It’s “School Choice Week.” And while there have been a plethora of op-eds, perspectives, and statements made by pro-choice advocates that claim to also champion traditional public schools as a “choice,” what really is happening is that a narrative continues to be put forth that puts down public schools as failing our students and our communities.
But I have a choice as well – many in fact. I have the choice to advocate for public schools and shed light on disingenuous viewpoints which seek to spin how others view public schools. I have the choice to call out the lies, half-truths, and cursory observations that turn speculation into a false gospel.
In short, I choose public schools.
Our public schools are better than many lawmakers and “pro-choice” advocates portray them to be – many of whom have never spent time as educators.
A lot better. And the problem is not the schools. The problem is the lawmaking body that controls the narrative of how schools are performing.
With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.
And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.
Betsy DeVos’s March, 2018 assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was a nearsighted, close minded, and rather uneducated assessment of public schools because she was displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.
The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.
The premise of DeVos’s argument was the performance of US students on the PISA exam. She was trying to control how the public saw the results. She framed the context to promote a narrative that her “reforms” were the only solutions.
What she did not say was that:
“The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
“A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
“Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
“If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
“On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”
Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Either DeVos did not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.
Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.
Consider the following picture/graph:
All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the majority currently in power.
The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.
With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.
North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.
Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost 85% of students who still go to traditional public schools.
And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.
When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.
If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.
So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.
Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.
Just consider the following when looking at our public schools and then see what is really “working.”
This pandemic has not in and of itself caused a teacher candidate shortage. North Carolina already had that.
The taking away of graduate degree pay, longevity pay, and due-process rights along with a morphed salary schedule and now no retiree health care benefits for new hires all helped push the number of candidates down.
Imagine what the effects of the pandemic will have on the profession.
The North Carolina General Assembly could help reverse that trend.
As an educator, parent, voter, and taxpayer, there are very few elected offices more important than local school board representatives.
And in the past ten months, this teacher has learned a lot about the local school board.
Following last night’s meeting of the WSFCS BOE was painful, exhausting, and nerve wracking for far too many reasons.
Board members were spouting unnamed studies in their explanations and holding fast to anecdotal data while choosing to ignore the local Health Department’s recommendations. High school principals have been vocal about the need to be more cautious in opening up buildings. Their voices seem to not be heard.
There was concern that we are setting up students to be doomed for minimum wage jobs. Would those same people be willing to fight to raise the state’s minimum wage that is tied for the lowest in the nation and has not changed for many, many years?
The timing of the emergency meeting made it seem like it was more important to get EOC testing done before looking at pandemic/infection data when there were no metrics being followed in the first place.
The timing was also interesting in that the very same day it happened, a neighboring county with only one high school will be vaccinating their teachers long before our county that has over a dozen high schools. I have had to fill out the same questionnaire twice concerning the vaccine and still heard nothing back.
That idea about taking a week to solve the staffing problem? What precipitated this meeting was a lack of staffing and subs in just elementary and middle schools. That won’t get better when high schools come back to buildings. This lack of subs and ability to staff schools fully is in and of itself a manifestation of the very feelings and concerns inside our schools now. It won’t take a week to solve. We are going to see shortages of teachers and teacher candidates for years.
Our students will not be competitive for college admissions? In a country where over half the students are in remote learning? In a state whose flagship schools had to close campuses because of the virus? In a country where colleges are altering application requirements due to the virus? In a state where many schools are only offering remote classes themselves?
None of this is ideal. A pandemic was surely not on the minds of anyone who is on the board when she ran for election.
But this teacher wishes that the school board listen very closely to the teachers. They are on the front lines and many are parents of students as well. School systems can’t succeed without teachers.
And this school system needs a permanent superintendent – one who will stay for a while and lead.
As Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools begins to send more and more students back into school buildings, the dashboard that the district uses to report how it views the data concerning the pandemic shows a system built on self-reporting.
