Go Ahead And Permanently Eliminate School Performance Grades; They Only Map Poverty, Health Care Access, And Food Deserts – Not School Effectiveness

Senate Bill 654 was just signed by Governor Cooper and it waives the use of school performance grades for the 2020-2021 school year.

The data on testing and other measures used to “compile” those grades will still be reported, but no “grades” will be issued for the second year in a row. Remember that NC’s formula for calculating a school’s performance grade is weighted far more toward achievement than for growth (80/20). No other state in the country skews that much toward test results to “measure” school performance.

Such a formula does not really even properly measure the effectiveness of a school. Actually, those school performance grades as they are calculated measure nothing more than the very challenges that students and thier families face that affect a student’s ability to learn.

Below is a map provided by EdNC.org that plots the most recent school performance grades across North Carolina before the pandemic started.

mapednc.PNG

Next is a map of the economic well-being of each NC county as reported be the North Carolina Department of Commerce in 2019.

2019 County Tier Designations

The LIGHTER the shade of blue, the more economic “distress.” This is how it was determined according to the site.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a Tier designation. This Tier system is incorporated into various state programs to encourage economic activity in the less prosperous areas of the state.

The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3.

Review the 2019 County Tier Designations Memo (published November 30, 2018)

County Tiers are calculated using four factors:

  • Average unemployment rate
  • Median household income
  • Percentage growth in population
  • Adjusted property tax base per capital

The next map is of poverty rates as reported by the Port City Daily on Feb. 18th, 2018.

As of 2016, 17.3 percent of the New Hanover County population lives in poverty. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service)

Below is a map that considers what areas in NC are considered rural.

“The darker green areas are more rural according to most definitions. Courtesy of the Sheps Center for Health Services Research.”

From the North Carolina Alliance For Health:

That is a map that represents death rates in conjunction to economic transactions and income rates.

And this is from the USDA.gov. It concerns low access to grocery stores.

mapfooddesert

And then there is access to hospitals. Also from North Carolina Health News:

Imagine how many beds right now are being filled with COVID-19 patients.

Now go back to that map of the school performance grades.

mapednc.PNG

See a pattern?

Again, They Are Intentionally Not Fully Funding Public Education

Public school advocate Derek Scott (@twslart) has been a valuable source of information concerning public school funding and often shares his talent for putting terms and numbers in easily accessible ways.

He shared the following just this month:

It puts the LEANDRO decision in more perspective.

And some people may point to the state lottery as a way to help offset some of these unfunded expenses, but…

“Omission is the real indoctrination” – A Must-Read

Tripp Jeffers is a veteran teacher in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools system and had taught social studies for almost three decades. He is also one of the hardest working public school advocates in this state.

His op-ed. “Critical race theory bill is a fabricated crisis”, in today’s Winston-Salem Journal is a must-read.

CRT is frankly a legitimate, but somewhat obscure, legal and literary analytical lens alongside myriad others (Marxist, Jungian, Keynesian, Freudian, Darwinian) utilized by institutions of higher learning. I can guarantee with reasonable certainty that 99% of those who are currently railing against it could not define CRT without having first typed it into their Google machines because they had never heard of it prior to this summer. In almost three decades as an educator, I have not and do not “teach” critical race theory, and I know of no Tar Heel teacher who does. It’s not part of the curriculum, old or new, formal or informal.

I do, however, teach critical thinking theory, which I hope every parent would wish for their children. I ask my students to examine history from multiple angles and through multiple lenses: political, social, economic, religious and, yes, racial. In the examination of patterns in history, it’s imperative to hold history up to the most reflective mirror and shine on it the brightest light, revealing both its beauty and its blemishes.

Yes, They Are Intentionally Not Fully Funding Public Education

This is a comparison of the three budgets put forth by the governor, the NC Senate, and the NC House as far as public education is concerned. (courtesy of Kris Nordstrom).

Only the governor’s proposed budget actually considers the court ordered LEANDRO decision to fully fund public schools.

The Senate and the House have majorities that want to actually lower corporate tax rates.

And at the same time those some people claim they are not bound by the LEANDRO decision.

So, How Big Are Your Classes This Year?

…and how late have the buses been?

Teach long enough in NC public schools and you understand more how the terms “allotment” and “teacher points” drive a school’s ability to have enough teachers.

One common thread I have heard from many teachers throughout my district is that classes (number of students in each classroom) are huge. If this state is boasting such a surplus in its budgets and brags about how we can lower taxes because we do not spend what is all taken in then why are so many teachers without enough desks for all students?

Consider a couple of possible explanations.

First, there is no new budget. Schools are operating on recurring funds that were established before the pandemic. Mini-bills can be passed that affect spending, but our General Assembly has not come up with a new budget in years. When the biggest budget item in our state is public education, then the effects in budgeting get felt quickly and easily.

