The Thin Truth About “The Truth About Read to Achieve” Letter From Mark Johnson

This morning all educators in the state received an email from State Superintendent Mark Johnson entitled “The Truth About Read to Achieve.”

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Here is the entire text:

Educators – 
  
     Unanimous political agreement is rare these days, but the truth is everyone – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – agree on at least one thing. We must support our youngest learners’ reading skills to ensure they have the best chance for success in school and in life.

     While I support the statewide program focused on K-3 literacy (Read to Achieve), I have been very vocal that it needs to center more on supporting teachers and instruction and less on testing students. Unfortunately, you may have heard some wild theories over the summer about the new reading diagnostic tool required by Read to Achieve. 

     The truth is the process to select a diagnostic tool had to be cancelled twice due in part to unethical actions by former DPI employees. Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of other DPI employees, the final process was fair and objective. Istation was the recommendation of the evaluation committee and was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education. We are already getting positive feedback from educators who have been trained on the new system.  

     Please click here if you want the full story, gory details and all, as to what happened during the procurement process. It’s not pretty. The truth is the two processes that were cancelled each had unfair advantages for the incumbent vendor over others. Even worse, some bad actors at DPI went so far as to state that my efforts are just to “appease lazy a** teachers.” I know North Carolina’s educators are working harder than ever, and I do NOT agree with that negative assessment. 

     The truth is when I took office, we found millions of dollars from Read to Achieve that were going unused at DPI. We jumped into action to get this money to you and your classrooms. We sent $200 for each K-3 reading teacher to buy supplies, started a new professional development program with NC State to mentor new teachers on best practices when teaching reading, and provided master literacy training to every school district. 

     We also utilized those millions to buy iPads for K-3 reading teachers to use in their classrooms. (I recently met with teachers who were told they could only use the iPads for assessments. The truth is you can use those tablets and the new ones you receive this year for any literacy activities in your classroom you want! So, please do.) 

     At the start of this school year, we are using Read to Achieve state funds to send districts an additional $400 per K-3 classroom. We will also be using state funds to purchase more devices for you to use to support K-3 literacy activities, including personalized learning. The Read to Achieve funds are earmarked specifically for kindergarten through third grade literacy efforts, but the truth is the money won’t stay in Raleigh like it used to! 

     While this email has been focused on K-3 literacy, please know that we appreciate your hard work in every grade and every subject. A well-rounded education gives our students the best opportunity to work hard and succeed. (Another email will follow with updates on our work to reduce testing, support teachers, and increase funding for schools.) 

     Thank you for everything you do for our students and your service to our state. North Carolina is fortunate to have you. 

The truth is that our future is brighter thanks to your hard work.

Mark Only

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC
NCsuperintendent.com

This email simply screams, “I am the victim! It’s someone else’s fault.” From the iPad situation to iStation’s contract to the renewal of Read to Achieve, Johnson tries to cast cast doubt on the very people who are literally trying to shine a light on issues that need more transparency.

It also shows that he is trying hard to control the narrative. Never in my 20+ years of teaching have I received an email from a state superintendent that was meant to explain actions or lack of action for absolution when so many pieces of evidence point at the need for investigation.

Some things to maybe consider:

“Unanimous political agreement is rare these days, but the truth is everyone – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – agree on at least one thing.”

First sentence and he makes it partisan.

And this overall argument has really nothing to do with wanting students to be able to read. It has everything about how we resource the initiatives that need to be critically selected to fulfill those needs.

“While I support the statewide program focused on K-3 literacy (Read to Achieve), I have been very vocal that it needs to center more on supporting teachers and instruction and less on testing students.”

First, Mark Johnson is not “very vocal.” Sending blanket emails, videos, and glossy flyers is not being vocal.

Being vocal is fighting openly for students. Did he rally with nearly a fifth of the teaching force in Raleigh who were asking more from a miserly NCGA to help students? Did he openly confront lawmakers about public education issues?

And supporting Read to Achieve and not acknowledging its shortcomings since its inception is nothing more than rubber-stamping Phil Berger’s platform.

