An Open Letter to BEST NC Concerning Meeting With Michelle Rhee -Every Public School Teacher Needs To Be Aware Of This

Dear Mrs. Berg,

As the CEO of BEST NC, you and your team have led a coalition of business leaders who have helped steer the conversation surrounding public education in North Carolina. While many times as a public school teacher I have disagreed with your interpretation and analysis of the variables, causes, and effects that have shaped the public school system, I have appreciated your willingness to converse and exchange viewpoints.

I also have not only read, but studied the materials that BEST NC has released, and I did it with the thought that your coalition’s purpose was to remain non-partisan and open to all sides of the discussion.

As soon as one visits the “About Us” page of your website, best-nc.org, the following appears:

BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.

The word “non-partisan” really stands out to me, especially in a state where the public education system has been rather manipulated by partisan ideologies.

And then one can view the “Our Approach” tab and read:

BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We work to…

  • Convene a broad constituency of education stakeholders,
  • Inform an engaged business community, and
  • Advocate for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will move the needle…
  • …toward a shared, bold vision for education.

The words that resonate most in this are “convene,” “broad constituency,”” advocate,” and “shared vision.”

And while you tout that your group is pro-public education and seeks to “collaborate” with others, news that BEST NC will be holding a “legislative gathering” on February 7th makes me rather suspicious that the non-partisan approach you claim BEST NC maintains is not real.

My suspicion is not caused by the fact you are meeting. It arises because of whom you are meeting with.

In my 18 years of teaching in public schools and in my active advocacy for fully-funded public schools, I have never encountered a more polarizing figure than Michelle Rhee. In fact, I (and many others) consider Ms. Rhee the antithesis of how to approach helping public schools. In every endeavor she has undertaken in “improving” educational outcomes, she has left disunity, damage, and a large void in her wake.

No one really needs to exert much energy to see that her tenure in Washington D. C. was disastrous. She clearly endorses high-stakes testing, elimination of due-process rights, and the closing of schools she deems unsuccessful because she values a test grade over student growth.

No one really needs to dig deep and realize that her Project IMPACT initiative in Washington DC has been widely scrutinized because of the use of a “carrot and stick” mentality and its adherence to “teaching toward a test,” both of which run counter to the very premise of having a “skilled citizenry.” Michelle Rhee simply champions efforts to make teachers “jump” through hoops to get students to do well on arbitrary tests rather than empowering students to grow in their skills. It pays no attention to other factors that affect student achievement like poverty, lack of funding, overcrowding, all of which exist widely in North Carolina.

However, it is what she stands for now that is even more frightening considering current trends in North Carolina. As a strong advocate for charter school growth and vouchers for private schools, Ms. Rhee represents efforts to privatize public institutions which runs counter to our state’s constitution which your site quotes.

The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools… wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.– Article IX, Section 2(1), North Carolina Constitution

The invitation to include George Parker only reinforces that BEST NC is uniting champions of school choice and value added measurements with lawmakers and business leaders who can further those causes. You claim in Billy Ball’s article in NC Policy Watch (1/27),

“The legislative gathering is always closed to media, always has and always will be as a promise to members. Because they want to feel comfortable asking elected officials and experts candid questions off the record.” – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/01/27/public-education-advocates-cry-foul-legislators-private-meeting-controversial-school-reformer-michelle-rhee/#sthash.Zn4WUvda.vHutAkcx.dpuf

So much for open dialogue and collaboration. In fact, it makes it all appear that it is part of a larger agenda.

Consider the timing. The election cycle has just passed. Gerrymandering has enabled the GOP to maintain majorities in the NC General Assembly. We have a president who champions school choice and vouchers. North Carolina already has been infected with several “reforms” and our state is a “right-to-work” state which has no unions, contrary to what Mr. Ball reported.

And the two groups that will not be involved in your “candid” discussion are the two groups who have the biggest stake in public education: public school teachers and the public.

Ball’s article later reports,

“Still, Berg said there’s nothing secretive or inappropriate about BEST N.C.’s gathering with Rhee and lawmakers, which she described as a reception with a guest speaker, followed by a brief Q&A session. No state policies will be on the table; nor will legislators be holding a discussion of state public policy.

“The beauty of this is we want our members to ask really blunt questions,” said Berg. She acknowledged, however, that she’s not surprised, given the press attention surrounding Rhee’s education reforms, that some would be anxious over her attendance.

“I don’t have concern with people being upset about the national speaker,” Berg said. “She shut down schools. That made some people mad.”

When it comes to public education, “blunt” questions do need to be asked, but those discussions need to involve all parties.

  • Why is this “legislative gathering” about public institutions and public monies so secretive?
  • Why allow someone who clearly does not have a good track record with actually improving schools come and educate selected people who can make critical decisions about our public schools?
  • Why not have these discussions with actual scholars in educational research? Have they been invited?
  • Why are there not any teachers or teacher groups involved in this?

 

There are very concrete reasons why people would be “upset about the national speaker.”

But I am more upset that a group that supposedly celebrates open discussion and collaboration would broker a meeting such as this when what will be discussed are most certainly reform ideas that run counter to really improving public schools and still profit a selected few.

That is the reason that I am writing you. And that is the reason that I am making this an open letter in hopes that all public school teachers can learn more about what might be happening when a known privatizer who devalues teachers is coming to speak with the very lawmaking group that crafts how well public schools are resourced and how teachers are treated.

