We Should Fund Free Meals For NC Public School Students & Here’s How We Can Begin To Pay For It

As the short session for the North Carolina General Assembly got started a few days ago, a couple of senate bills were filed that would continue the availability of free breakfasts and lunches for public school students in the state.

During the pandemic, these were funded with COVID relief funds. That will end soon.

But this very vital service needs to still be funded by the state and these two bills should be passed.

Of course, there will be those like Tim Moore and Phil Berger who will say that it will be an added expense even though we as a state have incredible surpluses due to not investing in our schools and other vital needs in the state.

But it would not take too much to make this happen.

And here’s one place that we could find ready money: the Opportunity Grants. Why? Because the money set aside for this opaquely nontransparent program has never been fully spent even though the amount is getting increased every year.

From the Opportunity Scholarship Summary from the state:

The total amount of scholarships awarded in the four-year period chronicled above is $175,634,731. Here’s what is (was) budgeted for the program over a ten year window including the years referred to above.

The money allocated for the fiscal years of 2017-2018 through 2020-2021 amounts to $239,360,000.

That gives a surplus of $63,725,269. That alone is almost 2/3 of the money needed ALREADY in the funds according to the number of scholarships awarded.

But there is more…

That’s for the 2021-2022 school year application process.

Look at how many scholarships were awarded – 13,456. Look at how many accepted and then eventually enrolled – 7,407.

A little over half of the people who got the scholarship actually wnet through with using it. Do you think the same percentage of students who have a chance to get food for breakfast and lunch at school who really want it would bypass that opportunity?

Where Has The Money Already Budgeted For Vacant Teacher Positions In NC Been Going For The Last 10 Months?

According to TeachNC on November 3rd of this school year, there were over 8500 vacancies in North Carolina for classroom teachers ALONE.

In all, there were over 23,600 vacancies.

Just looking at those teacher vacancies – the average salary of a teacher in NC is right under $55,000 a year (according to the report from the John Locke Foundation).

Teachers are paid ten months our of the year. That would mean an average of $5,468 a month per teacher. But if 8504 teaching positions were still vacant, that means a little over $46 million dollars is not being paid in salaries on a monthly basis.

Add to that, there are retirement funds were not being met by the state for those salaries.

Yet, the same amount of work was having to be done by fewer people whose salaries had not been altered.

Thay was in the third month of the school year. Where was that $46 million dollars a month going?

Now we are in the 10th month of the school year. Those numbers for vacancies have only gotten higher. In facr, for most of 2021, the number of vacancies for teachers alone was twice that of the November 3rd number.

Today, it looks like this for classroom teachers:

And overall:

So where are those millions and millions of dollars in those already budgeted salaries for positions that were never filled going?

Because it is no longer just at the amount we had in November.

And it’s been going on for ten months now.

Test Scores, Student Achievement, & Graduation Rates: Three of the Most “Spun” Terms in Public Education Reform

Those who seek to “reform” public education will all use numbers and figures that portray student achievement in public schools as lagging. They may talk of low student test scores and graduation rates that are not high enough. They may talk about school performance grades and teacher evaluations.  Yet their arguments rely mostly on hazy premises, vague assumptions, and hidden formulas.

That is because when speaking of “student test scores,” “student achievement,” and “graduation rates,” you are speaking about three of the most nebulous terms in public education today. And while I applaud anyone who wants to improve student outcomes, one must be willing to see how each of those terms can be defined with political spin by those who want to paint public education in a certain light to further a political agenda.

spin cycle

When speaking of “test scores” we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how students achieved.

Just think of the number of standardized tests administered by the state of North Carolina in our public schools – many happening right now witht he end of the traditional school. And don’t forget include any local benchmark assessments, the PSAT, the ACT, the Pre-ACT, or any of the AP exams that may come with Advanced Placement classes. Throw in some PISA or NAEP participants. Maybe the ASVAB and the Work-keys.

And do you think that the same “conversion” formulas are used from semester to semester and year to year when converting the raw score on state tests to final grades on those tests? And do you know how much those scores are used to compute EVAAS scores?