There was that May 2018 study by NC State in conjunction with the Friday Institute that found really no success in the Read to Achieve initiative on a state level since its inception. five years earlier.

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It did find, however, on a local basis that there were some local initiatives that have shown some promise. Look at pages 23-24 of the study report and see how actually fully funding a reading instruction initiative and supplying those initiatives with effective instructors makes a difference.

In fact, fully funding schools and making sure that there are enough professionals in the rooms with the students are vital in any place. The fact that any success in this depends on the local professionals (teachers, assistants, administration) being able to dictate what can be done and having the faith that required resources will be available simply flies in the face of people like Berger who preach “smaller government” but actually practice more overreach.

Actually didn’t Johnson help oversee a reduction of DPI’s budget when the audit he called for actually found that DPI was underfunded?

What really stands out in this study is the suggestion that the state needs to front-load more support and resources for Pre-K through second grade students as well as continuing interventions through all grades.

So Johnson “did” a couple of things about that… at least according to Johnson.

One was the $200 to every reading teacher in the state.

“We sent $200 for each K-3 reading teacher to buy supplies”

Yes, in March of 2018 Mark Johnson all of a sudden distributed $200 to each elementary reading teacher in the state. As reported by Liz Bell of EdNC.org at the time:

The Department of Public Instruction is distributing a total of $4.8 million from funds allocated by the state in 2016 as part of its Read to Achieve initiative for “literacy support” in early grades. Johnson, in his time as superintendent, has emphasized the importance of reading proficiency and early literacy education.

Yes, this seemed like good news. But it seemed rather little when looking at the bigger picture. And it seemed a little empty in the bigger conversation. In fact, it looked more like a publicity stunt.

That money was part of funds originally provided in 2016, yet its allocation in 2018 is something that Johnson seemed to want to get credit for. Did it ever occur it’s being allocated in 2018 was because Johnson was in office to make him look better?

“We also utilized those millions to buy iPads for K-3 reading teachers to use in their classrooms.”

Remember the iPads?

In August of 2018, right after a slew of positional layoffs at DPI, Mark Johnson made the improbable announcement of a six million dollar purchase of iPads. How that money was obtained and how it was immediately spent on Apple products has never really been revealed.

From Travis Fain at WRAL from August 7th, 2018:

Reading teachers across the state, from kindergarten to third grade, will get computer tablets from the state this school year in an effort to track and improve student reading.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced the plan Tuesday morning, holding up an iPad for the media, the governor and other members of North Carolina’s Council of State. Johnson’s office put the statewide pricetag for the devices at about $6 million.

Apparently that money came from a “discovered” account of unused funds that DPI had from years past. Johnson claims that it is money that previous DPI officials just sat on. Dr. June Atkinson said differently in this piece from NC Policy Watch that Fain cites within his report.

North Carolina’s former public school superintendent June Atkinson says the state’s current K-12 leader “misled” the public when he blasted the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) last month over $15 million in unspent Read to Achieve dollars.

Atkinson criticized Superintendent Mark Johnson in recent interviews with Policy Watch, nearly a month after Johnson slammed the K-12 bureaucracy for “disturbing” spending practices, including its alleged failure to dole out state cash in 2015 and 2016 intended to boost elementary reading proficiency.

“Mark does not understand or has not in all candor or transparency pointed out that a substantial amount of that unspent money would be a direct result of (local) school districts not using the dollars,” says Atkinson.

And now without even a budget in place that forces schools to go into the new school year with last year’s financial allotments, he announces this:

“At the start of this school year, we are using Read to Achieve state funds to send districts an additional $400 per K-3 classroom. We will also be using state funds to purchase more devices for you to use to support K-3 literacy activities, including personalized learning.”

What’s even more ironic is that many of the original iPads that were purchased last year were never distributed and have stayed in a warehouse for over a year. They were “so needed” last year that they were never given out to teachers and now we as a state have bought more when we do not even have a budget to accommodate the growing number of students in a growing  number of schools around the state.

But it’s the part about the iStation contract deal that really makes this email a rather immature stab at “transparency.”