That is the reason I am also asking that you reconsider actually having this meeting with Michelle Rhee or make it more open to other stakeholders because BEST NC’s credibility as being “non-partisan” will suffer.

It certainly has changed my opinion of BEST NC.

 

Open Letter to Dave Machado, Charter School Chief for the State of North Carolina Concerning His Words About the Annual Charter Schools Report

Dear Mr. Machado,

As the Director for the State Office of Charter Schools in North Carolina, your words concerning the annual charter schools report just recently made to the State Board of Education prove not just interesting, but rather selective and uninformed and display an attitude to make sure that charter schools in North Carolina thrive at the expense of traditional public schools here in the Old North State.

charter-school-report

A WRAL.com report from January 4, 2017 entitled “NC charter schools chief: Need to increase diversity, open more rural schools” included some rather illuminating insights on your part that not only display a shortsightedness synonymous with an attempt to stretch and spin the truth, but an intention to create more of a market for an unregulated charter school industry that is enabled by the current political structure here in North Carolina.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported,

“The report found that charters and traditional schools have about the same proportion of students who are American Indian, Asian, black and Pacific Islander. However, charters tend to have more white students and fewer Hispanic students than traditional schools.

The report also found that charter schools tend to serve fewer poor students than traditional schools. But Machado cautioned board members that some of that data may not be accurate. Schools may have under-reported how many low-income students they serve, he explained, because they must rely on parents to report income information.

Not all parents want to share that information.

“Parents would get mad when we sent those surveys out,” Machado said, referencing his time as chief administrator of Lincoln Charter School in Lincoln County (http://www.wral.com/nc-charter-schools-chief-need-to-increase-diversity-open-more-rural-schools/16400623/) .

There is a tad bit of faulty logic there. Are you suggesting that only charter school parents are unwilling to share information about income because of an assumed social stigma concerning socio-economics?

The truth is that all schools must rely on parents to report information for students – medical, past transcripts, addresses, etc. To suggest that traditional public schools do not have to struggle with having accurate measures of low-income versus high income students is ludicrous, because if that was not the case, then you just said that charter schools do a much poorer job of keeping up with records on their students.

Work in any public school and you will start to understand that many students will not report as low-income because they (or their families) do not wish to be identified as poor. And whether people in any office on the county level or on West Jones Street want to admit it, all public schools have students who face poverty, and poverty affects education.

And it is interesting that you mention Lincoln County, home of Rep. Jason Saine and Sen. David Curtis, current members of the North Carolina General Assembly who are sworn to uphold a state constitution to make sure that all children in North Carolina receive a quality public education. Yet, both champion charter school growth in Lincoln County using taxpayer money.

You may refer to the following letters that I penned to them for more information concerning their ventures.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/28/hes-back-open-letter-to-sen-david-curtis-why-do-you-not-support-public-schools/

Ironically, the very charter schools they are associated with do not show up on the Lincoln County Public Schools website.

lincoln-county

There was another assertion that you offered in the WRAL report which actually opened the story that also piqued my interest.

Hinchcliffe opens the WRAL report with,

“North Carolina charter schools need to have more diversity among their students and open more schools in rural parts of the state,” the state’s charter school chief said Wednesday.

Dave Machado made the comments while presenting the annual charter schools report to the State Board of Education. 

You directly say that you want to open more charter schools in rural areas. I assume that means in counties that may have few traditional public schools to begin with where a charter school may come in and siphon away enough students into another entity that could adversely affect those traditional schools.

Considering how schools are funded by state, local, and federal monies, even a small change in student population in a small rural school could have drastic effects in the ability for that small rural school to apply for funds to have ample resources for those who are not fortunate enough to attend the charter school.

Also, why would you want more charter schools in rural areas when you could invest those monies in the very schools that exist for the students who already attend them? Why benefit a few at the expense of many?

You may claim that you want to offer more choice for students, but how is it really choice for those who would never be able to attend the charter school?

You may claim that you want to offer citizens a chance to attend a successful school in an area where schools have been “failing.” Well, when you can show empirical evidence that charter schools do better than traditional schools overall, then you might have an argument, and even then why wouldn’t those successful ventures then be invested in the traditional public schools anyway for the benefit of all students?

And you talked of the need for diversity.

I do know of a few measures that you could take that would make charter school more diverse, or at least less homogenous, but it would require being measured against traditional public schools again, which seems to something that touches a nerve with you.

  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students that they may not have wanted in the first place like traditional public schools must – urban, suburban, and rural.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who have special needs whether they be developmental delays or physical disabilities like traditional public schools (even rural ones) already do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools keep teaching students with low test scores like traditional schools do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who do not speak English as their first language as traditional schools must.

It’s very interesting to see how an idea that was very altruistic in nature as the charter school once was become a championed cause for privatization of public education. Many credit Albert Shanker, the former president of the American Federation of Teachers, with the idea of charter schools, but his idea seems so foreign to the concept that is being advocated so much here in North Carolina and the words that you say.

Shanker wanted (and I paraphrase Dr. Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System pp. 122-124) charter schools should be a decision made with school districts to focus on those students who are the hardest to teach – those who were on the verge of dropping out. He would never have imagined charter schools using the type of admissions processes being used now. And most importantly, because the charter schools would be sort of an offshoot of the public schools, they would naturally be collaborative.

And yes, there are some charter schools that are doing the work of teaching students in newer, more experimental ways in hopes to help other students in traditional schools. And those schools are working with their respective public school systems, but they seem more the exception now than the norm.

