How Can Phil Berger Care About “Equity” When He Does Not Even Support Public Schools?

It’s always nice when Phil Berger pretends to care about issues in North Carolina that truly affect the citizens. And when he gets his lackeys to communicate his devotion to “equity” and “gaps” it almost reaches comically tragic proportions.

Below is a tweet from his “special counsel” this past summer:

That’s actually hilarious. Why? First, this conveys the absolute fear that Berger and his cronies have for organized teachers fighting for better public schools. Secondly, Justin Parmenter is right that “nobody in the last ten years has worked harder against equitable education outcomes in NC than Senator Berger.”

Consider that no Senate budget in the state of North Carolina gets released without Phil Berger’s approval.

The one he was trying to pass before the pandemic did nothing to help relieve what has been ailing public education in NC.

And this state still has no new budget.

If Berger had his way then all NC Senate’s budgets would all have:

  • Schools still being judged by the 80/20 formula where the %80 is achievement. NC is the only state where achievement is over half of the formula.
  • No graduate pay restoration.
  • No longevity pay restoration.
  • No Medicaid expansion.
  • No minimum wage for school employees.
  • More money for vouchers.

If you do not think then prove it otherwise. Just look at the voting records of people in his party and you will see that he controls the rank and file. And if you want to make the argument that a post like this is targeting a certain political party, then it sure is. But this is not the party that my grandparents knew. This is the party that has drifted from its roots of supporting strong public schools in this state and done what Phil Berger dictates.

Under the leadership of Sen. Phil Berger, the NCGA has done this to public schools in North Carolina:

  1. Teacher Pay – Manipulated raises to make it appear that the “average” teacher salary raise is higher than “actual” raises.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – 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.
  4. Push for Merit Pay and Bonus Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.
  8. 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.
  9. Less Money Spent per Pupil – When adjusted for inflation.
  10. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – The math is simple: more students per teacher.
  11. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement.
  12. Cutting Teacher Assistants –  NC has lost nearly 7500 teacher assistant jobs in the last ten years.
  13. 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 it is the least transparent system in the nation.
  14. Charter Schools – 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.
  15. Virtual Charter Schools – There are two virtual charter academies in NC. Both have been run by for-profit entities based out of state. Both also have rated poorly every year of their existence.
  16. Innovative School District – Only one school is part of this ISD which has its own superintendent and was really was never wanted in the first place.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Class Size Chaos – It was never funded by the NCGA.
  20. Municipal Charter School Bill – Passed as a local bill, it now has gone statewide to literally allow for segregated schools.
  21. A Puppet of a State Superintendent – If someone wants to make an argument for how great a job Mark Johnson has done, then I am ears.

There is more.

Too many kids are hungry and poor in this state. ALEC style reforms have not worked. Veteran teachers are being ignored.

The graphics below chart actual data during the time that Phil Berger has been leader of the NC Senate.

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From the 2020 Public School Forum of North Carolina’s report on top ten issues in NC education.

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View image on Twitter

Source: Kris Nordstrom

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corporate tax rate
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Yep. Berger “knows a lot about equity.”

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Are Doing Cannot Really Be Measured

Despite what lawmakers and reformers may say, you can’t really be measured.

Image result for measuring appleIn fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

The pandemic has only exacerbated that.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

And those attacks have only been added to during this pandemic.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a non-transparent voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.

And the pandemic has only shed more light on that.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually arbitrary at best. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

DURING A PANDEMIC.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement.” There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft.” These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

When good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that over %20 of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about that Voter ID law amendment and racially profiled gerrymandering.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about the fact that the minimum wage in this state is the lowest in the country.
  • Think about NC having some of the worst unemployment benefits in the country.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

Giving Standardized Tests In a Nonstandard Year to Students Who Were Never Standard Is Far Below Our Standards

Exam

If you make a list of the standardized tests administered by the state of North Carolina in our public schools that are both federally and state mandated, then you would still have quite a tally even if NC Finals have been eliminated.

Depending on which math and science track a student has in high school, it is conceivable that a student who matriculates in NC’s public schools will take dozens of these standardized tests.

