Just Remember, This NCGA Made Sure That New Teachers Would Never…

When people like Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Sen. Phil Berger, and even State Superintendent Mark Johnson want to tout how much this current NCGA leadership has done for teacher pay in North Carolina just remember:

New teachers will always be on this salary schedule.

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And they will never be on either of these.

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Imagine how powerful it is for this veteran teacher to tell a prospective educator, “Just remember. No matter how long you teach in this state with this pay scale you will never make as much as I have.”

Thanks NCGA.

The Glaring Falsehoods In Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Recent Letter To Teachers

By now many teachers across the state have received a campaign letter from Lt. Dan Forest concerning his “record” on public education. It is a “response” to Gov. Cooper’s recent letter about education spending and teacher pay.

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So why did Forest send this letter? He’s hoping that teachers will forget what this current NCGA that he is aligning himself with has actually done since 2011. Here’s a list.

  • Removed due process rights for new teachers to keep them from advocating loudly for students and schools.
  • Removed graduate degree pay bumps for teachers entering the profession.
  • Instituted a Value Added Measurement system which are amorphous and unproven way to measure teacher effectiveness.
  • Pushed for merit pay when no evidence exists that it works.
  • Attacks on teacher advocacy groups like NCAE.
  • Created a revolving door of standardized tests that do not measure student growth.
  • Lowered the amount of money spent per pupil in the state when adjusted for inflation.
  • Removed class size caps.
  • Instituted a Jeb Bush style school grading system that is unfair and does nothing more than show how poverty affects public schools.
  • Created an uncontrolled and unregulated system of vouchers called Opportunity Grants.
  • Fostered charter school growth that has not improved the educational landscape and siphons money from the public school system.
  • Created failing virtual schools outsourced to private industry.
  • Allowed for an Innovation School District to be constructed.
  • Eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program and brought it back as a former shell of itself.
  • Created an atmosphere of disrespect for teachers that teaching candidate numbers in colleges and universities have dropped over 30%.

It is rather entertaining to see the Lt. Gov. run for the office of governor by touting the record of an eight-year NCGA leadership which has crafted the very policies he is “owning” in an example of transference. Those are the same policies that have brought thousands of the very people he addressed in this letter to the streets of Raleigh to protest.

It is rather confusing to see the Lt. Gov. run for governor and not really campaign against Gov. Cooper but against the North Carolina Association of Educators when he claims that their membership is so few.

It is rather hypocritical for a man who once said the following about the value of our students and not do anything to help expand healthcare for thousands of them this past year.

“If our action in keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protected the life of just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.”

And it’s infuriating for a man who scolds the virtues of diversity and inclusiveness and then talk about how he has done so much for PUBLIC schools.

“No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics. But no other nation has ever been founded on the principles of Jesus Christ, that begin the redemption and reconciliation through the atoning blood of our savior.”

Dan Forest is not a teacher. The office he has held has not crafted any policy that has helped public education. He is not a parent of a child in public schools. But he seems to talk a lot about what he has done for NC’ public schools when in actuality he should answer for a WHAT HE HAS DONE TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Most of the statistical fallacies that Forest brags about are taken straight from Sen. Phil Berger’s spun assertions many of which he puts on his website www.ncteacherraise.com.

It’s humorous that Dan Forest begin his baseless letter with a reference to the pay freezes and budget cuts that occurred right before 2011 when current NCGA leadership took control. In history classes in the future (which Forest’s personal finance class will affect), they will talk about the Great Recession that occurred in the years between 2007-2011. Funny Forest doesn’t mention that. Revenue coming to the state was cut so drastically because of the carelessness of Wall Street that every state government in the country went through pay freezes and budget cuts.

Then Forest tells teachers about why Medicaid costs so much when he is part of a group of lawmakers who will not expand its services in North Carolina when we as taxpayers are still sending our money to other states who have expanded it because while the decision to expand Medicaid is a state decision, it is a federally subsidized program.

But the bullet pointed “facts” really deserve a deeper explanation.

