West Jones Street, The NC General Assembly, and The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg

eyes2

“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one-yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2).

Almost every student who passes through an American literature class has the opportunity to at least glimpse into the classic text of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In a day and age of instant gratification and movie adaptations, plot lines and lists of symbols are easily accessed, the patience needed to be pleasantly haunted by a work of true literature sometimes escapes even the best of intentions.

But Gatsby is a book that is rather quick to read, easy to absorb, and forever reflected upon. Among my junior English classes, whether AP level or not, Gatsby tends to be the favorite. Students feel smarter for having read it. They despise the right people. They wrestle with the shallowness of the characters. They seem to like the character who spent so much time becoming the person he was not. They sometimes come to look at a narrator as unreliable.

And they pick up on the symbols like the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

When someone sits for a picture or portrait and stares straight into the lens, the result is the appearance of constant eye contact. The poster of James Baldwin in my classroom as he looks into the camera allows his eyes to always make contact with mine no matter where I am in the classroom. His smile, however, takes away any preclusion of judgement.

But the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg simply stare without any other expression. They are there to judge. They are the “eyes of God” in a society where many in power lack a moral compass, show spiritual depravity but scream religious fervor, and worship profit more than the welfare of others.

eyes1

They never blink.

They always look.

They seem to see all.

I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare (Chapter 2).

I am thinking of starting a GoFundMe Page to raise money to construct another billboard for the obviously deceased and still fictional Doctor T. J. Eckleburg complete with the same “blue and gigantic” eyes with “irises one-yard high” on “no face” complete with “a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.”

And this billboard would be placed right outside of the North Carolina General Assembly building on West Jones Street, possibly near the parking area where each lawmaker who leaves the building would have to lock eyes with the celestial oculist after a day of wielding power that affects so many people.

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window.”— with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it ——” and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’”

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night (Chapter 8).

Amazingly enough, if you were to visit the webpages of most of these lawmakers during election periods you might find some sort of piety meter that reflects their allegiance to a faith in God and Christian tenets.

We are in the Bible Belt. We are in a nation that calls itself Christian. We are by far the most evangelical country in the world. We are used to hearing people talk about how they bare their souls to God and look to God for guidance.

Yet,

  • Lawmakers passed a resolution to repeal a discriminatory law called HB2 that still allows for discrimination.
  • Lawmakers are playing with bills like HB13 that are forcing public school systems to contemplate how to keep vital arts programs alive and keep teacher assistants in classrooms that are already crowded in years to come.
  • Lawmakers are funneling more money to religious private schools like Trinity Christian which is guilty of embezzlement and shoddy accounting.
  • Lawmakers are refusing to expand Medicaid that would help more North Carolinians.
  • Lawmakers considered measures like HB467 to keep NC residents from suing industrial farms for polluting their air and water.
  • Lawmakers are not holding companies accountable for coal ash spills and GenX contamination.
  • Lawmakers are considering increasing health care costs for state employees while bragging about “surpluses.”

I understand. It may be a tad bit hyperbolic to equate a book that talks of a man who uses organized crime to build a life of opulence during the “Jazz Age” / “Age of Prohibition” in an attempt to control destiny who ends up crossing paths with a man of immense wealth who steamrolls over people because he can and looks at women and minorities as inferior then eventually gets killed by a mentally, spiritually, and financially crushed man to a modern setting.

Or is it?

By the way, the original billboard for Dr. Eckleburg is in the “Valley of Ashes.” Imagine if those ashes got into the water.

eyes2

In some places, they have.

Writing in Stream of Unconsciousness – John Hood’s Latest Op-Ed on Public Education in NC

Most times, I look forward to reading John Hood’s perspectives on education in North Carolina. They reaffirm my stances on what is happening in the Old North State and its public schools.

Needless to say, I usually disagree with his stances. I also wonder sometimes at his lack of clarity.

Yet there are instances where there is no clarity at all. It’s almost reading stream of unconsciousness.  Consider his latest missive from the News & Observer, “Spending more on K-12 schools might not be the smart move” (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article208990409.html).

I do not have Hood’s bandwidth. As the president of the John William Pope Foundation and the past chairman (still on Board of Directors) for the John Locke Foundation, Hood serves as the mouthpiece of Art Pope, the leader of the Civitas Group and considered by many to be the biggest financier in North Carolina of ultra-conservative politics.

John Hood will be heard. Too many microphones have been bought to be placed near his mouth.

