Mark Johnson’s Almost “Oprah” Moment

WRAL.com reported today that the remaining iPads in a central warehouse have now been distributed by Mark Johnson’s office after repeated inquiries by news organizations and public school advocates.

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 3,200 iPads sitting in a state warehouse – 2,400 of them for the past year – have all been delivered to school districts across the state, a spokesman for North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson said.

Johnson faced criticism this summer after Charlotte teacher and education blogger Justin Parmenter wrote that thousands of iPads the superintendent bought were “collecting dust at the North Carolina Textbook Warehouse in Raleigh.”

Johnson’s spokesman, Graham Wilson, told WRAL News by email Friday afternoon that “[a]ll of the iPads have now been distributed.”

Last week, Johnson announced he was sending 200 of the iPads to Ocracoke School, where flooding from Hurricane Dorian forced 185 students out of their building. On Monday, he surprised Junius H. Rose High School in Greenville with 100 iPads after math teacher Tracey Moore requested some for her class.

100 iPads to one school? Yes. Just out of the blue. A “surprise.”

An almost “Oprah” moment. Except he didn’t say, “You get an iPad! And you get an iPad! And you get an iPad!”

Mark Johnson said, “Only this school gets 100 iPads.”

That is unless Johnson has even more iPads in storage we don’t know about that he is claiming to have already put in teachers hands.

Whether those iPads come with a service agreement, ancillary equipment, protective coverings, and other needed items to prolong a rather expensive expense is not known. But if a teacher can ask for more iPads, would that mean that iPads would be on the way?

Bet not.

Ironically, Oprah Winfrey was in NC not this past weekend. As reported by the Charlotte Observer:

Oprah Winfrey stunned a packed Charlotte ballroom on Saturday by announcing a major donation to help more local minority students afford and succeed in college.

She gave a matching gift to the previous total raised. It was 1.15 million “for scholarships for deserving area students to attend historically black colleges.”

Mark Johnson spent about that much in taxpayer dollars on an audit of DPI after he took office to see what cuts could be made to the agency at the behest of his enablers in the NCGA. The result of that audit was that DPI was underfunded.

Oh, and Oprah Winfrey didn’t tweet about her surprise to bring attention to herself.

He did.

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About That “Memorandum Of Agreement” Between DPI and iStation – Are You Sure This Is For Free?

As it currently stands, iStation’s implementation of its products to be used in the state’s Read to Achieve initiative currently has a temporary stay in place by the Department of Information Technology.

In response, Mark Johnson reminded North Carolinians that he was a lawyer and offered his defiance.

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In a reaction that has also been rather defiant, iStation said that it would offer its services and products for free while the temporary stay was being battled. That meant it would carry on with implementation without recompense. There is even an agreement between DPI and iStation outlined here: Istation MOA 8-27-19.

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First, to think that iStation will not demand every bit of the money it is owed from the originally tainted contract (if the stay is lifted and overturned) at some time is rather ludicrous. Really, it’s not free. Payment is being delayed. There could even be some “interest” being paid.

In essence, it seems iStation is offering a “No Payments Until 2020” special for Mark Johnson.

But there is something on the first page of that MOA that needs clarification, especially when “money” can be paid in time and resources.

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NCDPI shall provide “support and resources to effectuate implementation and utilization” of iStation’s product.

So, what are those resources and what does that support entail?

Do the resources cost money? Do they cost time? Do they cost teachers and schools to change schedules for training and installation?

Does the support come from DPI employees? Do they come from LEA’s? Does this support take people away from other vital tasks that are not blocked by a temporary stay from DIT?

It would be nice to get some clarification.

 

 

No. North Carolina’s Charter Schools Are Not As Diverse As Some Would Claim

In a recent EdNC.org op-ed, Rhonda Dillingham, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools, defended North Carolina’s charter schools from criticism concerning perpetuating segregation.