“It’s not pretty. The truth is the two processes that were cancelled each had unfair advantages for the incumbent vendor over others. Even worse, some bad actors at DPI went so far as to state that my efforts are just to “appease lazy a** teachers.” I know North Carolina’s educators are working harder than ever, and I do NOT agree with that negative assessment. “

Some people would say that iStation had some “unfair advantages.” When Johnson refers to that line about appease (ing) lazy a** teachers” he is making a reference to the now almost famous Exhibit C in his “defense” to mClass’s appeal process.

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There’s a lot more in that exhibit.

Along with the “ass” comment were these lines:

MJ came into their voting meeting to basically (without coming directly out and
specifying) tell them how to vote! However the vote did not go his way so it will be
interesting to see how he gets his way on this.

Yep, she said they walked out of the building and several people said what just
happened?

Re-read that part: “MJ came into their voting meeting to basically (without coming directly out and specifying) tell them how to vote!”

Why would Johnson have come into the voting meeting? And why would he have pressured them directly or indirectly to vote a certain way? So awkward was Johnson’s actions that “several people said what just happened?”

That sounds like a breach of something to me.

Oh, and that We are already getting positive feedback from educators who have been trained on the new system” part? 

Is that really representative of all of the feedback?

There was only one statement in this email that really seemed both true and too the point – “It’s not pretty.”

No, it’s not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Those Vague & Amorphous “Talking Points” from the Executive Director of the NCAPCS (North Carolina Association of Public Charter Schools)

Below is a copy of a letter / email from Rhonda Dillingham, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association For Public Charter Schools to charter school advocates in the state concerning the growing criticism of the unregulated charter school growth in NC.

It begins, “At our conference a few weeks ago, I shared with you my concern that our opponents are ramping up their attacks against charter schools.” She specifically refers to arguments that concern segregation and then offers six “Talking Points” that she feels should quell those “attacks.”

 

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In some regards, all of these “talking points” really are reiterating the same ideas: “diversity,” “choice,” and “opportunity.”

But not once did Dillingham offer any DATA or analysis.

This past January, Kris Nordstrom published an article that openly showed data that  maybe Dillingham should also consider when issuing “talking points.”

Did you know that student performance in North Carolina charter schools is increasingly falling behind traditional public schools?

Probably not. After all, that message was absent from state charter office Director Dave Machado’s presentation to the Board last week, nor will you find it in the related Charter Schools Annual Report submitted to the General Assembly by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Yet charter school performance is increasingly lagging the performance of North Carolina’s traditional public schools. And the percentage of charter schools meeting or exceeding annual school growth is increasingly falling behind traditional public schools.

The cap on the number of charter schools was removed in 2013. Since that time the number of charter school in NC has more than doubled. The super-majority in the NCGA that enabled all of these “reforms” like charter schools further weakened the oversight and regulation of charter schools in NC. With the national dialogue starting to expose the charter school industry, Dillingham is trying to preserve that loose oversight on charter schools and steer the direction into other realms like “diversity.”

It would be nice if Dillingham further define her use of “integration” and “diversity.” Is it just looking at racial divisions? socio-economic divisions? income-level?

The last report on the state’s charter schools did show some improvement on the enrollment of students of color, but it would require more concrete “talking points” from Dillingham to adeqately explain that data.

From NC Policy Watch last January:

One interesting tidbit in the report shows the percentage of students of color enrolled in charters has increased each of the last four school years.

From 2014-15 school year to the 2017-18 school years, the percentage of students of color enrolled in charters rose slightly, from 41.5 percent to 45 percent.

During that same span, the percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged dipped slightly from roughly 35 percent during the 2014-15 school year to approximately 33 percent.

Another tidbit: The percentage of Latino students enrolled in charters ticked up slightly from 9.2 percent to 9.9 percent, the second consecutive increase following the creation of a task force by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to examine charter school outreach to Hispanic families.

Yet that number still lags behind traditional schools, where Latino students accounted for more than 16 percent of overall enrollment as of 2015-2016.