But I have my blog and a teacher voice.

I find most everything that Hood writes about public education to be extremely slanted (not surprising), yet smugly conciliatory, as if he is appeasing the more liberal people into thinking he wants what they want from our state government. He seems to want to take a moral high road, ask for civil discussion, insert the opinions of those who pay him, and then take credit for having called for the conversation.

In an op-ed posted on EdNC.org entitled “School reform is good economics”, Hood begins,

 

Liberals and conservatives disagree about means, not about the ultimate ends — and often, even our disagreements on the means of school improvement are more about priorities and details, not about basic concepts. I know these policy debates will continue for years to come. I welcome them.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth devoting more attention to those ultimate ends.”

It’s as if he is saying, “Hey, I want what you want!” but then is thinking, “But I just want to help my cronies make money from it all.”

This is the same with the recent N&O op-ed. Except after reading it many times, I am still trying to figure out what the hell it is talking about.

In it, Hood tries to explain how the recent NAEP score report for North Carolina actually shows that NC should not spend more money in per pupil expenditures. He begins by making a point that poverty has an effect on student scores. Then he talks about Massachusetts who leads the nation in scores. They also spend more on per-pupil expenditures.

“Conservatives, while recognizing and admiring the high level of achievement in Massachusetts, point out complexities. They note, for example, that the composition of the test-taking population clearly affects a state’s average score. States with relatively low poverty rates tend to populate the top third of the student-achievement list. High-poverty states tend to populate the bottom third.”

Ever see Hood argue to help poverty levels in North Carolina? He just simply goes off on more equivocation exercises.

“If we look at the 2017 NAEP reading and math scores just for eighth-grade students with household incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price school lunches, Massachusetts still fares well. It’s one of only eight states — along with Idaho, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming — where low-income students outperform the national average (to a statistically significant degree) in both subjects.”

North Carolina has a profound rate of poverty. Hood might want to explore those numbers more deeply in comparison to those other states he mentions. He might also want to consider the vast amounts of date breakdown that paints a clearer picture.

Read further and you sense the circular reasoning. Actually it’s not circular. It’s more like a broken circuit or an array of tangential non-sequiturs. From Massachusetts to poverty to national averages to indirect evidence to ” raw data don’t represent causal evidence in either direction” Hood rambles on to apparently nowhere.

Usually when data does not favor Hood’s agenda, he simply flies above it and looks at it from a hazy height and paints it with a pleasant hue. That what he tries to do with the NEAP scores just released.

What the NEAP scores for North Carolina really show is that whites in more affluent suburban area schools tend to outperform minorities. Students who receive services for disabilities and those who receive free-reduced lunches tend to have lower scores.

And those NEAP scores have flat-lined over the past few years and that coincides with the education reforms that Hood and his cronies favor – the very reforms that Hood uses cherry-picked numbers to show that they are “helping” our state regain prominence in the country. I have written about these  assertions before and those of his contemporary, Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation, on this blog before. These following are links to those posts, and please note that they were written in response to something written by Hood and Stoops.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/13/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-dr-terry-stoops-and-charter-schools/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/16/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-teachers-and-advanced-degrees/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/17/open-letter-to-john-hood-unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-part-3/

If you read these posts and the pieces written by Hood and Stoops that inspired these posts, you will see that both Hood and Stoops reside in the gray nebula of lack of explanation and platitudes. Their love of broad statements and sweeping assertions really are a smokescreen for a political agenda that wants to further priviatize public education here in North Carolina.

 

Because that is what has happened in North Carolina.

We are spending less per pupil now than we did years ago, and years ago we in North Carolina had what was considered the strongest public school system in the Southeast. Our teacher pay (no it is not better as the GOP claims for veteran teachers) is still in the lowest tier of the nation. Politicians have created grading systems that repeatedly cast public schools in a bad light to create the excuse for the very reforms that Hood champions.

Do not forget that John Hood works for Art Pope, who was the architect of the first Pat McCrory budget and campaigned to remove due-process rights from veteran teachers. He succeeded in removing them from newer teachers as well as removing graduate pay bumps – things that Hood has made hollow arguments for in the past (see referenced posts above).

But I digress. Hood ends his N&O oped with this:

“So, let’s talk about more than Massachusetts and budget math. Let’s go deeper.”

 

I think that is pure bullshit.

