North Carolina Teacher Pay is Still 39th And Why The Cost Of Living Adjustment Argument is Erroneous

John Hood of the John Locke Foundation tweeted the following yesterday in response to the NEA’s recent report on teacher pay that had North Carolina still well below the national average.

hood1

Interestingly, he tagged it to #nced and referred all readers to a recent post by his colleague Dr. Terry Stoops, the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation. He must have wanted a lot of people to read this.

The John Locke Foundation is a libertarian-leaning think tank whose findings and studies on North Carolina’s public schools is so bent toward a political ideology that celebrates “school choice” and vouchers that it tends to spin data and research so much that it hopes readers will not take the time to actually look into the data themselves.

Stoops writes in his post,

Earlier today, the National Education Association (NEA) released their annual Rankings and Estimates report.  According to the report, North Carolina’s average teacher salary for 2018 ranked 39th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

But the NEA ranking does not adjust for cost of living.  When C2ER cost-of-living indices for 2017 are applied, North Carolina’s rank jumps to 29th in the nation.  Last year, North Carolina’s cost-of-living adjusted average salary was 33rd in the nation (https://lockerroom.johnlocke.org/2018/04/23/adjusted-teacher-pay-rank-29th-in-the-nation/).

Stoops then presents a table that uses the C2ER index for each state.

table1

And if one took Stoops’s interpretation at face value, then he is exactly right.

The Cost of Living Index used by Stoops is represented in the map below that the C2ER uses (https://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/).

map

But Stoops simplifies it too much. Even C2ER says so.

C2ER stands for the Council for Community and Economic Research and it even warns against using the cost of living index in such a broad stroke as Stoops has done. Within its 2017 Cost of Living Index, it states,

“For 23 years, participation in the Cost of Living
Index was open to all places, regardless of size.
In the late 1980s, however, several rural places
with very small populations began
participating, and it became apparent that
adherence to the specifications in many such
places wasn’t possible. There’s no doubt that
small rural places offer an alternative to an
urban professional or managerial standard of
living that many people find attractive, but such
places are qualitatively different from urban
areas, and they simply don’t support the kind of
urban lifestyle embodied in the Cost of Living
Index.

The Committee has concluded that
participation in the Index should be restricted to
areas that can reasonably be considered urban
and patterned its restrictions after the federal
government’s distinction between urban and
rural areas.”

You can read that document here: http://coli.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016-COLI-Manual.pdf. The above is on page 4. In fact, the the C2ER site actually prefers that the index be used when comparing cities to cities – not state to state.

C2ER

The very warning that C2ER gives in using its COL Index is deliberately ignored by Stoops in order that he keep on his shallow narrative that teacher pay in North Carolina is not all that bad.

Take this a little deeper and one can see that another factor Stoops conveniently ignores is that average teacher pay in North Carolina varies LEA to LEA. Local supplements that are given to teachers in some counties are much better than in other localities because those places can afford to do that. That creates a wider disparity in salaries for teachers within the state.

Metropolitan LEA’s like Wake County can give a bigger salary boost to teachers than many of the rural counties, some of whom cannot give a local supplement at all. And Stoops as well as Hood should know that rural counties suffer more when it comes to staffing schools.

This simplification of the data is not an oversight. It’s part of a plan – a deliberate attempt to sway the narrative to favor those who see simply investing in the public school system at a reasonable rate a burden.

So when Hood says in his tweet, “Even if you disagree, here’s where we really are,” it seems that he doesn’t really know where we are.

 

Happy Birthday to Coach Murphy – The Titan of Titans

A “Happy Birthday” to a multi-sport coach, a man of many hats, a well of positivity, an icon of a school, the most dependable staff member, and a man who defines others by the smiles they give.

A “Happy Birthday” to a man who always treats you like it was your birthday – every day.

I hope there will be 59 more for Coach Murph, and when I am his age, I hope I am as young as he is.

See you at school, Murph.

Murphy

Why Local School Board Elections Are So Important in 2018

school-board-elections

Of all the political signs already spread throughout the city where I reside, at least three of four deal with local school board elections.

