Tests Can’t Measure the Character of Students And Other Reasons Your Kids Aren’t Numbers

Invariably, in many social situations, I am asked that same ubiquitous question many people face: “So, what do you do for a living?” And when I answer that I am a teacher the reactions are varied.  “Wow, that must be exciting!”  “Do you guys still use red ink?” “How do you handle those kids?” “I wouldn’t have the patience.” Some people have even said, “I’m sorry.”

While there may be some lightheartedness involved, conversations about education usually ensue because everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources. But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken and lack confidence in our young people and their role as future leaders. It is with these people that I talk about West Forsyth and the Lewisville-Clemmons community. In fact, I can speak glowingly of all our schools here in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County system. I can go even further than that. I can brag about all of our public schools here in North Carolina.

I am not here to compare schools, but having spent the last ten-plus years at West Forsyth gives me insight into at least one of them. The fact that West Forsyth is recognized as a high-performing school and that our students pursue worthwhile postsecondary endeavors speaks incredibly well, but our students are more than achievers in academics. It’s because they succeed in being good people that helps set this school apart. I am more than confident that many people who read this post can substitute another school’s name in West’s place and still speak the truth.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, once said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Most all of the young people I see every day understand the meaning of those words and the character they show inside and outside the classroom is a reason that we should celebrate the work our schools do.

In a country where we identify schools through acronyms like NCLB, EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s, it’s reassuring to know that our young people also define themselves with more standards than those of an academic transcript. Don’t get me wrong; the academics are important, but if we want to educate the complete student, then we must honor character, and our students are very honorable because they distinguish themselves by their character and the impression they leave on others. If that is a criterion for having faith in this next generation, then the students I matriculate with every day at West have instilled confidence within me. The students I come across in other schools instill that same confidence within me.

When you as a teacher begin to see the third and fourth sibling from the same family in your classes, or have been sent wedding invitations from former students, or have embraced a family member at a funeral for a previous pupil, then you have been at the same school for a long time, or better yet, become a member of a community that loves and nurtures its own.

When you receive notes and visits from students who have long past graduated, then you know you have made an impression, hopefully a positive one. And when you are met by a parent whom you do not even recognize but wanted to thank you for what you taught his/her child, then you know that you are in the right profession. And when the first child of a former student graces my doorway for class, then I will be more than glad to talk of his/her parent’s adventures in school, possibly with some embellishment.

My own daughter now attends West as a freshman. There was no need to show her around campus or introduce her to the administration or the teachers; she already was familiar with West. That’s because she already was invested in one of the cornerstones of our community: the public high school.




About Betsy DeVos’s Op-Ed in USA Today

Not only does she speak incoherently in confirmation hearings.

Not only does she tweet her own platitudes.

She now writes op-eds full of glittering claims without any data with a hint of some outlier data with simply no analysis bookended with enough bullshit to leave a stench in your nose to make you blame it on the dog.

In fact, here it is straight from the March 2, 2017 edition of USA Today’s online edition. Note: It did have to be corrected because she misidentified the very grant she was praising in the op-ed (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/03/02/betsy-devos-trump-delivers-education-promises-column/98594982/) .

I have taken the liberty to add a few thoughts as they presented themselves in my mind while reading as I am an educator in public schools, a parent of public school students, a voter, and a tax-payer. I am also one of about 200 million Americans who are more qualified to be secretary of education than Betsy DeVos.

devos usa today

Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this column misidentified a Department of Education program called “School Improvement Grants.” 

President Trump’s first address to the joint session of Congress was clear: promises made, promises kept. The president promised to shake up the status quo in Washington, and he has. He also promised to release his tax returns and to present evidence of wiretapping. From keeping Carrier in the United States (you might want to see how many jobs are still going to Mexico and how much tax breaks Carrier was able to leverage from Trump and Pence since iot was Pence’s home state) to nominating the highly qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court (who is getting a little flack from conservatives for his religious background) , our president continues to follow through on his word (like getting Mexico to pay for the wall).

He’s also delivering on his promises for education (by presenting a budget that slashes federal money to public education).

The president made a point during the campaign to highlight the problems low-income families face in accessing a quality education (so he is backing an insurance plan that will make poorer people pay more to be insured and cut more programs that benefit poorer families while granting rich people and corporations tax breaks). We cannot hope to get America back on track if we do nothing to improve education for the poorest among us (just like you did in Michigan? Wait, like you didn’t do in Michigan?).

The achievement gaps in education result in hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic potential every year and looking at the amount of segregation that occurs in the privatization efforts you have led in Michigan through your efforts, that is not surprising. And these gaps disproportionately harm minority students. Currently, more than 40% of African-American male students do not graduate high school. And achievement gaps are symptomatic of opportunity gaps and income gaps. You know anything about that? Of course you do!

