Mo(o)re Misguided Missives – A Response to Rep. Tim Moore’s Words on NCGA’s Education “Reforms”

Dear Rep. Moore,

I read with great frustration and yet great amusement your op-ed that appeared on November 9, 2017 on EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”).

You begin your farce of an attempted explanation of what has happened to public education in NC with.

“The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/09/education-reforms-north-carolinas-future/).

As the Speaker of the House in the NC General Assembly, the arguments that you make to boost this current crop of lawmakers as advocates for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for almost the last 13 years (and 15 of my 20 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.

And I use the term “toxic soil” in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense because not only have you helped shape the educational terrain here in the state, but also the environmental topography as well (Duke coal ash, GenX, etc.).

You make several “spun” assertions in your recent missive. Please allow me to respond in hopes that the positives you attempt to point out can actually be shown to be the opposite and that they are essentially real problems that you helped implement and foster.

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  1. Concerning “Higher Teacher and Principal Pay,” you stated,

Thanks to four consecutive pay raises for North Carolina teachers, the statewide average salary is $50,000 while starting teachers earn $35,000.

This year, we had the fastest growing teacher pay in the nation since 2014.

We enacted teacher bonus opportunities, reestablished the N.C. Teaching Fellows program and expanded the Teacher Assistant Tuition Reimbursement Program to recruit and retain our state’s best educators.

North Carolina’s principals and assistant principals will also see their salaries go up by 8.6% and 13.4%, respectively, over the next two years.

Those are a lot of empty claims that require full explanation that you seem unwilling to give. But I will do so here.

You use that word – “average”. What you neglect to explain is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

“Average” does not mean “actual”. Actually it’s like an average of the average. But it sounds great to those who don’t understand the math or choose not to explain it.

That average $50,000 salary? That’s spinning as well. Gov. McCrory made that claim as well when he was running for reelection. And I will tell you the same thing as I did him in one of my earlier posts.

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/comment-page-1/).”

You make reference to bonus pay. Bonus pay is more like merit pay. It had never worked. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.

And that principal pay increase? Then explain why many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary.

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

With a balanced budget process in place, North Carolina increased education spending substantially this decade. We’ve invested more than a billion additional dollars into public schools, including tens of millions of additional dollars for textbooks and digital resources.

We’re working to streamline those additional tax dollars directly into classrooms and provide budget flexibility for local school systems to help meet their students’ needs.

One billion more dollars. Really? It should have been way more than that. How can you say that we are spending more on education but the per pupil expenditures have gone down and stagnated? Easy. You don’t talk about the fact that North Carolina’s population is growing rapidly. That population increase and the need to educate more students actually means that we as a state should have spent much more than a billion dollars to keep pace with previous expenditures that earlier GOP governors made paramount.

Let me use an analogy I have made in past posts.

“Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your analysis, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per pupil expenditure has gone down, significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf).

  1. Concerning “More Options” for families you claimed,

Through opportunity scholarships and increased education options like charter schools and virtual schools, North Carolina is building dynamic school systems with diverse choices for families who need them most.  

When you can present empirical data and research that shows that charters are outperforming traditional schools while serving students without admission requirements, then I will begin to entertain this assertion more.

Virtual schools? Really? Those two virtual charter schools that are begging for more money to stay open to profit out-of-state entities? Have you not read about their apparent lack of success?

And our voucher system? That has not shown any empirical results that prove they are actually giving kids better choices. As I have mentioned many times in the past, “you 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” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

 

  1. Concerning “Lower Class Sizes,” you commented,

Today, the North Carolina legislature is working with local school systems to lower class sizes. Like most parents, we believe reducing student-teacher ratios is essential to education success.

First, I would invite you to step out of your office on West Jones Street and visit the offices of Wake County Schools and say this out loud.

It’s legislation (HB13) that is holding school systems hostage. And you are doing it in such a way that it forces schools to drop certain valuable classes and “specials.” And you are doing it without the extra aid in hiring the needed teachers and the funds to build the extra classrooms to meet the “standard.”.

In fact, HB13 has been one of the most contentious pieces of legislation to come out of Raleigh in the last year. And that is saying something considering what you and your cronies have passed.

 

  1. Concerning the “Innovative School District,” you said,

Another example of North Carolina’s dedication to meaningful reform is the Innovative School District (ISD).