In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2022), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that seem to be graded differently than previous ones that are then “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

In 2015, the Council of Great Schools released a bombshell of a report on the negative effects of testing in public schools that so rattled the status quo that even then President Obama had to address its findings and amend his stance on standardized testing.

The Washington Post in a story printed on October 24, 2015 entitled “Study says standardized testing is overwhelming nation’s public schools” reported on the Council’s study stating,

The study analyzed tests given in 66 urban districts in the 2014-2015 school year. It did not count quizzes or tests created by classroom teachers, and it did not address the amount of time schools devote to test preparation.

 It portrays a chock-a-block jumble, where tests have been layered upon tests under mandates from Congress, the U.S. Department of Education and state and local governments, many of which the study argues have questionable value to teachers and students. Testing companies that aggressively market new exams also share the blame, the study said.

 “Everyone is culpable here,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “You’ve got multiple actors requiring, urging and encouraging a variety of tests for very different reasons that don’t necessarily add up to a clear picture of how our kids are doing. The result is an assessment system that’s not very intelligent and not coherent.”

The study also stated that many of the tests given are not even aligned with the curriculum standards that are supposed to be measured. With such an emphasis on these tests, can one be really certain that “student achievement” has actually been correctly measured?  And if not, then why are school performance grades and teacher evaluations (especially North Carolina) so reliant on those same tests?

Along with “student test scores” and “student achievement,” “graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower. That drastically affects graduation rates. Add to that, some school systems (like the one where I teach) do not allow for any student to receive a quarter grade lower than a “50” increasing the odds of many students artificially passing a class.

Furthermore, it takes fewer credits to graduate (20-22) than it did 15 years ago (24+), and in many cases students are taking more classes to pass fewer credits because many systems have adopted the block schedule. In fact, most all high school teachers are teaching more classes and more kids because of removed class size caps and overcrowding in schools and altered schedules.

And many want to claim that graduation rates are strictly tied to teacher performance. That’s like redefining what it means to be obese in medical communities by raising the threshold for weight. All of a sudden more people are not considered overweight, but their health does not change and you place all the blame on doctors.

If student achievement and graduation rates rest totally on the shoulders of teachers, then that’s narrow-minded and biased. Other scholarly research continues to point out that there are other influences such as socio-economic factors which affect student outcomes like poverty, health care access, and resources at home. Those are factors that the very politicians in Raleigh who complain about school performance can do something about.

As a veteran teacher, I believe that schools and society are mirror reflections of each other; strong communities help strengthen schools which in turn support communities. Teachers do make a great impact on the lives of students no matter what, but when teachers, parents, communities, and government work in synchronicity with each other, the greatest of impacts happen.

A successful public school system is not a product-driven industry. It is a people-powered process. It is not a test-taking machine, but a community that nurtures skills and promotes responsibility. It does not look solely at test scores from one day in a student’s life, but rather looks at the growth of the student over time. A successful public school system values the student-teacher relationship, not a bottom line defined by non-educators.

In schools that received a “D” or “F” in their performance grades, there are students achieving and strong teachers overcoming obstacles to help students. The teacher who may be attached to low test scores on EOCT’s may in fact have fostered more growth in students than teachers who have high test scores on their evaluations. You do not know unless you investigate, because fuzzy numbers do not always tell the entire story.

You do not have to solely believe what people in Raleigh say about our public schools. All you have to do is visit yourself and see the great work that is done in public schools.

A Word About Those “Listening Tours” For The New Teacher Licensure Plan

Remember when we had a state superintendent who wanted to start his tenure with a listening tour?

When I took office as State Superintendent, I embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community and business leaders. Now I am able to focus on priorities highlighted by teachers from Murphy to Manteo. I believe appreciating teachers means listening to their concerns and working to support them” – Mark Johnson from “Ways to show our teachers appreciation” from EdNC.org on May 8th, 2018 (https://www.ednc.org/2018/05/08/ways-to-show-our-teachers-appreciation/).

Did you feel heard then?

