Again, Why We Need Educational Journalists – What is Happening in Florida

orlando

When North Carolina adopted its current school performance grade policy, it was not original. It was taken from Florida where Jeb Bush enacted it as governor.

Apparently, NC has also adopted a proclivity for the use of vouchers and couple that with our state’s deliberate lack of oversight and regulation, we may have another similarity with Florida.

Do not let it be lost on us that journalism may be one of the very things that saves us from our lawmakers, especially the ones who are pouring almost a billion tax payer dollars into the Opportunity Grants over the next decade.

What the Orlando Sentinel did in this series of reports as the product of investigative reporting should be read by all public school advocates.

Simply put, it is spectacular reporting.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-florida-school-voucher-investigation-1018-htmlstory.html

 

National Board Certification Score Release Day – An Argument to Invest More in Teachers

Did you know that North Carolina has more Nationally Board Certified Teachers than any state in the country?

Simply go to this site and compare – http://www.nbpts.org/in-your-state/.

NBCT

This morning score reports for those who were seeking renewal were released. If you succeeded, I congratulate you. It’s not easy to become and remain certified.

When I initially sought to become nationally certified, the day of the fall score reporting was as nerve-racking a day as I could imagine. Today, when I looked at my renewal scores, I had that same feeling because it is important.

But the way that the state of North Carolina looks at NBCT’s and the process they undergo to become certified has almost completely turned around.

When I initially began my certification process a decade ago, the state paid my fees. The state saw it as an investment in teachers to get better at what they do. That might be the reason that so many teachers in NC underwent the process. That no longer happens. Teachers must finance their own chance to get better at their avocation. My renewal fees for this cycle alone were higher than a mortgage payment.

The state also gave an increase in pay to those who became nationally certified, but they stopped that policy for those who seek graduate degrees. Unlike graduate degrees, the state apparently still views national certification as a viable display of expertise and professionalism.

And that is a bit contradictory to what many policy-makers are saying about the need to “reform.” The need for competition among schools and teachers seems to be the central mantra of reformers; however, national boards is really a testament to collaboration and community and being a part of – not being above others.

If anyone wants to see the process of what it is like to receive national certification, then simply go to http://www.nbpts.org/. It’s all there. Even if you don’t, it is safe to assume that it includes actual footage of teaching, letters of recommendation and authenticity, student samples, evidence of outreach, evidence of leadership among others.

But at one time national certification was an investment that this state made in teachers. It was an investment in teachers becoming better. NBCT’s tend to stay in the profession longer. Research shows that they affect student achievement positively. If it didn’t, then the regard in which this state still holds NBCT’s in would come under lots more scrutiny.

The argument here is many-fold.

Our state still has the most NBCT’s which correlates to a lot of people who are dedicated to teaching at a high standard and achieving greater goals DESPITE what lawmakers have said about the profession and done to disenfranchise public schools.

We should as a state reinstate the payment of entry and renewal fees for those seeking to become certified or maintaining certification.  It is an investment whose ROI is very high.

And we as a state should bring back graduate degree pay bumps because most education graduate programs have a similar portfolio dynamic and process that national certification also embraces as well as more focused attention on latest research.

If Raleigh truly wants to help public education, then it would invest in the people – like it used to before we had the situation we have today that requires weak and anemic policies like SB599.

 

The State Superintendent, Robeson County, and the Innovative School District

The special session of the GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly that convened last December was nothing but a power-grab for a party that had lost control of the governor’s mansion. One of the most egregious acts was HB17 which transferred significant powers from the State Board of Education to the newly elected state superintendent Mark Johnson.

It was called HB17.

Granted, Johnson was elected with the understanding that his powers and scope of office would be the same as stipulated for previous state superintendents. But what HB17 did was seismic.

Two of the items in the HB17 power grab involved the Achievement School District. As WRAL reported after HB17 was passed:

The power struggle between the State Board and Johnson is still locked up in court, but Johnson has commented that he believes that what HB17 gives him is rightful and just.

Just a few days ago in response to the recent continuance of the stay of power in the court battle, Johnson stated,

“Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers,” Johnson said. “I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago” (http://www.wral.com/the-latest-judges-weigh-control-of-north-carolina-schools/16947881/).

