About the NC Gerrymandered Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform

Beginning this month, a “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is meeting in Raleigh to start “investigating” how to “best” fund public schools with state money.

And they are now looking at possibly eliminating the salary schedule for public school teachers and what might be another disastrous, planned “reform.”

As Billy Ball reported in a post yesterday on NC Policy Watch,

“A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

Talk of nixing a state-set pay scale emerged this year when lawmakers took on a revamp of school principal pay, and it’s resurfaced multiple times in the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform’s first meetings in November.

Yet local district leaders and their advocates in Raleigh say the proposal may only exacerbate the state’s looming pay disparities between wealthy and poor counties, spur employment lawsuits and complicate matters for local school boards” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/11/17/legislators-consider-abolishing-teacher-salary-schedule-study-nc-school-funding-labyrinth/).

The word “task” is certainly “pivitol” here in this context. Why?

Because if you simply take a look at the members of the “task” force, you can easily see that there already was a “task” at hand and it was started years ago when the GOP powers in Raleigh took control of the General Assembly.

That “task” is tightly linked to an agenda that has been executed and carried out long before this “pivotal task force” ever convened: dismantle the public education system.

Below is a list of the members on the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform.

Task Force

19 people appointed by each branch of the General Assembly. That makes it already under the control of Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore, two of the biggest “reformers” in the state.

Look at that list of 19 people.

  • 16 of the 19 are republican.
  • 15 of the 19 are male.
  • 17 of the 19 are white.
  • 17 of the 19 were never in education as a profession (although Lambeth was on the school board of Forsyth County for a number of years).

And they as a group are to help revamp the way that public education is to be funded for a public that they are grossly unrepresentative of?

That list is a great example of the effects of gerrymandering.

Go further and look at that list more closely. It includes some of the major players and champions of the “reforms” that really have hurt public education in North Carolina.

  • Chad Barefoot
  • David Curtis
  • Jerry Tillman
  • Jon Hardister
  • Craig Horn

Sen. Barefoot has been a champion for the watered down version of the Teacher Fellows, the original sponsor of SB599 which allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training, and was an original architect for HB13, the class size bill that is threatening so many districts with layoffs and seismic budget constraints.

Sen. David Curtis is a stalwart supporter of charter schools and has been rather vocal on his views of what public school teachers are “worth.” One only has to revisit that rather caustic letter he wrote a young teacher a few years ago and see that his view of public education is set in stone – http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0.

Sen. Jerry Tillman has probably been the staunchest supporter of the unregulated charter school industry here in North Carolina. He also was instrumental in helping craft legislation to bring in the Innovative School District. His abrasive nature against debate and constructive criticism has been well-known for years.

Rep. Jon Hardister has been part of the “reform” since he took office. On one instance, he wrote an op-ed pretty much proclaiming the same platitudes and generalities that Rep. Moore recently did on EdNC.org. They were easily refuted – http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf. Hardister also has tried to help further charter school growth by financing it with other state money – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/01/robbing-peter-to-pave-for-paul-rep-jon-hardisters-misguided-amendment-for-charter-schools/.

Rep. Craig Horn has literally been in the center of every education “reform” in this state, the most recent being the principal pay plan. When backlash for the plan became rather quick and vocal he exclaimed,

“Legislation is not an exact science” – – Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

But science requires thought, reflection, observation, and objectivity. This “task force” being led by Rep. Horn is actually an exercise in rapid narrow-minded policy changes.

With over a quarter of this task force controlled by these people, it should not be too hard to realize that this “Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform” is nothing more than a gerrymandered body whose agenda to further privatize a public good is more important than actually representing the public of North Carolina.

If this really was a “task force,” then maybe it should spend its time and energy trying to validate with real research and real data the effectiveness of the very “reforms” that many on this “task force” have championed.

But alas, that would go against their narrative and would require a look at the truth.

North Carolina’s Continued Passive Aggressive War on Public Education

Rep. Tim Moore’s recent missive in EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”) begins with one of the more sweeping fallacies made by many in Raleigh who champion the crippling policies surrounding public education.

TimMooreNC

He starts,

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

Popular with parents and students? Meaningful? Focused on shared priorities?

Well, consider the following list that just highlights some of those “reform” efforts from just the last eleven months.