Those “facts” about rising “average teacher pay?” They may be true in the sense of “average,” but those raises have heavily been on the front end of the teacher scale. That means fewer dollars can affect a greater change in the percentage of pay increases. And Tim Moore even admitted that previous pay raises have been for beginning teachers.

Moore said that previous pay plans focused on teachers earlier in their careers because lawmakers were hearing from the state Department of Public Instruction that those were the ones most likely to leave their jobs. Now, things have changed, he said.

“Now we want to go back and do more for our veteran teachers,” said Moore. 

Furthermore, all of Forest’s numbers take only a teacher salary with a bachelor’s degree in consideration.  The removal of graduate degree pay bumps tells a whole new story when comparing teacher salaries to other states.

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Oh, and he’s taking credit for that “average” salary when they include local supplements from local LEAs. The state has nothing to do with that.

“65% of public education costs funded by the state” compared to the national average? Actually, the state is required to fund public schools in North Carolina, but what is more important to consider is how much does it take to fully fund public schools.  It is ludicrous to think that he can compare how NC funds public education to other states when each state uses a different formula for funding schools. How North Carolina funds schools with federal, state, and local dollars really is not the same as far as what percentage comes from what entity because the real measurement is how much tax money is invested in schools overall. You pay local, state, and federal taxes. It’s a combination of the three that funds schools.

“20% average teacher raise” for teachers? Do a survey of teachers with over 15 years of experience and ask them if this is true. Ask them also to quantify the actual dollars they have gained in “raises” and then offset that with the losses they’ve accrued with the removal of longevity pay and see what “raises” they have actually gotten.

“Career teachers will earn $237,500 more in salary” under the newest salary schedule? Misleading. First, the $54,000 salary cap is designed to make sure that veteran teachers do not stay in the profession. Secondly, this projection is not taking into account that the current retirement system may change. Look at all of the changes that have occurred in only the last six years. Imagine what might be planned for the next thirty. Oh, no longevity pay. Forest would need to explain this as well.

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Funny that Forest never mentions graduate degree pay raises have been removed. In fact, under the new salary plan, a new teacher would never make as much as a current veteran who possesses a Master’s Degree.

“$3+ billion more in education spending?” Remember that education spending affects the public university system as well. It’s not all for K-12. But Forest doesn’t tell you that the state still spends less per pupil than we did before 2008 when adjusted for inflation. Actually, in order to keep up with inflation and maintain the same per-pupil expenditures that we once had, then we would have to spend even more than that 3+ billion. NC is a fast growing state and a top-ten in population.

Oh, and tuition costs at UNC system colleges and universities has gone up rather quickly.

“$100 million per year investment in school connectivity?” Forest can claim a lot of credit for this and on the surface it is a grand achievement. But couple that with less investment in other classroom resources and you get a formula for more use of “personalized” education, a nice way of saying we are using online education to actually “depersonalize” the classroom. Just look at iStation.

And Forest spends an entire paragraph in his letter to teachers denigrating NCAE, and that’s rather eye-opening for a man who seeks the highest office in the state to attack a teacher group in a letter to teachers delivered in government owned email accounts. He states, “…of the 100,000 public school teachers only about 5,000 are members (according to a recent State Auditor’s report).”

NCAE has a much larger membership than what he claims.

What he conveniently forgets to tell you is that the report clearly shows most organizations have many if not most of its members not use that form of payment for membership dues.

The very report he “quotes” tells us that. Look again.

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Only one group on that list has a membership that fully pays through payroll deductions. In fact, at least two of the groups have memberships that are ten times the amount of people who use payroll deduction. Any statistician would know better than to misrepresent the numbers in a statement (unless he did it for political purposes).

There are two other teacher advocacy groups on that list whose memberships are mostly represented by people who do not use payroll deduction. PENC has 4.59 times the total number of members as their payroll deduction members. The NCCTA has 16.39 times the total number of members.

If NCAE followed those trends (and it does), it could might have a membership of at least 24,744 if not more.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is an intelligent man. He knows that the governor’s race in Kentucky was very aligned with teacher activism and that what happened in the state of Virginia had a lot to do with the “teacher vote.”

And you don’t have to believe what Dan Forest says.