These are more than just stats. They are the product of long-term trends.

For too long, Washington has focused on issuing edicts from its bubble, rather than empowering and amplifying solutions found at the grassroots level. Mrs. DeVos, I would not consider you someone who is starting a grassroots effort. You are ditating your will from a pedestal above others that you bought. We need to retire Washington’s top-down approach and instead empower answers from the bottom up. That’s rich coming from someone who literally paid her way into office and has given tens of millions of dollars to influence the very policies that benefit herself and her family.

But we also know the answer is not simply an increase in funding But an increase in contributions to those who can confirm you and then divert monies to charters and vouchers that benefit you and those who associate with you. As we saw under the Obama administration, one of its main initiatives was the “School Improvement Grants,” which pumped $7 billion into some of our most underserved schools. The only problem was that as the administration was walking out the door, it released a report showing that the grants had zero impact in improving test scores, graduation rates or college preparedness. Is that proficiency or growth?

We cannot rely on throwing money at this problem like administrations past (Ma’am, you throw more money than anyone). Instead, we need to enact serious, substantive reforms that go to the source of the problem. Are those the reforms you were talking about during your conformation hearings?

This work has already begun. On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order that elevates the initiative on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), giving them greater access to policymaking in the White House.

Their history was born not out of mere choice Actually, what you said about HBCU’s was that they were about choice. Maybe you need to reread your words)but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War. HBCUs remain at the forefront of opening doors that had been unjustly closed to so many you might want to look at the segregating trends of religious and charter schools. They made higher education accessible to students who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity.

We must follow their lead and apply that same thinking to our K-12 system because the same reality exists: Too many students live without access to quality schools. These children and teenagers are assigned to failing schools based solely on the ZIP code in which they live. If they don’t have the means to move to a better school district, then they’re trapped. They’re trapped also when they do not have access to food, medical care, mental health, safety, jobs, a lot of things that Trump’s budget seems to ignore.

This is not only unfair, it is also unjust. That’s the first things you have said that’s right.

The left Why is public education political? continues to say they have a monopoly on compassion for our country’s poor, yet they consistently oppose the very reforms that can do the most good to close the education gap. The numbers continue to show that increasing school options has a positive effect on students generally, and an even greater impact on poor and minority students. SHOW ME!!! If we truly want to provide better education to underserved communities, then it must start with giving parents and students school choice. Actually if want to provide a better education to people in poorer communities you create conditions where they are not poorer.

Trump has delivered on his promise to support school choice and offer students access to quality options. No child, regardless of her ZIP code or family income, should be denied access to quality education. Then support  public schools – all of them.

Together, we can help our nation’s students: those trapped in underperforming schools and those slipping through the cracks. One of those students was Denisha Merriweather, a guest of the first lady at Tuesday’s address. Denisha is living proof that school choice can break the cycle of poverty and provide transformative change. As a result of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Denisha became the first in her family to graduate high school, college and, later this May, with a master’s degree in social work. Denisha’s story is but one example of the opportunity we should afford to millions of students across our country. You have not been in many public school have you Mrs. DeVos?

Kids are 100% of our future. It is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure they each have an equal opportunity to a school where they can learn and thrive. The next generation deserves no less. Then let someone who knows something about education sit at your desk.

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education. In title only.



Growth Vs. Proficiency, School Performance Grades, & A Dissenting Vote

Simply put, North Carolina should allow student growth to weigh more in the formula that measures school performance grades. (Honestly, we should get rid of it).

This past week a bill passed the General Assembly House K-12 Education Committee that according to an EdNC.org report from Alex Granados “would change the calculation of the grades from 80 percent academic performance and 20 percent growth to a 50-50 split” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/15/house-committee-tackles-school-performance-grade-change/).

Granados explains,

“Academic performance is measured by students’ proficiency on statewide tests whereas academic growth is how much academic progress students make during the year.”

For those who suffer from Betsy DeVos’s “I Don’t Know The Difference Between Proficiency And Growth Syndrome”, that means more of an emphasis on whether students are growing from the beginning of the year to the end of the school year.

And this is a step in the right direction for a group of lawmakers who have shown to be less than proficient when it comes to helping public education.

Proficiency is measured by tests. And no, I am not advocating that we eliminate all tests, but when a state can administer tests that are constructed arbitrarily, many times graded by computer, converted by unknown algorithms, and mostly unexplained with ambiguous score reports, then feedback on improvement is almost nonexistent.

Tweak an algorithm here and a cut score there and quite a number of school performance grades change. Proficiency becomes a luck of the draw. Growth then becomes less emphasized when growth is what we are after the whole time.