“Current reported confirmed cases are defined as cases that indicate a lab result confirming the diagnosis. For them to be considered current the individual will be within their 10 day isolation period. Once this period has concluded, the case will be removed from the dashboard based on the NC StrongSchools Toolkit guidance. Isolation periods begin the day after the reported symptoms start of if no symptoms, the reported date of the test.“
Here’s today’s data as of early this morning:
That’s cumulative data.
And recently these tables were added:
Now look at this dashboard put together by a consortium of people in the county who want to make sure that we can see the data from a different angle that creates a better snapshot of not only the cumulative data but also of the current risks.
And what is seen is really not what the school system dashboard is showing. Again, this is the data shown this morning.
This dashboard also has the tables that the school system have now put on their dashboard, but they have always had those data tables.
The second dashboard also breaks down the data in an accessible manner.
And this is rather eye-opening:
Risk assessment for WS/FCS employees: One common assessment tool to determine if risk mitigation strategies are being being implemented consistently and correctly is comparing incidence of new cases between two groups. Here we compare case incidence between WS/FCS employees and the general population of Forsyth County. Let’s start with incidence in Forsyth County between Nov-2 and Nov-11. Over that time period, there are 1075 new COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County. This works out to 2.8 cases per 1000 Forsyth County residents. For that same time period, 30 new COVID-19 cases were reported for WS/FCS employees. This works out to 4.2 cases per 1000 WS/FCS employees. This is bad news for WS/FCS employees. This strongly indicates the current districtwide risk mitigation plan is insufficient and not working. Worse yet, this data suggests that WS/FCS employees have a 50% higher COVID-19 exposure risk than the local population.
Then there is the fact that the dashboard used by the school system is the second iteration. On January 11th, WS/FCS changed the format of its dashboard.
She tweeted it as an affirmation of her narrative.
When pushback occurred on that tweet due to some questions about the veracity of how that info in the study was gathered and reported, then she answered with this:
Ironically, the issue is not with just the Duke Study, but with the fact that Catherine Truitt touted it with an obvious bias herself using the official communication account on Twitter for her office.
But if she is totally confident with studies from Duke, maybe she might want to tweet the findings from other Duke studies starting with these:
That study pretty much showed how badly managed our state’s voucher system has been run. AND THAT’S DELIBERATE.
BERLIN—As U.S. authorities debate whether to keep schools open, a consensus is emerging in Europe that children are a considerable factor in the spread of Covid-19—and more countries are shutting schools for the first time since the spring.
Closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns.
While the debate continues, recent studies and outbreaks show that schoolchildren, even younger ones, can play a significant role in spreading infections.
“In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others,“ said Antoine Flahault, director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health.
Schools have represented one of the most contentious issues of the pandemic given the possible long-term impact of closures on children and the economic fallout from parents being forced to stay home.
It’s alright to learn from Europe about the spread of the coronavirus.
There are 117 LEAs in NC. Add to that, the needs of elementary schools may differ from middle schools and high schools as far as reopening is concerned. There may have to be multiple plans for each school system from the smallest of counties that have only a few schools to the biggest districts with over 100 schools.
And each plan that is crafted, revised, and implemented needs to have the voices and input from those who are on the front lines and have the clearest perspectives of what happens in schools on a daily basis: certified and classified staff.
Not just teachers, but also
Therapists – speech, occupational, physical
Data Control and Clerks
Bus Drivers and Transportation
Without input from those who know schools best, any reopening plan will be just another example of people who may not know what they are really dealing with issuing ill-conceived mandates that may do more damage than good.
Over 160 days and millions of dollars wasted to keep the NCGA in “session” for 2019 and no budget was ever passed. And according to Sen. Phil Berger, it was all about teachers.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN OVER A YEAR.
And we are now in a pandemic.
3. REMOTE LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The average school year is 36 weeks. Most school systems operate by a semester system of 18 weeks each. Split those into quarters and you have four 9-week periods that traditional schools calendars utilize.
We have spent almost three entire quarters in remote teaching and learning.
Add to that the post-planning and pre-planning involved.
And those online workshops that many teachers had to complete to learn new software packages like CANVAS.