Because it is baseless.

 

 

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

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

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

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This morning score reports for those who were seeking first time certification are being released. If you succeeded, I congratulate you. It’s not easy to become certified. Less than five percent of the nation’s teachers are NBCTs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The argument here is many-fold.

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

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

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

If Raleigh truly wants to help public education, then it would invest in the people – like it used to before we had the situation we have today that requires weak and anemic policies like SB599 or what Rowan-Salisbury School District is considering to “open up” the teacher candidate pool: lower requirements to becoming a teacher.

And don’t forget that as of 2018 Wake County had the highest number of NBCTs for a district in THE NATION.

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Raleigh is in Wake County.

In fact, five of the top 20 districts in the entire country as far as number of actual NBCTs serving are in NC. And it you look at that table closely, you can see that those systems are far smaller than others on that list.

That’s some irony.

Four Horrible Social Studies Lessons That Our State Government Is Teaching Our Students

Lesson #1 – Democracy

This calendar year the North Carolina General Assembly concluded its extended long session without passing a budget. Why? Because the GOP stalwarts in the Senate never had the guts to call a vote to override Gov. Cooper’s veto of the budget proposed months ago.

That cowardice has everything to do with knowing that a veto override could not be sustained as the votes were not there. Even when every senator in the NCGA Senate was present, leadership would not call the vote.

So much for democracy.

Lesson #2 – Fiscal Responsibility

As schools are struggling to ascertain how to offer a new required personal finance course for all high school students without sacrificing other core courses, the need for actual fiscal responsibility seems to reside more in the NCGA than anywhere else.

A course that is supposed to teach students about debt, credit, budgeting, student loans, mortgages, and other fiscal responsibilities will probably never explain the absolute disparities of income inequality that grips this state.

NC supposedly has a gigantic budget surplus, but our schools are underfunded and 20% of our public school students live at or below the poverty level.

And the hypocrisy of lawmakers concerning finances screams fairly loudly as well.

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Lesson #3 – Special Interests

The next two tweets (one from a reporter at The Daily Tar Heel and one from a UNC law professor) tell the absolute hypocrisy of catering toward special interests.

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Imagine how many teacher assistants could be funded with $2.5 million dollars.

Lesson #4 – Celebrating America’s “Melting Pot” & Freedom of Religion

Dan Forest has served as Lt. Gov. for the past eight years and is the presumptive republican nominee for the governor’s race in 2020. He said the following last July at a church service.

“No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics. But no other nation has ever been founded on the principles of Jesus Christ, that begin the redemption and reconciliation through the atoning blood of our savior.” 

And as recently as November 25th, Forest made the claim that tens of thousands of immigrants had attacked kids in the state of North Carolina.

All of these lessons come complimentary from the same body of lawmakers who govern the very funding of our public schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Walking Contradiction That Is NC Education Policy & The Walking Paradox That Is The Great Teacher

Contradiction versus paradox. They are not that different, but in actuality they are.

Merriam Webster defines a “contradiction” as,

  • : the act of saying something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else
  • : a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true

Here are some examples:

  • “Do what I say, not as I do.”
  • “Sure the food is fresh. We microwave it right here.”
  • “After I work out at the YMCA, I go to Krispy Kreme and reward myself with a dozen donuts.”
  • Corporate reform initiatives work well in public education.

Merriam Webster defines a “paradox” as,

  • : something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible
  • : someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite
  • : a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

Here are some examples:

  • “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.”
  • “You must surrender to win.”
  • “You learn to fail before you learn to succeed.”
  • Teachers still raising student achievement in the face of debilitating reform measures.

I make mention of public education because there may be no other profession/field/public service that shows the contradiction versus paradox relationship so well.

Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind initiative, American public education has been a hotbed for reform after reform to link student achievement and teacher/school effectiveness to standardized tests. That movement was even further pushed with Race to the Top. And some states like North Carolina have taken so many steps to reform education in such a small time that the shoes of change have no souls/soles left while walking a path with no map.