If you know anything about what has happened in North Carolina in the last six years with teacher evaluation protocols, teacher salaries, removal of due-process, unregulated charter school growth, vouchers, and ideas for merit pay, then you see an ALEC-based blue print for what people like Art Pope have financed and John Hood has vocally championed.

And then ask, are these “re-forms” really working?

And then ask Hood “What the hell are you really talking about?”

Rep. Larry Pittman, Jesus Would Never Have Sent That Email Concerning Arming Teachers

While evoking the paraphrased words of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Rep. Larry Pittman once again is calling for more guns to be in our schools.

And this call had some extra extremism added to them.

pittman

From an email he sent to all NCGA members on April 16th:

“We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this.  We should give them a fighting chance.  Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.  I cannot accept that.  I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.”

“Blood on our hands.” That’s what he said.

“Blood on our hands.”

Ironic that a pastor/extreme guns’ rights activist asked for people to be screened but still be against gun control laws that call for “screening” of potential gun buyers.

Pittman goes further and says,

“What we must not do is to allow ourselves to be misguided by emotionalism to enact further gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment and the rights of honest citizens.  Such new gun control laws will not solve the problem.  They will only leave good people defenseless, when the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun.  We will help nothing by violating the rights of 18-20 year old citizens or discriminating against a certain set of long guns simply on the basis of their cosmetic appearance.”

“Emotionalism?” Remember this?

pittman

That was in reference to a Facebook comment on another user’s post.  Pittman and his apparent “emotionalism” speculated the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to “push for gun control so they can more easily take over the country” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article200294174.html).

The original picture was not correct in the first place. And Pittman is not correct in this instance either.

And that mention of “the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun” is straight from the mouth of Wayne LaPierre who after the Sandy Hook Massacre quoted,  “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Pittman didn’t even give LaPierre credit for the use of a “zero-sum” fallacy. Besides, most teachers in this state who have been polled think that having a “good guy” with a gun is another way of endangering more people.

Let it not be lost that Pittman is an ordained Presbyterian minister. From the NRA to the pulpit to the General Assembly to the email inbox of many, what Pittman is doing is literally shilling more guns for the gun lobby.

It is hard to not look at Pittman as a “man of God” and not want to tell him that he already has “blood on his hands.”

It seems that many politicians like Pittman who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. As a representative, it would seem like Pittman would want to support more actions that would give life to so many.

We are in a state where almost 1 in 4 children live in poverty. What has Pittman as a lawmaker done for that? Created a surplus while cutting taxes for those the highest earners?

Did Pittman preserve life by voting to expand Medicaid to many in the state? No. He let our citizens continue to pay money to the federal government to help finance other states’ Medicaid program.

Did Pittman vote to punish those companies that hurt water supplies for those who have to use that water for living?

Lack of medical care, shelter, food, and basic resources kill people. That’s blood on someone’s hands. The Jesus that I think Pittman refers to would not like that.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule through his actions and not his emails.

That’s not what Pittman is doing.

Far from it.

Why the Hell Is Mark Johnson Hiring More Public Relations Personnel?

Over fifteen months into office, State Superintendent Mark Johnson is hiring more people loyal to him while in the midst of a lawsuit over the constitutionality of a power grab that happened the month before he took an oath to advocate for public schools.

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has created two new positions in his office to provide extra help with public relations and public records requests.

They mark the fourth and fifth positions Johnson has created from a $700,000 fund of taxpayer money lawmakers granted him last year. The money allows Johnson to add up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers gave him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-creates-two-new-jobs-to-help-with-public-relations-public-records/17482124/).

To be specific those two jobs are:

  • Community relations specialist, paying $50,000, to manage public records requests and help with media inquiries and other communications.
  • Deputy community outreach coordinator, a part-time position paying $36,173, to help “develop key messages” the superintendent wants to get out to the public, as well as community outreach and media relations duties.

Help with media inquiries, community outreach, media relations, and other communications?

That makes absolutely no sense when one looks at the current organization of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Below is the chart published last September (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/organization/orgchart/orgchart.pdf).

chart1

That’s a fairly big chart for an organization that already reports to the state superintendent.

Look closely and you see that there is already a whole division that does the job of what Johnson is hiring for.

It’s called the COMMUNICATIONS Department.

chart2

What makes this more interesting is that Johnson has already hired people to help with this “communications” thing (from the WRAL report cited earlier).

chart3

Graham Wilson has been operating as a sort of spokesperson for Johnson for a few months already.

Why would Johnson keep hiring people to do the job of others who are already in the position to do the prescribed task?

