Open Letter to BEST NC About Their Principal Pay Plan (and Their Shallow Response to the Push-back).

Dear. Mrs. Berg and BESTNC,

Today I read your reactionary response on EdNC.org concerning BESTNC’s explanation of the new principal pay plan that has received some much well-deserved criticism. It was nice to finally see BEST NC take responsibility for this absolutely detrimental policy.

Without taking the time to mince words, I want to thank you for further proving what many of us public school advocates have known for a while concerning BESTNC and its principal members – that you and BESTNC are a special interest group who claim to represent a non-partisan, non-profit coalition that actually is helping usher in an agenda here in North Carolina which benefits those who wish to profit from the privatization of public schools.

One only has to read your latest attempt at amelioration entitled “North Carolina’s new principal pay schedule, explained by BEST NC” to understand that it is nothing more than damage control for an ill-conceived yet purposeful plan (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/north-carolinas-new-principal-pay-schedule-explained-best-nc/).

You start it by stating,

“This year, North Carolina made the largest investment in state history in principal salaries through an updated salary schedule and bonus opportunities.”

That sounds great, but when you say the word “bonus,” you already have aroused suspicion. The words “bonus” and “public education” have never really collided successfully in North Carolina. Remember the ABC’s? or the 25% of top teachers get a raise concept? Probably not, because you are not an educator or administrator. Rather, you are a mouthpiece for a special-interest group without an authentic understanding of public education but a clear understanding of profit.

When many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary, you come back with the horribly safe “average bear” concept.

“The new principal salary schedule provides the average North Carolina principal a 10 percent raise, built on a student-focused, nation-leading foundation.”

There is a seismic difference between “average” and “actual.” Just ask a veteran teacher to explain “average” teacher salary raises in the last five years. And that “built on a student focused, nation-leading foundation” comment? What “nation-leading” foundation are you referring to? I have a hunch.

Your VP at BESTNC is the former executive director for Carolina CAN, the state affiliate for 50CAN which is partnered with an outfit named Students First.

Students First was founded and is run by Michelle Rhee who I have stated in the past in a letter to you as someone who is “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” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/29/an-open-letter-to-best-nc-concerning-meeting-with-michelle-rhee-every-public-school-teacher-needs-to-be-aware-of-this/).

You invited her to speak at BESTNC’s Legislative Gathering for 2017 in which no teachers, education advocacy groups, or even press were allowed to attend. There was only a press-conference in which you offered “soft” questions in hopes that it would ameliorate the concerns people had with Rhee’s coming to talk to the very legislators who passed the principal pay plan you praise.

Michelle Rhee had once instituted a plan for bonus pay with performance “carrot-sticks” called Project IMPACT in Washington D.C. that has been widely scrutinized. This new principal pay plan that you are having to defend in this op-ed makes that Rhee visit come into a lot more focus. That is unless you are willing to share the nature of Rhee’s visit with the legislators that evening and prove the opposite.

But back to your recent missive:

“BEST NC is committed to working with state leaders to build on the state’s new plan and correct unintended consequences.”

Do those state leaders include actual teachers and teacher advocacy groups? If they do, please identify and explain how that was part of the collaboration to come up with this proposal for a principal pay plan in the first place.

“Since this summer, we have worked in consultation with state associations and educator groups on technical corrections to ensure that no principal sees a loss in pay this year, and to create greater stability for all principals by extending the provision into future years.”

What state associations and educator groups are you referring to? And I am not asking as a way of pressing the issue as much as I am genuinely asking whom you are collaborating with who fits those descriptions because I have not heard a word from other groups praising this plan.

I am also referring to your own words when it comes to having discourse with all parties involved. You even explained the need for “open discourse” in another EdNC.org op-ed called “(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

You said,

“Choosing to listen to other perspectives; especially ideas that may challenge our own beliefs – requires us to recognize that no one is perfect or has a monopoly on the best ideas – and this is hard. But when it comes to our students, it’s the right thing to do.”