There are enough studies to show how class sizes affect learning. We know what is optimum for students and schools as far as ratios in each classroom are concerned. North Carolina just refuses to invest in all of that.

Here is another reason that seems to be just as plausible – too many vacant positions. In my school system, this data table was presented at the school board meeting just this evening:

Those students have to be taught in classrooms. Just because they have vacancies does not mean that we automatically have subs in place for them.

That lack of people and candidates also is a reflection of how this state has been treating the teaching profession. Take away graduate degree pay, stagnate wages for veteran teachers, and eliminate due-process rights and you will make the profession suffer.

Consequently, students suffer and communities suffer.

And our district is also down over 60 bus drivers. Like classes, those buses and all of those students who rely on them still have to be driven.

The General Assembly can do a lot to help both situations because these vacancies are happening everywhere.

What Do NC’s State Superintendent, Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, Judge Danforth, Joseph McCarthy, & Dolores Umbrage Have In Common?

What do all of these images have in common?

The Spanish Inquisition:

The Salem Witch Trials:

Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities:

The Ministry of Magic with Dolores Umbrage:

This group of politicians:

They all are on a witch hunt based on spectral and biased “evidence” using political weight to try and weaken a vital segment of society.

When your state superintendent would rather stand on stage for this and never fight for fully funding public schools according to the LEANDRO decision, then your state does not have an educational leader but rather a shill for a political party.

When this report becomes public, it would be rather interesting to see if it has any legal merit. If it even attempts to try and name teachers based on “hearsay” from a website that any one can enter biased opinions, then the double-edge sword of the legal system might just show that rules of discovery cut both ways.

To stand on stage for this political stunt is complicity at its most basic form.

North Carolina deserves better.

For Those Who Say That Teachers Had A Two-Month Vacation

“You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher.” – Sen, David Curtis in May of 2014 in response to a teacher letter.

“I suspect that most people, if told they could work 10 months a year doing something they love, and make $54,000, would leap at the opportunity. Most would be content, if not elated. Very few, I suspect, would be protesting.” – Charles Davenport in the News & Record on May 5th, 2019 in reference to the May 1st teacher march and rally.

That “2 month vacation” usually starts for most teachers in the middle of June and goes until the middle of August.

In a typical summer things like the following would be happening just in the first week of our “vacation.”

  • Offices open to conduct business.
  • Student Services open for registration and transcript analysis.
  • Teachers on campus conducting various tasks.
  • The yearbook staff working on next year’s edition.
  • Rooms being cleared and cleaned.
  • Coaches will be conducting camps for community youth.
  • State sanctioned workouts will happen on fields and the weight rooms.
  • Summer school classes will begin to help students regain credits.
  • Some teachers back from grading AP tests and fulfilling end-of-year duties.
  • Some teachers will be in professional development classes in various places.
  • Some teachers will be prepping for new courses they are to teach because populations change and numbers of sections change.
  • Some teachers will be preparing for National Boards.
  • Some teachers will be moving materials on campus to facilitate summer cleaning and maintenance.
  • Some teachers will be helping interview potential new teachers and then helping those hired get more acclimated with the campus.
  • Some teachers will be taking inventory.
  • Some teachers will just come to campus to get work done to prepare for next year like send items to print shop or get websites and databases ready.

Even though many campuses were closed much of last school year for many teachers because of the pandemic, many of those actions were still happening. In my 23 years of teaching, I have never worked as much in a summer to get ready for a school year than I have this summer except for maybe last summer.

And that preparation lasted until the very day I reported for pre-planning.

New textbooks. New technology. Meetings.

There are also new courses that I am teaching because the pandemic has done two distinct things to our school’s schedule: made classes bigger because we are operating on last year’s budgets and created more flux in the student body because of virtual academies being used as alternatives to traditional campuses.

Students are already asking about recommendations and reaching out concerning classes. Parents are as well. Communication with my school has been more frequent. Following what the school board has been putting in place for the beginning of the school year has taken more energy and time than ever. Even friends and neighbors ask more questions about school.

Teachers and parents in my system probably receive at least two to three updates a week via email or phone about new policies or existing ones.

It’s ironic that as educators and administration, we had to switch to online instruction in matter of days last March. In some places in the state, that had to happen overnight. Teachers and schools were being praised for what they were trying to do for students and communities.

Now, after preparing for whatever may come in a state that has not fully supported us, schools and teachers are still being villified for trying to do the best for health and safety of all involved and still make learning as authentic as possible. Why? Because now it’s all political.

When I think of that, I remember what people like David Curtis and Charles Davenport said in a time of no pandemic about our “summer vacations.”