This program seeks to help schools that consistently rank near the bottom of the state in academic performance better serve students who are being denied our state’s promise of a quality education.

And how big is this district right now? What cheers do we see out of Robeson County that are applauding this innovation?

 

  1. And finally under the heading of “Prioritizing Success,” you conclude,

As education leaders, we have a duty to pursue innovative policies like the Read to Achieve literacy program to improve performance and provide a path to success for all students.

Read to Achieve is something that really was established under Dr. Atkinson but is being “owned” by Mark Johnson in an attempt to show he has actually done something in his ten months on the job besides stay silent and spend taxpayer money in court. If the state wasn’t forcing school systems and LEA’s to front more money to help schools, then maybe they could help more with this “Read to Achieve” program such as maybe building more libraries.

The only positive aspect about this op-ed is that it is at least consistent with what other legislators and policy makers in Raleigh have said in shallow ways.

Otherwise, it’s just the same BS you have been forcing into reality with a group that has not only tried to limit people’s voting rights, but gerrymandered the districts to ensure a GOP majority in order to pass legislation that profits a few.

Mark Johnson, Those “Dreamers” Are Our Students. Speak Up For Them.

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“We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of the United States, the only nation ever to have a dream named after it. No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream.

More of the same cannot be the only option for our students and educators. I propose we focus on College and Workforce Preparedness for students; 21st Century Education Innovation for teachers, and A New Education Direction for all of North Carolina.

Many different challenges face us, but let’s acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed. Every day we do not, more teachers will quit and more students will be lost.” – Mark Johnson, September 7, 2016 in EdNC.org.

That quote ends Mark Johnson’s op-ed piece in EdNC.org as he was campaigning to be the state superintendent for the state of North Carolina (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

Ironic that it was published almost one-year ago to the day of the recent decision by President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) that protects those we ubiquitously call “Dreamers.”

That act established by the Obama administration protects some of our very students in North Carolina schools. What Trump and Sessions did today is wickedly targeting students who in more than one way truly represent what Johnson calls the “American Dream.”

“Dream” is an interesting word considering that the above quote by Johnson is from an op-ed entitled “Our American dream.” It’s even more ironic that in a recent video message Johnson sent to teachers to help “open” the new school year, the American Dream was again referred to (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/08/25/welcome-back-to-school-2017-2018-mark-johnsons-empty-video-address/).

And a little under two weeks ago, we marked the anniversary of what might be the most iconic speech ever given on American soil: “I Have a Dream” by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So when Mark Johnson said, “No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream,” did he mean that for the actual “dreamers” in our schools?

Those students who literally are here because their parents held on to an idea that the American Dream was as real and palpable as anything ever created?

Those students who hold on to the opportunity to learn and be a part of an “immigrant” nation tighter than anyone else?

Those students who would move heaven and earth to just get the opportunity to succeed (and the pun on the word “opportunity” is not lost on those who favor NC’s form of vouchers)?

For a man who has been extended untold power by a General Assembly for a state superintendent, who has used the idea of an “American Dream” as a political mantra this past year, and who supposedly leads the public schools that despite budget cuts are lovingly educating these “dreamers,” what is he willing to say to this?

“The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible” (from a memo concerning DACA – http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/05/politics/white-house-memo-daca-recipients-leave/index.html).

As a leader, it is up to Mark Johnson to not only revisit his words from a year ago, but also act on them because actions speak louder than words.

And when actions are used to back up words, it speaks even louder.

Yet the lack of a statement or the lack of reaffirmation for many of our students who are “dreamers” screams the loudest.

For a man who wanted to be a public servant for all students in North Carolina, it’s time to start serving and stand up for all of our students.

 

First Day Back to School, 2017 – Day 4,141– An Open Letter to Teachers

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Tomorrow begins my 13th year at my current school, the Home of the Titans.

Tomorrow begins my 20th year of teaching – three schools so far. Hope I stay at my current school the rest of my career.

Tomorrow is my 4,141st day in high school as a student and teacher (non-workdays) That does not include my stint as a student teacher.

Ironically, that number is much higher if I count all of the days in the summers I am at school making preparations for the coming school years and the official workdays.

If I was a coach, that number would be still much higher. But many people do not see that because they are fixated on teachers having “summers off.”

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 181st day of high school. Maybe she will say hello to me if I pass her in the hall.

