————————————————————————————————————————————

Someone, _______ should’ve recorded it on her phone!

————————————————————————————————————————————

She thought about it but her phone was lying on the table in front of everyone.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Oh yeah that would be tough…who else on the team was in the room? Have they named a replacement for _______?

————————————————————————————————————————————

_______ She and _______ and _______and _______ and _______ voted for children. _______
and one of Mark’s staff voted for helping teachers. She said she about helping
teachers and never once mentioned children and saving teachers’ time.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Ass

The sad thing is, he may win his next race because he will talk about how he helped
teachers!

————————————————————————————————————————————

Well that’s why he is pushing this. Children can’t VOTE so we appease lazy ass
teachers!

————————————————————————————————————————————

Exactly!

After reading this time and time again, a few questions / observations arise concerning this “Exhibit C”. All but one of them need answers or clarification.

1. Timing

This text message exchange is stamped for 1/8/19. The RFP was issued 9/6/18, opened on 10/2/19, and then cancelled on 3/21/19.

It was cancelled over two months after this particular text message occurred.

So when did the whistleblower give the text message exchange to Johnson and DPI?

2.  Pressure on voting for a particular vendor.

Re-read that part: “MJ came into their voting meeting to basically (without coming directly out and specifying) tell them how to vote! “

Why would Johnson have come into the voting meeting? And why would he have pressured them directly or indirectly to vote a certain way?

So awkward was Johnson’s actions that “several people said what just
happened?”

That sounds like a breach of something to me.

3. Children versus teachers?

“_______ She and _______ and _______and _______ and _______ voted for children. _______
and one of Mark’s staff voted for helping teachers.”

It seems that there was a lot of talk within the RFP committee of how iStation / mClass was a product that would help teachers and/or children to the point that a line of demarcation on the decision would be if it helped children achieve more or help teachers “do more.”

That alone needs clarification because Johnson’s whole mission to “personalize” learning has been a technological quest to almost replace the teacher with technology.

4. “Ass?”

One participant called Mark Johnson an “ass.” When Johnson selected this text message as Exhibit C, did he really want people to see that people in the committee were calling him that? Did he want to look like a victim? Did he want to establish that people were already out to sabotage what he was trying to do?

Makes one wonder why Johnson did not take this part out of the screenshot. but it is there, and it establishes that Johnson is not looked upon favorably.

It is a tad bit Shakespearean as well.

In Much Ado About Nothing, the comical constable Dogberry humorously “catches” the culprits in a scheme to stop the lovers from getting married and having their happy ending. After inadvertently gathering all the proof and comically foiling the plot, Dogberry is fixated on the fact that one of the consprirators called him an “ass” as if that was the greatest crime committed. Forget that the lovers will have a happy ending. Forget that a tragedy has been averted. Dogberry was  called an “ass” and he wanted people remember that. From Act 4, scene 3:

DOGBERRY:

Moreover, sir, which indeed is not under white and
black, this plaintiff here, the offender, did call
me ass: I beseech you, let it be remembered in his
punishment. And also, the watch heard them talk of
one Deformed: they say be wears a key in his ear and
a lock hanging by it, and borrows money in God’s
name, the which he hath used so long and never paid
that now men grow hard-hearted and will lend nothing
for God’s sake: pray you, examine him upon that point.

5. Next race?

“The sad thing is, he may win his next race because he will talk about how he helped teachers!”

So Johnson is running again?

Then those campaign contributions to his reelection will be placed under a large amount of scrutiny.

 

 

 

4 GLARING Inconsistencies Concerning The State Superintendent’s Letter to Ampify About Their Protest to iStation’s Contract

Yesterday, Mark Johnson delivered his letter to Amplify concerning their protest of iStation’s contract with DPI. In it, he simply reaffirmed his “decision” to stay with iStation because:

“Istation is the best diagnostic tool for the state of North Carolina. Istation received the contract award through a fair and objective process conducted by an evaluation committee that adhered to all laws, rules, and policies.”

amplifyletter.PNG

The appeal meeting that Amplify had with DPI occurred on Thursday, July 18th. It was said to many that it would be an open meeting. That’s why public school advocates were in attendance. But them it became a “closed” meeting.

amplify2

So the meeting occurred and Johnson gave Amplify his response.

But there are some interesting inconsistencies that beg questions and concrete answers.

  1. Mark Johnson was not in that meeting. He was on an overseas trip at the time.
  2. The meeting was run by Jonathan Sink, whose last day at DPI was July 19th as he just took a job with the NC GOP.
  3. While Amplify was there, iStation’s legal counsel was also in attendance. That included Kieran Shanahan, who is the financial chair of the NC GOP that Sink now works for and who sent three threatening Cease & Desist letters to including one of the people who came to the “open” meeting but was escorted out by security without explanation.
  4. Jonathan Sink was in the RFP Committee (although non-voting) that did decide to go with iStation. It was the third RFP.

    amplify3

So, the state superintendent responded to an appeal laid out in a meeting that he was not part of that was run by a man who no longer works at DPI but now works with the head legal counsel of iStation within Johnson’s political party and that legal counsel for iStation actually got to BE IN THE MEETING that Johnson was never part of.

Sounds like a public records request should be filed for all communications between Johnson and his office and iStation.

And part of Johnson’s letter has this “Exhibit C” attached – a screen shot of text messages that is the foundation of his claim that the second RFP had to be cancelled. Justin Parmenter already has issued a post that needs to be read about this and more and more questions about “Exhibit C” are being asked and will definitely be posted.

 

 

Dear iStation, Why Aren’t You Sending Out More Cease & Desist Letters?

Remember those Cease & Desist letters sent out to three public school advocates a little over a week ago by iStation through the legal office of a man who also is the finance chair of the NC GOP? Those people questioned the process by which iStation has procured a contract through NCDPI and presented hard evidence to show that their questions needed answers.

CD

Since then there have been multiple instances in which the same inquiries have been made.

Here’s one from the editorial staff at the Charlotte Observer:

In other words, we know things are a mess. What we don’t know is why. Why did Johnson choose to discontinue a relationship with Amplify, which had been testing K-3 students in the thus-far disappointing Read To Achieve program? Why did Johnson ignore experts and seemingly steer the procurement process toward a different company, Texas-based Istation, which ultimately got the three-year, $8.3 million contract? And, importantly, why does the superintendent continue to be so cagey about it all?

Even an editorial cartoon showed up in today’s Charlotte Observer edition concerning the very things that those three people received their C&D for.

Image result for charlotte observer cartoon mark johnson

Even NC Senate Democrats sent a request to Sen. Berger to open an investigation into the iStation contract raising those very same concerns.

senate.PNG

Sen. Natasha Marcus even posted this to her Twitter feed his week.

Image

So, my question to iStation is this – have you sent all of these people Cease & Desist letters from Kieran Shanahan’s office or were the three that were sent to good people raising legitimate concerns just a scare tactic?

And it is rather ironic that we have not heard one thing from DPI or Mark Johnson about the iStation contract in the last couple of weeks.

It’s kind of like they got a C&D themselves and are obeying it.

An EOG Question For Rep. Tim Moore

Think of it as a reading comprehension test question. Below is the text from an article appearing in today’s Winston-Salem Journal.

Republican leadership in the state House delayed Wednesday — for an 11th consecutive session — a vote on overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s state budget veto.

As has been the pattern, neither the veto override vote nor the bipartisan Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 655 was addressed on the House floor Wednesday.

The next opportunity for a floor vote will come Monday night, which would represent Day 32 of the stalemate.

Cooper vetoed the bill June 28, citing the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason, along with not enough funds in the Republican budget compromise dedicated to public education spending, infrastructure and environment issues.

Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override.

Attempts to reach across the aisle for votes are being decried as interloping, if not bribery, with GOP offers of earmarking money in the budget for special projects in eastern North Carolina to sway those Democratic legislators.

All of which makes it more likely that budget negotiations will go on for weeks, if not months.

House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters after the July 8 session — the first session to skip a vote — that “we’re going to wait until the time is right.” He has said there will not be a vote on HB655 until the state budget veto override is approved.

veto

So here’s the question:

Based on the news report above, it is reasonable to conclude:

A. That delaying the vote 11 times is a good sign that there are not enough votes to override the governor’s veto. 
B. That the “right time” could be sometime in 2020.
C. That GOP lawmakers will at some time have to negotiate.
D. That passing the budget through a nuclear option like last year with a super-majority but is not possible this year is frustrating to people like Rep. Tim Moore.
E. That “not having the votes” automatically means that “the other side will not negotiate” in the minds of some lawmakers.
F. That there is an incredible amount of denial on the parts of people like Rep. Moore.
G. That a great deal of people in NC really want the NCGA to expand Medicaid.
H. That Rep. Moore looks like a child who screams “Do over” when he realizes that he is losing the game.

or

I. All of the above.