Contradiction #1 – You can best measure non-standardized students with standardized tests. Student achievement and student growth are not the same thing. One is a measurable with controlled variables and treats students as a number or a statistic. Student growth is taking the individual student and assessing authentically where he/she began and how far he/she grew to a goal.

If one looks at how schools are graded in North Carolina, then he will see that “test scores” are taken into account much more in assigning school letter grades than student growth. If you look at the grades for schools in NC this past year, you will not only see a lot of high-poverty schools showing up in the “D” an “F” range, but if you look really closely, you will see that these schools do a lot to help students grow.

Contradiction #2 – There is a one-size fits all reform or pedagogical approach for all schools. Not so. Different student populations have different obstacles that may affect student growth like poverty, economic development of the area, access to educational opportunities outside of school, etc. Factors that affect the lives of students outside of class can have everything to do with how they perform in class.

Contradiction #3 – Giving schools a certain amount of money is the same thing as fully funding them. The state of North Carolina makes many claims that it is spending more money overall on public schools than ever before. However, the state of North Carolina is spending less money per pupil than before the Great Recession. The contradiction here is that just because there is “more” money does not mean that schools are fully funded. Population growth alone can expose that contradiction.

Contradiction #4 – Allowing for-profit entities to run charter schools, Innovative School Districts, and virtual high schools means you are progressive. It really means you are re-forming education so that someone can make a profit from tax payer money.

Contradiction #5 – Vouchers work well for students. Ask Milwaukee. Ask any other major system that implemented them if vouchers really worked. The only true statement that can be said about the use of vouchers is that it takes money from the very public schools that need the money in the first place to hire the people and get the resources to educate each student effectively.

Contradiction #6 – Class sizes do not matter to student performance. North Carolina literally removed class size caps. Any public school teacher could vouch that class size means so much when it comes to student/teacher interaction.

Contradiction #7 – Teachers with continuing contracts and wrongfully labeled “tenure” are the ones who are burdening the system. Actually, teachers with due process rights (which is erroneously referred to as “tenure” – not the type associated with professors in college) cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand. Their records prove their effectiveness or they would not have gotten continuing licenses. Teachers with due-process rights actually work to advocate for schools and students without fear of sudden reprisal.

And there are many more contradictions that could be listed.

Now here’s the lone paradox, and to paraphrase a quote from Andreas Schliecher* – Despite the many, politically-motivated reform efforts by Raleigh and the characterizations by many that public school teachers have an easy job with short hours and months off in the summer, the fact is that our dedicated and successful teachers work long hours all year long to educate students and educate themselves without many needed resources and support on the legislative level.

I’ll take that paradox over all of the contradictions any day.

The original quote is, “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

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Due-Process Rights and Career Status for Teachers Are That Important

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If due-process rights are not restored for new teachers, then the idea of having a rally or a march like that one on May 16th to advocate for students and schools ten to fifteen years from now would likely never happen.

They are that important! Their removal was a beginning step in a patient, scripted, and ALEC-allying plan that systematically tries to weaken a profession whose foundation is advocating for public schools.

Due-process removal actually weakens the ability of the teaching force in NC to speak up and advocate a little each year as veteran teachers retire and are replaced by new teachers who do not receive those rights.

One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass in the early part of this decade was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Commonly called “tenure,” due process rights are erroneously linked to the practice that colleges use to award “tenure” to professors. Actually, they really are not the same.

What due-process means is that a teacher has the right to appeal and defend himself / herself when an administrator seeks to terminate employment. It means that a teacher cannot be fired on the spot for something that is not considered an egregious offense.

Of course, if a teacher does something totally against the law like inappropriate relations with students, violence, etc., then due-process rights do not really apply. But a new principal in a school does not have the right to just clean house because of right-to-work laws. Teachers with due process rights cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand.

Thanks to NCAE and some courageous teachers like my friend in my district, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

Simply put, veteran teachers’ records prove their effectiveness or they would not have gotten continuing licenses. Teachers with due-process rights actually work to advocate for schools and students without fear of sudden reprisal.