Yet, Mr. Machado, what I see your mission being is to create a situation not based on collaboration, but of competition. And if public education was meant to be competitive, then should not both charter schools and traditional schools have to play by the same rules?

Because they certainly are not here in North Carolina.

 

 

Malcolm’s Letter to Gov.-Elect Roy Cooper

Dear Governor-Elect Cooper,

My name is Malcolm and I am a third-grader 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.

And 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.

The people in what my daddy calls the General Assembly seemed to have done a lot of things 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 to 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. But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning.

Yet 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.

I think you will be good for students like me because I think you will fight for schools like mine and all public schools. But I will ask you to do one thing – 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. Just make yourself heard when you see something that is not right.

Let each member of the General Assembly know that commitment and when they say or do something that might hurt how a school can help any of its kids, you tell them that is not right. You tell them, “NO!”

I say that word at least twenty times a day. In fact, according to my daddy, it’s the first word I learned.

But the last governor did not say that word. My daddy says that a governor can say “no” by doing something called a “veto.” And the last governor rarely ever did a veto. He let the people in the General Assembly do what they wanted. And it hurt our schools.

When people say “no” it makes others think why it should not be. It makes people have to talk about it. And according to my daddy, many in the General Assembly do not like talking in public about what they do in secret like “special sessions” or “midnight meetings.”

But you can be heard. And you need to talk for a lot of us.

And if you need someone to help you say “no” or yell loudly, let my daddy know and he can bring me to Raleigh so I can help out.

I’ll be the kid with the red hair and blue eyes who just happens to have an extra chromosome and likes going to school.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Egan,
Special Normal Public School Kid

malcolm

Open Letter to Rep. Jason Saine -You’re a State Representative; Fight For All Public Schools, Not A New Charter School

Dear Rep. Saine,

When you as a lawmaker were elected to office in North Carolina, you took a vow to uphold the state constitution no matter what area you represented. While the interests of any lawmaker’s constituents are of vital importance, it could be argued that the entire state is actually the represented area of any lawmaker. Any policy, law, or act passed will have an effect on all North Carolinians.

One of the most sacred components of the NC state constitution is the edict that the state will provide a quality public education for all students and will fully fund the schools that educate those students. If a lawmaker is beholden to supporting the state constitution and helping make public schools viable for all students, then it is almost as if each lawmaker is a de facto board member for each public school in the state.

That means you should be an advocate for all traditional public schools which is why it seems that having a state representative such as you serve as a board member for West Lake Prep Charter School and helping guide its application process seems a little more than contradictory to the very job you were elected to do.

In fact, you even created the private foundation that started the application.

According to a report from The Lincoln Times on Dec. 6, 2016, by Michelle Bernard “Another charter school proposed for Lincoln County”,

“An application for a new charter school was filed by Aaron Hoegle of Denver with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Office of Charter Schools.

West Lake Preparatory Academy would be located in eastern Lincoln County and would operate under the nonprofit Lincoln Charter Education Foundation, in partnership with the “education management organization” Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), which manages charter schools in seven states. The Lincoln Charter Education Foundation, according to the application, was initially created by state Rep. Jason Saine and former county commissioner Tom Anderson, who will each serve on the school’s board. The application says a waitlist of more than 1,000 students at Lincoln Charter School, the only charter school currently operating in Lincoln County, led Saine to create the foundation. Hoegle is listed as the foundation’s president, Anderson as its vice president and Saine as its treasurer. Preston Curtis, the son of state Sen. David Curtis, is listed as the board’s secretary. Former Lincoln County educator Glenda Walker and attorney Mathias Hunnoval round out the board’s membership” (http://www.lincolntimesnews.com/2016/12/06/another-charter-school-proposed-lincoln-county/).

If there is a waiting list of 1000 students in a rural county for a charter school, then what has not been done to help the very public schools that already service these students? Why is there a need to have a private company like Charter Schools USA come in a take state money to “manage” a school that will threaten the vitality of the very public schools that you are sworn to protect and uphold?

Why create another situation where some (NOT ALL) students get to go to a state-of-the art school based on a lottery system when you could take that money being used to pay CSUSA and reinvest it in schools that serve ALL Lincoln County students. As the “5th Most Effective Member of the State House” (www.jasonsaine.com), you could actually make all public schools more effective by acting as a true servant and being an advocate for all NC students.

Maybe a better question might be “Would you stand up in front of the State School Board and fight for funds for all Lincoln County Schools the way that you stood in front of the Charter School Advisory Board on December 8th to ‘fight’ for West Lake?”

Granted, you may respond with the argument for school choice and that there should be competition like there is in the free market. But when should a state service be based on competition when it is supposedly guaranteed by the state constitution? To say that competition is good for schools and that students would benefit from that choice is a loaded proposition as traditional schools are not allowed to even operate in such a way as charter schools are. Besides, traditional public schools accept all students. Charter schools do not. Yet, fully fund those traditional schools with resources and they sure can be competitive.

You may say that the public school system is failing the students and that charter schools are a viable solution. Yet, public schools provide a great reflection of a society and how it prioritizes education. When our schools are told that they are failing, those with the power to affect change are really the ones who deserve the failing grades. And as your website states, you are supposedly effective and can affect change.