This is not an anomaly. I cannot remember a time in an election cycle in which the majority of roadside political signs of local and state office did not refer to the school board elections. Those elections are that important because so much is at stake.

The largest part of a state’s budget tends to be toward public education. A major part of a school board’s (city or county) identity is how it helps students achieve within what resources and funds are available. In North Carolina, where a state general assembly tends to pass more fiscal responsibility to LEA’s (think class size mandate), a school board’s calling to help all students achieve must be met by those who truly understand what best helps schools and students.

No wonder school board elections are so important.

At the heart of a school board’s responsibilities are supporting a selected superintendent, guiding the creation of policies and curriculum, making sure there are adequate facilities, and seeing that budgetary needs are met.

That means understanding what students, teachers, and support staff need. That means understanding how schools operate and how they are affected by mandates and laws that come from Raleigh. And when policies that are handed down from the state that may not treat the local system favorably, then the school board must confront those in Raleigh and help fight for what is best for the local students.

There are 115 LEA’s in North Carolina – lots of school boards who should know their students best and know what obstacles that their schools face which need to be removed.

But what if one of those obstacles is the North Carolina General Assembly? Consider a per-pupil expenditure rate that is lower when adjusted for inflation than before the Great Recession. Consider the lack of textbook funds and overcrowded buildings and state mandates for testing that take many school days away from instruction. Consider the funding of unproven reforms like an Innovative School District and vouchers. Consider the growth of unregulated charter schools. Consider teacher pay and local supplements. Consider that there is a drastic reduction in teacher candidates in our universities. That is just a small list.

All of that brings to light what might be one of the most important jobs that a school board must undertake: it must be willing to challenge the state in an explicit and overt manner on matters that directly affect their local schools.

In a state where almost 1 in 4 students lives in poverty and where Medicaid was not extended to those who relied on such services, schools are drastically affected as students who walk into schools bring in their life challenges. If student achievement is a primary responsibility of a school board, whatever stands in the way of students being able to achieve becomes an issue that a school board must confront.

So, is the person whose name is on a political sign for school board candidacy willing to fight for our schools even if it means confronting Raleigh’s policies?

That might be the first question I might ask of any candidate for local school board – the first of many.

Phil Berger’s “Historic” Spin on Teacher Pay – Empty and Deliberate

From Phil Berger’s Twitter account in May of 2014:

Berger1

From the July 31st edition of the New York Times:

The Republican-controlled Senate’s 32-to-13 vote came after weeks of tense negotiations that divided the Republican Party and provoked intraparty accusations of political grandstanding. The Senate was expected to hold its final vote on the budget early Friday, clearing the way for the House of Representatives, which the Republicans also control, to consider it.

Senate Republicans framed the measure as historic, largely because it includes $282 million to increase teacher salaries (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/01/us/north-carolina-teachers-may-see-raise-in-budget.html) .

And now four years later:

North Carolina ranks 37th in the nation for average teacher pay, according to estimates released Monday by the National Education Association.

The estimate may be revised later based on updated data. Last year, NEA first estimated that North Carolina was 35th in the nation for teacher pay, but it revised the numbers to show that N.C. was 39th last year.

NEA’s report, which details everything from teacher pay to school enrollment and funding by state, shows North Carolina’s average teacher salary is $50,861 for the current school year. That’s about $9,600 less than the national average teacher pay of $60,483, according to the report.

Last month, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction estimated that the state’s average teacher pay has reached $51,214 this year. It’s unclear why the state education department’s salary estimate differs from NEA’s.

Among the 12 states in the Southeast, North Carolina currently ranks sixth, according to NEA’s latest estimates. The State Board of Education has set a goal to become No. 1 in the Southeast.

The salary figures represent the average gross salary before deductions for things such as Social Security, retirement and insurance and do not take into account cost-of-living differences among the states.

NEA’s report also estimates that North Carolina is ranked 39th in the nation in per-pupil spending this year. The state is spending $9,528 per student compared with the U.S. average of $11,934.

Last year, NEA first estimated that North Carolina ranked 43rd in per-pupil spending but revised the numbers to show that N.C. was 39th last year as well.

NEA has produced the report for more than 70 years (https://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-37th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-39th-in-per-pupil-spending/17504331/?version=amp&__twitter_impression=true).