And in North Carolina, we are seeing more instances of charter schools helping enable what is called “white flight.” Here is an example  that the Washington Post highlighted this past May in a rural district in North Carolina.

It was put together by Justin Parmenter and Rodney Pierce and it makes reference to a new law (Municipal Charter School Bill) that allows for local municipalities to take public funds and create charter schools for their students within the city limits. The problem is that the original bill listed four municipalities – all of which were over 80% white and fairly affluent in a county that has one of the largest populations in the state.

And that article also makes mention of the fact that many charter schools are minority-majority.

While some charter schools in some states have helped low-income students improve academically, in North Carolina they’ve been used predominantly as a vehicle for affluent white folks to opt out of traditional public schools. Trends of racial and economic segregation that were already worrisome in public schools before the [charter] cap was lifted [in 2012] have deepened in our charter schools. Now more than two-thirds of our charter schools are either 80 percent+ white or 80 percent+ students of color. Charter schools are not required to provide transportation or free/reduced-price meals, effectively preventing families that need help in those areas from having access to the best schools.

Can Dillingham create a “talking point” that explains that?

What Dillingham’s talking points lack are specificity and concrete evidence. They are meant to be amorphous. Yet, they beg explanation.

Here’s a list of others claims she makes:

  • “Charter schools are open to all.” Then why does she have to explain in the fifth point that charter schools are exploring “weighted lotteries?”
  • “North Carolina’ charter schools strengthen the public school.” How? In what ways? Data? And the simple answer of “choice” is not good enough to prove what she says.
  • “More personal attention.” Doesn’t that just prove that traditional public schools have classes that are too big?
  • “Ability to be innovative.” So, where have those innovations been shared with the traditional public schools in order to help even more kids. Dillingham says that charter schools are public schools. Shouldn’t those innovations be publicly used?
  • “By nature, charter public schools have the ability to drive innovative curriculums, draw students from a wide geographical area, tailor learning in their own communities, and do it all while being held to a higher standard than public schools.” What higher standards? Data? And remember that charter schools do not have to offer transportation and other services that public schools must. That means that drawing students from further geographic areas means that only students whose families have those resources could attend.
  • Taking the lead on integration.” Dillingham might want to look at Parmenter and Pierce’s work published in the Washington Post.
  • “Addressing accessibility.” That was just implicit proof that this state should fully fund traditional public schools for educationally and economically diverse students. If just creating charter schools is going to address this problem, then the state has not done a good job at resourcing the already existing public schools.

And then there is that one electioneering point used by many in Raleigh like Berger, Moore, and Forest: the “zip code” platitude.

“Regardless of zip code, income, or ability level.”

Maybe Dillingham could ask the the NCGA to raise minimum wages in NC, stop gerrymandering poorer communities and their zip codes into the same districts to stifle political voices, and change the state’s school performance system from the only one in the country that weighs achievement over growth.

Oh, and expand Medicaid to those zip codes as well.

 

My “Better Work Story” For TeachNC in One Picture

BEST NC recently sent out an email announcing the TeachNC initiative with links and information complete with some testimonial / advertisements.

TeachNC’s media campaign, “Teachers Have Better Work Stories,” highlights the ways in which teaching profession is challenging, fulfilling, and constantly evolving. These career qualities are particularly appealing to Millennials and Generation Z as they seek fulfilling professions.” – from TeachNC.org.

Under that text is a video for a public service announcement from Teach NC.

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Right under that, TeachNC literally asks for more teachers to share their own “Better Work Stories.”

“TeachNC will also be curating Better Work Stories from real North Carolina teachers. To view the stories collected so far, click here. If you are a teacher or know of one who should share their Better Work Story, please share it here.”

Here is mine.

In one picture.

And it’s worth a million words.

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Would be happy to share that “Better Work Story. ”

 

Can TeachNC Explain This To Prospective Teachers? How NC Devalues Veteran Teachers.

Can TeachNC and BESTNC explain this to prospective teachers?

Below is the proposed salary schedule just released this summer for 2019-2020 school year that is still in limbo because of budget cuts.