So, when you help to craft this pay plan and push it through legislation, did you have those conversations with actual principals, public school administrators, and superintendents who have to hire principals to help lead schools, especially the hard-to-staff ones? And if you did, were they enthusiastic about the plan that was released this fall because BESTNC sure was.

On July 17th the same VP for BESTNC, Julie Kowal, who once was with Carolina Can penned an opinion piece that praised the very plan that you seem to be gingerly defending now. She even said,

“Not only is principal pay too low, but for years North Carolina – like other states – has paid school leaders based on school size, along with their level of education and years of experience, with no accounting for the difficulty of the job or the principals’ effectiveness in their role. This structure and level of principals’ compensation have made recruitment and retention increasingly difficult, particularly in high-needs and smaller schools.

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years” (http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/).

That letter seems to be a rousing approval of a plan that has in a short time done more to disturb high school principals than empower them. Reports given on the pay plan by educational groups have said that this plan will actually hurt “recruitment and retention… in high needs and smaller schools.”

And that removal for advanced-degree pay bumps is rather ironic when looking at the profiles of the staff of BESTNC on their website as they list all of the graduate degrees they have obtained to help validate their position.

And when you talked about helping “struggling schools” did you or BESTNC ever lobby for programs and initiatives to combat the very poverty that seems to go hand-in-hand with schools who receive chronically low school performance grades. You can easily see that correlation if you explore EdNC’s Data Dashboard.

But it is the last paragraph that shows your and BESTNC’s total disconnect with public education. You say,

“These corrections and improvements are critical. It is unfortunate, though, that they overshadow such a significant investment and important step forward to pay North Carolina’s principals as the executives they are.”

Of course they overshadow what you think is a great plan because you have not really improved the situation. You have rammed a business model down the throats of something that cannot be run like a business.

Furthermore, PRINCIPALS ARE NOT EXECUTIVES! THEY ARE EDCUCATIONAL LEADERS!

There is a massive difference. And to think that principals are executives only further proves your disconnect. If you really wanted principals to be executives, then let them operate without the need for complete transparency, or having to publicize salaries, or run on protocols established by outside entities, or even having a limit on what they can spend on the resources they think they need.

Oh, and let them choose their customers and set a price point.

But that will never happen because public schools are a public good, not a private business. And principals are educators by trade, not business executives.

If there is one thing that BESTNC’s involvement in the new principal pay plan has shed light upon, it is that being fully financed does allow for groups to take action and have influence, especially behind closed doors in Raleigh.

Now, just imagine if public schools were fully funded and fully staffed.

Fight for that.

Why BEST NC is Not “Best” for NC

A recent WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 19th on WRAL.com attested that the inflated rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina General Assembly’s so-called support of public education was nothing more than partisan hot air.

“Editorial: N.C. school budget’s defects emerge as students settle in” highlights two specifically glaring shortcomings to come out of the legislative sessions of the past summer: class size restrictions which have been rather publicized of late and the new principal pay plan (http://www.wral.com/editorial-reality-of-n-c-school-budget-s-defects-emerge-as-students-settle-in/16957746/).

That new principal pay plan has just come into light and has received some rather harsh but deserved criticism. Why? Because it was poorly planned and seems to have been implemented behind closed doors without thorough vetting and an understanding of what works in schools.

On Sept. 8th, Lindsay Wagner reported on a State Board of Education meeting that discussed the initial feedback from principals about the new pay plan (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/). In it she quoted one of the board members who seemed rather perplexed as to who designed the new plan.

Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.

“When I get the phone call from our local superintendent about this, or from some of my friends who are principals, I want to know specifically who designed this [principal pay plan] and who I can tell them to call,” said Willoughby. “I want to know who designed it, and we may not get that answer today, but I’d like an email in the next day or two [explaining] to whom I refer these questions.”

If the State Board doesn’t know who designed the pay plan, then one of two things has happened – either there has been an extreme case of amnesia or the plan was crafted behind closed doors on West Jones Street without the input of the State Board, DPI, or other educational leaders, especially those who talk closely local superintendents and principals.

It turns out that it was the latter with the help of a supposedly “non-profit,” “non-partisan” group called BESTNC.

BESTNC stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation North Carolina. Their legal name is North Carolina Business Leaders for Education. They tout a very impressive list of business leaders among their ranks, but their name is in direct contradiction to what they have practiced in helping shape policy like the principal pay plan.

The WRAL op-ed actually calls them out on their role in the plan.

One of the top priorities of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders focused on improving education, was bettering public school principal pay – which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Following the session, the group praised legislators for “what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure” in the nation.

However last week the state Board of Education was told that the new pay plan may end up discouraging good principals from working at the schools that need the most help and could force the most experienced principals to opt for retirement.

While building in pay incentives for increased performance of students, the pay structure eliminated the additional money principals received for advanced degrees and years of experience (longevity). In some scenarios, some experienced principals would see their pay drop $20,000.

That link in the story referencing the praise heaped upon legislators by BESTNC leads readers to July 17, 2017 op-ed by Julie Kowal (VP for BESTNC) on BESTNC’s website – http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/. It is worth the read, but particularly enlightening is:

State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s top priorities since our founding. As business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. We believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5M, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community…

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years.

BESTNC was founded in 2014. If principal pay has been a priority since its founding, then this principal pay plan has been in the works for years and the amount of publicity that the process has received has been rather miniscule.

That is purposeful. And it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

For public school advocates, BESTNC is not unfamiliar. There was a rather interesting op-ed written by BESTNC President Brenda Berg in 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well in 2015 was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. That deliberate disconnect is still evident with the principal pay plan of 2017.

While BESTNC seemed to praise its own good works at the annual America Succeeds EduVenture convention last week, it had to quickly defend itself for actions that no one really knew happened because instead of being that non-profit and non-partisan group they showed themselves to be a rather well-funded lobbying group – for businesses.

BestNCtweetBestNCtweet2

Again, it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

And again, it is all deliberate.

Consider that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians and business leaders, it only makes sense that teachers and principals not only come to the defense of public education but loudly question the powers that be.

Yet, those same teachers and administrators are having to fulfill their teaching and leadership duties in schools that receive less resources and less support from a harshly partisan legislation that supports a puppet state superintendent, gerrymanders districts, discriminates against portions of the population (Voter ID and HB2), and works behind closed doors with lobbying groups like BESTNC to craft dangerous reforms.

It shows that what is really BEST in NC are the people working in public schools like teachers, students, volunteers, teacher assistants, students, and parents – not those who try and wear the mantle of “BEST”.

Maybe before BESTNC starts another initiative that seemingly is clothed with good intentions but in reality benefits a few, it should look closely at that business / education nonparallel.

Maybe BESTNC should consider running the businesses they represent under the same construct that schools are forced to work under by the same NCGA that BESTNC has surreptitiously worked with, but as a small warning, they should:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
  • Be prepared to allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • Be prepared to not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, be prepared to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to have your work hours, schedule, and calendar dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally be prepared to not MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Until BESTNC realizes that running education like a business does not work, all of their initiatives will have the same effect as their principal pay plan.

That is why they are not “best” for NC.

About That New Horrible Principal Pay Plan? Ask BEST NC. They Seem to Love It.

This past February, Michelle Rhee came to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in a visit that did not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC.

This meeting with Rhee was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – educators.

And while the media did have a chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders. In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 which are still being debated in courts months later after an entirely new school year has begun.

BEST NC also has had an initiative to reinvent how principals in North Carolina are compensated. Until now, we as a state rank 50th in principal pay. Of course that needs to change, but would it not make sense for principals and educators to have a say in that process?

This month, the state released its new principal pay plan and if anything, it was not well received.

From Lindsay Wagner’s piece for the Public School Forum on 9/7,

State Board of Education members expressed shock this week upon learning just how seriously the General Assembly’s newly enacted principal pay plan could hurt school leaders, particularly those who have devoted decades of service to the state’s public schools (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Keung Hui from Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on 9/15,

Supporters say the new plan provides a needed increase for underpaid principals while putting a focus on improving how students perform. But critics worry the change will discourage principals from working at struggling schools and lead to veteran principals retiring.

Lawmakers agreed to make sure that no principals saw pay cuts this school year. But that “hold harmless” budget provision expires at the end of June (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173533601.html).

The backlash from actual veteran principals concerning this new pay plan was swift and fierce. Diane Ravitch even included it on her widely read blog referencing Wagner’s report while adding,

The North Carolina legislature will go down in history as the most anti-education lawmakers in the history of the state. I would say the nation, but Wisconsin’s hostility to educators is tough to beat.

The legislature enacted a principal pay plan that cuts principal pay and drives out veteran principal. In North Carolina, this is called “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/09/15/north-carolina-new-principal-pay-plan-cuts-pay-drives-out-veteran-leaders/).

The traffic for this post quickly made it one of the more read that day and Ravitch’s blog gets a lot of readers. In fact, it just passed 31 million hits this past week.

But BESTNC seems to love the new plan. They even praised it behind closed doors half a country away.

Last week, America Succeeds (the parent of BESTNC) held its annual convention in Boise, ID. It’s called EdVenture. On opening night there is a session for affiliates only. But a tweet did make it out for advocates to see. BESTNC even retweeted it.

BestNCtweet

It says, “Brilliant policy by @BESTNC.org: pay principals by size + complexity of schools AND results w/kids.”

For an organization that seems to only meet with lawmakers about education rather than educators and explains their policies only to like-minded groups, it is hard to look at their description as a “non-partisan group” seriously.

So how does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning? Have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

Despite what they claim, the intention of BEST NC to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other, including BESTNC.

Look at the graphic below:

privatizers

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. The box at the bottom represents the state of North Carolina. All of the other listed players are national.

Consider the following groups:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Civitas Institute
  • SAS Software
  • CarolinaCan
  • North Carolina General Assembly
  • BEST NC

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC.

If you want a full explanation on how all of these entities are involved then please refer to my post last February – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/. But for this post, I will stay with America Succeeds and its direct links.

BEST NC is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for Democrats For Educational Reform (DFER) to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures.

Actually, Teach For America, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee’s outfit), DFER, and KIPP Charters are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

In essence, this principal pay plan seems to have been in the works for a while by a whole consortium.

So, it needs to be asked again:

How does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning and have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

I think I already know the answers, but to get a full explanation you need to be part of a private group that is molding public education.

BESTNC says on its website intro,

“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.”

But that brings up many other questions and doubts? Like

  • Non-partisan? Really?
  • Advocacy for whom?
  • Broad constituency? Really?
  • Collaboration? With whom?

The actions don’t match the claims and the benefits don’t help schools as much as they help certain individuals.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders.

Dear Sen. Barefoot, How Are You Going to Respond? Concerning Class Sizes in Wake County and All NC Elementary Schools.

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

Earlier this calendar year you were quoted as saying,

“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money? …The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request. What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (http://www.wral.com/law-reducing-class-size-has-music-art-pe-teachers-anxious-about-future-/16628678/).

You never showed proof of the data. There was no explanation of what you had seen. There seemed to be no transparency. You made the claim, but never showed us where those “misallocations” really were.

Senator, you helped craft and pass a budget which ensured that per pupil expenditure would remain well below the national average (and lower than pre-recession days in adjusted monies) and funneled more finite resources into privatization efforts like vouchers.

You helped push a budget that has already cut DPI’s funds by 10 percent this year and another portion next year.

Then you spawned HB13 that launched itself into the everyday conversation of public school districts as your need to “reform” public education took new heights. And the fruits of your efforts are starting to show.

This past week the North Carolina Superintendent of the Year, Dr. James Merrill, sent a letter to the Wake County Delegation in the North Carolina General Assembly. As an elected official from Wake County, I am sure you received this letter.

wake letter

These are the schools and families that you represent, Sen. Barefoot. These are your constituents. These are your students. These are your communities.

Whether you should reply is not the question. You are an elected official. You will respond, either with a public comment, a private letter, or with the response that screams loudest – the non-answer.

The question is whether you have the wherewithal to respond directly to all of the people who are affected by the rather partisan stab to public schools that HB13 has become and continues to be.

Yes, we know that you are not running for reelection on 2018 and that this matter may not be totally settled before you end your tenure as a senator to “spend more time with your family.” But your actions with this class size restriction mandate (among many, many others) affects the “school communities” of “more than 90 of (your) 113” Wake County elementary schools. That’s a lot of families whose parents want to spend time with their school-aged children, hopefully knowing that their children have the needed resources for school.

To say that the rest of the state is not paying attention to what happens to Wake County schools in this matter would be false. In each LEA, there are conversations occurring that are attempting to best handle massive cuts to follow a mandate championed by people like you who have also ironically bragged about our state’s surplus.

So senator, how are you going to respond?

How will you explain to Dr. Merrill that this “class size” restriction without a plan to help resource extra classrooms and displaced teachers is good for Wake County schools? Or any other county’s schools?

How would you condone “moving art and music teachers out of their classrooms, creating upper elementary grades with more than 30 students and placing two teachers in some classrooms?”

And while you do not have to reconvene for the General Assembly until next month, Wake County elementary schools will be open again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

And the next day.

So, senator. What is your explanation?

Senator? Senator?

In Actuality State Supt. Johnson, You Are the “Status Quo” – Concerning Today’s Court Decision

Mark Johnson claims that he wants to change the “status quo.”

But in reality he wants to protect the “status quo.”

In fact, he is the “status quo.”

The-STATUS-QUO-Entrepreneur

The term “status quo” has become something of a nebulous term for public education and has evolved into a powerful logical fallacy used by reformers.

Consider the following from this afternoon’s News & Observer report from T. Keung Li and Lynn Bonner, two of the better education reporters here in the South.

“I am disappointed by the court’s ruling today,” Johnson said in a statement. “Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair (A.L.) Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173307171.html).

The above states that the “status quo” of public education in North Carolina is not acceptable and therefore must be changed. It was said by Mark Johnson, NC State Superintendent of Public Schools after a three judge panel ruled to keep a stay in the months long battle of control of the state’s public schools.

Li and Bonner continue,

The judges agreed to continue delaying by 30 days its July ruling that upheld a state law that shifts more control over public education operations to Johnson.

The use of the “status quo” fallacy is not new, certainly for Mark Johnson (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/27/dont-fall-for-the-status-quo-fallacy-concerning-public-education/).

And it is a crutch that has reached absurdity because in actuality, Mark Johnson might be the very poster child for the “status quo.”

What Johnson and other business model reformers consider the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.

What I would consider the “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in North Carolina “status quo” is not just wrong –

It’s ignorant. And it is purposefully done.

And all of those causes in the change to the “status quo” were not necessarily brought by educators as much as by politicians and business leaders, Johnson included as he echoes and rubber stamps the very policies and initiatives championed by NC General Assembly GOP stalwarts. The very actions that have caused their version of the“status quo” are allowing politicians to blame public education for failing to hit targets that are constantly moving or in many cases invisible so that “leaders” and reformers can come and claim to save the day.

That’s how we get Mark Johnson, the most unqualified state superintendent propped up by a General Assembly that not only has gerrymandered districts and pushed unconstitutional laws, but has spent taxpayer money to help transfer power away from the State Board of Education to a puppet superintendent to privatize the public good of public education even more.

That’s how we get absolutely lame duck explanations about today’s ruling from Johnson including:

“I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago.”

It’s as if he conveniently forgot that the people elected him to be state superintendent based on the job description and powers of office attached to every other state superintendent before him.

It’s as if he forgot that what he claims he needs to lead the state’s school system has to include what powers were granted to him without the input of the people by a biased NCGA weeks AFTER he was elected.

It’s as if he forgets that in the months since he has assumed office he has done absolutely NOTHING to change what he claims to be the “status quo.” As a state, we have heard nothing about the innovations he said he would bring and the only “urgency” he has used is to keep going back to court with taxpayer money to gain the power to divert more taxpayer money to vouchers and unregulated charter schools.

It’s as if he forgets that he himself is the “status quo.”

If one were to simply look at all of the initiatives introduced into public education (both nationally and state-based) while considering changes in curriculum and requirements, that person would see an ever changing landscape.

A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, ACT, standardized tests, achievement gap, graduation rates, merit pay, charter schools, parent triggers, vouchers, value added-measurements, virtual schools, Teach For America, formal evaluations – there are so many variables, initiatives, and measurements that constantly change without consistency which all affect public schools and how the public perceives those schools.

When entities like the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the American Federation of Children, the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC), think tanks, and other PAC’s are constantly promoting reforms in public schools, the idea that there is a “status quo” becomes implausible. Those entities are all active in North Carolina and they see Mark Johnson as their man.

He will protect their “status quo.”

So if there is any “status quo” associated with the public schools, it’s that there are always outside forces acting on the public school system which seek to show that they are failing our kids.

And it has Johnson’s face attached to it.

That’s the “status quo” that should not be accepted.

 

 

Principals Need More Respect Than This

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

Principles-for-Hiring-Principals

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

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

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

Yet, principals in North Carolina rank 50th in the United States when it comes to salary.

That’s 50th.Out of 51.

So the powers that be in Raleigh did something about it. Maybe they finally realized that recruiting and properly compensating principals would be greatly enhanced if they had a competitive salary.

Therefore, they “reformed” it. The problem is that those lawmakers forgot that education is a people-centered avocation – not a production line manufacturing plant of knowledge dispensation.

As the venerable Lindsay Wagner (newly housed within the Public School Forum of NC) wrote this week,

North Carolina’s principals, whose salaries ranked 50th in the nation in 2016, watched this year as lawmakers changed how they are compensated, moving away from a salary schedule based on years of service and earned credentials to a so-called performance-based plan that relies on students’ growth measures (calculated off standardized test scores) and the size of the school to calculate pay” (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Yep, they really did something about it. As Wagner states,

But the plan’s design has produced scenarios that result in some veteran principals conceivably earning as much as 30 percent less than what they earned on the old  pay schedules—prompting some to consider early retirements.”

They made a terrible situation even worse.

This salt-infused Band-Aid of a reform is yet another example of a rough-shod method that lawmakers have used to overhaul a once thriving public school system into a shadow of its former self –  all in the name of improving education.

If one reads the entirety of Wagner’s report, it becomes apparent that the new principal pay plan is long on political ideology and short of thoughtful research and reflection. Too many scenarios exist that could force many a principal to see stark reductions in salary based on arbitrary test scores. Veteran principals, which are becoming a rare breed in NC, would even be encouraged to retire early.

But one comment really stands out.

“Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.”

It seems no one really knows who came up with the new pay plan. And that is just further proof of the problem that truly exists in Raleigh.

The problem? Lawmakers and other bureaucrats forgot that education is centered around process and progress, not test scores. They forgot that growth means more than arbitrary proficiency. They forgot that educators collaborate and not compete.

It is telling when you read a state board member say,

“The General Assembly really needs a partner called DPI, who understands the implications of various legislative proposals and can prepare expert advice on the outcomes that might result.”

What that means is that there is no communication. No collaboration. No respect for process. No respect for growth.

A good principal could have told them that.

For a group of people who have so much power over public schools, they sure could use a good education in how schools really work.

 

 

Collaboration. Not Competition. That’s What We Need For Public Schools.

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

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

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

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

Public education is not a partisan issue. The state constitution specifically ensures that each student is entitled to a quality public education. It is a public good and a public service. The key word there is “public” and not “private.”