The Office of The NC State Superintendent – Where Doughnuts Are More Important Than Public Schools

If Mark Johnson is willing to run for doughnuts, is he willing to walk with teachers on May 16 in a day for advocacy in support of public schools?

Unfortunately, most teachers in this state already know the answer to that question.

ncae rally

Of all the issues that have surrounded NC and the General Assembly’s assault on the public schools of this state, one would be hard-pressed to find where our state superintendent has made a stand on behalf of the public schools. Consider:

  • per pupil expenditures
  • vouchers
  • unregulated charter schools
  • principal pay plan
  • merit pay
  • removal of due-process rights and graduate school pay
  • revolving door of standardized tests
  • need for more support staff
  • class size chaos

That is just a sampling. Oh, and Johnson and the state school board are still in a court battle concerning a power struggle over public schools. He’s using taxpayer money to fund his legal costs.

Yet with all of the lack of action on behalf of Johnson on really pressing issues, he has spent quite an amount of energy on … doughnuts.

This is the last missive teachers have received from the state superintendent in our inboxes this past week. It has been the subject of the last few communications between Johnson and public school teachers.

Educators:
I wanted to send you a wrap-up message about the 2018 Teachers Working Conditions Survey. Thank you to the nearly 110,000 school-based educators across the state who completed the survey. That gives us a final completion rate of 90.54 percent – the highest ever for North Carolina!
The results of the survey should be available about five weeks from now. We’ll send you a link when it’s up.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Now, the last piece of business we have is my wager with you that if we reached 95 percent completion, I would complete the Krispy Kreme Challenge – 2.5 miles, 12 doughnuts, 2.5 miles. We didn’t quite make it, although we did come within 0.41 percent of beating Kentucky’s mark for best-ever completion rate. But I am very proud that 109,449 of you took the time to take the survey. That is an amazing number and a true testament to your dedication to your profession.
So I’ll call it a split decision: I’ll run the race. As to how many doughnuts I’ll eat in the middle of the race, we’ll see…
Thanks again, and as always, know that we appreciate everything you do for North Carolina’s students.

That questionnaire really does nothing to address the very issues that plague North Carolina’s public schools because of the treatment by those in the NCGA. You can reference that questionnaire and an explanation of what it does not do here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2018/04/03/somethings-wrong-with-the-north-carolina-dpis-teacher-working-conditions-survey/.

It is rather ironic that Johnson wants to have beaten a state in its “response to a questionnaire” that actually saw its teachers rally in great numbers on its state capital.

But what is most ironic is that the man who is supposed to be the educational leader wants to talk about what he will eat in a race next year rather than advocate for the students and schools he is supposed to support.

 

Writing in Stream of Unconsciousness – John Hood’s Latest Op-Ed on Public Education in NC

Most times, I look forward to reading John Hood’s perspectives on education in North Carolina. They reaffirm my stances on what is happening in the Old North State and its public schools.

Needless to say, I usually disagree with his stances. I also wonder sometimes at his lack of clarity.

Yet there are instances where there is no clarity at all. It’s almost reading stream of unconsciousness.  Consider his latest missive from the News & Observer, “Spending more on K-12 schools might not be the smart move” (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article208990409.html).

I do not have Hood’s bandwidth. As the president of the John William Pope Foundation and the past chairman (still on Board of Directors) for the John Locke Foundation, Hood serves as the mouthpiece of Art Pope, the leader of the Civitas Group and considered by many to be the biggest financier in North Carolina of ultra-conservative politics.

John Hood will be heard. Too many microphones have been bought to be placed near his mouth.

But I have my blog and a teacher voice.

I find most everything that Hood writes about public education to be extremely slanted (not surprising), yet smugly conciliatory, as if he is appeasing the more liberal people into thinking he wants what they want from our state government. He seems to want to take a moral high road, ask for civil discussion, insert the opinions of those who pay him, and then take credit for having called for the conversation.

In an op-ed posted on EdNC.org entitled “School reform is good economics”, Hood begins,

 

Liberals and conservatives disagree about means, not about the ultimate ends — and often, even our disagreements on the means of school improvement are more about priorities and details, not about basic concepts. I know these policy debates will continue for years to come. I welcome them.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth devoting more attention to those ultimate ends.”

