Actually Now Is The Time To Invest In NC’s Public Schools

When the country was in the grips of the Great Recession over a decade ago, public education in this state took some of the biggest cuts in funding – cuts that were never really restored as the economy regained momentum and rebounded. One only has to see the level of per-pupil expenditures in 2019-2020 compared to 2007-2008 when adjusted for inflation.

Even as the state was “enjoying” budget surpluses, an “economic boom,” and population growth in the last few years, people like Phil Berger and Tim Moore made sure to allow that the cuts to public education made during the Great Recession become the norm. They kept that reality cloaked under a veil of reform and political spin. Add to that massive tax cuts to corporations in this state that have benefitted a few rather than all in this state. Minimum wage continues to be at the federal “minimum,” Medicaid still has not been expanded, and over 20% of our public school students are at or below the poverty level.

And then we have this pandemic. For the sake of not spreading the virus, the state shut down school buildings, went remote, and we are still trying to get COVID-19 testing to a point where we can really ascertain the actual number of infections.

North Carolina was not prepared to go virtual on such a large scale in March. But we did it. Teachers, educators, and other classified employees still adapted and made learning possible. Schools still fed and provided community support where others could not.

This school year still is full of many questions – questions that really have no concrete answers – yet. But we must be willing to not only find ways of framing the questions, we must be willing to boldly find answers. So here is a question: How are we going to be able to create the safest environment possible for our students and teachers and still give them the best opportunity of learning when schools physically open up fukky?

And here’s a bold answer: it starts by investing in public schools.

Yes, invest more money in public schools.

Now.

Notice that it is not “spending” but “investing.”

“But we don’t have the money!” Actually, we can get the money to invest. Rep. Tim Moore has already talked about it.

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Now, one has to take what Tim Moore says with not just a grain of salt, but an entire salt block. He usually proposes what sounds like “friendly” and bi-partisan solutions to problems knowing full well that his counterpart in the NC Senate (Phil Berger) will probably obliterate it. It is kind of a “good-cop / bad cop” routine that has been playing out for years.

But what Moore suggested in that tweet is something to consider heavily for schools as a means of investing in our students: investments that will pay incredible dividends for years to come. And we have seen what damage not investing in our students has caused so far, even in the last eight years. In our recent economic boom, public schools have seen more students per class, buildings starting to erode, unfunded mandates, and money thrown at unproven educational reforms.

Not confronting what may happen with public schooling now will only cost exponential amounts later just to try and recoup what was “lost.” What really would be lost is not having made sure we did our best for students in real time because we were too busy worrying about having to “pay” for it.

Not making sure that public schools have now what they need to serve students will surely make us “pay” much more down the road.

A federal bond in this economy would mean taking out a loan guaranteed by the federal government at almost no interest. Using that to fund more personnel in schools like nurses, counselors, classified employees, teacher assistants, buildings to house more classrooms with fewer students each, and resources to maintain safety and cleanliness could benefit public schooling immeasurably.

Especially in 2021-2022 when the effects of the recent economic downturn really present themselves in teh country.

So what could be used in the meantime to make sure schools open up with as many people and resources needed to increase safety and academic engagement? How about that “rainy-day” fund that Moore and Berger keep bragging about? Considering all of those corporate tax breaks they have championed forced middle and lower income North Carolinians to shoulder the burden of building that “fund,” maybe it’s time to allow our citizens to benefit from it.

Furthermore, imagine the billions of dollars that we could have invested in schools if the state had not kept extending tax cuts to corporations. That money alone would have already alleviated some of the pressures in reopening schools before they were even realized and kept enough staff and resources to combat this massive obstacle more easily. Recalling some of those unneeded tax breaks can now be the basis of paying off the bond.

Private schools will probably lose students to the economic downturn as they did in the last recession. Those who are looking to keep their students at home for homeschooling for the first time will realize that homeschooling is not free. Many families cannot even begin to think of this option because both parents must work to make ends meet.  And there really exists no evidence that virtual charter schools have ever done well (certainly not in NC).

But public schools are there and can remain not only viable but can regain its place as one of the strongest in the Southeast if we as a state invest in them.

Now.

It will be argued that we cannot even think about putting more of a burden on taxpayers to foot a bond initiative. Well, you can choose to not invest anything now and then spend the next decade “spending” much more money just to try and regain what was lost both monetarily and academically.