That list would not include any local benchmark assessments, the PSAT, the ACT, the Pre-ACT, or any of the AP exams that may come with Advanced Placement classes.

Throw in some PISA or NAEP participants. Maybe the ASVAB and the Workkeys.

That’s a lot of tests. And a lot of time to “teach toward a test.”

When I graduated high school last century, I never had to take even one-tenth of these kinds of assessments.

We wrote a lot of essays in my school.

Not short answers graded by algorithms.

Essays.

But we are giving standardized tests in the most non-standard year in recent history to students who were never standard.

Teachers Have More Than Ever Been On Task – So Much That It Feels Like March 345th

There are teachers in this state who literally are teaching both in-person students and still required to provide synchronous instruction to those students whose families have elected to begin this school year remotely. That could mean teaching one class section as if it were two. But there were no new hours in the day created.

There are teachers in this state who had to learn new online platforms and try to master new resources during the summer without synchronous professional development and at their own expense and on their own time.

There are school systems that have stipulated different parameters for grading and student work and expectations that differ greatly from what would happen in a typical school year which require more work and time to maintain.

And for most every teacher in a school operating under hybrid or remote learning schedules, the expectations of classroom management have been morphed to include aspects that are simply out of the control of any teacher.

Add to that the fact that communication with students and parents have more obstacles attached with remote learning as this pandemic has exacerbated the connectivity divide in this state not to mention the economic woes that many face.

Oh, and the state is still bringing in students to complete EOC, EOG, PSAT, and Pre-ACT as well as have observations.

THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR CENTRAL OFFICES TO BE ASKING FOR MORE PAPERWORK, RECORDINGS OF MEETINGS, AND MORE REPORTS TO PROVE THAT TEACHERS ARE ON TASK.

Teachers have been on task so much since last March that today feels like March 345th rather than February 21st.

Teachers have families, their own children trying to navigate remote learning, bills, and personal lives.

Or we might as a state see a teacher burnout like never before.

And this state already does a bad job in recruiting teacher candidates.

extended | UAH Library Blog

This Pandemic Is An Opportune Time To Talk About Investing In More Teacher Assistants

We conclude that teacher assistants are a cost-effective means of raising student achievement, especially in reading.

North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

Let me repeat: North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

When study after study published by leading education scholars preach that reaching students early in their academic lives is most crucial for success in high school and life, our General Assembly  actually promoted one of the largest layoffs in state history.

And another study was just released.

As a voter, I am disappointed that the last six years with this GOP-led NCGA has fostered a calculated attack against public schools with more power and money given to entities to privatize education. By eliminating teacher assistants, the NCGA  simply weakened the effectiveness of elementary schools even more and helped substantiate the need to divert my tax money to segregate educational opportunities even more.

As a teacher, I am disheartened that my fellow educators are being devalued. Yes, teacher assistants are professional educators complete with training and a passion to teach students. With the onslaught of state testing, curriculum changes, and political focus on student achievement, these people fight on the front lines and advocate for your children and your neighbors’ children.

But as a parent, I am most incensed by this move to eliminate teacher assistants because my own child has tremendously benefited from the work of teacher assistants. Even as I write these words, my thirteen-year-old red-headed, blue-eyed son, who happens to have Down Syndrome and autism, walks through the house articulating his thoughts, communicating his needs, and sharing his love to explore. And I give much of that credit to those who teach him in school: his teachers and their assistants.

The rationale for eliminating teacher assistant positions actually reveals the disconnect that our elected officials have with public education. In June of 2015 in the Greensboro News and Record, former Sen. Tom Apodaca said, “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 not only obvious; it is glaring.

That’s what teaching assistants already do. They mitigate class size by increasing the opportunities for student interaction. More prepared people in a classroom gives more students like my son the opportunity to learn. Apodaca suggested that having two classrooms of 25 students with a teacher and an assistant is weaker than having two classes of 22 students with just a classroom teacher. That’s not logical.

Oddly enough, Sen. Apodaca and his constituents at the time already knew the value of assistants. He himself had three on staff according to the July 2015 telephone directory of the General Assembly. Sen. Phil Berger had fifteen staff members, three with “Assistant” in their title and five with “Advisor”. Maybe dismissing some of these “assistants” would have offered some perspective.