And I am still nervous. Why? Because I want it to go well. Not just for me, but for my own children, and the students who will be in my classes.

I know what my lesson plans are. Copies are made. Notes ready to talk about. Books ready to assign. Webpages are ready and linked. Introductions rehearsed. Even some homework is planned. I have more ready to do than could ever be done in the allotted amount of time. Yet, I am still nervous.

But I am nervous for the right reasons. I want students to do well. I want them to succeed. I want them to become self-learners, and I want them to use me as a resource, not just a guide.

However, if you teach in North Carolina, there is a lot working against you. The the General Assembly has not been kind to public education in the past four + years. Vouchers, rapid growth of charters, disproportionate raises, school grading systems, misguided standardized tests, a neophyte for a state superintendent, etc. That list goes on and on.

Our collegiate schools of education are not at capacity. Governor’s School has been on a chopping block. There is SB599. Specials in elementary schools are threatened in the name of “class size.” Per pupil expenditure is lower than it was before the recession. Our state superintendent and state board of education have spent more time in court than on the job.

Yet…

I know that when I walk into my classroom tomorrow morning, I will be the teacher – constant,  inspired, ready to engage students, many of whom do not want to be there.

I want to be there. And my students will know that I want to be there.

If you are a veteran teacher in North Carolina (and that means you are not new), then I am proud to be called one of your ranks. If you are new to the teaching world, then I hope you will see that this is a noble profession filled with wonderful people. And we will gain back the respect of those who have put obstacles in our way.

I wish every public school teacher the best of first days.

Even if it is hard to sleep the night before such as it is with me.

I think you are the best of people.

Teachers, What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

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Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have an unproven voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. In fact, our state superintendent is a neophyte in education.

The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are sometimes constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the unconstitutional Voter ID law that had to be overturned.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about that our own state superintendent has been a no-show for public schools.
  • Think about what HB2 did to us.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

Dear Sen. Barefoot, Say It Isn’t So!

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Dear Sen. Barefoot,

News tonight that you will not seek reelection to the NC General Assembly in 2018 was rather surprising.

Your meteoric rise in the leadership ranks of the state’s GOP hierarchy seemed to be a sign of more to come. At a young age, you became the the co-chairman of the Senate Education and Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Higher Education that were instrumental in deciding the allotment for classroom size and for public school resources.

With the release of the new legislative maps, there will be a lot of conjecture as to why you saved your news for tonight. Maybe the new maps that were released (because the original ones that you were able to get elected within were gerrymandered) would hurt your chances to get reelected.

Maybe a”doubling” of your district would hurt your chances to gain another term. However, since the person whose district might merge into yours is also a GOP member, it would not really change the ability for your political cronies to keep a hold of the majority.

In a news report by WRAL, you were quoted (from your released statement that is linked to the report),

“As my legislative responsibilities grew over the past five years, so did my responsibilities at home. I feel now is the right time for me to focus more on being a dad than a State Senator, and so I won’t be running for re-election in 2018” (http://www.wral.com/sen-chad-barefoot-won-t-seek-reelection-in-2018-/16893984/).

I am a dad and a husband – best endeavors I have ever undertaken. And I commend your wanting to focus on that part of your life.

You also said in your statement,

“…we knew when I ran for the State Senate six years ago that serving in elected office might not be something we could do for the long haul “(http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Barefoot-Announces-That-He-Won-t-Seek-Re-election.html?soid=1108923576284&aid=wvpuuGTP42M).

But I am going to honest with you. I don’t believe that you are simply going away into the private sector. You will be back in some capacity.

Someone who was part of probably the most expensive state legislation races, who has become a co-chair of two of the most powerful committees in the NCGA, and who single-handedly has crafted some of the most altering legislation to “reform” public education is simply going to leave that behind?

I don’t believe it.

When Sen. Phil Berger said in the WRAL report, ““We’ll miss Chad’s thoughtful leadership in the Senate, but I commend him for choosing to spend more time with his young family and wish him every success,” I heard something else.

I heard, “We are grooming Chad to become better acquainted with other aspects of state-run agencies so that he can be of service to the NC GOP.”

Whether that means state-wide political office (consider that Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest is already ramping up a campaign for governor) or an appointment to a state job in some sort of educational venue (community college?), I am sure that you will be back in a position of lucrative service.

The man who brought us SB599 (alternative teacher pathways), proposed to end Governor’s School and launch a special “Legislative School”, helped slash budgets for DPI, and held “specials” hostage through HB13 is not simply going away that quickly.

Even if you did simply cut ties with political endeavors and state-wide office seeking, you could never really leave. That’s because in your short tenure, you have left an incredibly big scar on public education that will take years to heal because so many actions that have affected us in public schools have your fingerprints all over them. Things like:

  • Teacher Pay still low on national scale
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Misplaced Bonuses
  • Last in nation in Principal Pay
  • Standard 6 and Nebulous Evaluation Tools
  • Push for Merit Pay
  • “Average” Raises
  • Health Insurance and Benefits Attacked
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And for that, I will keep writing to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

This may not be a popular opinion, but it is one that is a matter of principle to me.

I will be receiving the maximum in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2016-2017. Many of you may think that it will continue to somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: continued lack of respect for all public school teachers.

I am not going to keep my bonus, again. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that former Gov. McCrory signed last year before he became the first sitting governor in NC history to not get reelected when he/she sought to, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported last year (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

“Advanced Placement course teachers will receive $50 bonuses for each of their students who score 3 or higher on AP exams. Teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program courses will receive a $50 bonus for each student who scores 4 or better on IB exams.

Those bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year. Scores from 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be used. Bonuses are to be paid in January 2017 and January 2018.

Teachers whose students earn approved industry certifications or credentials will win bonuses of $25 or $50 per student, depending on the value of the credential as determined by the state Department of Commerce. The bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year.”

In fact, I would receive more money in bonuses if there was no cap. But unlike class sizes, you have capped the bonuses.

But, as I said, I will not keep the bonus, again. Part of it will be taxed. The state will get some of it back. The feds will get some of it. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. None of it will go to my retirement plan.

The rest I will give back to my school. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – still have two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

But I can’t make it this way again, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test, one that does not even have any influence on their transcript.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but I will attempt to explain them clearly and concisely.

  1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.
  2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.
  3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.
    But many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus with all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.
  4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’sfaculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.
  5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.
  6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.
  7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter. I wrote Rep. Stam once concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

“If some subjects matter more than others, then why do schools weigh all classes the same on a transcript? If some subjects matter more than others, then why do we teach all of those subjects? I certainly feel that as an English teacher, the need to teach reading and writing skills is imperative to success in any endeavor that a student wishes to pursue after graduation. In fact, what teachers in any subject area are trained to do is to not just impart knowledge, but treat every student as an individual with unique learning styles, abilities, and aptitudes in a manner that lets each student grow as a person, one who can create and make his/her own choices. “

  1. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. As I stated in my aforementioned letter to Rep. Stam,

“Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

  1. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. Many teachers got a raise in the past four years, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.
  2. It’s pure electioneering. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amount of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is HB2, lawsuits between our puppet state superintendent and the state school board you appointed, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

These bonuses are not part of the solution. They are a symptom of a bigger problem. And while I will defend each person who receives this bonus his/her right to keep it and spend it any way he/she chooses, I plan to give mine to my school, one of many that you have not fully resourced.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

A Third-Person Open Letter to Darrell Allison and the PEFNC – Why Hide Behind the Ambiguity?

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” showcases one of the primary redundancies purposefully used by funded “school choice” advocates in the quest to make sure that the best way to argue for “freedom in choosing schools” in North Carolina is to control what information parents have in “choosing” educational avenues for their students.

In short, it is easier to hail school choice as a viable means of giving parents freedom as long as what they know about the choices can be controlled.

Wagner focuses much of her article on the most vocal proponent of the school choice movement in North Carolina – Darrell Allison, the leader of PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina).

To say that he is the most influential non-law maker on educational reform in the state is not a stretch; his recent appointment to the UNC Board of Governors and his ability to lobby lawmakers in Raleigh certainly gives him more clout than most pro-public school legislators on West Jones Street.

Wagner raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

What Wagner is referring to is the PEFNC’s official reaction to a Duke University report on the Opportunity Grants that contained a flawed conclusion that was later corrected but did not really diminish the results. As Billy Ball reported on July 14th,

The Duke report, released in March by the school’s Children’s Law Clinic, initially suggested the state’s voucher recipients were not performing as well as their public school peers, although the university later edited that portion, arguing instead that the state lacks sufficient data to draw that conclusion (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/14/school-choice-advocates-blast-duke-voucher-report-flawed/#sthash.76QLNaKS.dpbs).

However, the corrected statement by the Duke study team coupled with PEFNC’s statement still gives every indication that people like Darrell Allison do not want to adequately measure how well voucher recipients are performing compared to their public school peers.

“The bottom line is this: We do not yet know how most scholarship students in North Carolina are performing on nationally standardized tests, and we do not know how scholarship students compare to other low-income students not using scholarships,” the group’s paper states.

That refutation from Allison and his cohort is weak. It’s saying that in the three-plus years the state of North Carolina has enacted the Opportunity Grant program and expanded it greatly, it does not really know if it is working.

Allison is claiming victory in the ambiguity. And it is the ambiguity that he wants to remain in the forefront to cloud what really may be the truth: that voucher recipients are not doing as well.

That’s opaque transparency with lots of tax-payer money which is siphoning the resources of traditional public schools which service a vast majority of the low-income students that Allison and PEFNC claim to be helping.

Wagner comments about how hard it is to actually get student achievement data concerning voucher recipients.

… only 11 percent of all voucher schools (that’s 34 schools if you’re counting) were required to publicize their students’ test results at the end of 2016. How students fared at nearly 300 other private voucher schools in North Carolina is unknown…

That’s ridiculous. That’s ludicrous. That’s egregious.

Almost a billion dollars has been set aside in the next decade to fund a program which Allison and PEFNC gleefully defend against Duke’s study as something that is not even measurable. But there is a reason that it is not measureable.

Wagner noted that “Efforts were made this past legislative session to require all voucher schools to use just one national test so that, ultimately, parents can make more of an informed choice—but those efforts failed.

Why did those efforts fail? God knows with as much back-door dealing in this last session of the NC General Assembly, this “failed effort” was craftily thwarted by those who want vouchers to remain in North Carolina. Would it be too far of a stretch to think that Allison and PEFNC lobbied for that “effort” to fail?

No, because it would have removed any doubt as to whether voucher recipients were doing as well as their public school peers. But if there is any indication that they were not, then the voucher program would be shown to be a “failed effort” in and of itself.

So, “in this context, one must wonder how a parent is supposed to know whether or not a private voucher school is a good choice for his or her child.”

This past week, NC State released a research study entitled “NC State Research Explores How Private Schools, Families Make Voucher Decisions” that explored perceptions of families of voucher recipients (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/).

Some very curious observations came out that could use a little explanation from Allison and the PEFNC to shed some light on what the voucher program is actually doing.

Consider:

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And…

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And..

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That’s not flattering because it can easily be concluded that what vouchers are doing is not allowing for “low-income students” to actually attend reputable private schools because those schools cost lots of money. Private schools are not non-profit entities. They cost money for a reason.

Secondly, students who did use voucher monies tended to already be behind the academic curve. To bring those students up-to-par would require remediation or it may be symptomatic of the fact that many of these students may have come from under-resourced public schools.

And if 71% of parents thought their kids were safer, it may be indicative of the lack of personnel and lack of support the traditional public schools receive. Most private schools are smaller and have lower teacher: student ratios.

But that racial diversity satisfaction percentage? That’s not encouraging if you investigate the socioeconomics of the almost %20 of school age kids in the state.

If most of the recipients of vouchers do not go to proven academic private schools or remain there (over 90% of recipients go to a religious school), and if you negate the ability to actually measure how well academically these voucher recipients are doing compared to public school students all the while slashing funds for DPI and not fully funding existing schools, then it is hard to say that there is really freedom of choice occurring.

Darrell Allison knows that.

If he is certain that voucher recipients are receiving a better education, then he should be the first to push for efforts to accurately measure achievement levels between voucher recipients and public school students.

The fact that he is not and has not for the last few years certainly indicates a willingness to control what many think is a “freedom of choice.”

Dear Secretary DeVos, From Malcolm, A Special Normal Public School Kid

Dear Secretary DeVos,

My name is Malcolm and I just finished third-grade in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system. I have vibrant red-hair and blue eyes like my mom, wear cool glasses, have a wicked follow through on my jump shot, and am quite the dancer. My dad also wears glasses, but he does not dance very well nor has much hair. My sister is in high school. She is very smart and she helps me with my homework.

I also have an extra chromosome because of a condition called Trisomy 21. You may know it as Down Syndrome. It does not define me. It just is, but I do need a little extra help in school and in learning other skills on how to be independent.

I am having my daddy write this letter for me. He is a teacher in a public high school. In fact, I spend a lot of time at his school going to games and functions. A lot of people know me there like they do at my own school. My having an extra chromosome doesn’t seem to scare them so much because in the end we are all more alike than different anyway.

But I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going. I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.

My daddy has noticed you like this thing called “school choice” and that the budget that you and Mr. Trump like puts more money into this. Yet it really seems to have done a lot to weaken public schools like not fully give money to them or give them resources so that all kids in public schools can be successful. It seems that some money went to this thing called “vouchers” and some has been used to help make other types of schools – schools that will not accept me.

When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.

But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.

When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.

My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.

But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.

The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.

But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that.

I think you should stand up more for students like me. I think you should fight more for public schools. I think that you should be loud about it. Make everyone know your commitment to public school children and their teachers and the staffs at each school as many times as you can.

I can be loud. It’s easy. I let my presence be known all of the time. It’s how others know I am there. But I have to be there.

It seems that if you are the leader of the public schools in the nation, then you would be more of a champion for public schools. You would show up at places when asked to talk about what is going on in schools.

Like accepting invitations to places and conferences.

I know that you were invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference this next week. My daddy says that you have never met with a special-education advocacy group before. Why?

Why have you not accepted the chance to talk to the very people who need to hear you talk? These are the people who help make sure that I have what I need because I depend on the public schools.

In fact, my daddy says that you do not really talk to those who really need you to explain your views on education and why you seem to like some types of schools more than others.

Why?

Shouldn’t you be willing to talk?

My daddy goes to work every school day and teaches the students who show up for school. He does not get to choose his students. But that does not matter to him.

I go to school and my teacher did not get to choose what students she got to have. But she teaches me anyway.

If you are the secretary of education for the whole country, then shouldn’t you be willing to go anywhere to talk about school?

Sincerely,

Malcolm
Special Normal Public School Kid

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Six Months Into Office – An Open Letter to Supt. Mark Johnson

“The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state’s public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.”http://www.dpi.state.nc.us

Dear Supt. Johnson,

When you assumed the office of state school superintendent over six months ago, you gave some initial remarks to at a state board of education meeting that talked about your sense of urgency in transforming our schools. In fact, you said,

“Today is Jan. 5, 2017. There will never be another Jan. 5, 2017 ever again. No matter how we use this day, if we make the most of it, if we waste it, it’s gone. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day we lose. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our teachers, is a day they lose.”

Today is July 9, 2017. There will never be another July 9th, 2017 ever again.  Since January 5th, there have been 186 days with unique dates attached to them that will never occur again – days that could be filled with bold actions for students and teachers and schools.

I have two students in my house, a rising tenth grader who aspires to go to college and a rising fourth grader who has an IEP and needs his teaching assistant as much as his regular teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for them?

I am a public school teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for me and my fellow educators?

Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are valid questions.

Shortly after you made your statement of “urgency” you launched a listening tour called “The NC Education & Innovation Tour” that “pledged to conduct a listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community leaders across North Carolina” (http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/newsroom/news/2016-17/20170202-01). Each stop seems to have been held behind closed doors without public input.

You said that you would come back in the summer and return with action items hopefully still with that since of “urgency.”

Once that tour is completed, Johnson said, he promised to return with action items. In the meantime, he lobbied school leaders to act with urgency to improve conditions in some of North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/01/05/new-superintendent-public-instruction-highlights-urgent-need-transform-outdated-school-system/).

  • Summer is here.
  • School year has been over for weeks. Graduation was a month ago.
  • Summer school has been in session for a while.
  • Sports physicals for fall sports are already due and teams have been to camps.
  • PTSA’s are working on help next year’s budgets.
  • Schedules have already been made for students and teachers.
  • Supplies have been ordered.
  • Professional development has been taken.
  • DPI has received a budget that is less than what it has been.
  • AP scores have been sent out.

And where are you? Where is your item list? What have you learned? What do you have to say for what has happened in the state since you took office? When do you plan on addressing the state board of education? When do you plan on addressing the 115 local public school districts, 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students, their parents and communities, as well as the taxpayers and the thousands of teachers?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Because every day that you do not take action to show leadership for our schools as an elected official is a day we all lose.Seal_of_the_North_Carolina_Board_of_Education

State Superintendent Johnson, Whom Do You Serve?