She said,

“Since then (1996), charter schools, which will always be free and open to all, have offered exceptional student learning environments and created opportunities for all students nationwide — and especially in North Carolina. The facts speak for themselves; in three key metrics — student-family wellbeing, academic performance, and diversity — charter schools are a beacon.”

She also said,

“On top of that, charters in our state are serving virtually the same percentage of black and white students as district schools (and only a slightly lower percentage of Hispanic students).”

As well as,

“Today, as I look at the excellent work charter schools are doing in our state, I can confidently say that they have become active mobilizers in the ongoing fight for diversity and cultural competency in education. Indeed, cultivating schools that are diverse and capable of serving all students regardless of their race is central to the core missions of charter schools in North Carolina. And many public charter schools, recognizing that students from underserved backgrounds were not receiving the quality of education they deserve, have gone a step further, implementing plans to diversify their student bodies.”

As far as academic achievement in charters is concerned, Ms. Dillingham can explain this in another op-ed (credit: Kris Nordstrom):

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But it is the word “diversity” that will be the focus here.

Baker Mitchell of the Roger Bacon Academies made a similar argument in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks back. His outfit operates four of the charter schools in NC.

When considering the context in which his schools operate, the actual student body makeup compared to other geographically close schools, and Mitchell’s loyalty to privatization efforts in North Carolina of public education, then it is easy to see how baseless an argument he has.

Dillingham’s argument about how “diverse” NC’s charter schools are is about as baseless.

It would be nice if Ms. Dillingham would define what “diversity” is in her own words because in looking at the populations of the charter schools’ student bodies from the last recorded NC State Report Card tables, NC’s charter schools are not really showing as much diversity as she may want people to believe.

This is the breakdown of Pupil Membership By Race for NC over the last few years.

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For the 2017-2018 school year it was:

1.2% American Indian
3.3% Asian
17.4% Hispanic
25.3% Black
48.4% White
4.23% Two or More Races
1% Pacific Islander

According to the NC State Report Cards for Schools, 44.3% of students across the state are economically disadvantaged.

The Excel spreadsheet that follows this post (as a link) is a list of every charter school that exists now in this state that had a school performance grade attached to it for the 2018-2019 school year. It is cross-referenced to the last full school report card it has on record from the 2017-2018 school year.

That school report card has the breakdown of each charter school’s student body by race and economic disadvantage.

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Please notice that “5%” is the lowest number allowed in a category. It could mean that there is anywhere from 0-5% in that given category.

In the Excel spreadsheet next to each school, these numbers are recorded in the order presented in the school report card for each of the 173 charter schools whose information is available.

Column I – American Indian
Column J – Asian
Column K – Black
Column L – Hispanic
Column M – Pacific Islander
Column N – Two or More Races
Column O – White
Column P – Economically Disadvantaged
Column Q – English Language Learners
Column R – Students With Disabilities

(Column F – This Shows of it is a Title I School. Title I funds can be given to charter schools, albeit a different formula than traditional schools. All but 51 of the charters with student makeup info are Title I schools.
Column G – This is the number of days missed from hurricanes last school year.)

And remember that the average across the state for all schools in NC 2017-2018 was:

1.2% American Indian
3.3% Asian
17.4% Hispanic
25.3% Black
48.4% White
4.23% Two or More Races
1% Pacific Islander
44.3% Economically Disadvantaged

According to the data table below which includes 173 charter schools,

  • 81 of them had a student population that was at least 65% white.
  • 40 of them had a student population that was at least 80%  white.
  • 100 of them had at least 50% of the students classified as white.
  • 31 of them had a student population that was at least 65%  black.
  • 17 of them had a student population that was at least 80% black.
  • 43 of them had at least 50% of the students classified as black.

To put in perspective, that means:

  • Over 110 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 65% one race/ethnic group.
  • 150 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 50% one race/ethnic group.
  • Over 50 of the 173 charter schools had a student population that was at least 80% one race/ethnic group.
  • 132 of the 173 schools listed had a 2017-2018 student population that was lower than  40% Economically Disadvantaged.