You may say that you are honoring the parents who believe that tax monies allotted to their children should be spent in ways that best “educate” their children. But are not the tax monies we use to educate children really intended for the support of a viable public education system for those children? The state does not simply invest in children; it invests in a system that allows for children to be educated. As a sage old friend, mentor, and master teacher once stated, “Public education, despite the appalling trends of the past couple of decades, is a sacred trust the efficacy of which will assure that a participatory, representative democracy will thrive…or wilt. The best interests of all of us are well served by a sound public school system.”

He’s absolutely correct.

And money should not be an issue when it comes to funding our public schools, at least according to some of your actions and words. You made a lot of news in 2015 when you spent nearly $20,000 of campaign money on clothes. An August 10th, 2015 report by Jim Morrill (“Rep. Jason Saine defends $19,000 clothing buy“) stated,

“N.C. Rep. Jason Saine on Monday defended spending more than $19,000 in campaign money on clothes, including some from a custom tailor in Charlotte.

Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, cited the spending on his most recent campaign report. It was first reported on The Daily Haymaker, a conservative website.

Saine spent $17,908 on clothes from Tom James Co., which bills itself as “the world’s largest manufacturer of custom clothing.”

That’s over half the salary of many of the teachers I work with even after those “historic” raises.

Yet it is a quote by you in that report that really frames the need for fully funding the schools that we already have. You said,

“I get the sticker shock. But it’s part of the cost of doing the business that I’m in.”

Well, you are supposed to be in the business of supporting all of our public schools. So, instead of heading up private concerns to take public monies, why don’t you just be effective and fully fund the schools we already have for all students despite what you may think is sticker shock.

That’s the cost of doing the business of what the state is obliged to do.

Dear North Carolina General Assembly – Don’t Take Away The Arts and PE Because “Specialties Are Necessities”

Dear Members of the NCGA,

I am sure that many of you are familiar with Don McLean’s famous song “American Pie.” It has been the subject of tremendous amounts of explication. Websites devoted to explaining all of the lyrics and all of the rumored allusions can take a day or two to just peruse, but McLean himself has identified the “day the music died” as that day in Feb. of 1959 when a plane carrying Buddy Holly (“That’ll Be The Day”), Richie Valens (“La Bamba”), and J.P. Richardson (aka. The Big Bopper) crashed killing all three rock icons.

Many people who were not even alive in the 1970’s can quote the first verse from memory.

“A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.”

McLean’s song highlighted our culture’s need for music, expression, and how important it is to cultivate our sense of being by developing not just the logical left side of the brain, but the creative right side as well.

What followed in the next 15 years after that fateful plane crash was possibly one of the most turbulent times in American history: the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, Watergate, Women’s Rights, ongoing Cold War, etc. And the music and the rest of its artistic siblings helped us to capture, reflect, express, communicate, and heal from those scars received.

And now with the current political climate on this global terrain, we will need to rely on our artistic expressions to help cope and grow from what we will experience in the near future.

How ironic that in such turbulent times our own leaders are searching for ways to quash our children’s opportunities to develop the very creative and physical skills that study after study shows make us more complete, well-rounded, and prepared for life’s situations.

A Nov. 14th report on NC Policy Watch by Billy Ball (“New rules to lower class sizes force stark choices, threatening the arts, music and P.E”) states,

“North Carolina public school leaders say a legislative mandate to decrease class sizes in the early grades may have a devastating impact on school systems across the state, forcing districts to spend millions more hiring teachers or cut scores of positions for those teaching “specialty” subjects such as arts, music and physical education” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/11/14/new-rules-lower-class-sizes-force-stark-choices-threatening-tas-specialty-education-positions/).

First, I would make the argument that arts, music, and physical education are not “specialties” but “necessities.” In a nation that is spending more on health problems caused by obesity, the need to get kids moving and away from the television might be just as important as core subject material. Secondly, it shows a glaring contradiction to the religious platforms that many of you in state government have been professing while maintaining office.

The predominant spiritual path in the United States, Judeo-Christianity, talks much of the need for music, dance, movement, song, and expression. I think of all of the hymns and musicals my own Southern Baptist church produced, most complete with choreography, which is odd considering that many joke about Baptists’ aversion to dancing.

Even the Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Yet, some of you who are cheering about a budget surplus are planning to “force districts into stark choices about how to allocate their resources.” Ball continues,

“In some districts, it may mean spending millions more in local dollars to hire additional teachers. Or in other districts, officials say, leaders may be forced to eliminate specialty education positions or draw cash from other pools, such as funding for teaching assistants.”

That’s egregious. That’s backwards. That’s forcing school districts to make decisions about whether to educate the whole child or part of the child in order to make student/teacher ratios look favorable.

That’s like going out of your way to get plastic surgery, liposuction, and body sculpting to create a new look while ignoring the actual health of your body. Without proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, mental health, and emotional support, we open doors to maladies.

When the Bible talks about a temple, it talks about the insides, not just the outsides.

Interestingly enough, many of the private schools and charter schools that receive public money through Opportunity Grants have plentiful art programs and physical education opportunities.

So why put these programs for public schools in jeopardy?

What our history has shown us time and time again is that we needed music, dance, arts, and physical education to cope and grow as people and we needed them to become better students. To force the removal of these vital areas of learning would be making our students more one-dimensional. It would make them less prepared.

Don McLean released “American Pie” in 1971. It is widely considered one of the top ten songs of the entire twentieth century. Fifty-five years later, it still has relevance.

The last verse (or “outro”) is actually a tad bit haunting.

“I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.”