“The General Assembly cut the budget line item for teacher professional development from the state budget during the recession and has never restored it. In 2008, the state budgeted $12.6 million for educator professional development. That line item has been reduced to zero. Now schools might pay for some professional development from other budget areas—like federal funding or state funding to support digital learning — or teachers can turn to grants.”
“Never restored” are two words most associated with public school education in North Carolina when comparing the climate right before COVID-19 to the one before the Great Recession and the advent of ALEC-inspired “reforms” to public education championed by current NCGA leadership.
Ask any professional in an ever-changing, global society about the need to keep up with latest practices and approaches to serving those who depend on them. He /she will probably cite the need to keep learning and coming into contact with others who are attempting to not staying stagnant or becoming out-of-date. They will talk about the need for ongoing professional development.
Teachers are no different. And the state of NC used to help make that happen for teachers, but in the years of a supposed economic boom, the fact that this investment in teacher professional development had not been restored and expanded is completely ignorant and outright spiteful.
And now we have this new economic downturn. If history serves as a guide, we will not be getting those funds back for professional development anytime soon. But it would be hard to not think that the past ten months have been nothing less than on the job professional development.
4. FEDERAL WAIVING OF TESTS
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos signaled last September that the federal government will not be issuing waivers for federally mandated tests this spring because of interruptions due to the pandemic.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has informed states that they should not count on getting the same waivers from federal testing mandates for this school year that they got last spring as the pandemic shut down schools.
In a Thursday letter to chief state school officers, DeVos said that these annual, summative assessments in English/language arts, math, and science are “at the very core” of the bipartisan agreement behind the Every Student Succeds Act, the main federal K-12 education law. And at a time when vulnerable students have been hurt the most by the pandemic, such tests are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”
Look at that last part again.
And at a time when vulnerable students have been hurt the most by the pandemic, such tests are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”
The woman who got her hand slapped three times by the courts for trying to divert more CARES money to private schools that do not have to be measured by such tests wants to “understand” how children are performing in school.”
But in less than three weeks, she will not be Secretary of Education any longer.
5. SEVERE TEACHER CANDIDATE SHORTAGE
Before this pandemic even started, this state was already facing a teacher candidate shortage – one that has been manufactured with “reforms” that have devalued the profession in ways that have teacher prep programs in our colleges and universities seeing a 30% drop in students. Programs like SB599 and Teach For America and TeachNC have not shown the ability to replenish that pipeline with career educators.
Now a bigger questions looms: What is NC doing to keep from having a massive teacher shortage next year?
Politicizing school reopenings, neglecting teacher input, massive workloads, and an NC General Assembly that won’t even pass a budget but cherry-picks stats to prop up a false narrative all are about to come to a perfect storm.
And the result will be a massive teacher shortage for next year.
Please remember that before the pandemic, most every school system was scratching to make sure there was a teacher in every classroom – DURING AN ECONOMIC BOOM.
6. “HERO” TO “COWARDS”
The year 2020 is all but guaranteed to reside in the mind and memories of the public school educators well after their careers in teaching are over.
At least parts of two school years will involve a virtual component or highly stressful in-person situation within a pandemic that is not anywhere under control and an election year that has already politicized school reopenings.
The goal of schooling is learning, but ironically while many are bemoaning that too many schools are “closed” we are really seeing how this six-month stark alteration of life is teaching one of the most most powerful lessons any “student” could learn.
And that lesson is that too many people in society who offer loud opinions and are capable of affecting conditions really do not understand the complexity of public schools and the obstacles that public schools and its educators face on a daily basis.
It’s not so odd then to see how in March teachers were heroes in the eyes of so many. Now, many are cowards in those same eyes.
In March, the state quickly shut down school buildings in the state due to a few known cases of a virus. That alone probably saved lives and staved off transmission. Then we had to enter the world of remote instruction literally overnight. No real preparation for it; no professional development.
In March and April, teachers and school leaders were being hailed as “heroes.” In November and December, many of those same people became “obstacles” to those who want to fully reopen school buildings.
“According to DPI budget analysts, North Carolina’s average teacher salary reached $54,682 this year. The 2019-20 average was an increase of $742 or 1.4% compared to the previous school year. DPI declares that North Carolina’s average teacher compensation ranks second only to Georgia in the Southeast. Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the region.”