That’s not rhetorical. It seems odd that someone can make the salary that a new teacher might obtain after two decades on the job just so that Johnson does not have to speak for himself.

It also seems unfair that someone could have a part-time job to “speak” for Johnson and that person make more than a new teacher with a doctoral degree teaching in a low-income school.

Over a year in the job and a “listening” tour under his belt and an unfulfilled promise to bring to the table a host of new innovations because we are in a “state of urgency” and the state superintendent needs to find more people to communicate what he may be trying to say?

Can I as a teacher have someone to “help ‘develop key messages'” that I might want to get across to students and parents, as well as “community outreach” with the surrounding community?

Don’t think so.

Mark Johnson ran on a platform of having been an educator. Educators have to be good at communicating and developing key messages themselves. And those messages are direct.

But the timing of this seems odd. And the purpose of it seems more self-serving as the fund from which Johnson will pay said people comes from the NC General Assembly that controls and enables him.

Would be nice if Johnson stated the reason for such hiring. It would remove all the doubt of whether this is just another part of a plan to get ready to run for another office in 2020.

 

 

 

 

Our Public Schools Are Better Than Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Wants You to Believe

“If we knew the solution to this problem, we wouldn’t have 505 low performing schools.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on voting for the unproven ISD district to be taken over by an out of state entity whose founder donated to his campaign.

 

Lt. Gov. Forest, our public schools are better than you portray them to be.

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.

Actually, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is the problem.

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 recent assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was nearsighted, closeminded, and rather uneducated because she is 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.

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

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 does 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:

schools 1

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 supermajority 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 %90 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.

schools 2

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.

Like Dan Forest.

So Much Changes – Hard to Compare Schools Today to the Past

My grandmother graduated from high school right after the end of WWII. My mother graduated from high school in the late 1960’s. I graduated from high school in the 1980’s, and thirty years later I am watching another class graduate from the public high where I am about finish my 20th year of teaching.

And just in my career, I can emphatically say that it is erroneous to make overall comparisons between what schools are like today and what they were like my first year.

That’s why I cringe when I hear someone criticize schools because students are not performing the way “they did when I was in school.”

Yes, the buildings may be the same. There are football teams. There are extracurricular activities. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still core foundational courses.

But there is so much that changes in schools in such a short period of time that for a person who graduated in the 1980’s to directly equate their high school experience with what he expects to be happening in schools today would be erroneous. Too many variables are in constant flux.

This is especially true when speaking about academics. Generally speaking, many people look to various reports and media outlets to gauge how well public schools are performing. Average SAT scores, graduation rates, EOCT scores, and other standardized methods are used to give a snapshot of student proficiency. But it’s erroneous to simply relegate an “educated” opinion about the health of public schools based on nebulous standards and tests that change almost yearly.

Consider the following for high schools in North Carolina:

  • All school systems in NC now operate under a ten-point scale. In the past, a “70” was the lowest passing grade a student could receive in many districts. Now it is a “60.”
  • Some school systems have a minimum grade allowed for a student on a report card: “50.” Couple that with the first condition and of the 51 actual numerical grades that a student can receive, only 10 of those are failing grades (“50”- “59”).
  • Graduation rates are altered. It is interesting to think that those rates can be measured differently from state to state. Does it include students who graduate in only four years? Five years? Who finish at least with a GRE?
  • Definitions of what is proficient on standardized test results changes constantly. Some people may call it a “curve,” but what really is happening is that a “conversion formula” is used to create a final grade. In some instances, that may change from semester to semester. Plus, we have those in power who can’t tell proficiency from growth.
  • In the last two to three decades the nation has seen a rapid rise in standardized tests on federal, state, and local levels. Who makes those tests and how they are graded are rather vague in many cases. Writing tests may actually be graded by algorithms not people.
  • There is the move to all online testing for convenience and economic reasons takes away from the kinetic advantages of using pen and paper.
  • Funding for resources in public schools constantly changes. Actually, it keeps decreasing. In NC, schools are receiving less per-pupil expenditures than they did before the Great Recession (adjusted for inflation).
  • Schools are measured differently than they were just a few years ago. In NC, there is the school performance grading system that uses variables like the ACT, which ALL students must take on a school day. The ACT designed to be taken by those students who wish to apply to college. Not all students want to go to college.
  • Those school performance grades in NC and school “report cards” are calculated by a company called SAS. The algorithms they use in coming up with those results are secret. Educators do not know if those calculations use a constant formula.
  • End-of-course tests and standardized finals have changed considerably over the last few years and many do not know who writes them.
  • Many students are now taking more classes as a seven period day is being replaced with block scheduling. That means that students now take eight classes in a school year.
  • And if you think getting into college is the same now as it was in the past, think again.