When we elect you as our public servants to serve, we gave you the keys to the vehicle that drives our state, a purple colored divided state that has HB2, vouchers, redistricting, Voter ID laws, underfunded public schools, and poverty.

Now imagine that vehicle being a Chevy. We don’t need to go to a dry levee.

We need to keep the music and the other “necessities.”

 

Sincerely,

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher

An Open Letter to Gov. McCrory Complete With a Song Dedication – Apologies to Gerry Rafferty

Dear Governor McCrory,

Knowing that you just celebrated your 60th birthday, I thought I would send a song dedication to you.

Specifically a rewritten version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” recorded with the group Stealers Wheel.

stealersstuck

It’s a classic from the 70’s and it seems to really sum up the situation that I perceive you are in with the upcoming election and the issue of HB2 casting a long shadow on your campaign.

That, and it’s a catchy tune.

Well, I don’t know why I’m promoting this law.
It’s caused more trouble than I foresaw.
I’m so scared and I publicly whine.
Cause I didn’t veto; don’t have any spine.
I claim “Charlotte’s to the left” of me,
Berger’s to the right, and here I am
Defending HB2.

Rick Rothacker’s October 18th news story in the Charlotte Observer (“In email, McCrory’s general counsel said governor fought against HB2”), you seem to insist that you may have secretly opposed HB2 during its radical adoption in last spring’s secret, special session.

Rothacker reported,

“Three days after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, his general counsel told a former legal colleague that the governor battled the legislature over the bill that limited protections for LGBT individuals, according to emails obtained by the Observer.

“Bob, here are the facts: We fought against this bill,” Bob Stephens said in a March 26 email to Bob Turner, a lawyer in Charlotte. “You have no idea how hard the Governor worked to limit it. He told the legislature that it went too far. We lobbied against it and even drafted our own version of the bill but it was not accepted.”

Stephens’ comments contrast with McCrory’s defense of the measure in recent months, even in the face of major sports boycotts of the state.”

That is rather eye-opening considering the effort that you have made to defend the controversial “bathroom bill” that has seen millions of dollars taken away from North Carolina’s economy through the loss of business expansion, cancellations of sports and entertainment events, and lost tourism in protest the discriminatory law.

Bob Stephens, your general counsel, later “defended” your complicit nature by stating,

“And don’t tell me the Governor should have vetoed the bill. His veto would have been overridden in a matter of days and we’d be right where we are now. If you have other ideas about what the Governor should have done, let me know.”

Actually, you should have vetoed.

Governor, in a re-election campaign that is literally becoming more of an uphill climb, you could have done more positive for your image than any commercial, political ad, website, testimonial, or explanation defending HB2 could have ever done. You could have vetoed it and shown some spine in confronting your own party.

Yes, I know that I’m vouching for HB2,
But I’m really wondering should I continue.
It’s so hard to keep this smile on my face.
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place.
NCAA’s to the left of me.
Tim Moore’s to the right, but here I am
Stuck with HB2.

Instead, you became a puppet for someone else’s discriminatory agenda and a mouthpiece of a fallacious and illogical argument.

If you had vetoed the bill as Mr. Stephens’s email hints at, you might have been able to show that you are not a rubber stamp for the policies of the GOP General Assembly.

You may have been able to distinguish yourself as your own person who keeps the best interests of all North Carolinians in mind, not just the ones who lead the GOP on West Jones Street.

And yes, your veto would have been overridden, but you would have made a statement and a stand that would have firmed up a rather shaky foundation of an administration.

But you willingly allowed yourself and your tenure as governor to be forever haunted with the albatross that is HB2 to go along with the Voter ID law and all of the other actions that have welcomed public education in NC.

Bob Stephens did say one other thing that seems very eye-opening in this storm of an election season.

He said,

“The Governor is always the lightning rod for these things. Not fair.”

Your blaming others for a law that cannot even be enforced and is hurting our state is not fair.

Being the lightning rod comes with the office; however, in this case you covered yourself with aluminum foil, held up a golfing putter, and climbed an even higher peak in the middle of a political and social tempest.

But no worries, if you don’t like the weather in North Carolina, just wait a while. It will change.

Hopefully on November 8th.

Trying to make some sense of it all.
But I can see that it makes no sense at all.
Can I now issue that veto?
Cause this issue won’t let me go.
Springsteen’s to the left of me,
My politics to the right, but here I am
Drowning because of HB2.

To The Wake County School Board – “Who do You Serve?”

When you are the parent of a child with special needs, you tend to become a tad bit more hyper-vigilant when it comes to the laws surrounding the services  guarentted by law for children like mine.

You also become very cognizant of what other families of children with special needs encounter and sometimes have to confront and fight in order to ensure that the law is being followed. And then you read  story like this from the Raleigh News & Observer entitled “Wake County debates promotion policy for special-needs students”.

Take a read – http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/wake-ed-blog/article102310147.html.

But it is in the comments section that needs the attention. In it a parent of a child with special needs posted an open letter.

It is the best open letter I have read in quite a while. And I have run across a lot of them.

It is devastatingly poignant, appropriately direct, and incredibly relevant. I asked the writer, Mary Beth Ainsworth, if I could repost here and she graciously said yes.

Simply put – you need to read this.

 

Dear Sitting School Board Members,

I am writing with grave concerns over the article published by the News and Observer this morning that shows such open, blatant and intentional discrimination against children with disabilities in the Wake County School System. I and many other parents in the community are confused as to who it actually is that you work for and support, because articles like this make it painfully clear that you sure as hell don’t serve the students.