It’s as if he is saying, “Hey, I want what you want!” but then is thinking, “But I just want to help my cronies make money from it all.”

This is the same with the recent N&O op-ed. Except after reading it many times, I am still trying to figure out what the hell it is talking about.

In it, Hood tries to explain how the recent NAEP score report for North Carolina actually shows that NC should not spend more money in per pupil expenditures. He begins by making a point that poverty has an effect on student scores. Then he talks about Massachusetts who leads the nation in scores. They also spend more on per-pupil expenditures.

“Conservatives, while recognizing and admiring the high level of achievement in Massachusetts, point out complexities. They note, for example, that the composition of the test-taking population clearly affects a state’s average score. States with relatively low poverty rates tend to populate the top third of the student-achievement list. High-poverty states tend to populate the bottom third.”

Ever see Hood argue to help poverty levels in North Carolina? He just simply goes off on more equivocation exercises.

“If we look at the 2017 NAEP reading and math scores just for eighth-grade students with household incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price school lunches, Massachusetts still fares well. It’s one of only eight states — along with Idaho, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming — where low-income students outperform the national average (to a statistically significant degree) in both subjects.”

North Carolina has a profound rate of poverty. Hood might want to explore those numbers more deeply in comparison to those other states he mentions. He might also want to consider the vast amounts of date breakdown that paints a clearer picture.

Read further and you sense the circular reasoning. Actually it’s not circular. It’s more like a broken circuit or an array of tangential non-sequiturs. From Massachusetts to poverty to national averages to indirect evidence to ” raw data don’t represent causal evidence in either direction” Hood rambles on to apparently nowhere.

Usually when data does not favor Hood’s agenda, he simply flies above it and looks at it from a hazy height and paints it with a pleasant hue. That what he tries to do with the NEAP scores just released.

What the NEAP scores for North Carolina really show is that whites in more affluent suburban area schools tend to outperform minorities. Students who receive services for disabilities and those who receive free-reduced lunches tend to have lower scores.

And those NEAP scores have flat-lined over the past few years and that coincides with the education reforms that Hood and his cronies favor – the very reforms that Hood uses cherry-picked numbers to show that they are “helping” our state regain prominence in the country. I have written about these  assertions before and those of his contemporary, Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation, on this blog before. These following are links to those posts, and please note that they were written in response to something written by Hood and Stoops.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/13/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-dr-terry-stoops-and-charter-schools/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/16/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-teachers-and-advanced-degrees/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/17/open-letter-to-john-hood-unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-part-3/

If you read these posts and the pieces written by Hood and Stoops that inspired these posts, you will see that both Hood and Stoops reside in the gray nebula of lack of explanation and platitudes. Their love of broad statements and sweeping assertions really are a smokescreen for a political agenda that wants to further priviatize public education here in North Carolina.

 

Because that is what has happened in North Carolina.

We are spending less per pupil now than we did years ago, and years ago we in North Carolina had what was considered the strongest public school system in the Southeast. Our teacher pay (no it is not better as the GOP claims for veteran teachers) is still in the lowest tier of the nation. Politicians have created grading systems that repeatedly cast public schools in a bad light to create the excuse for the very reforms that Hood champions.

Do not forget that John Hood works for Art Pope, who was the architect of the first Pat McCrory budget and campaigned to remove due-process rights from veteran teachers. He succeeded in removing them from newer teachers as well as removing graduate pay bumps – things that Hood has made hollow arguments for in the past (see referenced posts above).

But I digress. Hood ends his N&O oped with this:

“So, let’s talk about more than Massachusetts and budget math. Let’s go deeper.”

 

I think that is pure bullshit.

If you know anything about what has happened in North Carolina in the last six years with teacher evaluation protocols, teacher salaries, removal of due-process, unregulated charter school growth, vouchers, and ideas for merit pay, then you see an ALEC-based blue print for what people like Art Pope have financed and John Hood has vocally championed.

And then ask, are these “re-forms” really working?

And then ask Hood “What the hell are you really talking about?”