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For the first 15 years of a career in NC, a teacher will receive a 1,000 raise for each year. It will go from $35,000 to $50,000.

In Years 16-20, a teacher will make $50,500 – each year. No raises within that time. And a $500 raise overall compared to Year 15.

In Years 21-24, a teacher will make $51,500 – each year. No raises within that time. That’s a $1,500 raise compared to Year 15 and a $1,000 raise compared to Year 20.

In Years 25+, a teacher will make $52,600 – for the rest of his/her career.

Granted, that schedule may change in the next year or years, but it proves one thing: this NCGA does not value veteran teachers.

Look at the salary schedule above just based on raises.

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Now consider there is no longer longevity pay and that all teachers now coming into the profession in NC will be on an “A” certificate because of the removal of graduate pay.

And the consider this.

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This NCGA budget proposal is a slap in the face of veteran teachers.

So does TeachNC and BESTNC want to call this a selling point?

What TeachNC Will Not Tell Prospective Teachers: Comparing NC Teacher Salaries Now to 2008-2009

Below is the salary schedule for a teacher in North Carolina for the 2018-2019 school year. With the current stalemate in budget negotiations, it will be the salary schedule for the 2019-2020 school year.

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Any teacher new to the profession in the last four years would never be on the second schedule because newer teachers are not allowed a pay bump for graduate degrees. Notice how the salaries also plateau after year 15.

There is no longevity pay included as it does not exist for teachers any longer.

And remember that the average pay that people like Mark Johnson, Phil Berger, and Tim Moore like to brag about includes local supplements that the state is not responsible for.

Now go back ten years.

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Ten years ago each salary step would have had an increase in pay.

All teachers, new and veteran, would have had graduate degree pay ten years ago.

All veteran teachers would have received longevity pay ten years ago above and beyond what the salary schedule said.

Will TeachNC and BESTNC explain that?

What TeachNC Really Does Is Show How Badly NC Has Treated Its Teachers

It launched today. A superfluous program that even the idea of would have never been needed if North Carolina had not done so much damage to the teaching profession in the last eight years.

It’s called Teach North Carolina.

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Remember back in May when the state superintendent printed up a lot of glossy fliers for students to “invite” them to become teachers in North Carolina? It really showed how our state is having a hard time recruiting teachers.

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There are many reasons why we are losing teachers. Johnson himself should know as he is part of that problem and is propped up by those who created that problem.

Originally, it was introduced at that February 2019 private dinner that not many teachers got to attend. Mark Johnson presented an initiative that took money from the Gates Foundation, Belk Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union and pays BEST NC and Teach.org to develop a website for what Kelly Hinchcliffe on WRAL.com described as a:

 “public-private teacher appreciation campaign to better align the image of the teaching profession with the fruitful, fulfilling career it is and develop a statewide teacher-recruitment system to attract the next generation of North Carolina teachers.”

The price tag for it? $750K. For what? To show “appreciation” for the teaching profession and present it as a viable option for a career in North Carolina.

And now, literally at the start of a new school year for most in a state that is having to fund this year’s public schools with last year’s figures because Johnson’s enablers will not counter Gov. Cooper’s proposals, Johnson and other “reformers” want to show how great that state is treating its teachers.

And just one look at the website shows that it is spreading the very same half-true, out-of-context information about being a teacher in NC as that glossy flier above Johnson had his personal website advertised on.

Just peruse the “Salary and Benefits” page for example.

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If BEST NC can argue that the current salary schedule that a new teacher will enter with could sustain that average listed above that includes the very veteran teachers this state legislature seems to abhor, then I am all ears. But they can’t. And every person who is thinking about being a teacher in North Carolina should look very closely at the current salary schedule and see how it works and does not work for him/her.

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And getting National Boards is a great thing. The problem is that the state used to pay for teachers to get it. Now, teachers have to front their own money to work on them.

Plus the Public School Forum of North Carolina just issued a report that literally showed over 80% of districts in the state do not even make that “average” salary.