From the very beginning of the article, “The Wake County school system is trying to play it safe by not mandating that school staff do more than what’s required by law to serve and promote special education students.”
For those of you who are under the impression that as a county you even come close to meeting the minimum requirements of the law as it is, you are grossly misinformed or blissfully ignorant of reality. The Wake County special education program is an absolute atrocity and if you would listen and respond to the parents and constituents in your respective districts then you would be aware of that. So I ask again, who do you serve?

Next in the article, “School administrators wanted to make sure the new policy doesn’t mandate in writing that schools do more than what’s required by law for students with disabilities.”
So this “policy” is to benefit school administrators? It certainly does nothing for the students or the teachers. And the leadership of your administrators and your leadership as the school board is exactly why the special education program is so compromised and corrupted in Wake County. Since when did doing more than what’s required become something to oppress and avoid? And again, Wake County does NOT meet the minimum law requirements as it is. You need to be informed on the status of these programs before you pass policies that you do not understand or cannot comprehend the full impact of. This is going to hurt students with disabilities categorically. And if you understand that and you still support these changes, I ask again, who do you serve?

“It on average costs more to educate special needs students and the fights between families and school officials over what services are appropriate can get intense.”
The school district gets extra funding from both federal, state and county budgets for special education. The fact that those funds are misused and misappropriated is not the fault of the students. In fact, that would be the fault of poor oversight of the school board. And yes, the fights over what is appropriate can get intense. That is because we as families can have a federal mandate in writing that Wake County provide services as required under law to our child, and Wake County will spend a year in litigation fighting that same federal mandate. Does this benefit the child? No. Does this benefit the school system? No. Does this benefit taxpayers? No. You spent $1.3 million dollars last school year on a law firm that defends special education violations. Imagine if you spent that money on the actual education of children. But since you don’t, I ask again, who do you serve?

“All students will be held to the same promotion standards, with appropriate support and modifications provided as required by law.” Since none of you have taken the time to educate yourself on the law, this is considered a blanket policy which will most certainly be found to violate federal law by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It very specifically removes the individual component required under IDEA. Of course your attorneys would not advise you on that because, again, they are paid over a million dollars a year defending these types of atrocities in court. What benefit would they have if the county followed the law? How would they be paid? You have no concept of appropriate support and modifications and again, Wake County already fails to abide by the law on a massive scale. How does this help the students with disabilities? This is such blatant discrimination and open disregard for a child’s right to education that I am honestly shocked you so openly back this. Who is it that you serve?

“Karen Hamilton, assistant superintendent for special education services, responded that staff wants to execute the law.” Have you looked into the dispersion of special education programs throughout the county? Have you looked into why some kids have to travel an hour or more to get to school? Karen Hamilton has openly stated that she allocates special education funding based on which principals she gets along with best – which all seem to sit on one side of the county. That is complete opposite of following the law and if fact is further evidence of misappropriation of special education funds. If you listened to your parents, if you responded to your constituents, if you performed your due diligence in investigating special needs allegations then you would be aware of these issues. Who do you serve?

Hamilton said, “I think if we communicate more than that, then the district will be held to a standard of more than that.”
God forbid.

“Jonathan Blumberg, the school board’s attorney, said he understood where Martin was coming from but said that special education law is highly regulated.”Again, their firm made $1.3 million dollars last year which was a $200K increase from the previous school year. The only interest the law firm has is in making money. They are notorious for fighting children with disabilities to prevent them from receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education. Why would the law firm actually put forth information to benefit the students? If the students were in fact protected by the law, then how else would this law firm make $1.3 million from the Wake County school system? On that note, where exactly is that covered in the budget? You don’t provide a line item for that in your “transparent” budget. I as a taxpayer am pissed that millions of dollars are spent to deny hundreds of dollars in services. Who is it that you work for? Who is it that you serve?

“When he was a principal, Benton said he hated to do it but would tell parents they tried to do everything that was reasonably possible to help their children.”
How is this proposed policy change doing everything reasonably possible to help? It is actually an attempt to do less than the minimum required. Who do you serve?

“It’s a three way-street. There’s the school, the parent and the student. If even one of those three legs are not upholding their part it’s going to fail.”
Yes! This is actually a true statement. The irony is that you are failing to recognize or understand that the failing leg is the school system. You have phenomenal teachers, phenomenal aids, phenomenal therapists, phenomenal parents and phenomenal students. But making ignorant, uninformed and detrimental decisions for all of those phenomenal people are administrators far removed from the classroom and the students. If you pass this policy, you are signing your name to an agreement to fail our children with disabilities. When is the last time you were in a special needs classroom? When is the last time you spoke with a special needs family? When is the last time you observed all of the amazing things a special needs student can do? I’m truly asking. Why are you sitting on the school board? Who do you serve?

“I don’t believe there’s a single person in schools that would contemplate doing less than what’s required,” Fletcher said. “As I board, I don’t believe that we can obligate them to do more than required by law, which is continuously reinterpreted by the federal regulators.”
Mr. Fletcher, you have been on numerous emails that I have sent you where I have named multiple individuals in the school system who are intentionally circumventing federal law, committing numerous ethics violations and consistently do less than what’s required but you have failed to respond to even one of those emails. While I live in Mr. Benton’s district, my son attends school in your district. And you both have done literally nothing in regards to the multiple allegations that have been brought forth. You need to remove the rose colored glasses, Mr. Fletcher, and take leadership and accountability along with the rest of the school board that your special education administration and program is seriously corrupted. The law is not continuously reinterpreted, but new protections are specifically outlined to close loopholes because school districts such as Wake County exploit less specific wording to discriminate against children with disabilities. So why such a strong, hard war on our children with special needs? Who are you protecting? Who are you serving?