That’s just a few.

Many politicians and education reformers know that and take advantage of many people’s lack of understanding that comparing current information to historical data goes deeper than the names of the tests.

It allows these politicians and reformers to use “revisionist history.” When the criteria for how we measure schools and student performance are constantly in flux, then the people who control the data can present it in any way they like. And that can skew the truth.

However, there are some constants that do expand across generations in all schools that are true now as they were in the 1980’s.

  • Poverty effects student achievement.
  • Fully funding schools helps students.
  • Treating teachers as professionals helps schools.
  • Community support is vital.
  • Lawmakers should listen to teachers when gauging student needs.

Our public schools are better than you may think.

Probably a lot better.

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.

It also tells us that we need to keep public education mind when we cast our votes in November.

Still The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

johnson2

Our schools need more nurses.

Our schools need more guidance counselors.

Our schools need more teachers.

Our schools need more resources.

And they need to be fully funded.

That’s why news today that Mark Johnson created two new positions for his office does not set so well. From WRAL’s Kelly Hinchcliffe:

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has created two new positions in his office to provide extra help with public relations and public records requests.

They mark the fourth and fifth positions Johnson has created from a $700,000 fund of taxpayer money lawmakers granted him last year. The money allows Johnson to add up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers gave him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-creates-two-new-jobs-to-help-with-public-relations-public-records/17482124/).

Schools are understaffed, but Mark Johnson is hiring.

DPI’s budget was cut over 20% by the last budget, but Mark Johnson is hiring.

And the General Assembly’s powers are letting him do it, as long as he answers to them and does their bidding.

The July 2017  ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson against the State School Board over what powers the office of the state superintendent may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it was not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time (although it is still in the appeal process and currently under a stay), Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson is still the most enabled man in all of North Carolina. This latest episode of hiring people only “loyal to him” is more proof of that.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools. Will never be.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He has spent his entire term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who is still in a lawsuit is financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh have to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here. No wonder Johnson feels the need to hire a public relations person. His image needs a lot of work with teachers and traditional public schools.

Remember what Phil Berger had to say about Johnson last year when Johnson won his initial round in courts with the state board?

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and the very hospital in his hometown of Eden filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

With today’s announcement that the state superintendent will hire both a PR person and a public records person shows how controlled Johnson is as the state superintendent. He is showing that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

But at least Johnson will work on his image.

If the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

May 16th Will Also Be A #LoveMySchoolDay – Like Every Day

Today, State Superintendent Mark Johnson shared the following tweet:

Johnson tweet 1

Seems nice. And positive.

But isn’t everyday a #LoveMySchoolDay ?

If Johnson really wanted me to share “things that I love about my school,” then it seems that he would be willing to fight for those things, especially in light of what has happened with public schools in the hands of this NC General Assembly and its cronies (like Johnson).

But I do know that there are things that I do not like about how my school and other traditional public schools are treated by the North Carolina General Assembly. I can share that with Johnson with my own hashtag, #fightformyschool.

 

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to fight for the public school system and the students in the public school system. He would be #fightingfortheschoolsheshouldbeserving.

Why? Because he should have lots of ways to show #WhyHeLovesOurSchools.

On his personal webpage as state superintendent, Johnson remarks,

…having served as a teacher, an education leader, and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/statesuperintendent/).

Seems like he would be more than willing to involve himself in movements that would help teachers, students, and schools.

On May 16, there will be a March for Students and Rally For Respect event in Raleigh.

respect

This would be a great opportunity for Johnson to meet with teachers, students, and advocates and get a first hand account of why May 16th is also a #LoveMySchoolDay.

 

In fact, if he shows up I will eat a dozen doughnuts right then and there.

#Doughnutsforpublicschools.

 

Literature Assignment for the North Carolina General Assembly – Sparknotes Won’t Help on the Test

Recommeded-booklist-750x325

In a day and age where STEM-linked educational initiatives are heavily marketed in the educational and political arenas, it is sometimes hard for this English teacher to not want to reiterate that a study of literature is just as vital. Furthermore, looking and reflecting on great works of literature is a genuine way to study our own being.

There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.