The picture below from WRAL.com shows the meeting room of the State Board of Education.

SBOE

In rather ornate fashion the state constitution is quoted on the wall. It says, “THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO THE PRIVILEGE OF EDUCTION AND IT IS THE DUTY OF THE STATE TO GUARD AND MAINTAIN THAT RIGHT.”

The two people sitting right below that quote are Bill Cobey, Chairman of the Board, and Mark Johnson, the State Superintendent.

To say that those two are not collaborating is putting it mildly.

This Thursday, the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent will be back in court – facing each other in competition. Melissa Broughton’s report in NC Policy Watch this week highlights the inability for the very people who control schools to actually collaborate amongst themselves. From Broughton:

“The three-judge panel that ruled in favor of Johnson in a lawsuit over a transfer of power from the Board will hear a motion for a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal. According to the motion, counsel for both parties spent six weeks trying to come to an agreement for a temporary stay but were unsuccessful” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/11/nc-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-return-court-later-week/#sthash.D186QZe3.dpbs).

That same piece also included a rather telling graphic.

PUBLIC-EDUCATION-300x251

It suggests that the stability of our state’s capacity to offer a quality free public education rests on the willingness of the “legs” to collaboratively work together. However, that is not happening. They are too much in competition.

Most people who follow education in North Carolina know that when Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, he was almost immediately granted excessive legislative powers to run the public schools by the NC General Assembly in a power grab. That is what precipitated the lawsuit that is still ongoing and the current “stay” of the latest court decision. What the NCGA granted Johnson was power that was not thought to be in the hands of a state superintendent when people elected Johnson.

Broughton further reports,

Without a temporary stay pending the Board’s appeal, the law in question that transfers power from the Board to Johnson will move the entire $10 billion public school system under the control of a single individual for the first time in North Carolina history, the motion states.

That transfer of power would change that three-legged dynamic in the graphic above seismically.

Two legs would grow and one would shrink. And the seat that represents our “quality free public education” would not be balanced. Whoever sits on it would fall over.

The checks and balances that help make sure that access to a quality free public education exists for all students relies on the checks and balances of the three entities that help shape educational matters. But rather than collaborate, there has been collusion and competition, especially from Johnson and the NCGA.

And our schools have suffered from it.

It seems that people like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, and other GOP stalwarts as well as Johnson could take a lesson from our teachers in public schools who see collaboration as the key to success in schools.

Of course there are other definitions of “collaboration.” The second one on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website states,

2:to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy 

Maybe that’s the collaboration that Johnson and the NCGA are thinking about.

“Emptiness” – Concerning the State Superintendent’s Words on School Performance Grades

It is usually a good feeling that accompanies a “congratulatory” note from someone in a position of authority who recognizes hard work and accomplishment, especially in a field that constantly measures performance in such an arbitrary fashion.

School performance grades were released by DPI this week and quick to point out any “successes” that could be found in those grades and the reports that accompanied them was Mark Johnson, state superintendent.

This is what he said in his press conference as reported by Alex Granados of EdNC.org,

It’s great news that the top-line trends are in the right direction. We can all be proud, for instance, that most schools meet or exceed growth. But deeper into the data, the results show stubborn concerns that call out for innovative approaches. It is with innovation and personalized learning that we can transform incremental progress into generalized success” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/08/highs-lows-school-performance-grades/).

And this was part of a message that Johnson released as an all-inclusive email to educators in the state concerning the school performance grades:

No one can deny the correlation to poverty in the struggles those schools face in meeting growth. I saw it myself when I taught in a school that served students from an economically challenged neighborhood. Meeting the demands of growth and proficiency is very difficult when students come into classrooms already behind where we need them to be and, worse, facing serious struggles outside of school.

Importantly, you will see efforts from my office to emphasize methods and support that help you improve students’ growth more in the time you have them in your classroom and, critically, an increased emphasis on empowering parents and caretakers to help make sure their children are ready for kindergarten. If students come in ready for kindergarten, we know you will make sure they grow and are ready for 3rd grade, 6th grade, 9th grade, graduation, and success after school.”