Rep. Larry Pittman, Jesus Would Never Have Sent That Email Concerning Arming Teachers

While evoking the paraphrased words of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Rep. Larry Pittman once again is calling for more guns to be in our schools.

And this call had some extra extremism added to them.

pittman

From an email he sent to all NCGA members on April 16th:

“We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this.  We should give them a fighting chance.  Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands.  I cannot accept that.  I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.”

“Blood on our hands.” That’s what he said.

“Blood on our hands.”

Ironic that a pastor/extreme guns’ rights activist asked for people to be screened but still be against gun control laws that call for “screening” of potential gun buyers.

Pittman goes further and says,

“What we must not do is to allow ourselves to be misguided by emotionalism to enact further gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment and the rights of honest citizens.  Such new gun control laws will not solve the problem.  They will only leave good people defenseless, when the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun.  We will help nothing by violating the rights of 18-20 year old citizens or discriminating against a certain set of long guns simply on the basis of their cosmetic appearance.”

“Emotionalism?” Remember this?

pittman

That was in reference to a Facebook comment on another user’s post.  Pittman and his apparent “emotionalism” speculated the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to “push for gun control so they can more easily take over the country” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article200294174.html).

The original picture was not correct in the first place. And Pittman is not correct in this instance either.

And that mention of “the best way to stop an evil person with a gun is a good person with a gun” is straight from the mouth of Wayne LaPierre who after the Sandy Hook Massacre quoted,  “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Pittman didn’t even give LaPierre credit for the use of a “zero-sum” fallacy. Besides, most teachers in this state who have been polled think that having a “good guy” with a gun is another way of endangering more people.

Let it not be lost that Pittman is an ordained Presbyterian minister. From the NRA to the pulpit to the General Assembly to the email inbox of many, what Pittman is doing is literally shilling more guns for the gun lobby.

It is hard to not look at Pittman as a “man of God” and not want to tell him that he already has “blood on his hands.”

It seems that many politicians like Pittman who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. As a representative, it would seem like Pittman would want to support more actions that would give life to so many.

We are in a state where almost 1 in 4 children live in poverty. What has Pittman as a lawmaker done for that? Created a surplus while cutting taxes for those the highest earners?

Did Pittman preserve life by voting to expand Medicaid to many in the state? No. He let our citizens continue to pay money to the federal government to help finance other states’ Medicaid program.

Did Pittman vote to punish those companies that hurt water supplies for those who have to use that water for living?

Lack of medical care, shelter, food, and basic resources kill people. That’s blood on someone’s hands. The Jesus that I think Pittman refers to would not like that.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule through his actions and not his emails.

That’s not what Pittman is doing.

Far from it.

Our Public Schools Are Better Than Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Wants You to Believe

“If we knew the solution to this problem, we wouldn’t have 505 low performing schools.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on voting for the unproven ISD district to be taken over by an out of state entity whose founder donated to his campaign.

 

Lt. Gov. Forest, our public schools are better than you portray them to be.

A lot better. And the problem is not the schools. The problem is the lawmaking body that controls the narrative of how schools are performing.

Actually, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is the problem.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s recent assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was nearsighted, closeminded, and rather uneducated because she is displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

What she did not say was that:

  • “The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
  • “A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
  • “Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
  • “If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
  • “On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”

Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Either DeVos does not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.

Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the supermajority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost %90 of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

schools 2

If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

Like Dan Forest.

Literature Assignment for the North Carolina General Assembly – Sparknotes Won’t Help on the Test

Recommeded-booklist-750x325

In a day and age where STEM-linked educational initiatives are heavily marketed in the educational and political arenas, it is sometimes hard for this English teacher to not want to reiterate that a study of literature is just as vital. Furthermore, looking and reflecting on great works of literature is a genuine way to study our own being.

There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.

  • “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson
  • “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain
  • “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
  • “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Don’t Join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
  • “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archaeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.

And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.

Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the upcoming session of the North Carolina Assembly this spring in the hopes that those elected officials would possibly see how others see the same world through a lens that these legislators and politicians may have never considered.

Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on how life should be lived simply because my viewpoint is narrow.