Bravo, Mary Beth Ainsworth. Bravo!

 

Open Letter to Kami Mueller Concerning the NCAA, HB2, and “Political Peacocking” – Sorry, the Political Peacocking Bit Makes Me Laugh

Dear Ms. Meuller,

I read with great feigned interest your statement on behalf of the NCGOP concerning the NCAA’s decision to remove all championship athletic games from the state of North Carolina because of their stance on HB2, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill.”

kami-mueller

It reads,

“This is so absurd it’s almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams. Under the NCAA’s logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation. If you are unwilling to have women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women’s team? I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor. Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking — and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation’s collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field.”

Actually, it was more like surprise and bewilderment with which I read your statement. It almost made me wince and cringe like when I would watch The Office and Michael Scott would say something so insensitive that you became embarrassed for a fictional character in a satirical sitcom that made fun of office dynamics.

However, after having read your statement a few times, I sensed that there might be more method to this madness – that there was an ulterior motive – some purpose in the way your message was framed to an unsuspecting audience.

So I got out my rhetorical triangle complete with lenses to detect changes in diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax and came up with a few possibilities why your statement may have been more meticulously planned rather than the fart in the wind that others claim.

  1. It’s really satire.

Actually, it could be farce. You said yourself, “This is so absurd it’s almost comical.”

You even comically suggest that there should now be unisex collegiate sports. And why not? We have unisex classrooms where both men and women sit in congress with each other mentally engaging in a variety of subjects taught by members of different genders. Sometimes there are even study groups with members of the opposite sex.

It’s so apparent that it is the intent of the NCAA to “merge” all teams together. Talk about equal rights! And you brought it to light for the world to see!

And the way that you equated sexual assault with transgenderphobia? Wow! Even more hilarious. You literally paralleled the egregious acts of rape by football players who were identified as men on their birth certificates against women in Texas with fantastically unsubstantiated claims that there was ever a sexual assault committed by a transgender individual against a woman in North Carolina! Brilliant!

Forget that Baylor University, a Baptist school nonetheless, tried to cover it up from the NCAA and the world outside the campus. You go ahead and satirically blame the NCAA for that! Another fantastic move! And the way that you never mentioned it was Kenneth Starr who resigned from Baylor because he failed to act on the information properly – the same Kenneth Starr who tried to get Bill Clinton impeached because he had “relations” with an intern, but fumbled the opportunity (forgive the pun) – the same Bill Clinton who is married to the very presidential candidate who may win NC’s electoral votes? That’s gold!

And the best tongue-in-cheek part of your statement? That’s right – “political peacocking.”

No explanation needed for that.

  1. You are secretly working for the democrats.

That’s right. You delivered a surreptitiously calculated statement meant to make the NCGOP look so bad, so infantile, so whiny, so illogical, so stupid, and so insipid that you were really swaying more people to become prone to voting democratic in the November elections.

Maybe you knew that if you threw a rotten red herring out there in the form of egregious acts committed on a Texas college campus that voters here in North Carolina would know that it is a totally different issue than the one that HB2 brings to light.

You knew that a fear of the LGBT community did not equate to automatically assuming that all LGBT people are sexual predators, but in explicitly saying there was a correlation you created a statement so full of BS that the NCGOP would get blamed for it.

You knew that even insinuating that the NCAA condones rape openly when it has sensitively wrestled with issues linked to Title IX (sex discrimination in sports) and Title VII (minority rights) would make people look at your statement as an absolute joke of an explanation and wonder why they would even vote for a party that would think this way.

  1. You actually were serious and therefore recorded one of the most ill-advised statements that could ever be conceived in the minds of humans.

This is the worst scenario of all for the NCGOP and the one that is most accepted by pundits in the media.

It may be that it was rashly constructed then immediately printed in the heat of the moment with emotions so high like the actual HB2 bill was prepared, passed, and signed into law in a very short secret session last spring.

But to make it at this time is simply senseless. The GOP governor and the GOP-led NCGA are dealing with coal-ash spills, fallout from an unconstitutional Voter ID law, fallout from gerrymandering, and other efforts to slight the citizens of North Carolina and you deliver this delectable piece of ammunition for those who oppose the NCGOP’s actions.

You rely on empty arguments to defend a bill that could never be enforced, has economically hampered our state, and really takes away protections from people while discriminating others all while sexual assault was already against the law no matter what gender committed the crime.

And for someone who holds a rather high ranking job as a professional communicator, you make a statement that is insensitive, absurd, and overwrought in histrionics.

But I do have to admit that “political peacocking” makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help—not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

Open Letter to Phil Kirk, Chairman Emeritus for the NC State Board of Education

Dear Mr. Kirk,

I read with great interest your op-Ed for EdNC.org posted on September7, 2016 entitled “Outlandish myths about NC Republicans and education” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/outlandish-myths-nc-republicans-education/ )  It originally appeared in The News and Observer on September 6th .