Mark Johnson did whatever he was told to do as state superintendent. The special session in December of 2016 by the NCGA under the guise of helping with Hurrican Matthew victims became a power grab for the office of the state superintendent before Roy Cooper came to office to make sure that DPI would still be controlled by those who controlled the NCGA.

Now a few years later, it doesn’t not feel any different especially when this teacher hears of “listening tours” being conducted by DPI officials about a new licensure plan for getting more teachers into the profession.

It’s hard not to think of these listening tours as more of a formality to give the veneer of “teacher input” when obviously the groundwork for this plan was made without an abundance of teacher input beforehand.

When Catherine Truitt floated the idea of a Parent Advisory Committee this past school year, she invited any and everyone interested in applying to give fill out a rather open-ended application that allowed for extended personal answers. Unlike the Teacher Working Conditions Survey given to teachers every other year, it did not solely have check boxes to mark and a list to choose from.

Why not allow teachers to have this same ability to offer input? If you really want to hear from teachers, then hear from teachers. THEN LISTEN TO THEM.

Another aspect of these listening tours is that many seem to not even be in person. From a state superintendent who was adamant about the need for students to be “in person” and the “learning loss” that occurred because of remote instruction, one would think that these listening tours could all be “in person” as well. Nothing should be lost when it comes to something this important.

And who gets invited to these tour meetings? It has been understood that many school systems were asked to select teachers to go to these meetings. Central Office personnel surely do not know every teacher in their district personally. Highly visible teachers and those who are selected as Teachers of the Year come to mind quickly, but do those teachers really represent all of the teachers in the district? Sure, award winning teachers deserve the praise and recognition, but we are losing teachers at a high rate. We are losing teachers who do not feel valued and respected. We are losing teachers who do not feel they are being heard and listened to.

This is a screen shot from the vacancy list in the sate from TeachNC as of thos moment this post is published.

Why are there so many vacancies? Well…

… there are a lot of reasons.

So, are these “listening tours” really targeting the audience in the education world that really needs to be heard?

And are they really listening to teachers?

Because this teacher does not believe so.

“What If Instead Of Focusing On #pickelball,” You Focused On LEANDRO

Interesting that our State Supt. Catherine Truitt would fight to get this $10K diverted from diversity in “pickleball” in Wake County in order to score score some political points and public publicity when she cannot even acknowledfge some other glaring truths.

About same time in which she tweeted this…

…this report was released from the U.S. Census Bureau about the census of 2020:

We ranked 44th as a state.

And we still haven’t really heard from our State Super about how she plans to fight for the funds as dicated by the LEANDRO court decision.

But she will go after the pickleball funds.

Dear Mr. Lt. Gov. & State School Board Member Who Hunts For Fake Indoctrinating Witches, Are You Still Speaking At The NRA Convention Today?

Literally days after the horrific Uvalde, TX school massacre, the NRA is holding its annual convention right down the road in Houston. And while some noted speakers have cancelled in-person appearances, others have not. That includes former president Trump, Sen. “Schools Should Only Have One Door” Ted Cruz, and …

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

By all accounts, Robinson is still scheduled to speak in-person to the convention attendees.

From WRAL.com:

Makes one wonder if the man who said the following words this past year talking at Berean Baptist Church will offer any concrete ideas as to how to stop more school shootings.

It would make sense that the man who has given so much pomp and energy to root out exactly ZERO teachers for indoctrination would at least offer something to help make sure that this kind of massacre does not happen in any public school.

Of course in the promotional material for the convention, there must be some biographical information about our LT. Gov. and possibly a picture to give attendees a visual. Maybe he supplied his own portrait.

Like this one?

Remembering A Time When Lawmakers Wanted To Arm NC Public School Teachers

As a teacher, I cannot legally give a student an aspirin tablet.

My high school has five counselors for over 2400 students. There is one part-time social worker. There is one school psychologist assigned to multiple schools at one time. A school nurse is on campus only one day a week.

As a country we require people to have a license to drive a car, we regulate alcohol, and we determine who can operate businesses at certain places. We cannot even put an addition on a house that we outright own unless it passes several stages of permits.

But at 18-years of age, one becomes old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes and an AR-15. That’s three years before one can buy a beer legally.

Lawmakers set these guidelines. Interesting that one (possibly more) thought at one time I should carry a gun to protect students from shooters. With the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, TX, I am sure that calls for arming teachers will again be heard in the NCGA as the new session begins in Raleigh.

I am a teacher of 25 years in public schools. And I want to tell any lawmaker that I will never carry a weapon on my person as a teacher in any school despite what he/she suggests in wake of this most recent school shooting.

Remember this report by the Associated Press on Feb. 16, 2018?

A North Carolina lawmaker says allowing teachers to bring guns to school would save lives in situations such as the deadly school shooting in Florida.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Republican State Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County told colleagues Thursday that he met with a police officer who wants to talk to lawmakers about training school personnel.

And this was not all that Pittman had to say on that matter in 2018. From a News & Observer article, it was reported that Pittman made some other interesting assertions.

In a Facebook comment on another user’s post, Pittman speculated the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to “push for gun control so they can more easily take over the country.”

pittman

Let it not be lost that Pittman is an ordained Presbyterian minister.

I don’t ever remember part of my training as a teacher whether in the classroom or in the field involving carrying a weapon to protect school children. Something in me clings to the idea that I am trying to arm my students with the ability to think for themselves and become productive citizens based on their choices in pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

And here in 2019, he has introduced more legislation to allow the schools to arm teachers.

Larry Pittman wanted to me to carry a weapon, because I am a public school teacher.

I have to fork over my own money to buy supplies.

We have a lower per-pupil expenditure in this state than we did years ago when adjusted for inflation.

We are fighting false allegations of CRT being taught in public schools.

We are fighting allegations of indoctrination.

We have school buildings that are literally falling apart.

And lawmakers who want to privatize public schools in North Carolina in such an explicit manner that we are seeing dramatic drops in teacher candidates to teach our students. Yet some of those very lawmakers want to “arm” me when he won’t even fully fund the very place I would be called upon to protect.

Not one student who has survived a school shooting has called for arming teachers in my memory. In fact in a post on Facebook a couple of the teachers who were very near the lines of fire talked about what teachers could always do in such horrific circumstances. They never mentioned being armed. They talked about being prepared. They talked about drills, locking doors, staying away from windows.

And those students from places like Parkland in Florida who survived that horrific shooting in 2019 are still  pleading for gun control. Loudly. This teacher is taking their word for it, not Larry Pittman’s.

If lawmakers wanted to “arm” teachers, then they would push for fully funding our schools with every resource possible.

Now Is The Time To Expand The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program To Include All NC Public Colleges & Universities – Especially Our HBCU’s

These two data exhibits in the WesrEd Leandro Report paint a vivid picture of what many in this state have been describing for years: the weakening of the teacher pipeline in North Carolina because of policies set by the NCGA.

leandroretention2

From 2009-10 to 2016-17, the percentage of new teachers who came from the UNC system dropped nearly 30%. Couple that with the fact that teachers who come from the UNC system have higher rates of retention at both the three-year and five-year mark (see below).

leandroretention1

Then on page 218 directly following the above exhibits, the Leandro Report states,

Although there has been an increase in the number of teachers of color (now about 30% of teacher enrollments in state teacher preparation programs), some of these teachers — particularly African American and Native American recruits — are primarily entering through alternative routes, which have much higher attrition rates. One reason for this is the steep drop in teacher education enrollments in minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges, which decreased by more than 60% between 2011 and 2016.

Teachers of color are an important resource. Recent research — much of it conducted in North Carolina — has found that having a same-race teacher has a positive impact on the long-term education achievement and attainment of students of color, particularly African American students (e.g., Dee, 2004; Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay, & Papageorge, 2017).

This state could do one action to help both increase the number of teacher candidates trained in our UNC system and bring in more minority teacher candidates – expand the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program exponentially – the same North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program that put so many great teachers in our NC schools for years.

That is until it was abolished and then brought back as a shadow of its former self.