And investing more in public school now will give parents and caregivers a little more ease concerning sending students back to schools when they reopen as well as time and energy to invest in their families’ welfare in a time when we all need to recover.

Got to Have Six Feet – Sign The Petition For New Hanover Schools

From the petition found on this link:

New Hanover County Schools Must Follow All CDC Reopening Guidelines

On Feb 12, 2021, the CDC released updated, and much needed, guidelines to support school districts in their reopening plans. On Feb 10, 2021, NHCS schools voted to transition Prek-5 students to Plan A, 5 day in person instruction. We are asking NHCS to hold an emergency meeting to create an in person learning plan that complies with the CDC.

According to the updated guidelines, communities in the Orange (Substantial Transmission) and Red (High Transmission) zones, Elementary Schools must operate “in hybrid learning mode or reduced attendance. Physical distancing of 6 feet or more is required.” At the time of writing this petition, New Hanover County has 311 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days. This puts us in the Red Zone (High Transmission). We also have a percent positive of 8% which puts us in the Orange  Zone (Substantial Transmission). To comply with CDC guidance, NHCS must adapt their in person learning plan to support reduced attendance and social distancing at 6 ft. apart.

Our goal is to get as many students back to in person learning safely and as quickly as possible! To do this, we must comply with the CDC!

We also understand this is a community public health issue. Safety within our schools impacts the safety of our community, and vice versa. NHCS not only has the responsibility to keep our students and staff safe, but to do its part to keep our community safe.

We are asking Board Chair Stefanie Adams to call an emergency meeting between now and March 2nd, to address how NHCS will comply with the CDC safety guidelines. We are also asking Board Members Nelson Beaulieu, Pete Wildeboer, Hugh McManus, Stephanie Kraybill, Stephanie Walker and Judy Justice, to support an in person learning plan that aligns with CDC guidance. 

About Targeting A Teacher’s Home In “Protesting”

Something happened to a teacher friend of mine yesterday.

A zealous citizen of his town intentionally showed up in his neighborhood with a sign and bullhorn and “picketed” outside his house on a sidewalk that borders the yard. The teacher was not home but his family was – wife and two young children. The teacher was helping other teachers and school workers advocate for safe schools at the time.

It was targeted. It was intrusive.

It was meant to be intimidating.

Actually, it was cowardly.

I have done some rallying in my time as a public school advocate. Marched in Raleigh. Attended rallies. Marched in my hometown. Picketed public places peacefully. And I have engaged in conversations with people when offered a chance even if I did not agree with them. I address some people in posts – most always lawmakers and when in Raleigh, I have gone to talk with them at the General Assembly.

And people have addressed me respectfully and with vitriol over social media and post responses. Sometimes it happens at meetings. I write a blog. There are bound to be disagreements.

BUT I WOULD NEVER GO TO SOMEONE”S HOUSE AND YELL THROUGH A BULLHORN BECAUSE I DISAGREED WITH THAT PERSON.

To do that would mean I am actively doxxing another and that person’s family. It means that I exert energy thinking that my mere presence and loud voice will bully someone into stopping an action. It means that there is an ill will towards someone else’s well-being and I am advertising that.

Petty. Sophomoric. Selfish.

To do this is not advocating for a cause but targeting someone else by crossing a line and thinking that intimidation is a solution to a problem that really is out of teachers’ hands.

But this instance of reckless bravado by a weakly convicted individual has actually done two things: unite teachers and public school advocates as well as show the absolute disconnect that many in the public have about schools.

Educators are about collaboration, teamwork, community. They are part of something bigger. When something happens to an educator, others are affected as well. Educators band together.

This pandemic has brought out the best in so many people and it also has exposed some of the worst character defects in people. To blame teachers for closed school buildings when they are fighting for safe school building re-openings in a day where there are few vaccinations of adults in schools, new variants of a virus, and a community spread enabled by society’s carelessness is ignorant.

Maybe this individual thought that he was doing something lawful and well within reason. Maybe he thought, “Heck, teachers picket all the time!”

We do exercise our right to protest. But we do it in public places with announced intent and never single out a person’s home.

And usually as a group.

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What This Current Crisis Shows Is That Our Schools Are About Collaboration Among Teachers, Not Competition

“Collaborate” :intransitive verb. Noun form is “collaboration” – 1:to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor 

Simply put, collaboration as described in that first definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website is the best resource/tool that a school can have and that leaders can encourage, especially in this recent epidemic.

What makes schools work best are the relationships between the people: administration, teachers, students, parents, and community. No set of standards, no checklist, no standardized test, and no evaluation criteria can ever really measure the importance of people using other people as their best resources to create a collaborative learning environment where students can achieve optimally.

In the months that North Carolina’s school buildings have been closed and or altered in schedules the amounts of collaboration, sharing, and giving of resources, insight, and encouragement have been overwhelming. It has been more about what can we do for each other rather than what I can get that others do not have.

In a “reform – minded” culture that promotes business models for education and screams for “competition” on an uneven playing field, the very entity that really gets eroded is the ability for professional educators to “work jointly with others or together.” Initiatives like merit pay, bonuses for test scores, removal of class size caps, and elimination of due-process rights creates a culture of insular competition.

Many of us may be teaching remotely and communicating with students virtually, but we sure are not creating a culture of insular competition.

Education is about people, not products. It’s about growth, not bottom lines.

It’s about all students, whether they sit in your classrooms or not.

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11 Months. Comparing Schools & The NC General Assembly.

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11 months in a pandemic. A lot going on.

Close school buildings. Go straight to remote teaching. Primary elections. Standardized testing doubts. Government ignorance of the Leandro report. Reopening Task Force with no teachers. Dan Forest’s platform. Lysol. Sunshine. Betsy DeVos. Meals for students. Underemployment benefits. Connectivity divide. Remote instruction plans. Vouchers for all bill. NCDPI audit. Bad reopening plans. Bad reopening plans. Even more bad reopening plans. Dashboards. Inconsistent contact tracing. Lame-duck state superintendent. Racial tensions. Campaigns for elections. PPE Funding? Summer professional development. Disconnected school boards. Fewer teacher candidates. Early retirements. Leadership turnover. Fewer available subs. Still no longevity pay, grad degree pay bumps, or due-process rights for new teachers and… now no retiree health benefits. Forced EOC tests. Forced PSAT. Unknown vaccination slots. Public scrutiny. Political posturing.

And teachers and school workers keep going.

What did our General Assembly accomplish?

No new budget, hot air, gaslighting, and electioneering.

Oh, and more vouchers.

So, How Many Substitute Teachers Does Your School System Really Have?

I work in a school system that has over 80 schools, 50,000+ students, and around 6200 teachers. There are around 1000 substitute teachers on the official sub list in the county.

That does not mean that there are 1000 people ready to go to any school on any day for any amount of time. Those who serve as substitutes can accept whatever openings that are desired.

Some only want to sub in elementary settings or strictly be in high schools.

Some only will sub in certain schools because of travel issues.

Some will only sub on certain days.

Some will only take the job if it is for certain subjects or even teachers.

When reopening plans have been shared in different systems there seems to be one common denominator: they have been planned with the most ideal situations in mind.

Conditions will not remain “ideal” for the plans being rolled out.

Many colleges spent the entire summer coming up with various ways to keep the spread of the coronavirus at bay during the first part of the school year. Classes were both remote and in person with social distancing. Large open spaces were provided for students to be able to stay distanced. Use of “revival” tents with WiFi were common and the weather was nice enough to promote more open air events.

Yet some of those schools sent students home within weeks: students who were high school graduates and were old enough to be considered adults.

Now many systems are looking to open up buildings to hybrid Plan B variations or full reopening Plan A for elementary, middle, and high schools.

Most public schools in the state do not have the resources to even outfit teachers and staff with proper PPE.

The weather is cold. Kids change classes. Hallways could still get crowded. And most people do not have the kind of health insurance that a president gets.

There are still questions about the ventilation systems in most schools.

So, how deep is the substitute teacher pool and how willing are people on that list to take a job in a school where a teacher or students have been told to stay home and quarantine?

And considering that many students will still opt to stay home for remote learning, the teaching force will be stretched thin to accomodate instruction on more than one “campus.”

Something to consider.

Because I know that this one is not available.

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Social Distancing Is Our New #ClassSizeChaos

Remember when Sen. Chad Barefoot said this in February of 2017 concerning House Bill 13?

For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money? …The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request. What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?

I do.

I thought about it a today as I reread Justin Parmenter’s December 2017 on-point op-ed in the News & Observer entitled “N.C. Senate ignores the class-size crisis”.

Sen. Barefoot’s empty claim about having already “funded” the class size mandate was not the only one made, and it actually is the same manufactured lie conveniently used by GOP-stalwarts in Raleigh at the time to hopefully silence the #ClassSizeChaos movement.

And here we are four years later with another “Class Size Chaos” situation called social distancing.

“Class Size Chaos” was a term attached to the NCGA’s push for a state mandate while having ther unwillingness to actually fund it. It was about how many people are in a classroom for maximum learning expereince.

In a sadistic way, the state’s overreaching push to send students back into school buildings is quite similar: appearing to care about how many people might be in a classroom (and even school buses) but not helping to fund what would need to happen to fulfill that.

Social distancing in high schools is in and of itself another “Class Size Chaos” – except this one is in the middle of a pandemic.

But the same people who didn’t fund the original mandate are the same ones who can’t pass a new budget and call upon local school districts to fend for themselves.

Keep Your Damn Bonus. Give Us –

… vaccinations.

Nurses and mental support staff in every school.

And the benefit of not letting the public think that you can “buy off” teachers.

I will never begrudge a school employee who would choose to take the bonus. Considering what this state has not done to raise salaries of many school personnel, this cojuld be a lifeline.

But it is disappointing to get a “reward” when the respect is not there.

About The State Superintendent’s Perspective On Social Studies Standards

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt’s rapid and sustained defense of her desire to remove certain words from the NC Social Studies curriculum standards was again on display in a new post on EdNC.org just a day after another State Board of Education meeting that highlighted revising those standards.

In particular Truitt wants to do the following:

Truitt’s perspective simply lacks substance under a shiny veneer that is book-ended with quotes from Plutarch and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (with a nod to the Oxford English Dictionary).

No doubt that Plutarch is considered a reliable source of history. His works were even a primary source for Shakespeare 1500 years later. But it is a little ironic that Truitt begin framing her piece with a quote from Plutarch for a couple reasons.

First, it seems that Truitt is using the words “history” and “social studies” interchangably. They are not the same. Yes, history “requires knowledge of facts, dates, names, places, events, and ideas” as Truitt states, but “social studies” encompasses so much more. History is a study of past events; “social studies” is the study of society as a whole. History is under the umbrella of social studies. To frame the social studies standards through the lens of history with the words of someone’s opinion about history may not be the best way present an entire curriculum.

And Plutarch is usually credited with giving us an account of the man known as Spartacus who was supposedly the leader of the greatest and most successful slave revolt in the ancient Roman Empire. Spartacus sought to escape enslavement from Rome. Aside from what Hollywood may have added in the Kirk Douglas movie, it is hard to not see Rome’s systematic use of castes and enslavement.

Truitt continues,

“Students in North Carolina public schools study history throughout the entirety of their public school experience. While the public at large might not agree as to why it’s important that students learn geography, civics, and history, the North Carolina State Board of Education believes that our collective social studies standards must reflect the nation’s diversity and that the successes, contributions, and struggles of multiple groups and individuals should be included.” 

This emphasis she places on “geography, civics, and history” seems to ignore that fact that now high school students have to take a personal finance course that displaced an American History class, That very finance course does not even address wealth gaps along racial lines, income gaps along gender lines, and the very systematic discrimination that exists de jure segregation that affects the ability of people to build wealth.

Yes Lincoln “ended the United States’ participation in what had been more than 9,000 years of legalized slavery and human bondage in most parts of the world.” But that extra unit of American History might help students explore the effects of Reconstruction and how continued racism was weaved into so many policies and laws within our legal and social systems that it took another hundred years for a Civil Rights Act to be passed.

Truitt then says, “However, it is important to remember that history itself doesn’t provide the sole explanation for why we have injustices, racism, and discrimination today, be they institutionalized or localized.” But we are not just dealing with history. We are dealing with social studies – the critical reflection of our society. And with her paraphrase of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (“the Constitution is the very document that the likes of Thurgood Marshall used to bring systemic change to our country“), she actually is using the word that she does not even want to be in the standards: systemic.

Using Dr. King’s words as a final buttress to an argument in not using the word “systemic” in the social studies curriculum might be the most empty of all. Honestly, it is hard to imagine a person in the last century who fought as hard as King did against systems and structures. He was killed for leading that fight. Even in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written to local clergy members, King called out the systematic nature of racism. In referring to the police he wrote, “It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation.”

Plutarch. Rice. King. All spoke about systematic forces in society. Our standards can as well.