Your initial paragraph in which you recount your unparalleled service and experience with education both in public schools and private universities more than qualifies you to speak about our current politically charged educational climate.  However, I also believe that it binds you to present your information in the entire context in which it resides.

As I read through your list of myths and their subsequent debunking, I could not help but think that you are presenting these myths with a lamp that does not fully shed light on the entire reality of the situation. It’s as if you defined the context of the claims and myths that many make in order to validate your explanations and allow them to fit within a politically motivated narrative that gives the current administration and legislature more credit than they deserve.

What you claim in the framework you present it in is totally correct. I am saying that you have said nothing that is incorrect within the context you present your points in. But there are so many other variables that affect the climate of public education that if investigated really show that you are doing more “cherry-picking” with numbers rather than presenting a complete outlook.

And with your background and understanding of public education, that’s simply outlandish.

  1. “Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.”

Those numbers are correct. But it is how you are phrasing the first sentence that builds a different construct than what many have been worried about which is teacher turnover. The numbers you present are only what people are allowing you to know. You are assuming that all teachers who leave the profession “self-report”.

I would invite you to look at the report to the North Carolina General Assembly about the state of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. It is more comprehensive and shows many more variables than you present (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf ).

The report also includes information on:

  • “Teachers who left the LEA but remained in education (31%) (Includes individuals resigning to teach in another NC LEA or charter school, individuals resigning to teach in a non-public school in NC, and individuals who moved to non-teaching positions in education)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for personal reasons (40%) (Includes individuals retiring with reduced benefits, individuals resigning to teach in another state, individuals dissatisfied with teaching, individuals who resigned for health reasons, individuals who resigned due to family responsibilities and/or childcare, death, and individuals who resigned due to family relocation, individuals seeking a career change)
  • Teachers who were terminated by the LEA (7%) (Includes individuals who were non-renewed, dismissed, or resigned in lieu of dismissal)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for reasons beyond the LEA’s control (15%) (Includes individuals who retired with full benefits, deceased, movement required by Military Orders, end of TFA or VIF term)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for other reasons not listed above (7%) (Includes teachers resigning or leaving teaching for reasons not listed or those who resigned for unknown and other reasons) (p.10) .”

The same report also shows that teacher turnover has actually risen during the current administration’s tenure (p.8).

kirk1

You state,

  1. “Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.”

First, the current administration is not the first to try and get all classrooms in all schools plugged in digitally. Gov. Perdue was and still is very proactive in advocating for technological advances to be married to schooling. But let’s turn to textbooks. Below is a list of textbook expenditures over the last nine budgets that was presented by DPI. These numbers can be found on http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/ .

  • 07-08 – $99,490,211
  • 08-09 – $100,652,409
  • 09-10 – $111,162,790
  • 10-11 – $2,500,000
  • 11-12 – $23,431,227
  • 12-13 – $22,816,039
  • 13-14 – $23,169,585
  • 14-15 – $24,265,721
  • 15-16 – $52,384,390

I find it interesting that you concentrate on the 10-11 figures. And two words may be able to explain this expenditure – Great Recession. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles. Blaming the meager amount of money spent on textbooks in this year would be like blaming the entire recession on NC democrats.

But what is more telling is in that particular year more conservative Republicans were coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you had is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Look at what was spent for textbooks in the three previous “democrat” years. Now look at the years that republicans have been in control. Furthermore, this is in real dollars which are not adjusted for inflation through the consumer price index.

Again, you are viewing what happened with selective vision. In this case, rather egregiously.

  1. “Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!”

Sen. Jim Davis made the same claims in a Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting this past summer. A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

And what he claimed and what you claimed are really padded points made by many in the current administration. I will rebut to you with what I wrote the senator.

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 Great Recession. million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add in inflation and those numbers become more startling.

  1. “Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between six and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!”

Are you sure about that? My paycheck doesn’t really reflect all that you say. Why? Because you use the word “average.”  Saying that North Carolina raised teacher salaries more than any other state in the nation in 2014 is misleading. One 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%. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

I invite you to read James Hogan’s recent posting about teacher pay on his blog entitled “No, NC Republicans Have Not Fixed Teacher Pay” (http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2016/09/no-nc-republicans-havent-fixed-teacher.html ). It’s devastatingly accurate and it doesn’t even talk about the removal of longevity pay.

  1. “Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted two percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.”

We are 50 out 51 in principal pay. You can’t really take credit for identifying a gaping wound now when everybody else has been seeing it for years.

  1. “Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.”

The words “projected” and “reality” are very different.  You said earlier in your op-Ed that we had the largest increase in teacher pay in 2014 and look what it got us. We are still near the bottom. Either the numbers are skewed somewhat or your claim lacks adequate explanation.

You are also assuming that we will rise in rankings without considering that other states will be increasing their own salaries and benefits packages.

Furthermore, you will need to convince me that we only do ten months of work. The budget now requires us to seek more certification renewal on our own time and schools do not prepare themselves over the summer. No school is ever really closed. Besides, there are a lot of coaches out there who work more in the summers than people really ever know.

  1. “Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16, and second and third grades at no more than 17.”

What about 4th grade?  5th?  6th?  7th?  8th?  9th?  10th?  11th?  12th?

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.

kirk2

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

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! 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.

You end your op-Ed with a semi-rhetorical question that begs even more explanation – “Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?”

Well, yes. Because there are more truthful “myths” that I need you to address in the full light of reality such as how the following are moves to help our schools and its teachers.

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, especially if you consider my claims in this letter outlandish.

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher