Happy New Year To All New Teachers From Your 2017 NC General Assembly

If you are hired as a new teacher after 2020 is over, you will not have something that teachers hired before 2021 have: retiree health benefits.

A report today in the News & Observer explains that the budget set forth in 2017’s long session of the NCGA did away with retiree health benefits for hires on and after January 1, 2021 to “save money.”

Here’s that part of the state budget:

and from the very top of the next page:

How sadistic is it that in 2017 this was done and three years later we are in the middle of a pandemic and will probably have an incredible teacher and teacher candidate shortage in our public schools next fall. Retiree health benefits were a big recruitment tool for new teachers.

Now that is gone with graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights.

Oh, and that same 2017 NCGA that took away those retiree health benefits are the same people who did not expand Medicaid in 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or 2020.

What My Special Needs Child With The Really Big IEP Has Taught And Retaught Me As A Teacher In This Pandemic

I am the proud parent of  two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”

He looks like his mother as well.

Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and is on the autism spectrum and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.

As the older sister is busy getting ready for the second semester of her college freshman year with more virtual classes, the younger brother is continuing to deal with an ever changing reality that until a few weeks ago kept him away from his friends at school and the designed routine of instruction. He was part of the only class that was brought back into his middle school toward the end of last semester. Both have handled their situations with a grace and adaptability that seem beyond their years.

And while I am a twenty-two year veteran public school teacher, the real teachers in this house for the past few months have been my children especially my special needs child with the really big IEP.

It was about a month ago that my wife and I had the yearly IEP meeting for our son where we review goals, make new ones, modify accommodations, and have the honest discussion of expectations versus reality. We are blessed with his being at this public school with the teachers and assistants who help him access the curriculum, but always focus on him as an individual.

Yes, that meeting occurred virtually using Zoom.

He has desperately missed his routine at school as have I. But we are safe and getting healthy after our family’s bout with COVID-19.

And there is so much that he has taught and re-taught me these past few months about being a teacher that no standardized test could ever measure.

1. Education is about the people. If I could count the number of times he calls out names of teachers and classmates regularly, then I would need to relearn big numbers. He misses them as much as I miss my students.

2. Special Education teachers are the “salt of the Earth.” I knew this before, but I REALLY know it now. Their wanting to reach out to him at this time and provide any support whatsoever has been tremendous. Whether conferencing with us as parents or just reading a story with him online, his teachers have been tireless in offering their support.

3. Teacher Assistants are just as vital as anyone else in the education of special needs students. The fact that we have thousands less now in this state than we did before the 2008 recession is one of the most abominable realities that could have been prevented that this teacher can think of. And we do not pay them half as much as they are worth.

4. No technology can replace the basic foundation of the student / teacher relationship. “Personalized” learning has the word “PERSON” in it for a reason.

5. We do not as a nation or a state invest enough in resources that special needs students require. Looking back over the LEANDRO report this past week about how we as a state fund support special needs has given further clarity to this.

6. Moving around and getting exercise is key to learning. I truly appreciate the power of going into the backyard and swinging on the swing set can reengage someone’s mind. I am doing it myself.

7. Laughter is medicine. 

8. Lunch should never be less than thirty minutes. Some of the best conversations I have ever had with my son have been at the kitchen table.

9. Standardized tests really do not work. My son has proven over and over again that he never was standard, his teachers are not standard, and this current situation is not standard.

10. He really wants to learn, experience, interact, smile, and seek knowledge. 

11. Patience. Can’t really explain that fully, but I have more of it right now than I did three weeks ago.

12. AND… Betsy DeVos is still a horrible Secretary of Education.

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That “Immune System Of Steel” Did Not Prevent This Teacher From Getting COVID-19

“If you’ve been a school teacher for years, you have the immune system of steel because just like healthcare workers, you are around children all day long who aren’t the best at covering their mouth or nose when they sneeze or cough,” Morrow said. “They’re not good at washing their hands after they go to the bathroom.”

That quote above came from a Sept. 16th press conference in which NC GOP leaders and our State Superintendent-Elect made statements concerning the need to open up schools in the midst of a pandemic.

Never mind the fact that fatalities from COVID-19 on a national level are quickly approaching three times the number recorded in the month of the press conference.

It is what the nurse who spoke the words above said that echoes more loudly to this teacher.

I have been a school teacher for well over 20 years.

I have taught in three large public schools all of which compete in the highest possible classification in athletics. Both schools where I have taught in NC play in 4A. The school where I taught in metro-Atlanta, Georgia is a 7AAAAAAA school.

According to Morrow, my immune system should be not just made of steel, but of adamantium (for you Marvel Comics fans).

I still contracted COVID-19.

In fact, everyone in my house got it. Don’t know how. One child was already home from college. I was teaching students remotely. My son was in school, but he and his teachers were practicing protocols for EC classrooms. My wife has been working from home since the pandemic started. Other than trips to grocery stores and doctor visits with masks, it is hard to pinpoint where it entered our house.

One of those doctor visits was for my annual checkup and physical. Other than my need to lose weight, my vitals were very positive and blood work came back better than it has in a few years.

Comparatively speaking, I think we all had a “mild” case. But, it still kicked my butt. Still is actually.

Senses of smell and taste did disappear for a while. That feeling of a fierce cold starting in the head and quickly going to the lungs has weakened considerably. There was a week where my voice was an octave lower than usual. There was low energy and that feeling of never getting a full breath.

And I still taught my classes. Not that I was out to prove how tough I was, but out of necessity. How on God’s green Earth was I to prep a sub or put together lesson plans virtually without already putting in all of the work I would have just teaching as if nothing was happening?

The students were gracious and concerned. In fact, they were a big part of the healing.

But the fatigue is lingering still.

I’ve had the flu and some bad colds. This was/is different.

We have lost educators in this state due to COVID-19. Some of them were younger and in better shape than I am. Every time I see our school system’s COVID -19 Dashboard I know full well that the cases chronicled in those data tables are self-reported, and due to HIPAA laws, not much info can be shared with others. It’s hard to trust that too much.

But I and other veteran teachers have “steel” immune systems according to Mrs. Morrow.

I wonder if over three months later, she would still publicly give those same statements.

And I wonder if our State Superintendent would stand on stage with Ms. Morrow if she still stood by her assertions.

Remembering Mark Johnson’s Schools Reopening Task Force

Last April 30th State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the following:

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I remember asking, “WHERE ARE THE TEACHERS?” McKinney was a teacher until a couple of years ago. Jeffery Elmore is a teacher, but has spent more time in Raleigh supporting his party’s stalling a budget process and keeping Medicaid from being extended while using teachers as political pawns.

That list seemed to include many people who did not have the best interests of public schools and their teachers and students in mind.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest wanted to give everyone a voucher for a private school, preferably a religious school as part of his platform to run for governor. He also said this in 2019 church service:

“No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics. But no other nation has ever been founded on the principles of Jesus Christ, that begin the redemption and reconciliation through the atoning blood of our savior.”

Forest also was very critical of Cooper’s executive orders concerning the coronavirus which have probably saved lives. In fact, he downplayed the importance of masks throughout his last campaign.

That NC DPI leadership team? The one that reported only to Johnson after his enabled reorg?

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There was Sen. Deanna Ballard who issued a press release in an attempt to diminish the problem of teacher salaries. Oh, and she hates unions.

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There was Rep. Jason Saine. He’s helped set up charter schools and was a recent National Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC.

There was that “special Adviser on Education” from SAS? The private company that gave us EVAAS. The people who compute our School Performance Grades. The people who use a secret algorithm to rank teachers with Value Added Measurements?

There was Jonathan Felts, the unofficial spokesperson for Mark Johnson.

“Felts, a former George W. Bush White House staffer, professional GOP consultant and senior advisor to former Gov. Pat McCrory, says he’s taking no pay for his work in the office of new Superintendent Mark Johnson.

That includes providing updates and statements to the press on behalf of Johnson’s state office and offering scheduling details for the superintendent as he embarks on a statewide listening tour. Felts emphasizes his official title is transition chairman for Johnson, nearly two months into the new superintendent’s tenure in Raleigh.”

But there were no teachers – the people on the front lines. Yes, there were superintendents, but no teachers. And there were no people representing the two largest areas of the state: Charlotte or the Triangle where the cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed.

But the biggest aspect of this “task force” was that it never seemed to ever have met or gave any indication of guidelines for reopening schools.

The Greatest Gifts A Teacher Could Ever Receive

appleWhen a former student sends you a kind email years after he has left your classroom and graduated,

When you receive wedding invitations from former students,

When you are sent a Christmas Card from the family of a former student,

When a former student walks into your classroom just to watch how you still teach,

When you have mementos strewn across the classroom from students of long ago,

When former students send Facebook posts and friend requests after they have grown up,

When a current student who is a younger sibling of a former student says that the family still talks about your class,

When a family asks you to say a few words at a funeral for a former student,

When a former student emails you to ask about what books are on your reading lists,

When a former student ask your advice on a life matter,

When a former student sees you in a grocery store and still addresses you as Mr. XXXX,

When a current student sits in your room to do work because it is a safe place,

When a current student asks you to write a recommendation on their behalf because your words mean something,

When a current student takes another one of your classes,

When your current students have t-shirts made with your face on them to wear on the day of their AP Test,

When a former student sends you a gorilla mask because she still remembers and laughs at the story you told about a gorilla from college,

When current students tell you about plays or concerts they are performing in,

When students want to have their picture taken with you,

When a student and her family see you in a public place they approach and introduce themselves,

When nearly 200 students volunteer for a service project because you asked for help,

When former students send copies of their papers they wrote in college complete with the stellar grade from the professor,

When former students send bound copies of their theses from graduate school,

When you get a “Thank You” note from a former student years after they graduate,

When former students introduce you to their own children,

Then you have been paid the greatest compliment that a teacher can get.

This North Carolina Teacher’s Letter to Santa

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Dear Santa,

With gerrymandered districts and continued emphasis on using public taxpayer money to finance unproven reform efforts that do more to privatize and divide our student bodies, I thought it might be worth adding a few items to my holiday wish list.

Sure, I want efforts to clean our environment and hold entities accountable for any damage they have done to water sources or quality of living. I want Medicaid expansion, and I want the state to do more in lowering the fact that 1 in 5 students in our public schools lives at or below the poverty level.

But this letter specifically is about our public schools.

I would like for the North Carolina General Assembly to stop holding public school students hostage while keeping the budget that should have been ironed out months ago at a continued impasse.

I would like for the state of North Carolina to put more emphasis on growth in student achievement than actual scores of standardized tests. I myself still do not know why we give so many standardized tests when there really are no “standardized” students.

I would like the NCGA to not again threaten schools with the class size mandate that might force many schools to get rid of “specials” just because the NCGA fails to finance an expensive mandate to lower class sizes.

I would like the General Assembly to stop looking at quick ways to build a “contracted” teacher pool like it has with SB599 or TeachNC so that education will not be more of a facilitated exchange of information rather than honoring the art and craft of what teaching really is.

I would like the NCGA to value its veteran teachers more and restore graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights for new teachers so that they will be more likely to become veteran teachers.

I would like for the money spent per pupil in NC to at least equal the amount adjusted for inflation of what the state spent before the Great Recession.

I would like for there to be a cap on how many charter schools there are in the state and mandate that charter schools be under the umbrella of local school systems as they were originally intended to be.

I would like for the School Performance Grading System to be eliminated and have the state simply acknowledge that poverty affects student achievement and we do not need some nebulous system to report that. And then do something to better combat poverty.

I would like for the Opportunity Grants to not receive any more funding. The system in place in this state is by far the least transparent of any in the country, and there has been no proof whatsoever that outcomes for students who receive these grants do better academically on a wide scale.

I would like for the state to stop funding for-profit virtual charter schools. They have shown no success. That also goes for the Innovative School District. There is no basis that any form of that reform plan has been successful.

And lastly, I would like for this state to have a state superintendent who actually advocates strongly for public schools instead of unproven reform efforts that seem to profit a select few rather than the state as a whole.

Thanks for considering, Santa.

“Pro-Life” Means Taking Care Of Those Who Are Already Born

Since we are in the heart of the holiday season, I tend to think of this part of Dickens’s classic holiday novella.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

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The above passage from A Christmas Carol also comes to mind any time I hear elected officials talk about the role of government and the role of individuals in a nation that professes to be Christian in its founding and in its morals.

Below are two statements made directly by elected officials or posted on their official websites concerning morals and values. I am most interested in their use of the term “pro-life.”

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.” – Dan Forest, Former Lt. Gov. of NC

“A pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Senator who believes in religious freedom, Senator Berger has fought to protect the unborn and the rights of magistrates and government officials who choose to opt out of gay marriages or other ceremonies because of religious objections.” – philberger.org

It is easy to confine the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” to the arena of unborn children. But the issue of abortion is not really the subject of this post.

Why? Abortion is too big of an issue to tackle in a personal essay and I am certainly not convinced that declaring yourself “pro-choice” automatically means that you condone abortion in any situation. Life throws too many qualifications into its equations to make all choices an “either/or” choice.

However, I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in such a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain. And when I see the above statements by prominent politicians, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-abortion” message.

Because “pro-life” means so much more than that.

Why are we not protecting the lives of those who are already born? I feel that being “pro-life” is not a matter reserved for the issue of abortion and the unborn, but should include those who are living and need help.

Hubert Humphrey once said in 1977, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

If you are “pro-life” then it would make sense that you would look to the welfare of those who cannot necessarily defend themselves without help like the “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Is it not ironic that many who ran on a strict “pro-life” platform seem to be in favor of privatizing or redefining the very services that help sustain the lives of those whom they claim to champion.

Think of Medicaid that my own son has been on the waiting list for because he will need its services earlier than most people. It may jeopardize his chances of getting the help he needs when he gets older. Within the state of North Carolina, not expanding Medicaid affects many “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Nationally speaking, think of the Affordable Care Act that insures many who would not be eligible if such a plan was not in place. While it is anything from perfect, it has insured many people who were never insured before. And have the parties in charge of the government offered anything else except “free-market?”

Think of all of the rural hospitals that have closed (or are on the verge of closing) in this state while we are experiencing this great budget “surplus.”

Think of all the corporate tax cuts that have been extended these past few years that have dried up sources of state revenue.

Think of the use of tax payer money to fund vouchers and charter schools that are actually privatizing public schools all in the name of “choice” when there should be a push to fully fund all public schools and provide for their resources because public education is a public service and not a private entity.

Dan Forest once said in reference to the HB2 (Bathroom Bill)  debacle, “We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.

But hasn’t some of the “choices” that have been made by those in power been made because there was some sort of price tag on it?

It seems that many of the politicians who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. And they are doing it in the name of free-markets, where people are supposed to be able to choose what they want hoping that the “market” controls prices and quality.

How ironic that many politicians who proclaim to be “pro-life” become “pro-choice” when it pertains to those who are already born.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would call himself “pro-life” and allow for big banks (look at what Wells Fargo did a few years ago) and pharmaceutical companies (think of the EpiPen price hike) to literally control prices and the market without a fight.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would have been willing to allow public money to fund private entities without input from the public itself.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule in the very places where many who profess to help would never set foot.

Growing up Southern Baptist in a region of the country known as the Bible Belt, I was constantly (still am) confronted with the question, “When you meet your Maker after you die, how will you answer for your actions?”

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people. That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

Back to Dickens. When Scrooge asked Marley’s ghost, who practiced an incredible amount of selfishness in life, about his afterlife, he was treated to a very terse lesson in what it meant to be “pro-life.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

When you become an elected official, then your business is humankind. That’s being “pro-life.”

Let’s Go Ahead And Get Rid Of EVAAS. It Can’t Measure What Teachers Are Really Doing For Students Now.

This blog has highlighted SAS and its use of the EVAAS system to measure teacher effectiveness.  And every time this teacher thinks of EVAAS, he thinks of a presentation by James Ford in October of 2017.

Ford delivered the keynote address at that time to the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as he highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

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Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

So, I have to ask, “How will SAS account for this epidemic in their EVAAS scores?”

If we do have scores associated with teachers next year, SAS better show how they account for those scores because of the elimination of standardized tests for this year.

And if standardized tests are not given this year to measure students, then does it not say that what happens outside of the classroom that affects students’ lives has a greater influence on how students do in school?

Like what is below the surface of the water?

That EVAAS never measured in the first place?

A Decade Of Dismantling Public Education In North Carolina – Twenty-Three Egregious Attacks By The NCGA From 2011-2020

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 nine-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 OVER 15% BEHIND THE NATIONAL AVERAGE. And remember that “average” does not mean “actual.”

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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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Removal of Longevity Pay – 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.

7. 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.

And remember this?

8. 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.

9. 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

10. 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.

Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

16 states

NC is the only state that puts more emphasis on proficiency than growth and counts proficiency for 80% for a school performance grade. NC weighs proficiency at least 30% more than the next ranking state.

And North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

graph

15. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when a piece of 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.

16. Read to Achieve – Since it’s inception as a copy of a failed Jeb Bush initiative, Read to Acheive has not worked. In fact, it has had the opposite effect.

rta1

Oh, and that whole iStation debacle? It pertains to Red to Achieve.

17. Educational Savings Accounts – Like many other endeavors in the reform minded views of lawmakers, the NC ESA is highly unregulated. It is crafted much like Arizona’s program and that one has been highly abused because it is not regulated. Instances of using funds for non-educational purchases were not uncommon.

Also, if you look at the requirements, using the ESA “releases the school district from all obligations to educate the student.” That can be interpreted in a few different ways, but ultimately it absolves the school system from being responsible for the services it would have already provided if the ESA was not used. An IEP would cover it, if that IEP was constructed so.

ESA2

Furthermore, it would seem like taking money away from other students in a state where per-pupil expenditure still rates in the bottom rungs in the country.

Actions To Deceive The Public

18. 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.

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.

voucheroverfunded2

19. 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.

Last January, Kris Nordstrom published an article that openly showed this data.

The cap was removed beginning in 2012-2013.

And there is substantial evidence that charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools.

The Excel spreadsheet in the previous post linked to above 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.

According to that data table in that post 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.

20. 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, but were renewed by the state for another four years and championed by Mark Johnson.

Here are their grades and growth by subset groups.

reforms3
reforms2
reforms1

NC Virtual Academy:

1 – F
6 – D’s
2- C’s
5 – Not Met’s
1- Met

NC Cyber Academy:

4 – F’s
4 – D’s
1- B
6 – Not Met’s
0- Met

21. 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 initiative has been a failure – it still has only one school to be exact.

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

reforms4

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.

22. 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.

23. 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 reintistited, 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.

My School Needs A New Principal And I Hope…

…the that leadership within Central Office and the School Board will genuinely listen to our teachers, students, and parents during the search and hiring process.

Yes, in the middle of the school year amidst the most unprecedented time in any teaching career, my school is losing a principal to open another school. Having taught for a few years and served under many principals in two states, if there is one goal that many principals hope to achieve before the end of a career, then it is to open a new school and set its trajectory from the beginning. ‘

It’s a noble reason.

But it leaves a void in that great school leaders are not simply replaced in an instant.

Principal Messages - John Hay Elementary School

If you want to look at the reason why a school performs well, then look to the relationships that surround the people: student, teachers, parents, community, staff, and what might be one of the most underappreciated roles in public education – the principal.

The responsibility of a principal is hard to even describe, much less fathom, if you have not been in administration before. They are the face of a school, the sounding board of a community, and the instructional leaders.

When a principal is effective, great things happen in a school. When a principal is ineffective, all facets of a school can stagnate.

It is no secret that many a school board in this state is filled with stress and anxiety over how to navigate this pandemic, but aside from that and other unforeseen events that alter school years, there is a constant that system leaders must always deal with and be able to confront: finding good principals.

And I am like every other teacher who looks at his (her) school as more than a workplace but a second home in that it takes a special person to lead my school.

My school needs a leader who understands that the student-teacher relationship is the foundational element of any success in learning.

My school needs a leader who treats every teacher’s class as if it is the most important class on campus whether or not there is a standardized test attached to it.

My school needs a leader who understands that an entire village’s population is devoted to that school and that multiple generations within the same families have graduated from there.

My school needs a leader who can comfortably address a crowd but when conversing with one person make that one person feel as if he or she is the most important person at that moment.

My school needs a leader who when walking on campus knows the first names of the students and asks about their lives outside of the classroom.

My school needs a leader who understands that sports, service clubs, activities, and extracurriculars are just as vital to a school’s culture and success as anything else.

My school needs a leader who will attend plays, concerts, junior varsity games, and know the cheers and chants of the student section at a football game.

My school needs a leader who understands that teachers are experts of their content and that veteran teachers are most vital.

My school needs a leader who understands that many teachers are parents of students as well and even graduates of the school and that the investment they have in the school’s success cannot be measure by any rubric.

My school needs a leader who is dedicated to academic and personal growth and not just a bottom line of test scores.

My school needs a leader who will sit in the cafeteria during lunch and walk around during class changes and converse with students.

My school needs a leader who will not just rubber-stamp any edict from the system level that deserves to be questioned because he / she knows his / her school well enough to understand what is best for the students and staff.

My school needs a leader who is not afraid to be questioned with respect.

My school needs a leader who can offer honest feedback to any teacher and be brave enough to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.”

My school needs a leader who looks at each student as an individual who is an expert of his or her own life and challenges.

My school needs a leader who can make a tough decision.

My school needs a leader who can remove obstacles and not create them.

My school needs someone who is the walking paradox – a person who can seem to do many things at one time but show a constant focus on leading.

My school needs a special leader because my school is the most important – like every other school.