Apparently, Johnson welcomes a chance to lead the ASD (now the Innovative School District). That “ISD” has actually chosen its first school in Robeson County. While Johnson himself did not choose the new superintendent, Eric Hall, he did endorse his hiring and he certainly has endorsed the ISD.

robeson

However, the people in Robeson County seem to be against a takeover of their school. Billy Ball’s recent report in NC Policy Watch gives voice to many in Robeson County who are not very welcoming to the idea of a takeover. Some excerpts of Ball’s report include:

Members of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education unanimously approved a joint resolution Monday night opposing Southside-Ashpole’s selection for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD), which could allow charter or education management organizations—including, possibly, for-profit groups—to seize control of operations and staffing in hopes of turning around lagging test scores…

District leaders say they plan to spend more than $50 million on construction after Hurricane Matthew left extensive damage to seven Robeson schools and flooded the district’s central office in 2016.

Wilkins-Chavis said state leaders were not considering the district’s hardships when they chose Southside-Ashpole for the ISD…

Southside-Ashpole earned “F” scores in reading and math and did not meet growth expectations in 2016-2017, according to state data, although, like many of those schools eyed for the takeover district, it’s located in a high-poverty community.

Roughly 30 percent of the county’s population is considered impoverished, according to Census data. Children from low-income families tend to lag their more affluent peers in academic performance (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/10/17/facing-charter-takeover-robeson-county-leaders-tell-state-stay/).

Johnson has more than implicitly and explicitly indicated that he champions what the ISD stands for and is doing. He also wants to be in charge of its overall function. Johnson has also preached transparency and open communication.

Maybe Mark Johnson should be willing to go down to Lumberton and “convince” them to accept the ISD takeover. If he is going to be the leader of the public schools and lead them in new innovative directions, he should not only have to defend those measures but explain them well to the very people who had no choice in being selected for the ISD.

Maybe Johnson should stand up in front of all of those and explain how an ISD will help their school when other models of the ASD have proven to be absolutely horrific like it is explained here: https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/10/19/in-tennessees-turnaround-district-9-in-10-young-students-fall-short-on-their-first-tnready-exams/.

Maybe Johnson should stand up on front of those people and try to explain to them that in an area that is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, has a high poverty rate, and experiences higher than average transient rates, people should trust bureaucrats in Raleigh who have not been of great help so far with their children’s well-being outside of the classroom.

Then afterwards, Johnson should explain how a state takeover with the potential of a for-profit charter chain to seize control of a local school aligns with his mantra of local control during his campaign.

But it might be worth just witnessing this chance meeting between the man who wants to control the entire public school system without any real checks or balances and be asked a question from a parent which requires the very things that Johnson never offers: specifics and details.

Keep fighting, Robeson.

When the State Superintendent Starts Following Your Twitter Account

This week I received confirmation that Mark Johnson, the state school superintendent, is now following my personal twitter feed through his office’s official twitter account.

Even have the proof.

twitter

And I absolutely welcome it.

There are around 100,000 teachers in this state. Mark Johnson’s official twitter account currently follows 442 people (as of this post), mostly political leaders and pundits. There may be between 50-100 educational professionals he may be following. Not all of them are teachers.

That seems to put me in select company, but I imagine it may not be for my glowing reviews of his term. In fact, anyone who has read this blog knows that I have been very critical of his performance or rather lack of performance in an almost ten-month tenure that has produced platitudes, nondescript “reforms,” and refusals to offer details.

This blog has been an act of advocacy for public education here in North Carolina. I teach in a public school. My children attend public school. My son requires additional help because of a developmental delay. Public schools are woven into almost every fabric of my life.

As a veteran teacher I have what many may call “tenure,” but rather it is what should be called due-process rights. It allows me to advocate loudly for students, teachers, and schools against what I consider atrocious actions taken to weaken the state’s public school system, a system that was considered not long ago the most progressive in this part of the country.

Those very powers that are engaging in these “reformation” projects have a propped-up representative in the office of DPI, and that person is Mark Johnson.

So, I hope that he truly follows this twitter account and consider following the actual twitter account of the blog that I write – @ragecaffeinated.