And remember that there is a strong correlation on the state level between school performance grades and levels of poverty in schools. Charters show just as much evidence as traditional schools.

  • Of the 20 schools that received an “A” on the 2018-2019 School Performance Grade scale, 18 of them were at least 57% white the year before.
  • Of the 59 schools that received a “B” on the 2018-2019 School Performance Grade scale, 48 of them were at least 60% white the year before.
  • Of the 11 schools that received an “F” on the 2018-2019 School Performance Grade scale, only one had a population of at least 50% white.
  • Of the 31 schools that received a “D” on the 2018-2019 School Performance Grade scale, only 5 were majority white.

Charters With Race Makeup From 2018 SRC

 

Rob Bryan Is Back: The Man Who Brought NC The ISD Is Representing Oregon In The NCGA

In 2016, then Rep. Rob Bryan and the House Committee on Education, pushed through a bill that would establish an ASD (Achievement School District) in North Carolina allowing the control of some of the state’s low-performing schools to be outsourced to out-of-state entities.

That ASD was renamed the Innovative School District (ISD) in 2017 in an attempt to “relabel” it under a more favorable light.

After a rather contentious selection process that saw communities galvanize to keep their “under-preforming” schools from being put into the ISD, one school was then selected and marked to be taken over by an outside entity – Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County.

Then in 2018, Rob Bryan lost his reelection bid. But his affiliation with the ISD baceme even more entrenched.

In April of 2018, Dr. Eric Hall, then the superintendent of the ISD, formally presented to the NC State Board of Education his recommendation for an operator for Southside Ashpole.

From Alex Granados of EdNC.org on April 4, 2018,

Innovative School District (ISD) Superintendent Eric Hall received a less-than-enthusiastic response from some State Board of Education members today when he presented his recommendation for an inaugural ISD school operator. 

Under the Innovative School District, five schools will be selected to be taken over by operators which could include for-profit charter or education management organizations. The schools will no longer be run by their traditional school districts during the five years they are under ISD authority. 

Southside Ashpole will be the first school and is slated to operate under the ISD starting this coming fall. However, having an operator in place before is a crucial first step before that can happen. 

Hall’s recommendation, Charlotte-based Achievement for All Children(AAC) includes former Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, on its leadership team. Bryan was the lawmaker who spearheaded the legislation that became the Innovative School District. 

Rob Bryan was a part of AAC.

AAC was contracted to TeamCFA. Who is TeamCFA?

Per Lynn Bonner and T. Keung Hui of the News & Observer in October of 2017:

A company tied to a wealthy Libertarian donor who helped pass a state law allowing takeover of low-performing North Carolina schools is trying to win approval to operate those schools.

Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina.

The company was formed in February and registered by Tony Helton, the chief executive officer of TeamCFA, a charter network that Bryan founded. The board of directors for Achievement for All Children includes former Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who introduced the bill creating the new district, and Darrell Allison, who heads the pro-school choice group Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Rob Bryan created a bill in 2015-2016 and with the help of a loaded committee became willing to siphon money to charter schools run by out-of-state private entities for which he worked and has profited from.

By the way, the ISD has been an unquestionable failure.

But Rob Bryan is back and replacing the very man who brought us the bathroom bill, HB2.

His background in education was once outlined on his website while he was first in office, http://www.friendsofrob.com/about. It stated,

Raised by a teacher and an engineer, Rob spent his first two years after college participating in the Teach for America program. In a low-income school in inner-city Los Angeles, he saw firsthand the problems created by non-innovative, bureaucratic districts unwilling or unable to change. Red tape and politics prevented teachers, principals, and parents from choosing the creative solutions that would work for their students.

There is a lot of information there. Bryan’s tenure in the classroom, while admirable, was not long at all. Most teachers in NC went through more time training to become a teacher than he spent in the actual classroom (sounds like a state superintendent we know). He worked in a poverty-stricken inner-city school, the same kind of schools he helped label as failing with a Jeb Bush style grading system that he helped create. Furthermore, while in office previously, he actually helped foster an environment that still keeps those poverty-stricken schools under the foot of government by lowering per pupil expenditures and vilifying veteran educators.