Usually, I would remind them that what teachers have are 10-month contracts. What Curtis and Davenport call a “vacation” is actually unpaid time that is spent by many getting renewed certification, professional development, or advanced degrees—all of which are paid with teachers’ own money that gets taxed by the state.

In reality, those “summer vacations” are actually periods of unemployment in which many teachers still do lots of work.

This summer has been a lot of work, but it’s for the kids.

Worth it.

A Prayer For Coach Snow

Every time I walk into my classroom and unpack my bags for the day, I tend to have those few moments of reflection and meditation.

Then I go to my lectern with my materials for the first class, look at the whiteboard, and see a pair of eyes looking back at me.

It’s a picture of Coach Adrian Snow leading the Titan football team through the stands past the student section on the way to the tunnel they will run through to start another sold out home game. It first appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal on the front of the “Sports” page.

I get to see this man every day at school. And the picture is a good representation of who Coach Snow really is. Engaging. Energetic. Focused. Motivated.

He’s also one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state. Actually he’s much more than that.

Snow is a:

  • Motivational Speaker
  • Public Relations Guru
  • Conversationalist
  • Master of Colloquialism and Jargon
  • Adjuster
  • Thinker
  • Tinkerer
  • Raconteur
  • Community icon
  • Prognosticator…

…and sometimes a meteorologist. West Forsyth’s Football Team doesn’t mind playing even if the weather seems out of sorts.

But most of all, Coach Snow is a friend to so many and a mentor to even more including me. He embodies what a great coach really is.

If you teach long enough in the public schools, you will be fortunate enough to come across some great individuals who coach sports teams all the while teaching these very players lessons of life and success even in the wake of defeat.

For them it is “about the kids.”

Great coaches like Adrian Snow see the team as more powerful than the sum of its parts put together because building a community where a common goal drives the participants is part of that process of being successful. Great coaches praise players in public, encourage loudly, and practice discipline and leave constructive criticism behind closed doors in locker rooms, practice, and dugouts.

Great coaches care about their players as students. It is quite often how I tell people who do not teach that so many players perform better academically while in season than out of season. The time management and the added incentive to keep playing helps many students make the needed commitment to academics and family.

Great coaches have probably kept so many students out of trouble because spending time being mentored and coached negates opportunities to create conflict.

Let us not forget that most of these great coaches are teachers in the same schools where they coach. They take care of our students in so many ways. 

Adrian Snow does more than that. He takes care of all of us at West Forsyth.

As this is being typed, Coach Snow is in the hospital battling some physical sickness doing his best to get well. If you can send as many good thoughts and prayers his way, please do.

He’s our coach and we want him to get as strong and healthy as possible so he can get back to the sidelines at The Village.

Cautionary Tale For Educators To Get Vaxxed

If you are an educator in any capacity who will work with multiple students, please get vaccinated.

From CNN.com today:

“At least three of the educators were unvaccinated, Fusco told WFOR. The vaccination status of the fourth wasn’t immediately known.”

The push to make the beginning of the school year as “normal” as possible is not worth making the abnormal the new normal.

So They Want To Restore Graduate Degree Pay?

The NCGOP House members just recently dropped its latest version of a budget proposal.

664 pages.

Do not get the dates confused. The original “bill” was started on Feb. 18th, 2021. This last version includes supplementary info strategically released on August 9th.

Late in the afternoon no less.

There is an interesting part of this proposed budget on page 174.

It restores graduate degree pay for teachers.

The G.S. 115C-302.10 that is being repealed in this proposal is something that went into effect in 2014. It stated specifically:

What they are now offering is restoring graduate degree pay increases for teachers who were not grandfathered into the original graduate degree pay scale. And it sounds like a great thing to do. It has been an issue for teachers in this state for years.

But there is some context to be looked at here. As the economy has started recovering and job growth hitting a quick stride, the state has a tremendous teacher/support staff shortage.

As of yesterday, TeachNC has over 10,000 openings in schools for employment. This next school year is about to start for most traditional schools in a matter of days.

If the NCGOP thought this was an important form of salary supplement to attract and keep teachers, then why was it ever taken away in the first place?

What happens to all of those teachers who actually entered the teaching ranks after the 2014 statute who never were paid for their graduate degrees?

And what about all of those teachers who never pursued graduate degrees between 2014 and 2021 because they thought it would not help their income?

What this proposal should include is any back pay for those who never received the supplement if they earned their graduate degree after 2014. It should also be a stand alone bill as it is placed within a larger bill that uses this “incentive” as bait to help these same budget writers push more tax cuts for the wealthy and for large corporations.

Then maybe an explanation as to why in 2021 this is being proposed when it was taken away by the same powers-that-be in 2014.

But many of us have an idea as to why.