In fact, I hope he tries to follow the twitter account of every teacher willing to allow him to follow him. Simply send his account a request for him to follow you. For someone who wants to infuse as much technology into schools as well as conduct “listening tours,” this would be accomplishing two “goals” with one action.

I also hope that the state superintendent reads the posts that question his lack of action in the face of the very many policies that weaken our schools such as:

  • Budget cuts
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Vouchers
  • HB17’s power grab
  • The Innovative School District
  • SB599
  • Principal Pay Plan

And that’s just a few.

I wish he not only read them, but he responds to them fully explaining why he has taken or not taken action or clarifying his stance and the reasons behind them.

The ten months that Johnson has been in office is equivalent to the length of the yearly contract that teachers have in schools. The state superintendent’s insistence that he has been handcuffed by the state board with this lawsuit over power of the state school system seems to have been his only excuse for inaction.

Within ten months, the average teacher has delivered content, taught skills, nurtured young people, differentiated instruction, planned lessons, developed curriculum, organized preparation, managed conduct, assessed, professionally developed, provided feedback, remediated, tutored, meet with all parents and students who request it, set expectations, been consistent, coached, and mentored among many other things.

All of that is done as lawmakers continue to “redefine” what powers teachers have in classrooms and what teachers are responsible for. Maybe some people could say that teachers still do the job despite being “handcuffed” by bureaucracy.

But even if the superintendent does not respond to anything on the blog, I do hope he checks my twitter feed. The main profile picture is of my son, Malcolm. He happens to have special needs and needs his teacher assistant to help him succeed.

Maybe each time the state superintendent sees Malcolm’s face, he could imagine Malcolm asking him what he is doing to ensure that all elementary grades still have teacher assistants.

Maybe even provide some details.

“Blood Done Sign My Name” – Lessons From a Timeless Book That We Still Need to Learn

Blood Done Sign My Name

There are books that I personally recommend to anyone who is looking for a great read.

There are books that I encourage people to read for its social commentary.

There are books that I applaud because of the narrative style.

There are books that continually haunt me.

There are books that reaffirm the fact that I am human.

There are books that speak to parts of me that I have not been introduce to fully yet.

Then there is that rare book that does all of the aforementioned to which I refer back time and again for perspective and to use simultaneously as a mirror and sounding board. Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name is one such book.

The book is anchored by an incident that happened on May 11, 1970 when Henry Marrow, a 23-year black man was killed by three white men on a main street in Oxford, NC. Tyson, who was 10 at the time was the son of a local minister, chronicles not only the events of that spring day, but the aftermath and the struggle to come to grips with a society that bred (and still does) racial equality.

I was born in the summer of 1970 in Alabama. I was raised in a small town in rural Georgia that had its own past and current struggles with race inequity. When I first read Dr. Tyson’s book, I could imagine every detail as if taking place in a running and stunningly vivid motion picture in my head.

I had the honor of hearing Dr. Tyson speak years ago in Winston-Salem in a church one Sunday evening. He spoke from the pulpit about the very issues that were at the heart of his book. I remembered at the time that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that the most segregated hour in America was 11 A.M. on Sundays when church generally convened. However, the church Dr. Tyson was speaking in celebrated all people despite race or income levels. I pass by that church often and think of how that evening years ago was one of the most welcoming times a stranger like me could ever feel.

Afterward, I got to speak with Dr. Tyson, explained to him I was a teacher and that I was using the book as one of the choice reads in my AP English Language and Composition classes. I also wanted him to know that I appreciated the book because it was true and brave to me, but I especially wanted to tell him that his writing about the relationship that his father had with Dr. Tyson and people of the younger generation was truly special. What his father did was be a teacher. What Dr. Tyson did (and still does) is be a teacher.

And we need teachers.

There are many things still happening in today’s world that makes me think of Dr. Tyson’s book and what it can still teach us about looking at our sordid social past and what we should have learned from honest reflection and tenacious honesty.

We live in a state that has gerrymandered its political districts to keep certain voters from being equally heard with their votes.

We live in a state that had an unconstitutional Voter ID law that targeted poor minorities in small rural towns.

We live in a state that refused to expand Medicaid to our most needful citizens.

We live in a state that is suffering greatly from poverty when our legislation brags of a state surplus.