Kris Nordstrom (@KrisNordstrom) offers some further persepctive:

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Public schools are strongest when the focus is on human investment. People committed to teaching, especially experienced professionals, are the glue that holds education together. Eliminating jobs so that some political agenda can be fulfilled really is like forcing a bleeding public school system to swim in shark infested waters.

We find consistent evidence of positive effects of teacher assistants, an understudied staffing category, on student performance in reading and math. We also find larger positive effects of teacher assistants on achievement outcomes for students of color and students in high-poverty schools

“Innovative Benchmark Assessments” To Assess Learning Loss – Yet Another Horrible Idea From Raleigh

The rush to find a way to further quantify the effect of the pandemic on schools without placing responsibility on our government’s response to the virus is on display in HB82 in the North Carolina General Assembly.

First, it would be nice to know exactly what “innovative benchmark assessments” actually are. It would also be nice to know who would be constructing them. Then it would be nice to know when they would be given when we as a state still are on the hook for EOC’s and other standardized tests like the PSAT, Pre-ACT, and ACT.

But it seems a little hypocritical to ask for “innovative benchmark assessments” when the state superintendent herself already has stated how much learning loss there has been.

Remember this?

In a November 22nd interview with Fox News, Catherine Truitt was quoted as telling the producers of the segment that “between March and September students lost on average 50% in literacy and 70% for math.”

She was talking about “learning loss” due to the pandemic.

Listen for yourself. Click here for the link.

That was a fairly bold claim considering that almost half of the time between March and September is traditionally a summer break.

It’s also odd that all federally mandated tests and most state tests that “measure” learning traditionally given at the end of a school year were waived very eagerly by officials on the national and state levels.

Hard to quantify “student learning loss” without the actual testing data. Even harder to quantify learning loss due to the pandemic during that span when there is no historical precedent to measure it against.

AND it’s even harder to measure it still when there was a “summer slide” in place.

So where did Truitt get those numbers she never explained? Here’s a possible explanation from Daniel Wydo.

Here’s the research brief that Wydo refers to:

The NWEA is an assessment company mostly known for the MAP tests.

NWEA (formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association[1][2]), is a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for students pre-K-12. Currently, NWEA assessments are used by over 9500 schools and districts in 145 countries[3]. Its primary assessment product is the MAP Suite, a collection of formative and interim assessments that help teachers identify unique student learning needs, track skills mastery, and measure academic growth over time[4]. By testing students three times over the school year, MAP assessments attempt to track student growth over time in order to help educators plan instruction that meets student at their level and predict performance on accountability measures.”

What the interviewer said Truitt told her producers was a 50% literacy loss and a 70% math loss in learning,

Here’s what the brief said:

Truitt made it sound as if it was fact. It’s conjecture. A projection that she never said that included a “summer slide” component added to another hypothetical number.

Truitt also didn’t say that her information may have come from an quantitative assessment company that did not have actual data from quantitative assessments to make such projections.

“Preliminary estimates” do not automatically translate into reality that can be passed off as gospel on television but that seems to be what happened in Truitt’s interview. If not, then she can show us the data.

And any teacher can tell you that most of what students really learn can never be measured with “innovative benchmark assessments.”

Especially considering we are in really nonstandard times.

We Should Still Have “Snow Days” With Remote Learning

Teachers, students, and parents in our school system just received a call that school is cancelled tomorrow for inclement weather.

Not a call that said we would be fully remote because of a winter storm, but an actual “snow day” is being issued.

There has been talk that with the pandemic and the move to more remote learning there might be the chance that there would never be the need to actually have a “snow day” again for wintery weather.

But we should always have snow days – days where nature shows us just how beautifully powerful it can be while providing us with a real-life lab for exploration.

Not all snow days provide a picturesque scene or ideal conditions for outdoor play. Power outages and the need to keep warm or protect property and take care of other pressing needs that a storm can bring provide more compelling reasons to have “snow days.” To think that we are forcing families to adhere to a school day schedule while they are having to tend to weather related matters is adding to an already stressful situation.