Poverty Affects Schools, No Measurable Differences in 15 Years, And Reforms Have Not Worked: What The PISA Scores Show Us

Below are screenshots from the recently released PISA scores and rankings. And there are THREE BASIC CONCLUSIONS THAT CAN BE DRAWN:

  1. PISA SCORES ARE NOT REALLY A GOOD INDICATION OF THE STRENGTH OF AMERICAN SCHOOLS.
  2. PISA SCORES SHOW THAT “REFORMS” HAVE NOT WORKED.
  3. PISA SCORES SHOW THAT POVERTY AND SOCIOECONOMIC FACTORS HIGHLY AFFECT EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES.

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Notice that both of those screenshots say “was not measurably different than the average score in 2003.

  • In 2001, we got No Child Left Behind. It’s still here.
  • In 2009, we got Race to the Top.
  • In 2015, we got the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Add to that a lot of privatization.

Nothing has been “measurably different.”

Now, look at the latest US results based on socio-economic and cultural factors.

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PISA5

 

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Measuring the vitality of the American public school system by the Program for International Student Assessment score report is erroneous. But that doesn’t stop non-educators from spinning the data.

Remember this from Betsy DeVos from March of 2018?

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That’s in reference to the last report on PISA scores (nothing has been said so far by her concerning this year’s release). What DeVos got wrong is that we as a country are not average. We actually do very well when one considers the very things that DeVos is blind to: income gaps, social inequality, and child poverty.

Bob Herbert wrote an iconic book published in 2014 called Losing Our Way. He explored three different facets of our country that are foundational but are deteriorating because we as a country are not investing in truly remedying them but rather politicizing them. One he talks about is public education.

In the chapter “Poverty and Education”, Herbert discusses 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 (as Herbert explains on page 155 of his book), “made a detailed study of the backgrounds of the test takers in an extensive database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

From that actual report (and I would encourage any reader to take a look):

Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.

  • Because in every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution perform worse than students higher in that distribution, 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. This error further depressed the reported average U.S. test score.
  • 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.
  • A re-estimated U.S. average PISA score that adjusted for a student population in the United States that is more disadvantaged than populations in otherwise similar post-industrial countries, and for the over-sampling of students from the most-disadvantaged schools in a recent U.S. international assessment sample, finds that the U.S. average score in both reading and mathematics would be higher than official reports indicate (in the case of mathematics, substantially higher).
  • This re-estimate would also improve the U.S. place in the international ranking of all OECD countries, bringing the U.S. average score to sixth in reading and 13th in math. Conventional ranking reports based on PISA, which make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors, and which rank countries irrespective of whether score differences are large enough to be meaningful, report that the U.S. average score is 14th in reading and 25th in math.
  • Disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform better (and in most cases, substantially better) than comparable students in similar post-industrial countries in reading. In math, disadvantaged and lower-middle-class U.S. students perform about the same as comparable students in similar post-industrial countries.
  • At all points in the social class distribution, U.S. students perform worse, and in many cases substantially worse, than students in a group of top-scoring countries (Canada, Finland, and Korea). Although controlling for social class distribution would narrow the difference in average scores between these countries and the United States, it would not eliminate it.
  • U.S. students from disadvantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the three similar post-industrial countries than advantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers. But U.S. students from advantaged social class backgrounds perform better relative to their social class peers in the top-scoring countries of Finland and Canada than disadvantaged U.S. students perform relative to their social class peers.
  • 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.

Because not only educational effectiveness but also countries’ social class composition changes over time, comparisons of test score trends over time by social class group provide more useful information to policymakers than comparisons of total average test scores at one point in time or even of changes in total average test scores over time.

  • The performance of the lowest social class U.S. students has been improving over time, while the performance of such students in both top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries has been falling.
  • Over time, in some middle and advantaged social class groups where U.S. performance has not improved, comparable social class groups in some top-scoring and similar post-industrial countries have had declines in performance.

The entire report can be found here.

You can peruse the PISA score reports just released here.

 

 

Every Lawmaker Should Read This Superintendent’s Letter Of Resignation

The Eastern Beacon from eastern Carteret County recently published a letter from the superintendent announcing his resignation from his post at the end of the calendar year.

What he identifies as the biggest hurdles for public schools to be successful is not new to many public school advocates. It’s the fact that we hear it from a top official in a county system who honestly presents it in plain text.

Every lawmaker should read it.

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Here is the text from The Eastern Beacon:

Dear Colleagues,

January 2020 marks my 39th year in education, all of it spent in Carteret County, a school system that is the top in the state. From the many years as the band director at Morehead City Middle School and West Carteret High School to the principal at Croatan, and most recently as the superintendent, I have nothing but the fondest of memories as I worked collaboratively with you and was so positively impacted by our students.

I often state that I can remember all of the students I taught because of the impression they had upon me. They taught me that every child matters and that there are no limits we should place on the importance of reaching every one of them. The ride has been awesome and you mean the world to me.

With that, it is time to put away the baton and seek a different journey. Like you, I have spent inordinate hours working for our children and like you, most of it went unnoticed and maybe even a little unappreciated. I think that is one of the things I most respect about our profession, we absolutely do it for the intrinsic reward of seeing our students grow.

December 31 will be the final curtain for my show and a new act on Broadway will make its way to the lights.

As I depart our incredible school system, I want to impress upon you a couple of thoughts. I have spent my adult life being overworked by the state, a point I know you can relate to! There is not another state agency that expects, no, demands that its employees work far beyond a 40-hour week.

We often hit the 40-hour mark mid-week and do not even think about slowing down. The same could be said for lunch, our state colleagues take their hour every day and we do not expect them to do any tasks during that time. We eat with the kids, hold IEP meetings, catch up with that running principal, and perform so many other tasks during our 15 or 20 minutes of sanity.

With all of that being so true, then why are our state counterparts seemingly paid better, earning more in raises, and protected with wage and hour laws? In my opinion, I think it comes down to us – to our own detriment, we are not a force that creates urgency with the state’s leadership, we are a compliant profession that sees the best in everyone. We truly love people.

My second point concerns the recent move to a partisan Board of Education. Prior to 1992, our Board of Education was a partisan board. Many felt the children of Carteret County suffered as a result of the politics. In 1992, the county voters were allowed a voice and voted overwhelmingly (83% to 17%) to elect a nonpartisan Board of Education.

The following years saw truly cohesive Boards working in concert with the educators of the county to bring the students of Carteret County to new heights. Carteret County Schools is, without a doubt, one of the premier school systems in the state. We should all be proud of this accomplishment.

However, as you are well aware, our Commissioners decided in 2017, without the knowledge or consent of the voters (not to mention the Board of Education), to revert to a partisan Board of Education. This past year has seen a rapid return to the political machinations of pre-1992.

With the current climate, I feel I am no longer in a position to be an effective leader for the students and educators of Carteret County.

Despite being as enthusiastic as ever about teaching and learning, the relentless headwinds are counterproductive and are poised to stall our pursuits. While in one sense I am saddened to leave our great school system, the 39 years have been so gratifying.

As I logout one last time, I ask one thing of you. Please carefully vet each candidate for state leadership, County Commissioner, and Board of Education, making sure that your vote is for the candidate who truly has in his or her heart the best interests of the teaching profession and the children of Carteret County. Our teachers and staff deserve respect for the tireless work so skillfully performed every day and our students deserve the very best education possible.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to work with you. It has been an amazing journey and I am enriched for having taken the trip. Please call upon me if I can be of service and know that while I may not be in the office, I will be making my thoughts known for the betterment of our schools.

With love and admiration.

Mat

 

 

 

 

Great Principals Are Hard To Come By. WSFCS Lost One This Week.

If you want to look at the reason why a school performs well, then look to the relationships that surround the people: student, teachers, parents, community, staff, and what might be one of the most underappreciated roles in public education – the principal.

childers

The responsibility of a principal is hard to even describe, much less fathom, if you have not been in administration before. They are the face of a school, the sounding board of a community, and the instructional leaders.

When a principal is effective, great things happen in a school. When a principal is ineffective, all facets of a school can stagnate.

All effective principals understand that the most sacred dynamic in the school is the student-teacher relationship. They understand that education is a people centered endeavor, not a transaction. They understand that a single test does not define a person.

Joe Childers was more than an effective principal and his sudden death this week is a reminder that public education is a people-centered service and that the positive effect one person can have on others truly lives on forever and can be passed forward.

Mr. Childers had led Atkins High School since 2010. In its short reiteration as a high school in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School system, Atkins has been a Gates School, a magnet school, and under Mr. Childers, the HAG school in the county. HE made that school into what it is today, but was the kind of person to never take the credit.

I have met him on two occasions. Both were at Academic Competition meets between West and Atkins. Not many principals come to those competitions.

Joe Childers did.

But the bigger impression he made on me was through indirect characterization: what his students and his teachers said about him and his ability to remove obstacles. Mr. Childers was about the kids.

Atkins lost a great educational leader.

So did this school system.

So did this state.

 

Catherine Truitt Is Running For State Superintendent. You Might Want See What She Has Claimed About Public Education Here In NC.

Truitt is a former teacher, turnaround coach, associate vice president of University and P-12 Partnerships at UNC General Administration, and former senior education advisor to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. (From an EdNC.org report entitled “Will state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson run again?”)

Currently she is the chancellor of Western Governor’s University of North Carolina.

Catherine Truitt has a lot of background in NC education.

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And as the senior education advisor for McCrory, she penned an op-ed posted on EdNC.org on March 25, 2016 entitled “The truth on education spending.”

The claims she made about NC’s “commitment” to public education were slanted at best and received one of the first ever published posts on this blog when it started in March of 2016.

It deserves revisiting as my stance on what she claimed back then has not changed.




 

Dear Ms. Truitt,

I read with great interest and frustration your op-ed that appeared on March 25, 2016 on EdNC.org (“The truth on education spending”) .

While you state that you have been a senior education advisor for Gov. McCrory a “short time,” the arguments that you make to boost Gov. McCrory’s reputation as an advocate for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for over the last almost 11 years (and 13 of my 18 years as a teacher), I can with certainty state that your arguments only highlight a faint bloom of success, but not the toxic soil that feeds it.

You make several “spun” assertions in your op-ed. Please allow me to respond in hopes that the positives you attempt to point out are actually the opposite and are actually real problems that the governor has helped foster.

  1. The state’s portion of budget to public education.

You state,

“The truth is, total K-12 funding has increased each year of Gov. McCrory’s administration and North Carolina now spends 57 percent of its state budget on education, far higher than the national state average of 46 percent.”

This is the same argument that Rep. Hardister made on Sept, 3rd, 2015 on his blog The Hardister Report (http://jonhardister.blogspot.com/2015/09/public-education-funding-whats-truth.html). He talked of three sources of financing for NC public education – federal, state, and local. You are right; 57 percent is far higher than the national average. But that’s because it is supposed to be. The state constitution declares it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The rest of my explanation to him can be found at this link, http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a “Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature,” the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. As I stated to Rep. Hardister,

“…those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering. Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting numbers of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?”

Also lost in this is the uneven fashion in which money from the state is actually dispersed to LEA’s on the county and city levels. One of the more cohesive explanations of North Carolina’s state funding practices is a publication by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Stealth Inequities of School Funding” produced in 2012. It summarizes our state’s practices in a fairly concise manner, especially on page 46.

  1. Teacher Salary.

The statement you make about teacher salary is the most recycled, spun statement used by West Jones Street concerning public education in the last three years. You state,

“Teacher salary raises enacted in 2014 reversed the pay freezes that were enacted under Gov. Beverly Perdue shortly after she took office in 2009. In fact, the 7 percent increase in average teacher salary between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years was the largest teacher pay raise in the entire nation.”

First, Gov. Perdue and the NCGA at that time (2009) froze salaries and salary schedules because of the GREAT RECESSION. I think almost every business (in every state) froze their salaries; many even lowered them. Less money in people’s pockets, less money in state coffers. I, for one, was grateful to still have a job during that time. But ironically, why didn’t the governor just reinstall the salary schedule that was in effect in 2008 when he came into office after Perdue if he helped to guide us out of the recession? I surely would be making a lot more than now.

Secondly, you use that magic word – “average.” When Brenda Berg, CEO of Best NC made that same claim as a positive for NC, I responded with an explanation that has been made many times by many people. I stated in an August, 2015 open letter printed on EdNC.org (“A teacher weighs in on the war on public education”),

“The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Mr. Hogan’s (James Hogan) claim that there was only an average salary increase of $270 comes when one takes the actual money allocated in the budget for the increase and dividing that evenly across the board.

That raise you refer to was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Like an annual bonus, all state employees receive it—except, now, for teachers—as a reward for continued service. Yet the budget you mentioned simply rolled that longevity money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. “

Your claim here, Ms. Truitt, is simply using that same “average bear” technique.

  1. Technology

You state that the governor is championing “transformational measures” to make NC’s schools the best in the nation. You state,

“For example, North Carolina is on track to be the first state in the country to connect every classroom to high speed wireless Internet. This development will enable a wide range of personalized learning applications for all North Carolina children and has the potential to transform the way students learn.”

Interestingly enough, when politicians talk of personalized learning through technology, this veteran teacher (and many others) hears that you want to make the learning experience more virtual than realistic, specifically through virtual charters and academies.

I do understand that many students have circumstances where technology can help alleviate problems and open avenues for learning. My own son, who happens to have Down Syndrome, is a very visual learner. Technology has been huge for him when it is facilitated by a professional educator. However, when you put in technology for technology’s sake (with an already biased “positive” view of for-profit virtual schools), then your claim seems more like a plug for buying more computers and software and divesting from the human capital that really drives the dynamic learning experience – the student/teacher relationship.

  1. Teacher / Student ratios

You state,

“The budget he signed provides funds to reduce class size in first grade to one teacher per 16 students by 2016-17. He also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.”

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom. However, local authorities can extend those class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is a reference to the use of provisions according to HB112.

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! I rarely have a class that is at or below 29 students. Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

So, you claim that putting a cap on class size for one of the twelve grades is a positive? My own son’s class for developmentally delayed children has well over a dozen students in it. Would the governor help cap those classes as well to help in those situations? I will partially believe it when my son’s teacher sees it. I will fully believe it when all classes have caps.

            5. Opportunity Grants

You stated,

“In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.”

Allow me to use the explanation I offered in a recent Winston-Salem Journal op-ed I wrote in February (“Defending public education”) against the use of Opportunity Grants which at a maximum of $4800 does not even cover one semester in a competitive, private school that can reject any applicant without explanation. I stated,

“One can argue that the Opportunity Grants can help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants are targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices.

If you scroll down on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website for the Opportunity Scholarship and click on the link called “Current List of Nonpublic Schools”, you will find a list of schools participating in the grant program. Notice a vast majority of those schools have religious affiliations. Ironically, many of those schools are already supported by churches that do not have to pay taxes. And now those entities are getting more taxpayer money to support curricula and processes that are not even regulated like those of public schools?”

Furthermore, if you think that it is necessary for funds to be given to people to get them a good education, then why not invest that very money in the very public schools you are constitutionally supposed to support to help those very students succeed in their public schools?

            6. 21st Century Skills

You stated,

“Gov. McCrory recognizes the role the state’s community colleges play in giving North Carolina citizens the skills they need to prosper in a 21st century economy.”

First, it helps that we have a strong public school system that gives a strong foundation of learning and academic skills for those who enter the community college classrooms. But there has to be jobs for these citizens to use their skills.

Look at the list of businesses, companies, and corporations that have disavowed the governor’s signing of HB2, the most discriminatory piece of legislation in recent memory which ironically was signed merely hours before your op-ed was published on EdNC.org.

Too bad that the very citizens the governor is claiming to help train for the 21st century economy will not have companies that are willing to relocate and start here or even continue to do business with the state. That’s because 21st century economies do not work well with Jim Crow-style, bigoted climates that the governor promotes.

This is an election year, Ms. Truitt. Your boss is embarking on a re-election campaign that daily is coming under fire for his very lack of leadership. As teachers and voters, we need to be able to see substance to your arguments, not airy claims.