We live in a state where a decentralized privatization of public schools is literally desegregating our schools.

We live in a state that has so much racial inequality.

My fear is that if we do not really learn from our past, then we are not only condemned to repeat it, we are doomed to magnify its effects.

Truthfully, Dr. Tyson’s book is as relevant today as it was when first published.

Blood Done Sign My Name is the kind of work that freezes the present time, takes us back to the past and allows us to compare the two periods in an honest but true fashion. If we are to think that the time between 1970 and 2017 has brought healing to our racial inequality, then we should get out of our boxes a little more.

We need good teachers when it comes to the subject of society, especially one that claims to follow the teachings of Christ, speaks of everyone being equal, and promotes democracy.

Blood Done Sign My Name is a great textbook for that subject.

“Sweetness Follows” – Hopefully

REM

Hopefully, sweetness will follow. All of the “little things” and the bigger events happening in the world today have cast a gloomy haze on our world.

And the response by those who could affect change has added a bitterness to it all.

Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Hurricane Irma in Florida. Hurricane Maria ripping Puerto Rico. Wildfires in California. DACA attacked. ACA being dismantled. Silent protest loudly criticized. Growing income inequality.

That’s just since August. In America, and yes, Puerto Rico is America.

Almost six years ago in January of 2017, NPR’s All Things Considered did a series of interviews with well-known artists and writers about “winter songs” and specific effects those songs had on the featured person.

Thomas Mullen, the novelist, chose to speak about R.E.M.’s “Sweetness Follows.” He stated in his interview,

“It’s a kind of dark and brooding song … I was home from break, it was my junior year, and my family had gone through a major financial reversal that fall,” Mullen says. “My dad’s business had gone under, we’d gone bankrupt, and we’d lost our house. We weren’t sure if it was going to get worse. So when I came back, my family, we spent some time in the old house — you know, boxing up our things — and trying to decide, you know, what are we going to put in storage or in some extended relative’s basement, or what might we take to an antique store or sell in a yard sale” (http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145172254/winter-songs-r-e-m-s-dark-and-brooding-sweetness).

Mullen spoke of a “low, fronting cello and spectral organ” that serenaded the short days and extended darkness of the Northeast. Interesting how a “dark and brooding” song with such a distinct sound is so sweet upon the ear. That’s because it is more than the ear listening to it.

While many have never had to confront the reality of what Mullen’s family experienced, we as a society must somehow come to grips that what devastates the reality of others can just as easily devastate us, especially if they are family – the biological one and the extended one.

Mullen mentions some simple but powerful words: “dad,” “our,” “extended relatives.” Stipe sings of a “father,” “mother,” “sister,” and “brother.” Both speak of family.

We all have a family – biological and chosen. When they hurt or are devastated, we feel that same pain, that sense of loss, and perhaps that notion that things will not get better. Then hopefully, sweetness follows.

When so many in our country profess a faith that abides by a “Golden Rule” of doing “unto others as you would have done upon you,” being a “brother’s keeper,” calling fellow churchgoers your church “family,” all while worshipping a heavenly father who looks at us all as his children, it is not a far-fetched conclusion that we have fallen short of what Christ seemed to be preaching.

But those in power advertise such good intentions well on their sleeves (and tweets) with messages of thoughts and prayers that are devoid of actions. One has to look no further than our president whose response to aid for those citizens he supposedly leads has been more bitter than sweet. It’s almost as if some who are supposed to help have intentionally “distanced” themselves by deliberately becoming “blind” and “deaf to the other” while living their “little lives.”

Mullen said of his family’s experience, “You know, I think back to that time, and it was tough, and it was dark, and it was hard for everyone — but we got through it.” While the lives of many people will forever be altered by the natural and man-made disasters they undeservedly endured, they will find a way to get by with or without the help of those in government.

Yet there is no red tape, protocol, or formality involved when it comes to helping those in need with action.

Then hopefully, sweetness will follow.

For all of us.