Many of these titles I would never put on a high school reading list, but if you are an elected official, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that they carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.

Happy reading!

  • Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit of domination something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
  • Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
  • The Lorax by Seuss – to remind ourselves that fracking, GenX, coal ash are really bad for the environment.
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature according to my erudite uncle and lets us know that the dead still speak.
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when we objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently-abled.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.

The test for all of these is in how you conduct yourselves afterwards. Your grade will be given in the fall, probably around the early part of November.

Dear Madame Secretary – Those Teachers Who Are Marching Are “Thinking About the Kids”

“I think about the kids. I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” – Betsy DeVos on April 5, 2018 according to The Dallas Morning News concerning teachers’ strike in Oklahoma.

Speaking as an educator with actual classroom experience in public schools and as a parent with children in traditional public schools, what those teachers in Oklahoma are doing really is for “the kids.” In a state that has not given a raise to teachers in almost a decade and created a revolving door of educators coming in and out of the profession because of low investment in salaries and resources, what Oklahoma has done is create an unfavorable situation for public schools.

What those teachers are demanding is for an investment in human capital because what schools are really about are the people. When a state does not pay its teachers well and resource its schools well, then those who ultimately suffer are the students. Therefore, what Oklahoma teachers are marching for are the very people Betsy DeVos is most disconnected from – public school students.

DeVos says that these protests should not have an impact on classrooms. Ironic that she does not see that what the protests are actually bringing into the bigger light is that policies championed by the state governments of places like Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina are having the most negative impacts on classrooms.

The secretary of education seems to be unable to see that while teachers may not be in the classroom with students, they are still doing the job of advocating for students and schools. In fact, they are still showing up for the job; the classroom just seems to have widened and not be confined to four walls and a school building. If the entire nation is looking at Oklahoma and Kentucky and West Virginia and getting insight into what is happening in public education, then that truly is teaching and learning at its most basic form.

And DeVos does not understand that.

Those teachers who are marching and protesting are probably spending more time working for schools now than during an average school week, yet could DeVos say the same?

Remember last year’s report by the non-partisan watchdog group American Oversight on DeVos’s time on job? They released a report on DeVos’s attendance record over the first six months of her term. Six months is four months shorter than a school year as defined by federal standards.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, American Oversight was able to conclude that DeVos only showed up for work 2 out of three days (https://www.americanoversight.org/unexcused-absences-devos). An analysis by American Oversight found that during that period – which stretches from February 8th to July 19th – DeVos only completed a full day of work 67% of the time.

That’s not a good track record.

Broken down specifically, the report says:

  • 113 federally mandated work days possible (February 8 – July 19, 2017)
  • 77 full days of work (68%)
  • 21 partial days taken off (19%)
  • 15 full days taken off (13%)
  • 5 hours of work on average partial day off
  • 11 long weekends in less than six months.

And while she was gone, the Department of Education was still open, theoretically. Even schools in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and all other states were open.

But when teachers are gone, schools cannot open for traditional classes. It seems in this equation that teachers are more vital for schools to stay open. If you hurt teachers, you hurt schools. If you hurt schools, you hurt students.

It is also interesting to see DeVos make comment on schools and areas that she really has no insight about. Remember that drastic 60 Minutes interview from last month?  The day of the 60 Minutes interview, DeVos had more than usual activity on her Twitter account. Maybe knowing her words from the interview were not as stellar as she would have hoped, she may have tried to lessen the blowback with this tweet.

DeVos

Look at that map more closely.

  • She has not traveled to West Virginia. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Kentucky. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Oklahoma. Those teachers marched.
  • She has not traveled to Arizona, whose teachers are galvanizing.
  • She has not traveled to North Carolina, whose teachers are planning a day of advocacy on May 16 in Raleigh.

Seems more than a little ignorant on the part of Sec. DeVos.

If there was one statement that came from DeVos in that 60 Minutes interview which was most memorable it was this one:

“I have not– I have not– I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” – Betsy DeVos, March 11, 2018 on 60 Minutes.

Those teachers marching in Oklahoma (and the other states) intentionally not only “visit” those schools, they teach in them. They work in them. They advocate for them.

And they march for them.