He had in that statement, “Red tape and politics prevented teachers, principals, and parents from choosing the creative solutions that would work for their students.” Bryan is exactly right. But if one sees the actions that Bryan as a legislator participated in while crafting the current educational landscape here in NC, one would label him as part of that “red tape and politics.”

In fact, he now will become more of that red tape.

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How Chris Farley and Tommy Boy Accurately Explain Educational Policy in North Carolina

I miss Chris Farley.

His stint on Saturday Night Live is still memorable. There’s that opening number with Patrick Swayze where he and Swayze were competing for a spot in the Chippendale dancers. Then there’s Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river.”

But my favorite Chris Farley performance was not on SNL; it was in the iconic comedic movie Tommy Boy. I know, not classical cinema, but it was funny. And the one-liners!

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One particular quote stands out more than others. It’s when Tommy Boy is trying to sell enough brake pads to save his family’s business. A potential contract hinges on his ability to convince the client he himself has faith in the quality of the product. Tommy Boy says,

“You can stick your head up the bull’s ass, but I’ll take the butcher’s word for it.”

Tommy Boy wins the contract because the client takes his word for it. The client listens to someone who knows more about the situation, albeit in a comical way. Everything turns out well. Tommy Boy saves the family business from the corporate takeover from Dan Ackroyd’s character, Zalinski.

It is also an apropos way to describe how so many people who really do not know the inside of a classroom or had the experience of being in a school have become the very people making policy and adversely affecting public schools.

What if someone was to compare the actual experience in public schools as a teacher or administrator or board member of those who were in the upper levels in the Department of Public Instruction 8 to 9 years ago to what it is now.

Just compare Mark Johnson’s actual experience in public education to Dr. June Atkinson’s. There is no comparison.

Then just take a look at NCGA. Not many teachers there. And not many teachers involved in those conversations because they are deliberately not invited.

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Mr. State Superintendent, Ocracoke Needs More Than iPads

This past Monday, Mark Johnson and DPI announced that it was sending 200 iPads to the K-12 school on Ocracoke Island in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Florence.

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While it may be easy to use this episode to add comment to the months long saga of Mark Johnson’s love relationship with iPads and how the state ended up with thousands of them, what really is noteworthy is the reception that this gesture is receiving from people who are witnessing firsthand what Ocracoke is trying to overcome.

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If only the leader of NCDPI could be half as proactive as the people at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Hyde County have been in removing obstacles for students and schools in the face of adversity.

There Are 12 Qualifying Schools For The ISD. Each Should Fight Not To Be Part Of It.

DPI recently released a list of “qualifying” schools to be considered for the Innovative School District.

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I sincerely hope that each and every school on this list and their respective school systems, superintendents, school boards, and communities fight like hell to keep from being absorbed into this failure of a educational reform.

North Carolina’s ISD is run by an out-of-state for-profit charter chain. To date it has only  school and it just got its third superintendent and its second principal – after only one full year in operation.

It is not a success by any stretch of the imagination.

Here is the most recent growth rates and grades for subsets for that ISD school.

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Southside Ashpole Elementary:

  • 4 – F’s
  • Everything else is an “I” which stands for “Insufficient Data.”
  • 1 – Not Met’s
  • 2 – Met

The current ISD here in NC has been in existence for over three years. It has not worked.

At all.

In fact, no previous model of the ISD has ever worked and the legislator who brought up the legislation, former Rep. Rob Bryan, works for the very charter company that currently presides over the ISD in North Carolina. That’s not shady at all (cough, cough).

It seems the only thing the ISD had going for it was the hot air from reformers who claimed with absolute certainty that it would be a success. Remember this from June of 2016 concerning the Achievement School District, now the Innovative School District (ISD)?