Athletes train to get better. Professionals work to get better. Skills are worked on to become sharper. They seek growth.

And to think that all of the students who walk in to a classroom come in at the same level is ludicrous. Too many factors affecting their academic performance outside of class weigh heavily on their achievement on the very items that lawmakers say measure “proficiency” – hunger, poverty, health, safety, emotional and mental health, the list goes on.

Ironically, lawmakers can do a lot more about those factors and actually ensure that there is more potential for growth in many of our students.

Granados’s report also talked about one dissenting vote in the committee’s debate about changing the formula for school performance grades.

The lone holdout on Tuesday’s vote was committee co-chair Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth. She said her county has several D and F schools, but she thinks the emphasis should be on performance because the goal is to get students on grade level. She said that is what academic performance encapsulates.

What Rep. Conrad should maybe consider is that performance gets better when students grow. And if proficiency is measured by moving targets like standardized tests, then what is considered grade level can pretty much be summed up in the same manner.


Are those students growing? That’s the question.

If very schools in her county which received “D’s” and “F’s” were growing students at great lengths but still were not at what she considered grade level, then I would consider those schools and teachers a success. Considering what factors they were against, what odds they faced, and what resources they had to gather on their own, they put students first. They saw progress and had faith in a process.

Where Rep. Conrad looked at a bottom line, maybe those teachers saw real people.

But then again, we could also take that paradigm and shift it to “test” those who seem bent on judging others on proficiency.

With another year sans NCAA Tournament games in a state that literally sweats NCAA basketball, it is rather ironic that Rep. Conrad talk about staying at “grade level” when a bill she openly supported (HB2) is literally hurting our state economically to the point that CBS game commentators talk about it during Duke’s opening round game.

The hundreds of millions of dollars lost because of HB2 certainly is not indicative of being of “grade-level” or of being “proficient.” Hell, it’s not even “growth.”

Oh, by the way, this past week Michigan did away with its school performance grades and even West Virginia did away with it for this year citing inconsistencies with the grading system that so many in Raleigh embraced.

Sounds like the grading system is not proficient.

The NC General Assembly Should Cap Class Sizes and Fund For Arts and PE – Jesus and Churchill Would. It’s About Investing In Our Kids, Not Using Them As Pawns.

Arika Herron’s recent Winston-Salem Journal column this past Sunday entitled “Too big to learn? Schools seeking waivers for exceeding class-size limits” brought to mind the ongoing disconnect that legislative leaders in our state have with reality when it comes to curbing class sizes in public schools.

As reported last fall in a variety of media outlets, NC General Assembly leaders were pushing to limit class sizes in early grades (k-3) to a prescribed number. The problem with the original bills associated with such an endeavor was that there would be no additional funding to really alleviate the need for extra classrooms and teachers because fewer students per classroom would mean more required classes and more space.

Well… actually, there was a solution to that in the eyes of many a lawmaker – cut “non-core” classes, specifically physical education, art, music, and other specialties. If certain classes cannot be tested by state tests for “student achievement,” then they may not be as important.

At least to some.

And with Herron’s report came the stark realization that many in Raleigh still choose to ignore the reality in schools for what appears to be purposeful reasons. And when they do finally witness what happens in public schools, these lawmakers feign surprise.

For instance from Herron,

In a recent visit to Jefferson Elementary School, which has six classrooms with more than 24 students, Rep. Debra Conrad, R­-Forsyth, said she was surprised to see such large classes.

“We allot based on a ratio,” she said. “We’re trying to find out what (school districts) have been doing with the money.”

School officials said the district doesn’t fill classrooms with just 18 students — as the state allots — because it uses some of its allotted teaching positions to hire for special classes like art, music and physical education. There is not a specific state allotment to hire those special teachers and because they don’t have a dedicated class assigned to them, they do not affect a school’s teacher­-to-­student ratio.

Jefferson Elementary is one of the highest rated schools in the district and has been for quite a while, and Debra Conrad has been a representative for Forsyth County for at least three terms.

Further on in Herron’s report it states,

The flexibility that currently allows districts to do that and fill classes above their allotted ratio is in jeopardy. A provision of the budget bill would hold schools to strict class sizes starting with the 2017­18 school year.

However, lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would give back the flexibility after school districts across the state said they would have to cut art, music and gym classes in order to comply. Some districts, like Forsyth County, have said they’re also already facing a teacher shortage and struggling to fill the elementary positions they have now — let alone dozens more. Many districts would need additional classroom spaces, too.

What they do not see must not exist. And what does not exist must not need money.

This is not just by accident. And it is not simple ignorance.

It’s intentional. And until they receive lots of feedback from lots of angry parents and citizens, they will not reverse course. That’s why it is incumbent to call lawmakers. That’s why our journalists must be fearless in reporting what is true.

Remember, this is the very same General Assembly that ramrodded vouchers (Opportunity Grants) down the throats of tax payers to allow people to send their children to private schools because of the thought that public schools were not doing their job.

The recent Duke Law School Children’s Law Center’s report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS (https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.) has some rather enlightening summations about the NC voucher program established by the same people who want the very class size restrictions in public schools, yet who also claim ignorance to what happens in overcrowded schools. One of the most damning conclusions states,

“The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so.”

While these lawmakers applaud the structure of the private schools for their small class size, unique approaches to teaching, and their well-rounded curriculum, they seem to admonish traditional public schools in their quest to have the same resources.

Ironic that over 93% of vouchers go to private religious schools that are overwhelmingly Christian in affiliation, and while traditional public schools are having to worry about cutting arts, music, dance, and physical education just to fit students within limited resources, voucher-enabled religious schools get to teach their students in reduced-sized classrooms verses like,

“Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” – Psalm 149:3.

 “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” – First Timothy 4:14-15.

“Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

Those verses talk about music, dance, creative talents, and physical fitness. And those are being sacrificed by our General Assembly within traditional public schools under a ruse of fiscal responsibility when in actuality it is nothing but ignorance and neglect.

When so many of our lawmakers who tout the very “reforms” that have actually hurt traditional public schools profess such a love of Jesus Christ, then would it not make sense for them to invest in all schools?

And when lawmakers like the aforementioned Rep. Conrad support school choice and vouchers they are actually supporting using tax payer money to help fund schools that service far fewer students than traditional public schools.

Consider another observation from the SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: THE FIRST THREE YEARS report.

“The participating schools range in size from very small to large. As the following chart shows, six of the participating schools enroll more than 1,000 students. The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students” (p.8).

The “most typical size for a voucher accepting school is between 100 and 250 students?” That’s fairly eye-opening when you consider that many public high school teachers are teaching six out of eight slots in a block schedule without a cap on students per class. That means that many high school teachers in typical public schools are teaching as many students in their classes (150-200) as there are total in the “typical” school that participates in the voucher program here in North Carolina.

And yet lawmakers have measured the merit of teachers and graded our public schools without regard to class sizes in the past few years, but when they decide to alleviate the “class size” issue they create a “bait-and-switch” scenario that further weakens how public schools can service the majority of school aged-children.

It was a little encouraging to hear Rep. Craig Horn quoted last November in NC Policy Watch acknowledging that the NCGA’s original ideas to “curb” class sizes were not very clearly thought out.

How things play out is not always how you expect them to play out,” Horn told Policy Watch this week. “I mean, we obviously intended to make class changes. Did we fully understand all of the implications? Quite frankly, hell no” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/11/14/new-rules-lower-class-sizes-force-stark-choices-threatening-tas-specialty-education-positions/).

Ironic that Rep. Horn is a huge admirer of Winston Churchill. He often quotes him and makes reference to him on his website, craighorn.com.

Craig is often called “Representative Churchill” by his legislative colleagues owing to his close association with the Churchill Centre. Craig is president of the Churchill Society of North Carolina and serves on the Board of Governors of the International Churchill Society and the Churchill Centre.

So he may know of this quote that is falsely attributed to Winston Churchill.


It would be fantastic for this essay if that quote was actually Churchill’s. Yet, alas.

But Churchill did say this.

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

That works well enough.

What would work even better is for the North Carolina General Assembly to take measures to cap all class sizes and keep the arts and physical education classes alive and vibrant.

It’s money well spent. Rather, it’s money well invested.

If You Ever Wanted to Know About the Unwise Use of the Opportunity Grants Then Read This Report on NC School Vouchers by The Children’s Law Center at Duke Law School Of Law

The always vital voice of Lindsay Wagner of the Fletcher Foundation tweeted about this earlier today by posting the following table found in the Children’s Law Center’s recent March 2017 report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS.

Duke study

Let those blank spaces sink in for a minute. The lack of oversight by itself compared to other states listed should be shocking. But this entire report is full of rather stunning observations of a program that will take almost 1 billion dollars of tax payer money after the next decade into what many outside of our state consider the most lax and enabled brand of privatization of public schools.

The entire report can be found here:  https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.

But just to give you a flavor of what the Opportunity Grants have done according to one of the more respected research universities in the nation, consider the following excerpted observations:

  • Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
  • Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
  • The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
  • Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
  • Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
  • The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
  • Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
  • In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
  • Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
  • In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
  • The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).

Betsy DeVos, Free Lunches, and the HUA Complex

“I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately. I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

In yet another example of not just “Foot In Mouth” Syndrome but “Head Up Ass Complex,” our new secretary of education proves that the need to be knowledgeable in the area she is leader of is not really a necessity in today’s political landscape.

Apparently, having any familiarity with whom you serve is of no importance either.

Forget the lack of control over standard conventions of the English language and the unwillingness to own her own mistakes.


Forget the complete ignorance in discerning “proficiency” from “growth” as it pertains to the very occupation that you are considered the nation’s leader of.

“I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student is measured according to the advancements they are making in each subject area.”

Forget the complete disconnect from what teachers experience in the classroom of our public schools.


Forget the mind-blowing misrepresentation of HBCU’s as institutions that were created for school choice advocacy.


This one hits the kids. Betsy DeVos is supposed to be an advocate for all public school children.

Yes, you could say, “Well, she was just saying that the government can’t just give out stuff to people for free. There’s a price for everything.” She was, after all, talking to the Conservative Political Action Conference attendees. What else would she say?

And you would be right. There is a price for the food that feeds a lot of poverty-stricken children who attend public schools.

And there’s a price to pay for buying influence in the political world.

There’s also a price to pay for buying an office on a presidential cabinet.

There’s even a price to pay for having so many of our children walking around hungry.

Ironically, public school students, teachers, parents, and supporters are paying a price for having a politically motivated secretary of education who seems more interested in buying ways of not having to pay a price for others to have the basic needs in life so that she can continue to promote policy that favors a few rather than many.

No matter who provides the lunch or the utensils or the tray it comes on, when the person who is supposed to fight tooth and nail for the very kids she references in an ill-conceived comment that reveals the total disconnect she has with her duties as a public servant, then we all pay a huge price: you, me, even Bernie Sanders.

But perhaps what might be the hallmark of DeVos’s ignorance is the last part of her comment concerning Bernie Sanders. She said,

“…and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

I highly doubt that. There’s no telling what Sanders has encountered in his life that DeVos could not even conceive of.

I highly doubt that a man born to Jewish immigrants in New York City whose direct ancestors were lost in the Holocaust, who attended public schools as well as Hebrew school, lived a life not of privilege but of sacrifice, lost his parents at an early age, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., actually taught in a Head Start program for a time, and has led a life of public service needs to be told by a lifelong heiress who has never held a job, never taught in or attended a public school, or ever faced life without being one of the richest people in the country that there is no such thing as a “free lunch.”

Besides, I don’t even think Betsy DeVos can even make a lunch.

As I Lay Dying (Taking This Standardized Test) – A Faulknerian, Stream-of-Unconsciousness Summary of Five Sections of the ACT



Jewel and I come down the hall and although I am a few feet head of him, anyone watching us from the end of the hall can see Jewel’s frayed trucker hat a full head above my own.


So I got out fresh batteries and checked my TI-84 calculator today. We depend a lot on our calculators. They are good machines considering they use batteries. Dead batteries can break u a math section of the ACT quicker than anything.


The administrator and the proctor are standing at the door. The administrator is tilting his clipboard holding it outdrawn between thumb and finger. They look across the hall and put their coffee cups to their lips and drink. “Where’s all the students?”


It’s because he stands there, right next to his locker, combing his hair and letting all the girls droll over him saying See. See how cool my hair looks. I told him to go somewhere else.


We watch the administrator look around the hallway. He does not look at us. “You ready?” he says. “If you’re ready,” I say. I say “Wait.” He stops looking at the proctor. He pulls a sip of coffee with decorous and deliberate precision into his mouth. The proctor rubs his balding head. He is gazing out beyond the window of the building beyond the football field, out across the campus. Jewel watches him a moment, then he goes on to the water fountain and drinks.


It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. He was texting his mother, I think. I always said Darl was different from those others. I always said he was the only one of them who had his mother’s nature.

Dewey Dell

The first time me and Lafe took the test in another building. Pa dassent read books because he just watches TV. And I usually just make weird observations cause no one believes that I can be smart.


Anse keeps on rubbing his knees. What the hell is wrong with his knees? “No one mislikes tests more than me,” he says. “A fellows got to guess on so many questions,” I say. “But it will all be over sometime in the afternoon.”


Durn this test. And lunch is been pushed out for another hour. I can sit here and same as see my lunch with a second sight. I do the best I can, much as I can get my mind on anything, but durn I’m hungry already.


He has been hanging out with that girl: the back of his neck is trimmed close, with some of that gel in his hair like a frozen wave. He has not once looked at anyone. “Jewel,” I say. Back straightened between the two rows of desks placed exactly four feet apart per ACT instruction manual. “Do you know you are going to bomb this test, Jewel?”


When the principal finally sent for me to proctor, I said “He has wore out all the other PTSA volunteers.” And I said that is a blessed shame.


Someone’s Pa stands beside the water fountain. Why the hell is his Pa here at school? Oh, Vardaman peers from behind him. He forgot to get on the bus. Dewey sees him; all her failing grades appear to drain into her eyes, urgent, irremediable. “I need lunch money,” Dewey Dell says.


The I begin to run to the testing room. I run toward the end of the hall and come to the door and stop. Then I begin to sweat. I can feel my hands like clammy fish and the blood is rushing to my head.

Dewey Dell

This test could do so much for me if it just would. It could do everything for me. It’s like everything in the world for me is inside the pages of a standardized test. I am about to throw up my guts.


When we finish the test they are going to make us sit here for a long time. I saw Cash stand up and go whirling away to his bookbag. “Do you have an extra soft lead No. 2 pencil, Cash? Cash? Cash?” I got up. I said, “Do you have an extra pencil, Cash?”


It was already five minutes into first period before we could even think about starting to pass out the materials. It has been a misdoubtful morning. Buses were late. What does “misdoubtful” mean? I have hours of staring at kids to think about that.


The eraser sits on the desk. Rugged, used, its cracked side smeared on one side with a soaring smudge of graphite, it sheds a feeble and sultry glare upon the pencil and the adjacent extra pencil. Upon the dark desk, the grains of fake wood look like random smears of wrong answers on past standardized tests. The math portion is first. Seal torn. Calculator ready. Thirty-five minutes to complete.


I look at the problem. 1. There are more variables than I realized. 2. There is twice the nuber of integers on one side of equation. 3. I could use a drink of water. 4. In an equation, there has to be a solution that you can come by if you do the math correctly and go in the proper order. 5. People like math. 6. Except. 7. Me 8. Animal magnetism. 9. Animal magnetism is not helping me with this math problem. 10. Someone can do math and show how the earth sinks on a bevel. 11. What the hell is a bevel? 12. So I multiplied each side by zero. 13. Problem solved.


The sandwich in my lunch bag is tuna fish.


It was ten o’clock when I got back from my first bathroom break, and the classroom was in the middle of the math section. They were still using their calculators and I found one solitary eraser on the floor next to the first desk on the third row. The anxiety in the room was rising like a swelled river after a large thunderstorm.


“It’s not your brain that’s dead, Jewel,” I say. He sits erect in his seat, leaning a little forward, wooden-backed. His head is beading with sweat and dripping down his wooden face. I hope I didn’t say that out loud. It would mean a misadministration.


It won’t balance. If you want the equation to work out and be balanced, I have to – “Multiply each side by zero! Dammit!” “I’m telling you it won’t balance unless.” “Multiply! Multiply! Damn your thin-nosed soul to hell, multiply!” I am speaking to myself. Hopefully not out loud.


Cash looks weird. Almost reminds me of that quote in a Faulkner novel that talks about that guy’s face when “the blood goes in waves. In between them his flesh is greenish looking, about that smooth, thick, pale green of cow’s cud; his face suffocated, furious, his lip lifted upon his teeth.” “Multiply! You thin-nosed soul!” Does Cash know we can hear him? And why does he think that multiplying each side by zero solves everything in math? He better shut up or we’ll have a misadministration.


We are going on a break after this section. Dewey Dell says that it won’t get easier. Even Santa Claus failed the ACT. And I will have to take it again next Christmas.


He goes on toward the bathroom during the break. Dewey Dell carries something in one hand. It’s a twinkie. They still make those? In the other is her bottle of water. Her face is calm and sullen, her eyes brooding and alert. Makes me wish I brought a snack for break.


I told those guys not to talk during the test. My ma would not like me talking when I wasn’t supposed to talk. Makes it sound like they don’t care. Now we are on break and they are prancing along like circus animals and Darl is even laughing. And he’s all alone. How many times I told him if he’s doing such things as that that makes folks talk about him.


He goes back into the class room real fast, yet we have five more minutes of break time. That makes me laugh out loud. Why is Anse looking at me like that?


This is a hard test for a guy who hates school. It’s hard. Five hours of mind sweat. And I hate sweating.


Why am I in the room with these people? Why can my last name not begin with “B” like the Bundren boys?

Dewey Dell

The administrator said there was five minutes left in this section. That’s five minutes closer to the writing section of the test. And I write good. Now it’s less than five minutes.


After they began the writing section, I began to walk about and looped up the rows of desks. That’s what a proctor does. They was all sitting all antsy in their desks. Anse Bundren was sitting there looking out the window just day dreaming. Probably about not doing any work since he never did any class work either from what I can tell.


He sits in his desk, glaring at that other kid who makes really good grades, his lean face crinkled up to and beyond the cold frigidity of his eyes. Last school year when he was a sophomore, he took to sleeping in class. One morning when we were doing our journal entries, I heard the teacher go to his desk and call his name. When he woke up he looked at the teacher, grimaced, and then put his head down again.


So we finally got Anse that newly sharpened #2 soft lead pencil, and he is now starting to write a response to the writing prompt. If he keeps putting off his school work, he will find himself back here again next year. As for me, I am waiting to keel over because I know that I will be back here in two months proctoring the EOC’s.


Before me the thick dark current of thought runs. It talks to me in a murmur become endless and whispery, the great ideas rumbling gigantically into swirls of sentences along the surface of the paper, the pencil mapping my every thought, profound and significant, as if everything that runs through my mind was pure stream of unconscious literature. I think I am talking out loud.


Cash tried to tell Darl to shutup and Darl just mumbling aloud and I trying to tell Darl in his mind to shutup and Deewey Dell doing the same thing and then looking at me Vardaman, you Vardaman you Vardaman and the administrator passed me because he was seeing that she was looking at me weird and she stated to write again.


When I told Vernon how Darl was talking out loud during the writing portion of the test and Cash trying to tell him to not let his inner monologue come out of his mouth, and Jewel almost leaving his seat to smack both of them for disturbing his thought process while outlining a response for the prompt, I thought, “Why am I here?”


Cash is mouthing something to me, his head raised like a meerkat. His eyes are semi-closed, his face is red, his hair plastered with gel in a smooth smear across his forehead as though he was hiding an already receding hairline. His face appears depressed a little. He’s still probably trying to work out some math problem.


Damn math equation didn’t balance on both sides.


One day we were talking. She had always been the smartest in the class, but my grades were better, even after last school year. Mr. Whitfield kept telling her she should apply herself, singled her out and pushed her to take more AP classes, and I said to her many a time, “God gave you brains to overcome your plain looks and for a token of His own suffering and love you conceived and bore them.” I said that because she didn’t apply herself like she should have, but I still wanted to be the one with the highest grades in class.


God, I am so glad that I didn’t go to school today and take that test with all of those dirty snuffling nosed dorks. Instead of going to school I went down to the river where I could sit and be quiet and hate them. I could just remember how my father used to say the reason to take a standardized test is to get ready to take another one.


When the attendance report said that she was absent, all that morning I wrestled with anger, and I emerged victorious. I woke to the enormity of my fault; I saw the true light at last, and I went on about my day and told myself that if Addie doesn’t want a chance to get a national scholarship then it was her deal. But standardized tests are very important to me as the principal. That’s how I am measured.


Cash looks like he is about to vomit. He always does when he takes long tests.


When is lunch? Someone has tuna. I smell it.


Now there are five sections to this test, all taking over thirty minutes. “Look, Darl,” I say; “see?” He looks up with an inquisitive yet constipated look. “I thought there were only four sections.”


I happened to look up, and saw that she was looking toward me. Not really at me, and not looking at anything in particular; just looking there with her turned this way and her eyes full on something and kind of blank too, like she was waiting for something. When I looked up again she was writing in her answer booklet.


Here’s a good place for a transition in my written response. We could ass some more adjectives here and lots of commas. I am speaking out loud again, aren’t I?


Darl and Jewel and Dewey Dell and I are taking a standardized test, in school. Jewel went to the bathroom. He came back and go tin his seat. He was still working. Jewel doesn’t have any eraser left on his pencil. Jewel is my classmate. Cash is my classmate. Cash vomits during long tests. Smells like Vardaman’s lunch bag.


“Jewel,” I say, “You done with your written response?” The other people in the classroom look up. Is it because I am speaking out loud again?


She as sitting at her desk and Darl looks up and seems to ask her something. I put my ear close and I can hear her speaking back. Only I can’t tell what she is saying.


Against the dark doorway the test administrator seems to materialize out of the darkness, lean as a feral cat surprised by a possum. He steps toward me with an expression of furious unbelief. He may have heard me talking and his eyes swim with a glare of two small torches. I should probably shutup.


When some of the others start to put their heads down on the desk, I see that Darl is still trying to get someone else’s attention. He has started to tear apart his answer booklet, the markings of graphite on the paper will not be scanned now.


We have been testing for some time now: the math problems, the reading passages, the writing prompt, the science questions, and the grammar, and my mind is fried, becoming more starkly unstable. Three minutes. Two minutes. Until we get to stop, but the administrator is coming over toward me and taking my answer sheet and booklet from me. Something about a misadministration because of talking too loud.


It wasn’t nothing else to do. It was either send him to ISS or let him keep on talking out loud during a test. How did he not know that we could all hear him? Even Vardaman was like, “Shut up, man!”


I had to do something to shut him up. I be damned if he causes all of these kids to retake the ACT. That would mean that I would have to administer it again.