I agree with what the superintendent says – to a certain extent.

But I must also point out that what he says in these messages seems to be in direct contradiction to his actions as the leader of pour public schools.

Johnson refers to “economically challenged” communities and the “correlation to poverty in the struggles” schools “face in meeting growth.” And it is true that looking at school performance grades across the state is like looking at a report on how poverty affects children in academic endeavors.

So why has Johnson not spoken up about poverty in our schools? Why did he not fight for more money and resources to be invested on not just a per-pupil basis, but also for the Department of Public Instruction that he heads which also underwrites a lot of the teacher development and initiatives that especially help impoverished school districts?

Did he speak up to the General Assembly to consider expanding Medicaid for people who may be sending students to these “economically challenged neighborhood” schools?

Did he speak up for the students affected by the rescinding of DACA who attend our schools – maybe even the one that he “taught in” during a teaching career that lasted less than two calendar years?

Johnson also mentions that we “will see efforts from my office to emphasize methods and support” to “improve students’ growth.” Did he not say at the beginning of this calendar year (rather, last school year) that he was going on a “listening tour” to report back to us in the summer ideas and methods we could use. Ironically, that tour is called the “NC Education and Innovation Tour.”

I am waiting for those innovations which probably will be teacher driven initiatives that have been in pace and could thrive more if more resources were devoted to them, but take a look at the budget.

Innovation usually means that there is some sort of investment involved. However, the words “investment” and “public schools” do not collide in the minds of the current NC General Assembly, and Johnson has shown himself to be nothing but a rubber stamp for the likes of Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore.

Additionally, the summer is over and for part of that summer Johnson directed DPI to not use widely used list serve options as a means to communicate to districts. But as soon as the school performance grades were released, he was quick to “communicate” to all of the districts about shared success and use the all-inclusive personal pronoun “we” in the process.

In reality, if any communication should be happening, Mark Johnson should show the resolve of a public school educator and have a “teacher/parent” conference with the General Assembly and explain to them what they could do to “empower schools and communities to help make sure our children are ready to learn.”

Dr. Atkinson sure would have, and even if the NC General Assembly did not comply, teachers and schools would know that their state superintendent was working for them.

Not working for the powers that be.

Like someone we know.

Remembering Rodney Ellis – He Would Tell Us to Keep Fighting For Public Schools

I believe Rodney Ellis would be proud of us.

While it has almost been a year to the day that we lost this leader, father, and tireless public school advocate, there is still his unmistakable presence among us here in North Carolina.

Think of all that has occurred in this last year with the continued assault on traditional public schools led by a General Assembly bent on privatizing a public good.

  • Think of the struggle to get rid of gerrymandered legislative districts.
  • Think of the unconstitutional Voter ID laws.
  • Think of the discriminatory HB2 law and the fallout.
  • Think of the recent decision by the president to end DACA for many of our students.
  • Think of passive nature of the current state superintendent.
  • Think of less money for students in public schools.
  • Think of the manipulation of funding vouchers and unregulated charter schools.
  • Think of the de-professionalizing of the teaching profession by lawmakers.

Rodney Ellis would be in the thick of those battles because he would make sure to focus on the students who are affected by these actions. And he would tell us to keep fighting the good fight.

There is no doubt in my mind that we public school advocates will continue to confront these issues head-on. There is no doubt that we have great leaders like Mark Jewell now in place to help guide our actions and efforts and remove obstacles.

I would like to think that those who leave us still are among us in spirit. While it doesn’t take away all of the sorrow or pain, what we do as public school advocates is bigger than just us. Rodney knew that; he knew that the collective strength of our communities is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

On Friday, I believe I will wear this shirt. Rodney gave it to me one time before a rally in Raleigh. I think of him every time I put it on. The more I wear it, the more comfortable it is.

we-love-public-schools-shirt

Yes, I think Rodney would be proud of us.

Actually, I think he is proud of us.