Some Republican state lawmakers want to force North Carolina public schools to reopen for in-person instruction.
Republican Senate leaders announced Thursday that they are working on drafting legislation to reopen schools. The timeline offered for a bill was the “coming days.”
The legislation would “require all school districts to operate in-person in some capacity,” as well as an option of virtual only, according to a news release Thursday from Senate leader Phil Berger’s office.
Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga Republican and co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, said in an emailed statement that: “Among all the COVID tragedies, the most preventable is the lost learning potential that, for some kids, will last a lifetime.”
“After hearing from so many parents and teachers, we have to act immediately to return children to the classroom to stop further damage,” Ballard said.
The hypocrisy of this bill is rather palpable concerning all previous stances about government overreach and the need for more local control.
The hypocrisy of this bill is rather palpable considering this is the same body that can’t even pass a new budget for those very public schools and refuses to dip into rainy day funds to help schools “reopen” safely.
The hypocrisy of this bill is rather palpable when the same body has not made it a priority to get teachers vaccinated beforehand.
Ironically Ballard and Berger (who are featured in the aforementioned article) represent areas that actually had school systems open with full remote with a fraction of the spread that has occurred within the last month.
Below is an August 2020 map from Dane West, who had been keeping direct tabs on each LEA in the state and their plans for reopening school buildings. It was as complete a map as any and he actually followed as many school board meetings across the state as humanly possible.
Dane is a Social Studies teacher in the Wake County schools.
“We’re not going to get back to normal until we get children back into school, both for the good of the children, for the good of the parents, and for the good of the community,” he said. “We want to make sure we do that by giving the teachers and the teams associated with teachers the resources that they need to do that. The idea of, ‘Go do it on your own’—that doesn’t work.”
Dr. Fauci’s daughter is a 3rd grade teacher.
Makes you wonder if our local school boards and state general assemblies really know what resources teachers need.
Variations of the above quote have issued forth from many famous orators. It is hard not to have come across a version of this proverbial statement in anyone’s lifetime.
But there is a difference between hearing something and listening to it.
North Carolina’s new Lt. Gov. needs to do more listening and honestly reflect on what has happened in our country’s past.
In the past few days, the NC State Board of Education has been grappling with changing social studies standards to be used in public schools. Much attention has centered around the use of certain words to accurately name trends and societal forces that deeply need investigation by any serious student.
Terms like “systemic racism,” “gender identity,” and “systemic discrimination” are not acceptable to people like Lt. Mark Robinson and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.
The following letter is a statement released by Robinson, who is the first black man to serve in the office of Lt. Gov. in this state. He is a republican and has not been shy about his stances on racial tensions in the United States. In fact he stated in a debate last fall, “I don’t believe in systemic racism.”
Aside from the fact that this missive begins with quotation marks which have no ending partner and that there are many comma-happy sentences and that “American” is treated as a noun, this letter actually proves the very ignorance that its writer suffers from when looking at history.
No one is totally immune from mistakes in grammar, usage, and mechanics (including high school English teachers), but in an age where we are trying to vaccinate people against a deadly virus, we can strive to be immune from narrow-minded views of the past.
It is a tad ironic that Robinson state in his opening paragraph that “standards should be drafted without an underlying agenda, (his comma) and without political motivations” and then automatically blame it on a radical left. Nothing political about that at all.
He continues with this paragraph:
Robinson says, “We need to teach our children how to think and not what to think.” Is Robinson ready to help eliminate almost every standardized test this state mandates that seeks to quantify all learning based on knowledge points? Is he ready to have students do more writing tests to show critical thinking processes and back up arguments with valid evidence and analysis? Or is Robinson suggesting that students think a certain way?
Yes. It seems that he wants them to think a certain way and not actually look and honestly reflect on our country’s past. Look at this paragraph closely:
Of course the message is clear – to Robinson. For someone who uses vague terms such as “indoctrination,” “agenda,” and “ideology” and never explains exactly what those actually mean only wants to push a two-dimensional world view where anything that he does not agree with is obviously “radical” and aligned with political enemies. And he wants to talk about being “divisive.”
Robinson does not want students to learn that we live in a nation where racism still prevails on many levels. Robinson does not think people have the freedom to be disgusted with what is happening in our nation. Robinson does not want students to have the very facts of our past so that they can actually critically think and reflect upon them to help mold a future that does not repeat our nation’s past transgressions.
Or maybe Robinson would like to explain forced slavery, the Three/Fifths Compromise, internment camps, the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow laws, eugenics experiments, segregated schools, the Civil Rights Movement, the prison pipeline, or racial gerrymandering within the frame of his myopic thinking.
For a man who professes a Christian faith, he should know that God loves all his children despite their shortcomings, despite their sins. We humans are imperfect. In fact we are tragically flawed. According to Robinson, it is impossible to love a nation if it has faults or a past that does not fit a rosy narrative. To deny that things in our nation’s past never happened and still do not influence us today is really to deny one of God’s greatest gifts: to reflect on past transgressions in order to not repeat them.
I do agree with some of what Robinson states in his last paragraph. “Our children deserve better” and should have a “quality education.”
But they deserve to know the truth about our nation’s past.
It’s “School Choice Week.” And while there have been a plethora of op-eds, perspectives, and statements made by pro-choice advocates that claim to also champion traditional public schools as a “choice,” what really is happening is that a narrative continues to be put forth that puts down public schools as failing our students and our communities.
But I have a choice as well – many in fact. I have the choice to advocate for public schools and shed light on disingenuous viewpoints which seek to spin how others view public schools. I have the choice to call out the lies, half-truths, and cursory observations that turn speculation into a false gospel.
In short, I choose public schools.
Our public schools are better than many lawmakers and “pro-choice” advocates portray them to be – many of whom have never spent time as educators.
A lot better. And the problem is not the schools. The problem is the lawmaking body that controls the narrative of how schools are performing.
With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.
And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.
Betsy DeVos’s March, 2018 assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was a nearsighted, close minded, and rather uneducated assessment of public schools because she was displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.
The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.
The premise of DeVos’s argument was the performance of US students on the PISA exam. She was trying to control how the public saw the results. She framed the context to promote a narrative that her “reforms” were the only solutions.
What she did not say was that:
“The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
“A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
“Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
“If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
“On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”
Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Either DeVos did not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.
Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.
Consider the following picture/graph:
All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the majority currently in power.
The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.
With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.
North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.
Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost 85% of students who still go to traditional public schools.
And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.
When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.
If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.
So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.
Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.
Just consider the following when looking at our public schools and then see what is really “working.”
This pandemic has not in and of itself caused a teacher candidate shortage. North Carolina already had that.
The taking away of graduate degree pay, longevity pay, and due-process rights along with a morphed salary schedule and now no retiree health care benefits for new hires all helped push the number of candidates down.
Imagine what the effects of the pandemic will have on the profession.
The North Carolina General Assembly could help reverse that trend.
As an educator, parent, voter, and taxpayer, there are very few elected offices more important than local school board representatives.
And in the past ten months, this teacher has learned a lot about the local school board.
Following last night’s meeting of the WSFCS BOE was painful, exhausting, and nerve wracking for far too many reasons.
Board members were spouting unnamed studies in their explanations and holding fast to anecdotal data while choosing to ignore the local Health Department’s recommendations. High school principals have been vocal about the need to be more cautious in opening up buildings. Their voices seem to not be heard.
There was concern that we are setting up students to be doomed for minimum wage jobs. Would those same people be willing to fight to raise the state’s minimum wage that is tied for the lowest in the nation and has not changed for many, many years?
The timing of the emergency meeting made it seem like it was more important to get EOC testing done before looking at pandemic/infection data when there were no metrics being followed in the first place.
The timing was also interesting in that the very same day it happened, a neighboring county with only one high school will be vaccinating their teachers long before our county that has over a dozen high schools. I have had to fill out the same questionnaire twice concerning the vaccine and still heard nothing back.
That idea about taking a week to solve the staffing problem? What precipitated this meeting was a lack of staffing and subs in just elementary and middle schools. That won’t get better when high schools come back to buildings. This lack of subs and ability to staff schools fully is in and of itself a manifestation of the very feelings and concerns inside our schools now. It won’t take a week to solve. We are going to see shortages of teachers and teacher candidates for years.
Our students will not be competitive for college admissions? In a country where over half the students are in remote learning? In a state whose flagship schools had to close campuses because of the virus? In a country where colleges are altering application requirements due to the virus? In a state where many schools are only offering remote classes themselves?
None of this is ideal. A pandemic was surely not on the minds of anyone who is on the board when she ran for election.
But this teacher wishes that the school board listen very closely to the teachers. They are on the front lines and many are parents of students as well. School systems can’t succeed without teachers.
And this school system needs a permanent superintendent – one who will stay for a while and lead.
As Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools begins to send more and more students back into school buildings, the dashboard that the district uses to report how it views the data concerning the pandemic shows a system built on self-reporting.
“Current reported confirmed cases are defined as cases that indicate a lab result confirming the diagnosis. For them to be considered current the individual will be within their 10 day isolation period. Once this period has concluded, the case will be removed from the dashboard based on the NC StrongSchools Toolkit guidance. Isolation periods begin the day after the reported symptoms start of if no symptoms, the reported date of the test.“
Here’s today’s data as of early this morning:
That’s cumulative data.
And recently these tables were added:
Now look at this dashboard put together by a consortium of people in the county who want to make sure that we can see the data from a different angle that creates a better snapshot of not only the cumulative data but also of the current risks.
And what is seen is really not what the school system dashboard is showing. Again, this is the data shown this morning.
This dashboard also has the tables that the school system have now put on their dashboard, but they have always had those data tables.
The second dashboard also breaks down the data in an accessible manner.
And this is rather eye-opening:
Risk assessment for WS/FCS employees: One common assessment tool to determine if risk mitigation strategies are being being implemented consistently and correctly is comparing incidence of new cases between two groups. Here we compare case incidence between WS/FCS employees and the general population of Forsyth County. Let’s start with incidence in Forsyth County between Nov-2 and Nov-11. Over that time period, there are 1075 new COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County. This works out to 2.8 cases per 1000 Forsyth County residents. For that same time period, 30 new COVID-19 cases were reported for WS/FCS employees. This works out to 4.2 cases per 1000 WS/FCS employees. This is bad news for WS/FCS employees. This strongly indicates the current districtwide risk mitigation plan is insufficient and not working. Worse yet, this data suggests that WS/FCS employees have a 50% higher COVID-19 exposure risk than the local population.
Then there is the fact that the dashboard used by the school system is the second iteration. On January 11th, WS/FCS changed the format of its dashboard.