 

 

Readying to bury your father and your mother
What did you think when you lost another?
I used to wonder, why did you bother?
Distanced from one, blind to the other

Listen here my sister and my brother
What would you care if you lost the other?
I always wonder, why did we bother?
Distanced from one, blind to the other

Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and wonder
I always knew this altogether thunder
Was lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows
Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder
Yeah, yeah we were altogether
Lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows
Oh, but sweetness follows

Before We Challenge Books, We Should Be Challenged By Them – In Defense of Being Uncomfortable

 

From WRAL today:

 — “To Kill a Mockingbird” is being removed from a junior-high reading list in a Mississippi school district.

The Sun Herald reports that Biloxi administrators pulled the novel from the 8th-grade curriculum this week. School board vice president Kenny Holloway says the district received complaints that some of the book’s language “makes people uncomfortable.”

Published in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee deals with racial inequality in a small Alabama town.2

A message on the school’s website says “To Kill A Mockingbird” teaches students that compassion and empathy don’t depend upon race or education. Holloway says other books can teach the same lessons.

The book remains in Biloxi school libraries (http://www.wral.com/district-erases-to-kill-a-mockingbird-from-lesson-plan/17014187/). 

And it reminded me of a post I had last year from December. My view has not changed.

From that post:

News that a Virginia school district recently pulled its copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from all of its classrooms and school libraries is another disturbing sign of what might be part of what divides America so much as evidenced by the recent presidential election: the fear of being challenged by what others have to say.

Of course, I am biased on the issue of banning books and removing them from circulation in libraries in schools based on the concerns of one or a couple of parents. I am a high school English teacher who teaches AP classes. It infringes on censorship in my mind, especially if that book has been a staple in American schools for quite a while such as Harper Lee’s classic and Twain’s iconic work.

Now, that does not mean that I want all students to read Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth or Lolita by Nabokov, but great literature is meant to be an exploration of sorts into the perspective of society in which the book was written.

It’s sort of like an archeological dig into the past that allows us to experience how society viewed itself, viewed others, and what society held dear. It also teaches us how we have changed, whether for the better or for the worse. Great literature is meant to challenge us on a variety of levels.

  • If you want to read how the Industrial Revolution and the rise of cities began to change the nuclear family, then read Dickens.
  • If you want to see how the rise of the atomic age and Communism changed our perception as a society, then read Bradbury, Huxley, or Orwell.
  • If you want to see how the role of women in society has been more of a battle for equality than we would like to admit as a country, then read Chopin and then pick up some Atwood.

Great social movements tend to be preceded by works of literature and music that allow for ideas of thought and emotion to be expressed and take root. Look at the Harlem Renaissance and the subsequent Civil Rights Movement. Less than half a century after the Civil Rights Act, we elected our first minority president.

Ironically, one parent in Randolph County, NC complained about Invisible Man, arguably the most famous novel from the Harlem Renaissance. The school board removed it from the schools for a short while. From NPR.org:

“A North Carolina county voted this week to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries. The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reports that the decision followed a complaint from a parent, who called the novel “too much for teenagers.” The decision was 5-2, with one board member claiming, “I didn’t find any literary value.” The 1952 novel, which won the National Book Award, is among the most famous novels dealing with black identity — and black invisibility — in America. The famous opening lines of the novel read, “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me” (http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/09/20/224360854/book-news-north-carolina-county-bans-the-invisible-man ) .

My first argument is if the book itself is too much for teenagers, then teenagers are in for a rude awakening when they as teenagers go off on their own in the world of college or the work force.

However, my second inclination is to ask the parent and that school board member who made the comment about literary value of Ellison’s work if either had actually read the book.

And allowed the book to challenge him/her.

Great literature teaches us about ourselves, especially the parts of ourselves that we do not want to acknowledge but that control how we perceive others and how we treat others. And in a nation where many hold the Second Amendment and guns with as much fervor as it does the Bible (which by the way is one of the most challenged books in the country), should we not also look at the First Amendment and its protection of the freedom of speech as dearly?

The very man who is about to be president of the United States freely exercises his right for freedom of speech through his Twitter account. He exercises that right because he can. But he uses that right because he refuses to be challenged. With his cabinet picks and his steadfast adherence to picking billionaire donors for cabinet positions, Trump is assimilating the whitest, most financially elite, and ultimately most homogeneous cabinet in modern history.

I think part of the reason is that he doesn’t read. And what I mean by that is that he does not allow himself to be challenged by the words, the actions, the viewpoints, and the events that have shaped this country. In fact, when he “writes” his books, he has someone do it for him.

Speaking of challenges:

In my home state of Georgia, the State Supreme Court ruled in that the Harry Potter books could stay in schools after a very heated challenge by a parent in 2007.  From www.today.com:

The adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter can stay in Gwinnett County school libraries, despite a mother’s objections, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Laura Mallory, who argued the popular fiction series is an attempt to indoctrinate children in witchcraft, said she still wants the best-selling books removed and may take her case to federal court.

“I maybe need a whole new case from the ground up,” Mallory said. The woman, who said two of her four children attend public schools in the county, was not represented by an attorney at the hearing.

The ruling by Superior Judge Ronnie Batchelor upheld a decision by the Georgia Board of Education, which had supported local school officials.

County school board members have said the books are good tools to encourage children to read and to spark creativity and imagination.

Rumor is that she had never read the books. If that is true, she was never challenged by them.

Take a look at this report from a 2013 issue of The Week entitled “America’s most surprising banned books” (http://theweek.com/articles/459795/americas-most-surprising-banned-books).

It includes: Tarzan, the DictionaryCharlotte’s Web, Anne Frank’s account of her hiding, The Lorax, “Little Red Riding Hood”, Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Twelfth Night by Shakespeare.

Yep, you need to read it. And if you are going to challenge works of literature based on sexual imagery, then that would eliminate almost all of Shakespeare except Julius Caesar, but that has people washing the hands in the blood of a murder victim, soothsayers, and talking ghosts.

Now back to the recent Virginia case. A recent Washington Post article explained:

In response to a formal complaint from a parent, Accomack County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Holland said the district has appointed a committee to recommend whether the books should remain in the curriculum and stay in school libraries. District policy calls for the formation of the committee — which can include a principal, teachers and parents — when a parent formally files a complaint.

The parent, Marie Rothstein-Williams, made an emotional plea at a school board meeting Nov. 15, saying the works had disturbed her teenage son, a biracial student at Nandua High School on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“I’m not disputing this is great literature,” Rothstein-Williams said. “But there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”

She’s right. We are a divided nation. But I would like to know if she herself has read the book. I would like to know if before she challenged the book, she allowed herself to be challenged by it.

And if a school system is willing to remove a book from access to all students based on the complaint of one parent, doesn’t that create more division?

And as the lady in the previous quote who is challenging Huck Finn said, she is not disputing that it is “great literature.”

Makes me wonder if she has ever read it and discussed it with her child.

In Defense of the Arts and Humanities in Our Public Schools

There is an incredible emphasis on the STEM curriculum approach in our public schools. And I fear that because of the limiting of resources and reduction of per-pupil funding by our state government that other subject areas have and will suffer for it. We are already seeing that manifested in the class-size law that threatens specials in the K-3 grades in traditional public schools.

There is no doubt that having a unique approach to engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is important as we still adjust to instilling 21st century skills in our students. However, without the skills derived from other fields of study such as the liberal arts, the social sciences, the fine arts, and the humanities, that sole focus on STEM will create very knowledgeable, but one-dimensional students.

Think of a physical body where all limbs are functional and useful. Yet, the right arm is much more developed and favored than the others. In exercises that require only the use of the right arm, this person does well. In exercises that require full body coordination and strength, this person is weakened.

This century requires a much more fully coordinated workforce and a more dynamic world economy. Communication, presentation, collaboration, and understanding of other cultures past and present are just as critical as the products that we produce.

Many decision makers in Raleigh believe that our country’s ability to maintain its position and even lead the world in innovation and economic development rests solely on how well our students become enmeshed with STEM curriculum and its related fields.

I disagree. Not because I teach a subject area that is not STEM, but because I believe that the teachers of STEM subjects that I work with see and value the skill sets that non-STEM teachers teach.

For a state that expends a lot of energy and money allowing for “choice” in our schools, is it not ironic that many lawmakers including our own governor seem to be favoring some of the choices above others? These same lawmakers should know that being able to take advantage of any option in life is contingent on critical thinking skills, problem solving capabilities, effective communications abilities, and an understanding of what has worked in the past. Simply put, all subject areas are vital in preparing our students to make those choices.

But with all of this emphasis on STEM, the acronym itself suggests that there is more that students need to be exposed to when it comes to creating an innovative citizenry for this new age.

Why? Because a “STEM” is only part of the larger flower or plant. And while the STEM is important, so are the roots, leaves, soil, sun, and water in creating the bloom, fruit, crop, or plant. If we are to create a vibrant citizenry, we need to make sure that we pay attention to the whole student. And that means that we need to make sure that the very students who many claim need to be immersed in STEM curriculum are also nurtured with the arts – both the liberal and the fine arts.

Think about it. Before a plant can grow it needs to have a good root system that allows it to take in nutrients from the soil and water from the ground. The more elaborate the root system is, the better chance that the plant will grow and thrive.

Much like a root system, we make sure to give our students a foundation early. Remember the three “R’s”? Two of them refer to reading and writing, which are the basis for language arts. Reading is practically the most foundational aspect for almost every other type of learning. Establishing and nurturing that root system must happen. Besides, the bigger the plant, the need for a more elaborate root system. That’s why we always need good language arts instruction. And writing (all types of writing) enhances our language abilities. It allows us to interact with the environment.

The leaves are like the social sciences and other humanities. Leaves take in the sunshine and use photosynthesis to literally feed the plant. The leaves interact with what is around the plant. Much like the leaves, the social sciences and humanities lend perspective and teach lessons about what is around us and how we can interact with those entities. History, sociology, civics, health, and other types of classes lend us a lens to see how the world works and how we can function in that world. They also teach what has worked in the past and what has worked in other climates.

There is so much evidence and research that the fine arts enhance any student’s ability to improve in all academic areas. Theater, music, visual arts, and dance help students expand themselves and develop self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and self-expression. Think of the bloom or the fruit of a plant. What makes that plant attractive or wanted? What makes the fruit of produce eye-catching? Why would we be drawn to it? The very appearance and appeal to the senses has a lot to do with just how a plant presents itself.

What many in Raleigh forget is that they control the very soil and water that is used to help plants (students) grow. By fully funding our public schools, they ensure that the soil is nutrient rich and able to help grow plants. By removing obstacles like vouchers and unregulated charter schools, they can ensure that there is enough rain falling on the plants for them to grow.

When they say we don’t need as many liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and fine arts, they are literally saying that plants are nothing but stems. And the stem cannot survive on its own. It needs the other parts.

I truly believe that good teachers in good schools not only value the skills that other teachers help students obtain, they possess an understanding that the entire faculty and staff is one giant collaborative team. Cross-curricular cooperation should be common and chances to help reinforce concepts across subject areas show students the worth of what is being taught.

It is disheartening to see lawmakers favor a set of courses over others.

Because they are all important.

The Incestuous Synergy and Stench of Western Governors University NC

The billboards are already up on I-40. Two are visible in the ride from Winston-Salem to Raleigh.

“Western Governors University: North Carolina”

It’s a national online university that now has a base here in North Carolina. Have not heard of it? Well, it was proposed rather secretly within the 2015 budget – page 86 to be specific.

WGU1

On May 21, 2015, Sarah Ovaska-Few reported on the controversial online college known as Western Governors University and its shady introduction to North Carolina in “Controversial online college on its way to North Carolina?” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/05/21/controversial-online-college-on-its-way-to-north-carolina/).

Some of the more eye-opening, yet not surprising elements of the story included:

  • A controversial online university that credits students for their existing skills and knowledge could soon have a larger role in North Carolina, with a funding stream carved out in the state House’s version of the budget.”
  • “Though WGU is not named directly in the budget, a reference deep in the 317-page proposed budget (pages 86 and 87) written by House Republicans would allow a private online school that uses the competency model of education to receive some of the nearly $90 million slated for need-based scholarships the state provides to low-income students attending private colleges and universities in the state.”
  • “In North Carolina, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a conservative think-tank funded by former state budget director Art Pope’s family foundation, has pushed to bring WGU to the state. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, serves on the Pope Center board.”
  • “Critics say WGU’s model, which uses classes developed by third-party vendors and has less faculty involvement than that of traditional community college or university classes, delivers a subpar education at costs not all that different from what some public university and community colleges can offer.”
  • “The online school is also quick to accept students’ previous college credits, but once students began taking classes at WGU, it can be difficult to get those classes recognized outside the online university, Pressnell said.”
  • “WGU’s six-year completion or graduation rate is only about 38 percent, a number that WGU hopes to raise to over 60 percent in coming years, said Mitchell, the spokeswoman for the Utah-based online university.”

With entities such as University of Phoenix, Strayer, and the now defunct Trump University already in the spotlight, this supposed “non-profit” university whose model has come into question now has become reality in North Carolina.

WGU3

With names such as Art Pope and Tim Moore already associated with it in 2015, there has to be more incestuous synergy to make it happen in 2017.

Enter Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Sen. Chad Barefoot, and former education advisor to Gov. McCrory, Catherine Truitt.

As reported in the Oct. 10th edition of the Raleigh News & Observer, Western Governors University now has its firm footing in the state. Colin Campbell’s work in “Former McCrory aide to lead online university launched with $2 million from state” sheds light on the recent evolution of another way that West Jones Street is undermining post-secondary education in North Carolina.

Campbell states,

“The 2015 state budget included a $2 million allocation to Western Governors University, or WGU, even though it already had enrolled students in North Carolina. Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, told WRAL at the time that the money would help forge relationships with other schools and hospitals to allow students to do practical learning and internships.

The grant required WGU to raise $5 million in private funds in order to receive the $2 million. Donors included the Golden LEAF Foundation – which administers the state’s share of tobacco settlement funds – as well as Strada Education Network and Utah developer Dell Loy Hansen. WGU North Carolina’s leader will be Catherine Truitt, who served as Gov. Pat McCrory’s education adviser before joining the UNC system’s general administration as an associate vice president. McCrory was involved in the 2015 grant” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178069926.html).

McCrory’s involvement? That was an executive order as explained on page 86 of the 2015 budget.

“Satisfies the competencies for online educational institutions established by executive order of the Governor.”

North Carolina still boasts one of the nation’s premiere public university systems even after the assault on it by the General Assembly. The pretense of it being some place where people can work at their own pace with “previous” experience used as credits makes it sound more predatory than needed. Models such as WGU’s have not worked in the past and prey upon low-income individuals who cannot afford the time and money to physically go to a campus and meet with actual classes and professors.

In fact,

“Because WGU is an online university, its only physical presence in North Carolina will be an office staffed by Truitt and others. It uses what’s called a “competency-based” approach to education, where students progress through course material at their own pace and can advance as soon as they show they’ve mastered the subject through writing papers, making presentations and taking tests.”

How convenient. Also, don’t let the “non-profit” label fool you. Someone’s making money.

Ironic that Catherine Truitt is the leader when she so stridently (but weakly) defended public education reform while in McCrory’s administration – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/.

Now she is in the private sector taking money from the state and possibly allowing state scholarship money to be used to help finance a rather impersonal educational experience.

But Sen. Chad Barefoot’s fingerprints are on this as well. There is that blurb from Campbell’s report that stated, “Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, told WRAL at the time that the money would help forge relationships with other schools and hospitals to allow students to do practical learning and internships.”

That’s interesting. Because right before WGU gained its status as a viable monetary trap, Barefoot championed SB599, the alternate pathway to teacher preparation here in NC. You can read more about that here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/29/the-stench-of-sb599-raleigh-knows-why-we-have-a-teacher-shortage-they-created-it/.

Think about it. Simply go the WGU’s website to see its programs and course offerings. You will see this.

WGU2

“Education” is the single biggest program offered.

That’s right. It’s an online college to become a teacher. On the surface it looks legit, but in reality WGU has a completion rate of less than half within six years and the reputation of a degree from WGU pales in comparison to one obtained from any of the public institutions in the state. Furthermore, there are dozens of teacher preparation programs in the state university system with greater ties to schools and communities.

So, it seems as if WGU might be used as a teacher mill that will make some people rather wealthy using state money when many who start the program will never finish but keep paying and at the same time work against the very institutions that are supposedly state-supported and more viable who also have their own online programs with real faculty members.

It doesn’t take an online degree program to figure out what that really is.