Of course, Stoops would spin this “statistic”into an empty narrative. Even Tim Moore tweeted out some praise for this empty “victory.”
That figure is one of the most grossly manufactured statistics in this state. Let’s lay bare the facts of how that figure has come about.
The operative word here is “average”. What GOP stalwarts purposefully fail to tell you is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.
“Average” does not mean “actual”. But it sounds great to those who don’t understand the math.
So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 54K when no one can really make much over 52K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?
Easy. North Carolina is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgusted the former governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout this new wonderful “average.”
Furthermore, this average is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of budgets that are allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements. Imagine what the pandemic will be doing to these funds.
Remember the Leandro Report released by WestED in 2019?
It’s 301 pages.
It has 65 data exhibits in the actual report.
It has 52 data exhibits in the appendices.
And it has 12 basic findings listed below.
Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.
As the Leandro Report by WestEd was released, it was no doubt that those who have been at the helm of budgetary control in North Carolina would try and deflect the report’s findings.
It’s been over a year AND STILL NOT ANY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT FROM STATE LEADERSHIP IN THE NCGA ON HOW TO IMPLEMENT ITS FINDINGS.
9. NEW TEACHER RETIREE HEALTH BENEFITS
If you are hired as a new teacher today or in the future, you will not have something that teachers hired before 2021 have: retiree health benefits.
A report today in the News & Observer explains that the budget set forth in 2017’s long session of the NCGA did away with retiree health benefits for hires on and after January 1, 2021 to “save money.”
How sadistic is it that in 2017 this was done and three years later we are in the middle of a pandemic and will probably have an incredible teacher and teacher candidate shortage in our public schools next fall. Retiree health benefits were a big recruitment tool for new teachers.
Now that is gone with graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. And longevity pay.
Oh, and that same 2017 NCGA that took away those retiree health benefits are the same people who did not expand Medicaid in 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or 2020.
10. NEW STATE SUPERINTENDENT
It will be hard for Catherine Truitt to do any worse than the puppet whose office she will take over. Actually, I would say that about anyone who follows Mark Johnson.
As I write this, this country is about to have a new president with a new Secretary of Education to be named. Betsy DeVos and her disastrous pharisaical influence will be out of office. Her stances on not waiving tests this year and funneling more monies to charters and vouchers will be replaced by someone whose wife was a public school English teacher.
Here are some questions for the new state super. Not rhetorical ones, but questions that will require answers offered through prolonged action.
What will she be doing to elevate the teaching profession here in North Carolina? That’s not really that broad of a question considering that with the combination of the pandemic’s effects and prolonged political pressure, we as a state are about to see one hell of a teacher shortage. The numbers of teachers retiring early or seeking new careers are frightening if only a quarter of the rumors I hear have any truth.
Is she going to fight for more money and resources for our public schools for not only instructional needs but for other needs like nurses, social workers, and counselors? What is she willing to do to combat what will very likely be budget cuts because of the pandemic and because of the people who control the NCGA?
How well is she going to work with the State Board of Education? Mark Johnson carried on a rather contentious relationship with the BOE. And will she speak out against the new Lt. Governor when he makes claims about how there is no systemic racism and that people who identify as gay are less than human?
What will she do to raise morale in the Department of Public Instruction? Johnson decimated it. Berger had him reorganize it. It seems to be an intentional shadow of what it used to be.
Is she going to continue to not engage with NCAE? It’s growing. Yes, it’s growing. In a state that bans public sector collective bargaining, that is a Right to Work state, that is an At Will state, and that took away graduate degree pay and due-process rights from new teachers, it seems odd that so many in Raleigh and elsewhere spend so much time and money worrying about NCAE and at the same time publicly dismiss NCAE’s influence.
But I think the most important question I have is who is she really going to listen to concerning issues about public education? Your donors? Business leaders who belong to education reform groups? Berger and Moore? Charter School groups? PEFNC? SAS? Think Tanks? ALEC? Or maybe, just maybe…teachers?