With just days remaining in the N.C. General Assembly’s short session, leaders on the Senate Education Committee have given their approval to achievement school districts, a GOP-backed model of school reform that may clear for-profit charter takeovers of low-performing schools.

Committee Chair Jerry Tillman, a Republican who supports the measure, declared the “ayes” to have won the vote Friday, although to some listeners, the voice vote appeared to be evenly split or favoring the opposition.

House Bill 1080, the long-gestating work of Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, will allow state leaders to create a pilot program pulling five chronically low-performing schools into one statewide district. From there, the state could opt to hand over control of the schools, including hiring and firing powers, to for-profit charter operators.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“They will make great growth,” declared Tillman. “That’s a fact.”

Also from June of 2016:

Other critics pointed out a similar system in Tennessee had not produced better academic results. But Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said the Tennessee plan tried to do too much, too quickly.

“These models have worked and will work if you don’t go too big,” Tillman said. “These schools will do a great job for these kids. It’s something we need to try.”

Makes one wonder what Tillman would say now about the ISD. Maybe he should read this report before making comment: “A tale of two schools: One, taken over by the state, struggles. Another, controlled by locals, rebounds.”

 

iStation’s “Aunt Becky” Moment

iStation sent yet another email to parents in North Carolina today just to remind them of how much iStation has to legitimize itself to the people of North Carolina.

Never mind that there is a stay in the implementation of iStation issued by the Department of Information Technology in effect (since August 20th).

Never mind that there still is a lot of ambiguity into how iStation received the contract in the first place.

However, today’s email seems a little more self-aggrandizing.

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Specifically it says,

 Istation, a national leader in education technology selected through a competitive bid process by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as the K-3 reading diagnostic assessment vendor beginning this school year, continues to work with North Carolina’s students and teachers in training and beginning the assessment process for the state.

Thousands of educators have been trained and Istation has already assessed the reading skills of over 215,000 K-3 students throughout the state. Nearly all school districts – 109 out of 116 – have begun assessing students.  

“We continue to move forward in North Carolina to ensure that all of the state’s schools are being trained on our program,” said Ossa Fisher, president of Istation. “I’m proud of our work in North Carolina. Despite confusion caused by the losing vendor’s protest, we are at almost 100 percent participation with school districts statewide. We will continue to stay focused to make sure all teachers and students have access to training in the months ahead.”

Istation for North Carolina was awarded the contract to serve as the state’s reading assessment tool for K-3 students – meeting all of the requirements of the state’s Read to Achieve Law and addressing all of the areas of Universal Screening, progress monitoring, rates of improvement and gap analysis. Istation also meets North Carolina’s dyslexia screening law, meaning the screening tools meet the initial screening criteria for those students who are at risk of dyslexia, as set by the state – the same criteria that the previous vendor had to meet. 

While the losing vendor continues to protest, Istation has agreed to continue to train North Carolina’s teachers free of charge until the issue is resolved by state agencies in the coming weeks to ensure that all teachers, staff and students in the state learn the program as the Beginning of Year (BOY) benchmark process has already begun.

It seems strange that a company would go to such length and spend so much money to “prove” that its product was selected by the most transparent of selection processes.

It seems strange that a company would have a specially placed “profile” in a major NC news outlet to “sell” itself to the people of this state.

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And it seems strange that three of the main people involved in helping procure the iStation “deal” have made political contributions to those close to Mark Johnson, mainly Phil Berger.

They are:

  • Richard H. Collins, CEO of iStation,
  • Doug Miskew, lobbyist in NC hired by iStation, and
  • Kieran Shanahan, legal counsel hired by iStation.

In fact, all of these strange “incidents” collide to create a strange coincidence: paying money to get admission into school(s) through a middle man based on “test scores.”

Sounds a lot like someone I know.

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Yet Another Berger/Moore Partisan Double Standard: The Opportunity Grant Funding Surplus

Kris Nordstrom tweeted the following this past week concerning an August 2019 report about Opportunity Grants applied for and awarded here in the 2019-2020 school year.

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Barely over 37% of the available money earmarked for these vouchers have been awarded.

And this is not a new trend. In 2017-2018, almost $45 million dollars were invested in a pool for vouchers.

From Public School First NC.org:

In the 2017-18 school year, 7001 students attended 405 private schools at a cost of $20.3 million. The largest cohort of Opportunity Scholarship recipients attended a single religious school in Fayetteville, with those 201 students making up more than half of its student population. The largest dollar amount, $451,442, went to Liberty Christian Academy in Richlands, NC where 122 of the 145 students are voucher recipients. The 2018-2019 Budget Adjustments bill increased funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program from $45 to $55 million.

Over $24 million dollars that were budgeted for vouchers were never used where there was supposed to be a CRITICAL NEED.

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That “7001” figure from the above quote does not match exactly with the graphic above, but the terms “recipients” and “accepted” need to be further investigated. What the PSF statement may show is how many grants were actually. Not everyone who receive the voucher actually uses it.

But the amount of people using the vouchers has never met the actual funding. The number of vouchers given for the 2019-2020 school year as of August of 2019 is about $25.7 million. That’s about 40% of what has been allocated for the voucher program for the school year.

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Looks like a surplus – a big one.

And the Berger/Moore team has already floated what it wants to do with at least one surplus.

From WBTV.com this past August:

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That line of reasoning surely has not been applied to the surplus of voucher money. Why? It goes against the narrative that Berger/Moore want to offer for their school choice / privatizing agenda.

And that agenda also seems to be helping finance a rather booming non-transparent private religious schooling industry.

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And remember that churches are already tax-exempt.

It would make sense to take the Opportunity Grant surplus and put it back into the public school system, but the Berger/Moore machine does not want that. It would mean investing more in the very public they are supposed to serve.

 

What If NC Had A Teacher Working Conditions Survey With Questions About State Leadership Given Now?

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There is one glaring shortcoming about the Teacher Working Conditions Survey issued by the state every two years in the spring: it should ask about teachers’ views not only of their school, but of their perceptions of the state leadership.

You can see the questions that were administered on the 2018 version and the results here:  https://ncteachingconditions.org/results. The next one is scheduled in the spring of 2020.

The results from this 2018 version do nothing more than demonstrate the disconnect that those who want to re-form schools have with the reality of schools; they displayed that what really drives the success of a school are the people – from the students to the teachers to the administration to the support staff and the community at large.

It is hard to take a survey very seriously from DPI when the questions never get beyond a teacher’s actual school. There is never any way to convey in this survey from the state what teachers think about the state’s role in education or how standardized testing is affecting working conditions.

It should ask teachers’ views not only of their school, but MORE of their perceptions of the county / LEA leadership and state leadership.

Below are the main questions (there are subsets) asked on the survey that actual teachers answer.

  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about the use of time in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about your school facilities and resources.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about community support and involvement in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about managing student conduct in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about teacher leadership in your school.
  • Please indicate the role teachers have in each of the following areas in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about leadership in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about professional development in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about instructional practices and support in your school.

There is nothing about how teachers feel about the state’s role in how public schools operate or are funded. If Johnson and DPI were really keen on “listening” to teachers concerning their views about working in NC public schools, then the questions need to go beyond the “School” and explore the “state.”

Imagine if we as teachers got to answer questions such as:

  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about how the state helps schools with facilities and resources.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about the state’s support and involvement in your school.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about state leadership at the Department of Public Instruction.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about state leadership.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with statements about professional development sponsored by the state.
  • Please rate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements about  support for schools from the state.

When NC public schools receive a majority of their funds, mandates, stipulations, guidelines, and marching orders from the state, then should not the NC Teacher Working Condition Survey include teacher perceptions on the role of the state and its influence?

Yes.

But the results of those questions on the survey would tell a much more pointed story: one that Mark Johnson may not really want to know or have published on a glossy piece of propaganda and nicely timed emails.

Simply put, we need more pointed questions.

And this teacher wouldn’t mind having one to fill out now.