  • “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson
  • “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain
  • “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
  • “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Don’t Join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
  • “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archaeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.

And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.

Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the upcoming session of the North Carolina Assembly this spring in the hopes that those elected officials would possibly see how others see the same world through a lens that these legislators and politicians may have never considered.

Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on how life should be lived simply because my viewpoint is narrow.

Many of these titles I would never put on a high school reading list, but if you are an elected official, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that they carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.

Happy reading!

  • Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit of domination something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
  • Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
  • The Lorax by Seuss – to remind ourselves that fracking, GenX, coal ash are really bad for the environment.
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature according to my erudite uncle and lets us know that the dead still speak.
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when we objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently-abled.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.

The test for all of these is in how you conduct yourselves afterwards. Your grade will be given in the fall, probably around the early part of November.

Dear Madame Secretary – Those Teachers Who Are Marching Are “Thinking About the Kids”

“I think about the kids. I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” – Betsy DeVos on April 5, 2018 according to The Dallas Morning News concerning teachers’ strike in Oklahoma.

Speaking as an educator with actual classroom experience in public schools and as a parent with children in traditional public schools, what those teachers in Oklahoma are doing really is for “the kids.” In a state that has not given a raise to teachers in almost a decade and created a revolving door of educators coming in and out of the profession because of low investment in salaries and resources, what Oklahoma has done is create an unfavorable situation for public schools.

What those teachers are demanding is for an investment in human capital because what schools are really about are the people. When a state does not pay its teachers well and resource its schools well, then those who ultimately suffer are the students. Therefore, what Oklahoma teachers are marching for are the very people Betsy DeVos is most disconnected from – public school students.

DeVos says that these protests should not have an impact on classrooms. Ironic that she does not see that what the protests are actually bringing into the bigger light is that policies championed by the state governments of places like Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina are having the most negative impacts on classrooms.

The secretary of education seems to be unable to see that while teachers may not be in the classroom with students, they are still doing the job of advocating for students and schools. In fact, they are still showing up for the job; the classroom just seems to have widened and not be confined to four walls and a school building. If the entire nation is looking at Oklahoma and Kentucky and West Virginia and getting insight into what is happening in public education, then that truly is teaching and learning at its most basic form.

And DeVos does not understand that.

Those teachers who are marching and protesting are probably spending more time working for schools now than during an average school week, yet could DeVos say the same?

Remember last year’s report by the non-partisan watchdog group American Oversight on DeVos’s time on job? They released a report on DeVos’s attendance record over the first six months of her term. Six months is four months shorter than a school year as defined by federal standards.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, American Oversight was able to conclude that DeVos only showed up for work 2 out of three days (https://www.americanoversight.org/unexcused-absences-devos). An analysis by American Oversight found that during that period – which stretches from February 8th to July 19th – DeVos only completed a full day of work 67% of the time.

That’s not a good track record.

Broken down specifically, the report says:

  • 113 federally mandated work days possible (February 8 – July 19, 2017)
  • 77 full days of work (68%)
  • 21 partial days taken off (19%)
  • 15 full days taken off (13%)
  • 5 hours of work on average partial day off
  • 11 long weekends in less than six months.

And while she was gone, the Department of Education was still open, theoretically. Even schools in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and all other states were open.

But when teachers are gone, schools cannot open for traditional classes. It seems in this equation that teachers are more vital for schools to stay open. If you hurt teachers, you hurt schools. If you hurt schools, you hurt students.

It is also interesting to see DeVos make comment on schools and areas that she really has no insight about. Remember that drastic 60 Minutes interview from last month?  The day of the 60 Minutes interview, DeVos had more than usual activity on her Twitter account. Maybe knowing her words from the interview were not as stellar as she would have hoped, she may have tried to lessen the blowback with this tweet.

DeVos

Look at that map more closely.

  • She has not traveled to West Virginia. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Kentucky. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Oklahoma. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Arizona, whose teachers are galvanizing.
  • She has not traveled to North Carolina, whose teachers are planning a day of advocacy on May 16 in Raleigh.

Seems more than a little ignorant on the part of Sec. DeVos.

If there was one statement that came from DeVos in that 60 Minutes interview which was most memorable it was this one:

“I have not– I have not– I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” – Betsy DeVos, March 11, 2018 on 60 Minutes.

Those teachers marching in Oklahoma (and the other states) intentionally not only “visit” those schools, they teach in them. They work in them. They advocate for them.

And they march for them.