  1. House Bill 17 was passed and “is meant to shift more power to Johnson and deem him the ‘administrative head’ of the state education department. The current law says some of the superintendent’s duties are ‘subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education,’ but that language has been removed in several places in the proposed bill” (http://www.wral.com/bill-would-give-more-power-to-new-nc-superintendent-reduce-role-of-school-board/16341626/).
  2. A lawsuit by the state board against the superintendent over HB17 starts early in 2017. The General Assembly backs the state superintendent with taxpayer money in the case. The state board must use its own budget to finance lawsuit.
  3. The General Assembly passes a law (HB13) to limit class sizes in K-3 classrooms but does not allocate funds and resources to help hire needed teachers for new classes created in response or to help build extra classrooms.
  4. A principal pay plan that actually punishes many principals is passed without input from educators and is crafted in part by private business entities.
  5. Schools will no longer have Biology I test scores used to calculate school performance grade and school report cards when those scores have been among the highest in past years for each school.
  6. There is a new version of the N.C. Teaching Fellows that is a mere shadow of its former self.
  7. Opportunity Grants were expanded without any research backing its success to nearly a billion dollars over the next ten years.
  8. The Department of Public Instruction has its budget slashed by nearly 20% for the next two years.
  9. SB599 is passed and it allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training.
  10. An Innovative School District selects an unwilling school to turn over to a for-profit entity to “reform” it. That school system where the school resides is considering shutting down the school.
  11. Per-pupil expenditures still are one of the worst in the country.
  12. Textbook funding still lags millions behind what pre-recession levels were.
  13. There is a rash boon of a method to reformulate how monies are allocated to local school systems based political ideologies and personalities rather than principles.
  14. The state superintendent has not asserted himself as an instructional leader.

And that lawsuit between the state board of education and the state superintendent is still ongoing as it has been requested by the state board for the N.C. Supreme Court to hear the case all the while the very General Assembly that is propping the state superintendent is trying to recreate how judges in this state are elected and selected as well as drawing new judicial districts in an effort to take over the judicial system. That’s the same General Assembly that has been called out for gerrymandering districts – twice.

And Tim Moore wants to claim “The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement.”

If “implementing meaningful public school reforms” means “waging war on public education” in this context, then Tim Moore is exactly right.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the “Education Endowment Fund” and Those License Plates For Teachers

In May of 2014, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest helped to craft legislation to create a North Carolina Education Endowment Fund that would allow for tax deductible contributions to be made for supporting teacher pay.

One of the initiatives of the fund was to sell specialty license plates. As reported in a Feb. 2015 News & Observer post by Colin Campbell,

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest needs at least 500 people to sign up for “I Support Teachers” license plates, part of his effort to fund teacher raises through private donations.

Forest announced last May that he’s creating the North Carolina Education Endowment Fund, which will allow individuals and corporations to receive tax deductions for supporting teacher pay. The fund also plans to raise money by selling specialty license plates, but Forest must first reach the state’s requirement of 500 paid applications seeking a plate.

“This is not only an opportunity to raise money for great teachers, but also an opportunity to let all our teachers know we appreciate their service,” Forest says in a video posted this week. “The ‘I Support Teachers’ license plate initiative is the first step toward creating a sound foundation for the North Carolina Educational Endowment and planning for the future of teaching excellence in North Carolina through an innovative and self-sustaining fund” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article10873850.html).

The plates were to look like this.

plate1

Oddly enough, I have not seen one on the roads of North Carolina.

That’s because the demand never reached 500 to start the production. You can look on the NC DOT site for ordering license plates and see all of the options. “I Support Teachers” is not there (https://edmv.ncdot.gov/VehicleRegistration/SpecialPlate#term=All Plates).

But while you are on that site you can actually make personalized plates in a virtual sense and see if it is available to purchase and use for your own vehicle.

PLATES9

So, if Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is really still serious about this initiative, then maybe he could be one of the first 500 people to register for the plate. In fact, there are several options that Forest could use to not only support teachers, but also personalize his “I Support Teachers” license plate with unique identifiers just for him.

And note, these are AVAILABLE! These personalized plates are legal and can be used.

If only the Lt. Gov. would follow through on his own initiative.

plate2

If you did not know, Forest literally has his own television studio in his office that was supposedly funded by a 501(c). And it appears that it may be a violation of ethics. Consider these reports:

http://www.wral.com/nonprofit-provides-tv-studio-for-lt-gov-forest-s-office/17071692/

http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/11/14/watchdog-group-calls-investigation-lt-gov-dan-forest/#sthash.NpwNGJjy.dpbs

But even if it is illegal, the fact that he has his own television studio is pretty neat. Teachers can’t get new textbooks, but this politician has a studio. Maybe that 501 could have donated the money used to give a studio to Forest to the endowment fund?

plate3

Of course this plate makes sense. No one advocates this farce of a law more than Forest. He even went to Texas to brag about it.

plate5

Remember when Forest had DPI reissue a report on charter schools in 2016 because it was not “positive” enough?

plate8

Remember that Forest was instrumental in starting two virtual charter schools in NC that were run by for-profit entities? In fact, they are doing so poorly  that they are asking for more money – money that could have gone into the “endowment fund” – http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/11/08/stay-despite-poor-scores-critics-profit-virtual-charter-school-seeks-blessing-state-officials/.

plate7

Yep. He stumped for Trump here in NC.

plate4

And yes. He will run for governor in 2020. In fact, he is actually campaigning now which leads us to the last plate…

plate6

IR4OWIO = I Run For Office While In Office.