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I appreciated the words in your video address to teachers thanking us for our work during the National Teacher Appreciation Week. For those who may not have seen that video, here is a link: https://youtu.be/asLHLCxjQ6k.

You talked about how teachers are not thanked enough, and while it is nice to hear those sentiments, the teacher, the public school parent, and the voter in me wants to see something else: action.

Why? Because during this week of “Teacher Appreciation” and polite ceremony, schools in many districts were still struggling to find the necessary resources and having to ask for essential support as the North Carolina General Assembly’s Senate chamber rolled out a budget proposal that did nothing to improve funding for public schools.

In fact, what happened on West Jones Street this “Teacher Appreciation Week” showed how much many in Raleigh do not appreciate what happens in public schools.

And this teacher, parent, voter, and advocate needs to ask you as the chief administrator of public schools, “What are you willing to do?”

First, it is quite disconcerting to not have heard you speak about the proposed cuts to the Department of Public Instruction. Actually, they aren’t really cuts. It’s more of a severing of limbs.

As suggested in the budget proposal, http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/PDF/S257v2.pdf, there would be a 25 percent cut in operation funds for DPI.

NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball reported on May 12th, 2017 in “Senate slashes DPI; state Superintendent silent,”

North Carolina’s chief public school administrator may be silent on Senate budget cuts to North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, but the leader of the state’s top school board says the proposal has the potential to deal major harm to poor and low-performing school districts.

“There’s no question about that,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey told Policy Watch Thursday. “A 25 percent cut, which I can’t believe will be the result of this process, would cut into very essential services for particularly the rural and poor counties.”

Cobey is referring to the Senate budget’s 25 percent cut in operations funds for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a loss of more than $26 million over two years that, strangely, has produced no public reaction from the leader of the department (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/05/12/senate-slashes-dpi-state-superintendent-silent/).

Whether or not you want to give a statement to NC Policy Watch, the fact that you have not openly responded to this is actually quite surprising. And this is happening in a year where the same lawmakers are touting yet another SURPLUS in revenue.

Frankly, your power struggle to obtain authority over segments of public school policy with the state board has pretty much put a lot in limbo as far as crafting what you said in January were “urgent” reforms needed in our education system. Furthermore, those reforms and changes do not seem to have any shape or form in your first 120 days in office.

And it seems to have helped bring about a reduction of the very office that many look to help sustain many needed facets of public education in the state, especially in rural districts – by a fourth!

Some of those very districts were hurt by some late night underhanded partisan backstabbing this past weekend.

Colin Campbell of the News &Observer reported in “At 3 a.m., NC Senate GOP strips education funding from Democrats’ districts” on May 13th,

“The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article150397682.html#storylink=cpy).

What is your position on that?

Those districts’ schools are your schools. That proposed cut of twenty-five percent to DPI affects your schools. This prolonged lawsuit against members of your own party affects your schools.

Actually, they are our schools. And you were elected to work for our schools.

At the beginning of your term that you stated you would be conducting a “listening tour” for your first few months. I and others are very interested in learning what you have heard and how it may guide your policies.

However, a LOT WAS SAID THIS WEEK in words and actions – budget cuts, falling from 42nd to 43rd in per pupil expenditures, “super-vouchers,” and attacks on programs that help small districts. So, the obvious question might be, “What are you going to do about this?” It appears if you truly appreciated teachers and public schools, it seems that you would be screaming at all of this.

But the real question might be “Who do you serve?”

That same budget which is causing many people to doubt our state’s commitment to public schools also gave you money to do a couple of things. The first concerns a legal fund.

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That’s three-hundred thousand dollars to use so you can sue the State Board of Education to get powers as a state superintendent that have never been placed in the hands of the office before. The face of the State Board of Education is the same person who commented above about the cuts to DPI when you did not.

The second is to secure loyalty.

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This allows you to have five more people to work for you than the previous state superintendent which is odd considering that the same people who gave you this appropriation and the money to sue your own state board are the very ones who have cut DPI’s operation budget by a quarter.

So I ask again, “Who do you serve?”

Actions say so much.

And in this case a lack of a reaction screams.