If these days were already built into the school calendar, then we should use them even if there is a few inches of powdery snow and people still have power and connectivity. It becomes a chance for physical activity, time in nature, and a mental break from what has been a rather turbulent time.

Image result for snow day

And maybe, just maybe it will get us to talk a little bit more about climate and climate change.

The NCGA Is Using The Pandemic To Favor Charters Over Traditional Public Schools

Remember that charter schools in North Carolina receive monies from local school systems where they reside, but local school boards have no jurisdiction over charters in their districts.

Doesn’t seem fair.

That preferential treatment by the NCGA has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Doesn’t include charters.

Today, this bill was filed.

Doesn’t include charters.

And remember this from last summer?

The Network for Public Education released a state-by-state list of charter schools that received Paycheck Protection Program loans in July of 2020.

This is the list of NC schools.

Almost 50 of the 184 charter schools in North Carolina received loans.

From the July 19th edition of the Asheville Citizen Times:

Charter schools occupy a blurry space between public schools and small businesses. They are free to attend and funded like traditional districts, with public money given for every student. Yet, charters are managed independently, autonomous from the traditional school district in which they reside.

In North Carolina, charter schools typically receive less local funding than their district counterparts, though unlike traditional public schools, charters aren’t obligated to provide students with transportation or free meals.

Last year, there were close to 200 charter schools in the state.

In addition to PPP loans, many charters received federal CARES Act funds. For example, Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte reportedly received a PPP loan between $2 million to $5 million while also getting $438,000 in federal CARES Act money.

In contrast, school districts only collected CARES Act relief.

“Our public schools are being thrown to the wolves,” said Renee Sekel, founder of the parent-run public education advocacy group Save our Schools NC. Sekel accused charters of “double-dipping” by acquiring both businesses loans and public school funds.

And this state still has no new budget.

The Thin Trojan Horse That Is SB37 – That “ReOpen” Bill

Of course Sen. Phil Berger wants this bill.

And of course he says that he wants to “reopen schools” when what really is happening is that schools are open already, just not all school buildings fully.

May be an image of text that says 'SCHOOL BUS It's time for all schools to reopen. Studies have shown that with mitigation efforts schools can reopen safely. SB37 does just that. NCSENATE FEFEREICANS'

Here is the link to that bill.

Seems like good intentions. It’s shiny. Nice veneer.

And unnecessary.

That ABC Science Collaborative which is referred to in the bill? It was easily debunked by Kris Nordstrom. Those “CDC mitigation efforts?” That includes six feet in social distancing which is incredibly hard for high schools when considering reopening buildings.

But there are some other glaring deficiencies in this bill.

IDEA The Individual With Disabilities Education Act. There is nothing in this bill to ensure that students who have IEPs and diagnosed learning / intellectual delays have the resources to help them learn in these unprecedented times. This pandemic has shown the glaring gaps in funding certain areas of public education: computers, connectivity, teacher assistants, and resources to make sure that students with IEPs can access the curriculum effectively.

Local control completely taken away. For a political unit that has always preached “local control,” this bill prevents local school boards from being able to close school buildings in whole if another surge occurs in certain localities. The CDC guidelines talk much about monitoring community spread. This bill seems to be posturing because levels of community spread still place a large number of counties (LEAs) in the red.`

Logistical nightmares. Think of school buses and lunch with proper social distancing. Is this NCGA really giving any more resources to perform these functions during a pandemic while obeying the CDC guidelines? Without providing a plan to deal with the logistics, this bill is only selling the simple and ignoring the complexities.

Nurses & Counselors. If the NCGA GOP is concerned that “children are suffering” and that the harm “can last a lifetime,” then they must also be aware that other issues that students have might be worth more attention.

Strips Cooper of Ability to React to Another Surge. What happens if another big surge occurs? This state might need the governor to react and set mandates to save lives. Just look what happened in Georgia and Florida, and Georgia just turned blue in part over how the pandemic has been handled.

But maybe the most dispicable part of this bill is that it highlights just how much this NCGA has not done in the face of pandemic for North Carolinians except just making an underfunded public school system the scapegoat for why things are not normal.

There’s a pandemic still happening and a LEANDRO Report that has not been acted on.