Thanks for the support, Dan.

School Districts Don’t Need to Manage Money “Better” – Lawmakers Need to Better Fund Schools

Today Lindsay Wagner posted an incredible piece concerning the class size mandate that Raleigh has placed on K-3 classrooms and the effects on local school systems.

In “Without action, class size mandate threatens Pre-K in some school districts” on the Public School Forum of North Carolina website, Wagner focuses on Warren County’s situation.

Without the necessary time and money to build more elementary school classrooms to satisfy the General Assembly’s requirement to lower class sizes next year in kindergarten through third grades, Warren County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Ray Spain says he’s looking at eliminating most or all of his Pre-Kindergarten classes district wide.

“It’s going to be disastrous.”

Spain says he’s forced to consider this scenario because there’s simply not enough space in Warren County’s elementary schools to give the older children more teachers and smaller classes while also giving low-income 4-year-olds an early learning environment that, a large body of research says, is critical for their success in kindergarten and beyond (https://www.ncforum.org/without-action-class-size-mandate-threatens-pre-k-in-some-school-districts/). 

Wagner makes sure to note that Warren County is a poor rural district and those districts desperately need strong pre-K programs to help combat the effects of poverty on school aged children.

prek

And now that very vital resource is about to go because of political grandstanding.

When Wake County is scrambling to even meet the mandate for class size, imagine what smaller, rural schools districts are having to do?

Apparently drastic measures such as what Warren County and other systems have to consider.

Remember what Chad Barefoot once said when the HB13 fiasco was starting. He said,

“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/).

That’s all he has said. There was no proof of the data. No explanation of what he had seen. No transparency. If he is to make the claim, then he needs to show us where those “misallocations” really are.

But there are none to be seen. Yet district leaders like Warren County’s Dr. Spain show that the misallocation is actually on the state’s part, not the local districts.

As Wagner relates when talking about Camden County’s forced obstacles,

Camden County in northeastern North Carolina is also looking to displace about four Pre-K classes from their elementary schools, said Camden County Board of Education Chair Christian Overton….

…Overton said there is a larger issue at play when it comes to laws that the General Assembly enacts without accompanying them with the resources necessary for their implementation.

“We’re given these mandates to comply with the law, but not getting any funds to help increase the number of classrooms or teachers. So what’s the next step? If we don’t have more funds to pay teachers, do you RIF [lay off] other personnel to hire them?” said Overton.

Overton took issue with the argument from some lawmakers in the General Assembly who say that districts simply need to do a better job managing the funds they have been allocated by the state.

“Our budgets have steadily decreased over the past several years,” said Overton. “Speaking for our own district, we have been very frugal and forthcoming in the spending of our funds to produce positive outcomes for our children—and the performance of our schools show that.”

“At what point does one more unfunded mandate added on start to have negative impacts on our ability to improve a child’s education?” Overton said.

Ironically, Mark Johnson has made comment that Pre-K services are a vital part of his agenda. He even intends to hire an assistant superintendent for early education. From an April 5th article on WRAL.com,

…the new assistant superintendent would “really focus on best practices for early childhood education,” Johnson said, and allow the state to “study it, find out what works best and present those back and really start to tackle early childhood” (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-announces-revamped-reading-program-new-early-learning-position/16623169/).

So, what does Mark Johnson have to say about what is happening to places like Warren County and Camden County?

Is he willing to go and fight for these school systems to be adequately funded to meet the almost impossible mandates with the current allotment?

Is he even willing to address the issue?

Because whether he wants to believe it or not – it’s his job.

Kids are depending on it.

Hawkins Middle School : How “Stranger Things” Shows Support For Public Schools

The fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana became the epicenter of a lot of “binge-watching” in the last month as the second season of the hit series Stranger Things was released in nine episodes.

Following the trials and tribulations of these school-age kids and their families is rather surreal; the music, the fashion, and the hair styles are as authentically presented now as they were actually in the 1980’s, especially if you are a middle-aged public school teacher who listens to The Clash like he did growing up in a small rural town in Georgia where he rode his bike everywhere without a digital link to everything else in the world.

