If Raleigh Wants to be “Data-Driven,” Then Those Decision-Makers Might Want to Look at These Data

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

The idea of using data to drive policy is not a new occurrence. But it is sometimes hard to quantify the qualitative aspects of public education.  Some officials like to look at proficiency levels and scores. Teachers tend to look at growth. One is a snapshot. The other is a look at the terrain traveled.

But if Mark Johnson is now going to use some data-driven analyses, there is some irrefutable data that provides a very clear picture of what can be done to help public education here in North Carolina.

1. Poverty Influences How Well Students Perform in a State Where Over 1 in 5 Public School Students Lives in Poverty

graphThat is from the most recent Public School Forum of North Carolina’s report on top ten issues in NC education.

In Sept. of 2016, Mark Johnson said, The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” 

Maybe attacking poverty at its root sources could do so much to help education. The data tends to show that.

2. Average is Not Actual When It Comes To Teacher Pay

Johnson and the people he allies himself to in the GOP super majority take a lot of time talking about how “average” teacher pay has risen.

Here’s a data point.

  • In 2017 the average teacher pay in North Carolina was %16 behind the national average. In 2018 the average teacher pay in NC was STILL %16 behind the national average.

Consider the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and teacher veteran who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increase” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.

teacherpay2019

What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

Also notice that the biggest shortfalls happen to veteran teachers. That not only affects take home pay, but also retirement because the average of the last four years helps to project pension.

Look at the charts below from the most recent Teacher Working Conditions Survey released by Johnson’s office in 2018.

years employed

Take notice of the number of veteran teachers in the state. Compare that to the number of teachers in the state who have less than ten years experience. There’s a trend going on in teaching here in NC. More teachers are leaving the classroom at earlier times in their career. The number of veteran teachers in the state will drop as years go by.

Even Mark Johnson left the classroom after two years. That’s a data point.

3. Public Education is the Top Employer in Most Counties

North Carolina has 100 counties (with 115 LEA’s), each with a public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools systems are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in almost 70. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And teachers are strong in numbers.

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If people went to the polls in November in 2020 and had public education as a top priority and had unspun information helping to inform decisions on whom to elect, then there could be significant change occurring quickly.

4. When Lawmakers Say They Are Spending More on Education, It Doesn’t Mean That Per-Pupil Expenditures Have Risen

Here’s a 2018 Facebook post from Senator Joyce Kraweic.

kraweic facebook post

Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2018, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. That district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down –  significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

What many in Raleigh like Kraweic want to pat themselves on the backs about is that we as a state are spending more on education than ever before. And that’s true. Just listen for the many examples to come from legislators looking to get reelected this year to the NC General Assembly yet passing a budget through a nuclear option to avoid having to answer questions about the facts.

But when the average spent per pupil does not increase with the rise in the cost of resources and upkeep and neglects to put into consideration that the population of North Carolina has exploded in the last couple of decades, then that political “victory” becomes empty.

5. Lots of Teachers Already Know These Data Points

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This School System Needs to Get a Better IDEA Of How It Treats Students With Special Needs

I have been a public school teacher for over 21 years.

I have taught in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School System for over 16 years.

My job is to teach the very students who come to my classes regardless of where they come from. If they need modifications or extra assistance, I am bound as a teacher to make every effort to remove any obstacle I can to facilitate learning the curriculum. And if I cannot, then I ask for help.

If a student has an IEP or a 504 plan, then I am by law compelled to make the modifications necessary to allow for the curriculum to be accessible for the student. If those accommodations are not working, then I with the parents, other teachers, school administrators, and system personnel alter/improve/revise the plan and seek every solution possible for that student until every outlet has been exhausted.

But most importantly, I am a parent of two public school students.

My youngest has an IEP. He also happens to have Down Syndrome and autism. Both affect his ability to access the curriculum that the state mandates. He needs help. He needs modifications. He needs accommodations.

He needs advocates.

I am the father a child who can learn and can learn best when he is around typically developing students who can model for him. Being my children’s father is the most important “job” I have. So, when my wife and I attend IEP meetings for our son, the teacher “hat” comes off.

I don’t care about the standardized test scores. My son is not “standard.” In fact, none of the now thousands of students I have taught or come into contact with in my career were ever “standard.”

I want him to learn and be a part of this world, not apart from it. And all of the research says that placing students with special needs in regular classrooms setting can benefit ALL students.

So I am a public school teacher in the WSFCS system where both my children attend public schools. I believe in public education. I believe in my profession. But I also believe that when I see something wrong that negatively impacts students, I need to speak up and speak out.

Therefore, I desperately need to inform the WSFCS system that it has a massive problem.

A press conference was held today highlighting a recent decision by an administrative law judge on the state level that found the WSFCS system in violation of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) pertaining to a high-functioning child with Down Syndrome.

This is from the press release.

An administrative law judge ruled the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS) has violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in a case involving the education of a kindergarten student with Down syndrome.

In August 2018, six-year-old Quinn Cronin started her kindergarten year at Whitaker Elementary School, fully included in a regular education class. Almost immediately, school staff began removing her from her peers for periods of time throughout the school day without informing her parents. After attending only nine-and-a-half days of school and against the wishes of her parents, the district reassigned Quinn to South Fork Elementary, where she would be placed in a self-contained classroom for students with disabilities located in a trailer behind the school. Quinn’s parents, McNeil and Kelly Cronin, advocated for their daughter to be included in a regular education classroom by attending meetings with school staff, contacting WS/FCS administration, and hiring an advocate. When it became clear the WS/FCS would not allow Quinn to learn alongside her non-disabled peers, the Cronins withdrew their daughter from the district and enrolled her in a private school, where she was assigned to a regular education class and provided appropriate supports.  In November 2018, the Cronins filed a lawsuit against the WS/FCS, alleging the district had violated IDEA by placing her in a segregated setting even though she was capable of learning in a regular education classroom. A hearing was held in March and April 2019.

In her decision, Judge Stacey Bawtinhimer found the WS/FCS violated the IDEA by failing to provide Quinn a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) and predetermining Quinn’s placement in the segregated setting thus denying Quinn’s parents the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the decision.  The judge’s decision brought relief to the parents: “The judge’s ruling marks the closing of one of the most emotional chapters in our life.  What we want for our daughter, and for kids like our daughter, is what all parents want: for our child to have the opportunity to learn alongside her neighbors and her friends, and to be truly included in her classroom.”  Judge Bawtinhimer ordered the WS/FCS to reimburse Quinn’s parents the costs they incurred to send Quinn to private school and to work with an inclusion specialist to develop a new Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Quinn’s return to WS/FCS.  Until the new IEP is developed, the judge ordered for Quinn to remain in the private setting where she is being educated alongside her non-disabled peers and flourishing academically and socially.

The Cronins’ experience with the WS/FCS is one they hope no other family will need to experience. To give meaning to their child’s experience they feel compelled to tell their story. They feel a duty to do so in the hope the presentation of their story and sharing the Judge’s decision will prevent the same from happening to another family.

Also with that press release is the 110-page decision/verdict. Here is the link:  2019-8-23 Final Decision

case

It’s rather enlightening. What makes it even more eye-opening is that the judge sided with the parents on every issue and the parents had the full burden of proof.

The story these parents “told” is the story of a lot of parents with children with special needs. However, many parents do not have the resources or the time to research what their rights are when it comes to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Raising a child with disabilities can be expensive and time consuming.

Think of the therapy, doctors’ visits, workshops, clinics, advocacy campaigns, fundraisers, etc. that many families of children with special needs attend and seek out just to allow their child to get help. And that’s in a state that supposedly has a giant budget surplus.

But this same state has eliminated over 7500 teacher assistants, refused to expand Medicaid (at hardly any cost to the state), taken away state financed professional development for teachers to help them learn more about children with needs, and does not actively instruct its teachers about IDEA.

Furthermore, this state has made school performance grades with its uneven formula so reliant on student achievement rather than student growth that many in our state and local systems measure themselves with test scores and not with what really helps students grow.

What the judge found in this case is not an isolated incident. It has happened frequently. Have a child with a “disability” and you will seek support from others who face the same challenges. Communities get built and stories and experiences get shared. And a wealth of knowledge.

What is an isolated incident is that the two parents in this particular case fought back – not only for their child but for others like her.

Like my child.

What we have in this school system is an aversion in some places to allow students with special needs to have the chance to access the general curriculum like other students when accommodations can be given.

Too many times children with special needs seem to be funneled to certain campuses and certain parts of schools in the name of “resources.” What federal law states is that all students are allowed to be in the least restrictive educational settings to access the curriculum and only when every possible accommodation and modification has been exhausted are they gradually placed in a more restrictive setting with the input from the parents and others on an IEP team.

That did not happen here in a top-rated elementary school whose school report card grade supposedly indicates that it can teach any child who walks in its doors very well. There are other schools in this district who may not have the “high” school performance grades, but service children like mine with integrity and dignity and keep the parents informed of all matters pertaining to their child.

My son goes to a school now that has gone out of its way to help him. I will sing its praises to anyone who asks.

Every parent of a child with special needs should be able to make that claim.

Yes, my school system may not like one of its teachers writing about what it lacks. But it is not just a teacher writing this. It’s a parent of a special child who deserves as much of an equitable chance as any other child. A parent who has a tremendous amount of respect for what the people who fought and won this lawsuit did for so many children and families in this area.

A new superintendent will take office next week. The problem that this lawsuit exposed will be a part of what she inherits. But she and her staff can own the solution. They can fight for better funding, training, and resources for all children in our school system. They can be a team of educators that parents with special needs can go to for help rather than feel like they have to fight against.

Or the school system can appeal this decision and draw this out further.

But the burden of proof will be on them using tax dollars.

And that 110-page decision is rather illuminating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe iStation Should Read That “Is Read to Achieve Making the Grade?” Report Before Sending Misguided Tweets

In what has become the daily self-affirmation through the misdirected degrading of others, iStation tweeted the following late yesterday:

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The “other assessment tool?”

The governor who vetoed the Read to Achieve Program bill last week?

Maybe, iStation needs to read the following post from last fall that talked about the Friday Institute and NC State’s study of the effects of Read to Achieve.

In no place did it mention “mClass,” “Amplify,” “diagnostic,” or “assessment tool.”








From October 28, 2018:

rta

In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation for the “Read to Achieve” initiative.

Six years later, it has not really achieved.

From a recent Charlotte Observer report:

The General Assembly passed Read to Achieve legislation in 2012. It was modeled on literacy efforts in other states, including the “Just Read, Florida!” program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. The goal in North Carolina was to end “social promotion” by keeping students in third grade until they could read at grade level and providing extra support to help them get there.

But in the years that followed the percent of North Carolina third- and fourth-graders graders passing state reading exams stayed flat or declined. National reading exams showed equally discouraging results.

First, we should never try and emulate anything that Jeb Bush does to “reform” education. Read to Achieve and the School Performance Grading system have done nothing to help our students except funnel money into private hands and create empty excuses for other “reforms.”

Secondly, this is a failure that lies on the part of Phil Berger who was one of its biggest champions when it was introduced as a NC initiative. He needs to own it, but he seems too busy trying to blame people for his election signs disappearing in his race with Jen Mangrum rather than backing up his claims for his #NCSuccessStory.

The scores for those 3rd grade reading tests are eye-popping.

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The Charlotte Observer report references a recent study by NC State in conjunction with the Friday Institute that found really no success in the Read to Achieve initiative on a state level.

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However, on a local basis, there are some local initiatives that have shown some promise. Look at pages 23-24 of the study report and see how actually fully funding a reading instruction initiative and supplying those initiatives with effective instructors makes a difference.

“Indeed, we have heard from many practitioners from across the state who believe their localized versions of RtA are having an impact on their students, but because of the sometimes very small size of the group of students impacted in most of the state’s (school districts), we are not able to test these intuitions statistically,” the report says.

In fact, fully funding schools and making sure that there are enough professionals in the rooms with the students are vital in any place. The fact that any success in this depends on the local professionals (teachers, assistants, administration) being able to dictate what can be done and having the faith that required resources will be available simply flies in the face of people like Berger who preach “smaller government” but actually practice more overreach.

What really stands out in this study is the suggestion that the state needs to front-load more support and resources for Pre-K through second grade students as well as continuing interventions through all grades.  Again, from the Observer,

The study suggests Read to Achieve has been too tightly focused on third grade, saying children need help as soon as they begin school and after they’ve advanced to fourth grade.

And while Mark Johnson and Phil Berger’s spokesperson offer glossy explanations and calls to do better, they still do not seem to take the word of local officials and educators over the words of deep-pocketed “reformers.”

Like Jeb Bush.

But alas.

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That’s from a summer meeting here in June of this year. There’s Berger. There’s Johnson. There’s a lot of older white men. And there’s Jeb Bush at the head of the table.

Our kids deserve better.

If Anything, It’s iStation That’s Sowing The “Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt”

As of this day, I have yet to hear of a parent in this state with a child in K-3 who has received an email from Amplify concerning their mClass product and the recent events that led DPI to “award” a contract to iStation.

iStation has sent many.

As of this day, I have yet to receive a Facebook ad or pop-up notice from Amplify that touted mClass as a superior product.

iStation has been hammering them in North Carolina based on social contacts and profiles. Have people in NC received Tweets from iStation? Yep. Not so much from Amplify.

And not a single person from Amplify has asked me as an education blogger to write on their behalf. And not a single time has Amplify asked me represent iStation in any way, shape, or form.

But Ossa Fisher wants to cast herself and iStation as the victim of bullying.

Hard to be bullied when the vendor who issued the appeal over the contract for the reading assessment tool to be used with Read to Achieve has only communicated with state agencies and not through social media campaigns.

Today, the following was sent to parents in North Carolina of elementary aged students in public schools:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 27, 2019

CONTACT:
Ossa Fisher
Istation President/COO
ofisher@istation.com

972-715-3866

 

Istation Statement Regarding Memorandum of Understanding with NC DPI

DALLAS, TX – Istation – a national leader in education technology selected by the North Carolina Department of PublicInstruction as the K-3 reading diagnostic assessment vendor for the 2019-20 school year – issued the following statement regarding a Memorandum of Understanding with DPI.

“Istation is committed to continuing the important work we began this summer, especially now that the school year has begun.While stirring fear, uncertainty, and doubt continues to be the strategy of the losing vendor, we will continue to uphold our commitment to North Carolina: helping students across the state develop critical grade level reading skills.

Neither DPI nor Istation have received a response from DIT concerning our requests for an emergency hearing on the stay, which was imposed without due process. Due to this uncertainty, we have agreed to work with DPI, educators, parents, and students without pay until the issues surrounding the stay are resolved.

Istation has since June 7th already trained over 4,000 educators, enrolled nearly 400,000 students, and assessed over 12,500 students statewide. The feedback we’ve received from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive because Istation frees up valuable classroom time to be used for instruction instead of testing and provides real-time reading results to help guide improved learning throughout the school year.

Today’s agreement with DPI allows us to preserve the incredible progress that we have already made and continue working towards ensuring that North Carolina and Istation can hit the ground running as soon as this frivolous legal challenge is put to rest. We are dedicated to succeeding on this important project, and we will not abandon educators, parents, and students across North Carolina.”

–– Ossa Fisher, President and COO, Istation

Strong diction and some self-congratulatory word choices in that letter.

While stirring fear, uncertainty, and doubt continues to be the strategy of the losing vendor…”

What fear? What uncertainty? What doubt?

Is she talking about the false need to have legal representation send out Cease & Desist letters to people who were questioning the procurement process under Mark Johnson’s direction? The same people who openly questioned iStation with actual data and reviews of the product?

If they were truly sowing uncertainty, then Ossa needs to prove that.

“Neither DPI nor Istation have received a response from DIT concerning our requests for an emergency hearing on the stay, which was imposed without due process.”

Wait, when Amplify asked for a hearing to issue an appeal, did iStation not have their representatives in the meeting as well and had concerned citizens removed from what had been termed an “open meeting.”

And it would be great if Ossa could explain what the “due-process” of the stay should have been.

Interestingly, the Department of Information Technology’s organizational flowchart doesn’t seem to show it answering to the Department of Public Instruction.

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Actually, the person at the top of the flowchart is the governor.

And just this past week Gov. Roy Cooper issued a veto on a bill dealing with the Read to Achieve initiative for which iStation was supposed to work under.

Gov. Roy Cooper called the Read To Achieve program ineffective, costly and a failure on Friday as he vetoed a bill some legislators said would fix it.

State lawmakers had passed the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019, which includes changes to address shortcomings in a program designed to get North Carolina’s children reading at grade level by the end of third-grade. Despite spending at least $150 million since 2012, the state has seen reading scores in third grade decline.

“Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly,” Cooper said in a statement Friday. “A contract dispute over the assessment tool adds to uncertainty for educators and parents. This legislation tries to put a Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.”

Maybe Ossa will want to blame Amplify for bullying Gov. Cooper into issuing that veto.

“Istation has since June 7th already trained over 4,000 educators, enrolled nearly 400,000 students, and assessed over 12,500 students statewide. The feedback we’ve received from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive because Istation frees up valuable classroom time to be used for instruction instead of testing and provides real-time reading results to help guide improved learning throughout the school year. ” 

4,000 educators. Did they all like iStation?

Enrolled 400,000 students? How did that happen? From teachers or from the state?  But only 12,500 students assessed? Ossa just bragged about how iStation has just assessed 3.5% of the students enrolled, but to her that already translates into being “overwhelmingly positive.”

That’s odd to brag about how much has already been done in schools when most all of the schools literally just started the school year.

Today’s agreement with DPI allows us to preserve the incredible progress that we have already made and continue working towards ensuring that North Carolina and Istation can hit the ground running as soon as this frivolous legal challenge is put to rest. “

Incredible progress? If she says so.

But if anything, it has been iStation that has expended the time and energy to frantically try and frame the narrative around this whole procurement process and contract extension. It’s iStation that has swarmed around parents, teachers, and social media sites to tell them how to think about what has happened.

If any one entity is to blame for stoking fear and uncertainty in this situation, then it’s iStation.

And that comment about pay?

“Due to this uncertainty, we have agreed to work with DPI, educators, parents, and students without pay until the issues surrounding the stay are resolved.”

Teachers in North Carolina constantly work under uncertainty with this NCGA but still do their best for other educators, parents, and students. And much of that “uncertainty” deals with their own recompense.

 

 

 

 

As We Start The 2019 – 2020 School Year, Just Remember This Is What Phil Berger and His Cronies Have Done to NC’s Public School System Since 2011

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When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.

Specifically, the last eight-year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – With all of the talk that the current NCGA has used in claiming that teacher pay has gone up over the last several years at historic rates, NC TEACHERS ARE STILL 16% BEHIND THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Push for Merit Pay and Bonus Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students? Those legislators who push for merit pay and bonus pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.
  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.
  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation has also taken away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  2. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
  3. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

Actions Against Schools

  1. Reorganization and a Weakening of the Department of Public Instruction – It all started with 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. After a reorganization of DPI and a layoff of many positions, two of the five most important positions that directly report to Mark Johnson have ties to a charter school chain whose owner makes plenty of direct political contributions to people in the NCGA who prop up Johnson.
  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument the GOP-led General Assembly has made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students. Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.
  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula. Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.
  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are among the most nebulous terms in public education today.When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.
  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom. In fact, NC has lost nearly 7500 teacher assistant jobs in the last ten years.

Actions To Deceive The Public

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring. Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.
  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students. Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming.
  1. Virtual Charter Schools – There are two virtual charter academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction. Both also have rated poorly every year of their existence.
  2. Innovative School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan crafted a piece of legislation that was rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. With a name change to ISD, this is the first year of its actually taking over schools – one to be exact.
  3. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
  4. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”. Yes, it was reintistituted, but as a shadow of its former self.

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

One can only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

Dear Sen.Berger & Rep. Moore, Keep My Part of the “Surplus” And Invest It In Our Schools

Phil Berger and Tim Moore may push through legislation that would divide up the state’s “surplus” from this past year and “send” it back to North Carolinians in the form of individual $125 checks in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

The fact that there is such a huge surplus in this state’s budget while yet another round of large corporate tax cuts took hold this year is not really a sign of fiscal responsibility. It’s more of a sign of lack of investment in our state’s infrastructure, especially the public school system. Kris Nordstrom in his recent post “A modest proposal: Use the state surplus to help meet school construction needs” makes a strong case built on actual figures that this surplus should go to meeting school construction needs.

surplus

One in five students in the state’s public schools lives at or below the poverty line. We had hurricanes decimate many of our eastern municipalities last year. This state has refused to expand Medicaid when so much evidence points to its benefits without barely any cost to our state.

This teacher would gladly ask that my portion of the surplus that I helped to create be put back into the state’s public schools wherever it is needed most.

A $125 check in my pocket will in no way outweigh my desire for more investment in our public schools. I want to invest it in my state and its people.

So Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore, don’t waste the time and money to send me a “refund.” Put it where it should have gone in the first place – our public schools.

And stop this electioneering action when you don’t even have the guts to call a vote to override Cooper’s veto on the current budget.

 

 

 

 

Teachers Did Their Job Today. Now Raleigh, Do Yours.

School for many around the state started today after multiple days of pre-panning workshops, open houses, and preparation.

And today marked well over fifty days since the North Carolina General Assembly has refused to hold a vote to override Gov. Cooper’s veto concerning the budget while spending over 1 million dollars to keep the session “open.”

That means that this school year starts without a budget for the next biennium and makes schools operate on last year’s recurring funds which do not cover all of what was spent even for last school year.

From today’s post from Greg Childress at NC Policy Watch:

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the House K-12 Education Committee, said starting the school year without a budget is problematic for the state’s 116 school districts.

“This is a terrible situation for education, to not have a budget,” Horn said. “Not only do we have school supplies issues, we have a large number of after school programs and school support programs that are funded with non-recurring money and we have no non-recurring money without an active budget.”

Until a budget is approved, the state will continue to operate at last year’s spending levels.

“They’re just now starting school,” Horn said. “I suspect we will start hearing from them and I hope they scream loud and clear. This state needs an enacted budget. It is critical for school supplies, it’s critical for after school programs, it’s critical for professional development and training.”

In case Rep. Horn is listening, teachers have been screaming loud and clear for quite a while on a variety of matters pertaining to public schools.

Maybe he should scream loud and clear to Tim Moore and Phil Berger to hold a vote for the veto override and begin the democratic process of negotiating a budget.

Teachers did their jobs today. Raleigh has not for over 50 days.

Teachers showed up in classes and enacted lesson plans for hundreds of thousands of students today.

And some in Raleigh won’t even call a vote to give them a chance at decent funding.

Image result for budget stock photo

 

First Day Back to School, 2018 – Day 4,501– An Open Letter to Teachers

Image result for calendar 26 august 2019

Tomorrow begins my 15th year at my current school, the Home of the Titans.

Tomorrow begins my 22nd year of teaching – three schools so far. Hope I stay at my current school the rest of my career.

Tomorrow is my 4,501st day in high school as a student and teacher (non-workdays). That does not include my stint as a student teacher.

Ironically, that number is much higher if I count all of the days in the summers I am at school making preparations for the coming school years and the official workdays.

If I was a coach, that number would be still much higher. But many people do not see that because they are fixated on teachers having “summers off.”

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 541st day of high school. Maybe she will say hello to me if I pass her in the hall.

And I am still nervous. Why? Because I want it to go well. Not just for me, but for my own children, and the students who will be in my classes.

I know what my lesson plans are. Copies are made. Notes ready to talk about. Books ready to assign. Webpages are ready and linked. Introductions rehearsed. Even some homework is planned. I have more ready to do than could ever be done in the allotted amount of time. Yet, I am still nervous.

But I am nervous for the right reasons. I want students to do well. I want them to succeed. I want them to become self-learners, and I want them to use me as a resource, not just a guide.

However, if you teach in North Carolina, there is a lot working against you. The the General Assembly has not been kind to public education in the past eight+ years. Vouchers, rapid growth of unregulated charters, disproportionate raises, school grading systems, misguided standardized tests, a neophyte for a state superintendent, iStation, iPads, etc. That list goes on and on.

Our collegiate schools of education are not at capacity.  There is SB599. Specials in elementary schools continue to be threatened in the name of “class size.” Per pupil expenditure is low compared to what it was before the recession. Our state superintendent seems to have spent more time making videos, sending emails, and passing out glossy flyers than actually working for public schools.

Yet…

I know that when I walk into my classroom tomorrow morning, I will be the teacher – constant,  inspired, ready to engage students, many of whom do not want to be there.

I want to be there. And my students will know that I want to be there.

If you are a veteran teacher in North Carolina (and that means you are not new), then I am proud to be called one of your ranks. If you are new to the teaching world, then I hope you will see that this is a noble profession filled with wonderful people. And we will gain back the respect of those who have put obstacles in our way.

I wish every public school teacher the best of first days.

Even if it is hard to sleep the night before such as it is with me.

I think you are the best of people.

Yesterday He Was A Lawyer. Today Mark Johnson Sent Out A “Campaign” Email To Teachers.

These past few days have seen more and more “communications” from the state superintendent that seek to sporadically dodge the very dialogue he needs to really have with teachers in North Carolina.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent yet another email to educators this Friday morning.

The text is below.

mrj

Educators –

Thank you for everything you do for students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you, and our future is brighter because of your hard work. We are excited to be your partners as we start the 2019-20 school year with you. 

My team and I have been focused on our shared goals to reduce testing; improve state standards; and increase funding for more and better school safety programs, classroom supplies, school construction, and educator salaries.

Below are highlights you will hopefully see this school year. Some of these efforts are included in the state budget which has not become law as of the time I am writing this letter.

Reducing Testing 
     • My team and I pushed the federal government and secured approval for a pilot program that can replace local benchmarks and EOGs with a few low-stakes, formative diagnostics throughout the year. My goal is to eliminate the high-stakes EOG and EOC tests. 
     • We have legislation moving through the General Assembly that will eliminate the NC Final Exams and create a program to reduce the number of local tests administered.

Improving State Standards 
     • Common Core math is still in our NC Standard Course of Study, which the State Board of Education controls. My team and I worked with the General Assembly to start a program that will allow local districts to opt-out and use different math standards.

Supporting Classrooms 
     • We secured a significant increase in state funding for school supplies that will go to you, teachers in classrooms.  
     • If the state budget becomes law, you will have direct control of $150 this year and $200 next year for the supplies you need for your classroom. Teachers should not have to reach into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies for students. I hope to see this amount in your direct control increase in the coming years. 
     • Even before the state budget becomes law, we are sending $400 per K-3 classroom in additional funding and thousands of tablets to school districts to support literacy efforts through personalized learning for our youngest learners. This money belongs in classrooms, not Raleigh.

School Safety Efforts 
     • We will be launching the Say Something App later this year to allow anyone with school safety concerns to report those concerns directly to a dedicated team of specialists. This is in addition to increased funding for school safety and mental health supports in schools. 
     • We will also be launching the NC Kindness Campaign. Unkindness of any type has no place in our schools. We must work together to reinvigorate this message and reduce bullying, teen suicides, and violence in our schools. Another goal is to support you in improving student discipline in your classrooms, which we know can be a challenge. Thank you for partnering with us on these important initiatives.

School Construction Needs 
     • After Hurricane Florence devastated eastern North Carolina, we worked overtime to get $80 million of relief funds to districts in addition to the money they received from insurance and the federal government. 
     • The state budget will launch a new program to invest billions of state dollars in school construction for schools all across the state.

Needed Changes in Raleigh 
     • I have had the honor and privilege of serving as your State Superintendent for almost three years. Unfortunately, challenges to good governance during that time have clearly demonstrated that the system is broken. This year, I will be promoting long-overdue changes in how the state education agency in Raleigh is governed with the goal of making DPI even more accountable and transparent.

Our North Carolina state toast notes that we are where “the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.” Every student, no matter their background, should be able to work hard and reach their American Dream.

You prepare our children and young adults to be able to make that happen, and we are continuing our work to increase your pay to recognize your important roles in our society. When I entered office, North Carolina was ranked 41st in average teacher salary. We are now 29th  (2nd in the South). While we are proud of moving up, we have more work to do and are pushing for continued increases.

Education is one of our greatest tools to help every child succeed. Please know how much North Carolina appreciates you.

Sincerely,

MJ Signature

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC
NCsuperintendent.com

And there is a video.

 

And if you skimmed the text of the email, you did not really miss anything as Johnson trumpets the same points as he has concerning what he wants to take credit for such as:

  • Reducing Testing – He says, “My goal is to eliminate the high-stakes EOG and EOC tests.” But he doesn’t explain that the school performance grading system is still the same – 80% achievement versus 20% growth. He’s bragging about making fewer tests mean more in calculating school “effectiveness.”
  • Improving State Standards –  He says, “Common Core math is still in our NC Standard Course of Study, which the State Board of Education controls. My team and I worked with the General Assembly to start a program that will allow local districts to opt-out and use different math standards.” Funny how he implicitly mentions that he will by-pass the State Board of Education.
  • Supporting Classrooms – He began that part with “If the state budget becomes law….” Maybe Johnson can use the extraordinary power he has according to this email to convince the people in Raleigh who prop him up to maybe actually vote on the budget veto and negotiate that as of this email is period of over 50 days and counting.
  • School Safety – He says, “We will also be launching the NC Kindness Campaign. Unkindness of any type has no place in our schools.” Maybe he can get the NCGA to be more kind to public schools.
  • School Construction – He says, “The state budget will launch a new program to invest billions of state dollars in school construction for schools all across the state.” Not once did Johnson come out and ask that lawmakers put that 1.9 billion dollar school bond on the ballot in 2018 that had broad support from citizens.
  • Good Governance – He says, “I have had the honor and privilege of serving as your State Superintendent for almost three years. Unfortunately, challenges to good governance during that time have clearly demonstrated that the system is broken.” That’s the very system that enables him. The very system that he just said he was a part of for three years.
  • Transparency – He says, “This year, I will be promoting long-overdue changes in how the state education agency in Raleigh is governed with the goal of making DPI even more accountable and transparent.” It makes one think if he typed this message on an iPad loaded with the iStation program.
  • Teacher Salary – He says, “When I entered office, North Carolina was ranked 41st in average teacher salary. We are now 29th (2nd in the South).” Johnson might want to also explain how the current teacher salary schedule would keep up with that average which includes current veteran teachers who have graduate degree pay and newer ones who will never get it. He could also mention that longevity pay has been taken away and that the very average salary he is “bragging” about also includes local supplements.

Yes, Johnson could explain himself more, but it would take away from his narrative – the same narrative he has been dishing out for the last three years.

What this amounts to is campaigning and electioneering – sending an email on a Friday (in a time period that many will be announcing candidacy for state offices) which totally ignores the issues really at hand when it comes to conditions affecting the state’s public school system.

Instead he brags about rather empty accomplishments.

Yesterday, he reminded that he was a lawyer.

Today he is using email to run a re-election campaign.

Stuart Egan Fact-Checks Baker Mitchell: He Prevaricates

Thanks to Dr. Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Stuart Egan read Baker Mitchell’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending charters against critics who say they foster segregation, and he was flabbergasted.

Here is his post.

He includes Baker Mitchell’s Wall Street Journal article, fulminating against the critics.

Then he cites the ProPublica article, Lindsay Wagner’s reporting, and John Merrow’s commentary, all reinforcing that Baker Mitchell has made millions by operating four charter schools.

Then Stuart goes to the official North Carolina report card site to gather information about Baker Mitchell’s charters.

Three are overwhelmingly white; one is overwhelmingly black. In other words, this champion of charters, this man who told the world that charters do not promote segregation, is managing a charter chain that is highly segregated. Furthermore, contrary to what he claimed in his article, his schools do NOT outperform local public schools.

Baker Mitchell prevaricated Bigly.

Someone should tell the Wall Street Journal to do…

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