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Vacation time? That’s a little misleading. If people do not like that fact that teachers must abide by a 10-month contract and not a 12-month one, then they can do one thing that really is quite complicated and goes against the very fiber of the current NCGA and many in our communities: get the state legislature to send students to school for eight more weeks. Get the legislature to dismiss the tourist industry lobbyists and ask the state and local school systems to help finance the needs to allow for more school days – monies for physical facilities, supplies, resources, etc.

And benefits? Maybe BEST NC should have read followed the State Health Plan debacle this past summer. Remember this letter from our State Treasurer, Dale Folwell.

Oh, and BEST NC can explain to the new hires that they will not have health benefits when they retire. Those were taken away a few years ago.

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Well, if a teacher wanted to be a principal, then that teacher will have to decide whether the principal pay plan that BEST NC rammed through the legislature in a surreptitious manner is a good thing.

AND REMEMBER, GRADUATE DEGREE PAY IS NO LONGER!

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Interestingly, the state no longer funds professional development in its budget.

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Teachers have student debt? But they make so much money!

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See above.

How about re-institute graduate degree pay, longevity pay, and salary step increases for every year; give back due-process rights and career status; stop the cycle of never ending testing and evaluations; stop measuring schools with a bad performance grading system; actually listen to teachers in making policy decisions; stop giving money to non-transparent voucher systems and unregulated charter schools;  fund state mandates; treat veteran teachers better; and bring back the Teaching Fellows Program to its original state (among other things), then…

This propaganda would never be needed.

And new teachers could know the truth about teaching in this state.

 

This Teacher’s “Amazon Wishlist” For The NCGA

The fact that many teachers in this state (and others) have set up Amazon Wishlists is a strong indication of the NCGA’s unwillingness to fully fund public schools.

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When Mark Johnson announced last school year that he wanted to use ClassWallet to “allow” teachers to “control” their supply purchases and give a private company the power and money to track those purchases without local LEA oversight, he was met with great resistance from teachers and educational leaders.

He deserved it.

It didn’t solve the fact that teachers need fully funded schools and resources as well as the professional license to pursue what they know best would help their students without compromising what others need and what LEA’s must also provide.

Hence, teachers are using what is available to possibly procure those resources that will maximize the learning experience in their classrooms. Looking at some of these lists really gives people who do not teach an idea of what is needed in classrooms. It also gives people an idea of the level of funding that classrooms really have.

It literally is an incredible act of transparency, something truly needed in Raleigh.

It is hard to imagine any business needing to set up an “Amazon Wishlist” to help finance what is needed to function. But many teachers in North Carolina are forced to use this.

With that in mind here are six items from Amazon that maybe Raleigh could use to help public education this school year.

1. Spines.

Actually, you could buy some on Amazon. These spines could be used for those lawmakers who refuse to vote on a veto override that has been ignored for over 34 days and forces schools to operate on last year’s funding levels as prices rise and school populations grow.

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2. Transparency

iPads and iStation. Would really like to know how those deals came about.

3. Glasses

There is a critical need to have lawmakers, most all of whom have no experience in education, to really “see” what is going on in our schools.

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4. Large Round Tables

Large enough for bringing teachers into the conversations that affect public schools.

5. Calendars

Lawmakers need to know that schools need calendar flexibility.

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6. Medical Handbook

To show that so many conditions and maladies that citizens in this state face could be remedied if lawmakers simply expended Medicaid.

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Sorry Trump Administration, You Don’t Get To Rewrite Great Poetry

We need our poets.

Whether composed with rhyme or meter, or to music, or if it is just on paper in free verse for someone to interpret through cadence, we need their words.

We need words put together to frame an emotion, an event, a doubt, a success, a life event, or something that never happened. And there are always those voices that say the very feelings or lack of feelings that we experience in such a way that rereading those words allows for the experience to be fully relived or abhorred.

It is very possible that someone else’s words gives you voice.

I’ll go further. The words of a true poet live well beyond the day in which the verses were written. Those poems are timeless. We read them over and over again and their relevance grows. Even when the poet physically leaves this earth those poems still breathe and give us breath.