He just had to be home by dinner.

While the kids and adults in this fictional town battle forces from the “upside down” amidst a government cover-up during the Cold War, it is easy to get lost in the sci-fi aspects of this well-written show. And it is very well-written and produced. But there is one non-human entity that is foundational and serves as the cornerstone to those people in a small section of Indiana: Hawkins Middle School, Home of the Tiger Cubs.

Stockbridge_School

Is there ever an episode where the school was not used as a setting? A place for Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to find answers? Is there ever an episode where the school is not juxtaposed against Hawkins National Laboratory where secretive actions took place?

Think about it. One place is an established public good where taxpayer money helps to educate all of the students who pass through its doors no matter what socioeconomic background they come from. They could be students from single-parent families or presumably stable nuclear families. They could be interested in a variety of curious endeavors like Dungeons & Dragons or audio/visual technology. Some of the kids ride their bicycles to this place.

stranger-things-filming-locations-hawkins-middle-school-2

The other is surrounded by gates and fences and can only be entered by people who are “chosen.” That place does not have to show others what happens there or how it “assesses” matters. If someone who is not a “staff member” or “student” there is caught on the premises, then punishment ensues.

But like the first place, this one is also financed by taxpayer money. Yet here, money is being used to create something private that is supposed to combat a problem that does not exist, but it creates an even bigger problem for all people.

While the parallels between Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins National Laboratory may be an exercise in fandom, they are rather apparent to those who question the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly when it comes to “reforming” public education.

If there ever was a cornerstone for the characters in Hawkins, IN, then it is the public school. It serves as the greatest foundation of that community.

The AV Room. Heathkit. School assemblies. The gymnasium. Science class. Mr. Clarke. Eleven channeling Will. Makeshift isolation tank. Portal to the Upside Down. The Snow Ball. Parents were students there. Ghostbusters suits.

hawkins

Those are tied to Hawkins Middle School.

So is growing up, coming of age, hallway conversations, epiphanies, learning about others, following curiosities, finding answers to questions you learned to ask.

Those are also tied to Hawkins Middle School.

What is attached to Hawkins National Laboratory is unregulated, politicized, and secretive. That is not to say that some charter schools do not serve vital purposes. But that is the exception and not the norm here in North Carolina.

Yes, the show takes place in Indiana and not North Carolina. My childhood roaming on a bicycle happened in Georgia and not North Carolina. But does that matter?

Ironically, Stranger Things happens to be a show created by two North Carolinians and shot in Georgia, but Hawkins is really any town where a majority of students go to public schools.

And just like in the 1980’s, public schools today are the heart of communities.

 

Rep. Tim Moore’s EPIC FAIL – A Response to Words on NCGA’s “Reforms”

Dear Rep. Moore,

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

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

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

As the Speaker of the House in the NC General Assembly, the arguments that you make to boost this current crop of lawmakers as advocates for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for almost the last 13 years (and 15 of my 20 years as a teacher), I can with certainty state that your arguments only highlight a faint bloom of success, but not the toxic soil that feeds it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And our voucher system? That has not shown any empirical results that prove they are actually giving kids better choices. As I have mentioned many times in the past, “you can argue that the Opportunity Grants can help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants are targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dear Rep. Moore,

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

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

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

As the Speaker of the House in the NC General Assembly, the arguments that you make to boost this current crop of lawmakers as advocates for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for almost the last 13 years (and 15 of my 20 years as a teacher), I can with certainty state that your arguments only highlight a faint bloom of success, but not the toxic soil that feeds it.

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

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

ncga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And our voucher system? That has not shown any empirical results that prove they are actually giving kids better choices. As I have mentioned many times in the past, “you can argue that the Opportunity Grants can help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants are targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.

But we are really never “at” the table.

Julie Kowal’s recent perspective on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina’s new approach to teacher recruitment,” praised the new version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to be launched this year.

As a veteran public school teacher, when I see BEST NC defending or lauding a piece of reform, I take it with a grain of salt.

Actually, it’s an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle rhetorical glitter throughout this piece, I could not help but think that like so many other “reforms” and “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, this one lacks a crucial and vital component: teacher input.

Kowal is the Vice-President of Policy and Research at BEST NC, a “non-partisan” business consortium for education advocacy. In the few years that it has been in existence, BEST NC has helped to craft policy and “reform” to supposedly strengthen public education in North Carolina which has waned in the past few years according to her and many others.

Kowal explains,

North Carolina has previously led the nation in education innovations, and will do it again, with new and pioneering solutions designed specifically to solve the talent challenges our schools face today (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/08/north-carolinas-new-approach-teacher-recruitment/).