The latest iteration of the Teaching Fellow Program only accommodates 160 potential teachers at “only one of five public or private universities to be selected by an appointed committee ” for only select fields. This comes nowhere to replacing a program that yearly helped train 500 potential teachers at multiple campuses  in a variety of subjects who were for 25 years also walking advertisements for teaching in the state that was at one time committed to public schools.

What NC needs now is to raise that number of yearly candidates to at least 1500.

Imagine if just one-tenth of the budget surplus that Phil Berger and Tim Moore have been bragging about these last few years was reinvested into the Teaching Fellow Program and expanded it to beyond what it used to be to include all state-supported colleges and universities with emphasis on our public Historically Black Colleges & Universities.

hbcu

Because this state needs more good teachers – more good teachers who stay. We especially need more minority teachers to whom our students can look up to in the most impressionable times of their lives.

Studies show that minority students who have minority teachers achieve more in school.

And the Leandro report confirms that.

To The School Board Candidate Who Knows Nothing About How Schools Really Operate

Yes. The primaries are here.

And it seems like every political sign that I see on the sides of roads and at interchanges is for one particular race: the local school board.

Throw around terms like “CRT,” “learning loss,” “mask mandates,” “indoctrination,” and “transparency,” add to them some righteous anger, and you have some rather loud campaigns for the local school board that base platforms on weak foundations.

Because the entity that is the local school system is much more than the platitudes of a campaign can ever explain.

If you are running for school board because you think that school systems handled the pandemic incorrectly with virtual learning and mask mandates, then please bring your crystal balls to each school board meeting so that we can accurately know how to handle unforeseen and unprecedented crises that have not happened yet.

If you are running for school board because you believe that SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is not appropriate for schools, then please share your plans for getting a full-time nurse, more counselors, and more social workers in our schools in a hurry and please make sure that schools have the resources to make schools safer (maybe even do something about class sizes as well).

If you are running for school board because you want to stop the “indoctrination” of our students, then please come with concrete examples of what is happening because if I as a teacher could truly indoctrinate students as powerfully as some of the candidates running say that I can, then there would never be a late (or never turned in) assignment or a phone used surreptitiously in class.

If you are running to make sure that the right curriculum is being taught, then take that up with the state board and the legislature. With the number of high-stakes standardized tests that schools have to give each year and the absolute enormity of the standards of study being crafted on a yearly basis, claiming that teachers are “teaching” their own curricula is ludicrous.

If you are running for school board because you think there needs to be more transparency in what is done in classrooms, then start looking at the syllabi and online repositories that all teachers use for students to have. Technology and social media have not only made things more accessible, but have made classroom activities incredibly transparent.

If you are running for school board because you feel that the teachers’ union is running the schools, then please be reminded that NC is a Right-To-Work, At-Will state that has outlawed public employees to collectively bargain. That makes North Carolina one of a kind. It also has taken away due-process rights for teachers, graduate degree pay, and longevity pay for teachers. Add to that a court order to follow a funding plan that has been ignored by the state government (LEANDRO) and you might want to point your anger toward the real culprits in Raleigh. (Plus, you would be proving to many why they might need to join a teacher advocacy group).

If you are running for school board because you want to focus more on discipline in schools, then please bring in a plan to have more assistant principals be in schools to help handle those issues and more empowerment for teachers to enforce the rules.

If you are running for school board because you think we need to strengthen the integrity of high school diplomas, then start talking about how we should not use graduation rates as the overall measure of school success.

If you are running for school board because you think you can run it like your business, then maybe you need to see how public schools really work. Maybe try running a business like a school system and see if they are compatible. (They aren’t).

And if you are running for school board because you want to give schools “back to the parents,” then remember that everyone is a stakeholder in public education – EVERYONE. It does not belong to one group. It belongs to all people, most of whom do not have a child in the school system at present.

The loudest voices do not always represent the majority of voters and what you as a candidate say on social media is read by so many more people than you think.

And if you want to empower teachers, it might be good to explain how you will because as of this posting there are almost 20,000 teaching vacancies in this state.

There are maybe 95,000 teaching positions in this state.

And this school year is not over… yet.

(Oh, and teachers are also taxpayers and many of us are parents of students ourselves.)