Maybe one of the greatest gifts that God has bestowed upon us is that there are people in our lives who can say things better than we could ever imagine and we should be grateful for that. Someone took a snapshot of our mental, emotional, psychological, and physical state simultaneously and sent us the picture.

It gives us more time to experience and reflect. It reminds us that we are human.

Today in order to help justify a new immigration policy, Ken Cuccinelli decided to “amend” one of the most iconic poems in the English language: the one that is engraves on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

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As reported by CNN.com:

Ken Cuccinelli tweaked the famous poem from Emma Lazarus — whose words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are long associated with immigration to the US and the nation’s history as a haven — as part of a case for strict new measures pushed Monday by the Trump administration that could dramatically change the legal immigration system.

The post refers to an interview that Cuccinelli gave to NPR.

He stated:

“They certainly are: ‘Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,'” he replied. “That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed — very interesting timing.”

You may as a reader of poetry have different interpretations of a poem or its meaning, but it does not give you the right to rewrite poetry to fit your meaning.

And Lazarus’s poem resonates more today than it ever has.

Stuart Egan: What Toni Morrison Taught Me

Thanks to Dr. Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Stuart Egan is an NBCT High School Teacher in North Carolina.

In this post, he notes that school boards and vigilantes often challenge Toni Morrison’s novels. Her writings are frequently banned. But he contends that the critics should read them and perhaps they will learn from them as he did.

Toni Morrison passed this past week. She was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and what she did (and still does) for this white, upper middle class male teacher is something that I will always value as a life-long student: she made me understand that I don’t understand.

And she made me uncomfortable in my own skin to the point it still forces me to take a hard objective look at myself, my actions, and how I treat others. She also makes me look at the past through different lenses, especially my upbringing in a…

View original post 331 more words

Reclaiming Calendar Flexibility: Doing What’s Right For Students

Calendar flexibility is an issue that received much more attention in this last school year, and for good reasons.

By 2017, North Carolina was one of only one of 14 states that had state laws that governed school calendars. The graphic below is from the Feb. 2017 Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee on school calendars.

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What is also shows is that North Carolina was at the time was one of the TWO states in the entire country whose laws dictated when a school could start and when it had to end.

200 bills have been introduced in the NCGA and none have made it past committee in a legislature that had a super-majority  in six years of the last seven years because of opposition from another industry.

Now, some school systems are taking matters into their own hands.

Ann Doss Helms, now of WFAE, posted a report about two systems who are already getting students into schools ahead of the “state” mandate.

Normally there’s nothing controversial about kids going back to school in August. But in a handful of North Carolina districts near Charlotte, local leaders are defying state law – or at least stretching it – to roll their buses early. 

North Carolina’s school calendar law mandates that public schools open “no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.”

Yet public schools in Iredell County opened last week.  After years of grousing about the calendar law, Mooresville and Iredell-Statesville schools and a handful of other districts near Charlotte have decided not to obey it.

“We decided that we should be able to make something like a calendar be local,” said Tanae McLean, Mooresville’s chief communications officer. “We should be making a decision, along with our community and our parents, on what’s best for our children here in Mooresville, because we know what’s best for them.”

A rebellion appears to be rising 15 years after North Carolina’s General Assembly passed its calendar law, which was pushed by the tourism industry. Other school systems that started this week or last week are Lincoln CountyAnson County and Kannapolis city schools.

The loophole that is being used? “Several smaller districts have now decided that optional summer school should count as year-round status.” And schools that have year-round schooling are exempt from the state mandate.

Those systems who are opening early are right to do so.

They need to have the ability as local school systems to be able to have exams done before the winter break instead of having the “fall” semester end the day before Groundhog Day.

They need to have the flexibility to not have to consider forgiving days of school because of weather and other natural occurrences.

They need to have the flexibility to allow for schools to plan for professional development and workdays that actually help teachers prepare.

They need to have flexibility to allow schools to not have to start classes until after two football games have been played.

Just because lawmakers like Phil Berger want to sit on their backsides and refuse to offer counter proposals to Gov. Cooper’s budget compromise doesn’t mean that we stop doing what we do: advocate for students and public schools.