Those “new and pioneering solutions” she is talking about include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When Kowal praises the new version of the Teaching Fellows Program, it is hard not to ask if BEST NC had a hand in its current rendition. Their ties to the business community are apparent, but can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who even this past year crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) currently debated in courts that would enable a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

Kowal stated in her perspective that we as a state did lead the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

NC Virtual Charters Doing Badly? Got a Solution

As reported by Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch today (Controversial virtual charter school seeks funding boost, permanent status), 

“The head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to funnel more cash into the program and clear operations beyond the 2019 sunset of its four-year pilot program.

Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, pitched his K-11 program—which is affiliated with international, for-profit education giant Pearson—to state lawmakers and charter school policymakers this week, despite lagging academic performance in the virtual school’s first two years (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/11/07/controversial-virtual-charter-school-seeks-funding-boost-permanent-status/#sthash.I8Prd1UE.dpbs). 

N.C. Connections Academy is associated with the giant company Pearson. At least it is doing a little better than the other virtual charter school in the state, N.C. Virtual Academy.

Both schools are looking to extend funding for the next few years, even when Stanford University (as Ball states) “reported serious deficiencies in student performance nationwide in like programs.”

But there may be a solution.

Recently, the Innovative School District selected one school for its initial pilot program to takeover and turn around. But that one school, Southside Ashpole Elementary School, may not even keep its doors open for the ISD to take it over. It seems that the local school board and the community in the Robeson County area do not want their school to be taken over.

So it looks like a couple of schools need to be “turned around” and there is an “innovative” entity that is supposed to do those types of things possibly without a school to work with.

See the connection?

Let the ISD take over the N.C. Charter Virtual Schools.

Hell, all of the money already invested in the ISD with nothing to show for it might be somehow used for keeping other failing schools from closing.

Even if it is virtual.

And by the way. North Carolina already has a public virtual school. Seems to be doing better than the virtual charters who are asking for more money.

What Chad Barefoot and the NC General Assembly Can Learn From Betsy DeVos About SB599

If you don’t remember this past summer, a new bill was introduced to “reinvigorate” the teacher pipeline here in North Carolina. It was called SB599 and was originally championed by Chad Barefoot.

It is not too hard to see that the need for a “teacher pipeline” has been on the minds of the NC General Assembly. It is because of a manufactured teacher shortage – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/29/the-stench-of-sb599-raleigh-knows-why-we-have-a-teacher-shortage-they-created-it/.

Just a quick reminder:

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”  – Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

In actuality, we have already experienced a manifestation of SB599 here in North Carolina, but on a larger basis.

This fast-tracking is how we got our state superintendent. It’s how we got our secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. But that fast tracking does not adequately prepare people for what the classroom will be like.

Or the terrain of public education.

Because to be in education, you have to have some education and time to be inside of the classroom to cultivate the craft of teaching and marry it to the social science of pedagogy.

It also helps to learn how to love all kids no matter where they come from and what they bring to the classroom.

There is already talk of how much longer Betsy DeVos will stay in office. A recent Politico expose called “The Education of Betsy DeVos” in its most recent edition.

DEvos politico

It’s long, but there is one paragraph that really stands out:

In retrospect, DeVos tells me, she blames the transition team for its handling of her confirmation. “I think I was undercoached,” she says. “The transition group was very circumspect about how much information they gave me about then-current policy and … it was in their view a balance between being prepared for a confirmation hearing and not having well-formed opinions on what should or shouldn’t change, so as not to get caught in a confirmation hearing making commitments that then I wouldn’t want to or be able to keep. And in hindsight, I wish I had a whole lot more information” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/01/betsy-devos-secretary-education-profile-2017-215768).

Simply put, she was not prepared.

And then this came from Salon.

Thomas Toch, director of independent education think tank FutureEd, told Politico that DeVos was ignorant of the job’s constraints when she accepted it and insiders are already preparing for her to vacate the position.

“She can’t fill her senior staff slots,” he said. “Morale is terrible at the department.”

DeVos was roundly criticized for her lack of basic knowledge about education policy during the confirmation hearing process. She blames President Donald Trump’s transition team, claiming she was “undercoached.”

One doubts most nominees for education secretary need to be coached not to cite grizzly bears as a reason for guns in schools.

“I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long,” Toch told Politico. “I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job” (https://www.salon.com/2017/11/06/officials-expect-devos-to-resign-from-trump-administration_partner/).

Again. She was unprepared.

It’s like she was allowed to become the head of the nation’s public school system through a fast-track “teacher pipeline” like SB599.

Do we really need to know why this has not gone well?