I wonder if Dewey Dell will go to prom with me?


Now the test is over, but my tuna sandwich doesn’t look as good anymore and the lunch room has already closed. Darl has been taken out to go to in-school suspension. Darl is my friend. He won’t be alone because he can talk to himself.


Darl has gone to ISS. They put him in Trailer 10, laughing, down the pathway laughing, the heads of the other students turning like the heads of owls when he passed. “What are you looking at?” I said. “Damn right I’m talking about myself in the third person.”

Dewey Dell

When he saw my lunch bag I said, “Thi is not my lunch, it doesn’t belong to me.” “Whose is it, then?” “It’s Vardaman’s. Smells awful. Don’t you touch it. It’s not mine.”


So when we stopped taking the test we returned all of the borrowed pencils and heard the announcement over the speakers in the classroom. So when everything was done, Anse says, “I reckon I better go get some lunch.” We thought he was going straight to the cafeteria.

“It’s a chicken biscuit and some fries and a pepsi and a candy bar,” Anse says when he gets back from Bojangles after sneaking off campus to get some food. “And no, I ain’t sharing,” he said smiling and showing his teeth.

Open Letter to the Person Who Started the Twitter Threat to My School (Or Any School)

When you teach for a number of years in large public schools, you will invariably come across the situation in which a bomb threat or other threat is made against your school, and with the age of social media, even the tiniest rumor or spark or hint of something can become viral in a matter of minutes if not seconds.

But what happened last Friday was a little different because not only was I at the school as a teacher, but my own child was there as a student.

There was no tweet ever found. There was no snapshot or first-hand knowledge that a threatening tweet was ever posted or any email sent. As the front-page story in the city newspaper printed the next day – above the fold I might add –

“The threat was first reported to officials at ****** by a parent, ******said, who was alerted by their child to a threat against the school posted anonymously on Twitter. But no school officials have seen the actual tweet, ******said, and no parents or students have been able to find the original tweet to show to officials.”

However, by the end of the first period, over 1500 students had left or not even shown up for school. Most classes were down to single digits ensuring that lessons would have to be taught again when other students came back in what they deemed a safe environment.

Maybe that does not seem like much to some people. But it is because:

  • Regaining momentum in a crucial stretch of the third quarter in a high school where there are so many government stipulated tests to be administered is hard.
  • In a school that size, nearly 10,000 pupil instructional hours were lost.
  • Buses still had to run. That costs money.
  • Police had to be notified and come to campus to patrol.  That costs money for all taxpayers.
  • Police dogs were dispatched.
  • Parents had to leave work and give up their work hours to come check on kids; therefore, other places of business had to be interrupted.
  • And students did not learn.

This incident also allowed for us to see that there are still many in the public who vote and claim to have an educated view of public education but have no clue whatsoever. Consider the first comment on the digital edition of the news report.

“Perhaps if all the students were tested for VD they might be more alarmed at the number of “children” are infected. Perhaps all phones and ipods should be left at home and “children” taught academics. Just a thought.”

That’s no joke. Go see it for yourself in the “Comments” section – http://www.journalnow.com/news/crime/twitter-threat-prompts-exodus-at-west-forsyth-high-school/article_c7576768-e1d6-5cea-962f-77434a4151a9.html#comments.

But what makes me most agitated was that there were people geographically far away who only received news about what might have been going on at our school who had to emotionally and mentally be burdened with worry and concern because they could do nothing.




For Those NC Lawmakers Who Blindly Believe In The Opportunity Grants, Read This

As a loyal follower of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s blog, I came across this nugget that she posted today. And while I do not make it a habit to repost stuff as of yet in this relatively young blog, this bears attention in light of the voucher-happy North Carolina General Assembly.

Ravitch’s blog entry references another posting in the New York Times by an individual, Kevin Carey, who is a staunch advocate of the charter school movement and has in the past challenged empirical research against the anti-charter school movement that many public education advocates like Dr. Ravitch draw warning to. I certainly count myself among Dr. Ravitch’s camp in opposing how charter schools are growing without regulation, especially here in North Carolina.

But Carey in this post actually talks about the shortcomings of rather well-known voucher inititives across the country.

Dr. Ravitch’s blog post is here: https://dianeravitch.net/2017/02/24/kevin-carey-researchers-surprised-by-dismal-results-from-vouchers/.

The Kevin Carey post is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html?_r=0.

Here are some of the more revealing comments:

“But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.”

“The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.”

“They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.”

“In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.”

These research reports dealt with Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio – all of which are hotbeds for voucher use.

North Carolina is quickly advancing its own use of vouchers. Within the next ten years, Opportunity Grants will have proportioned almost a billion dollars in tax-payer money for vouchers that until this point have heavily been used in religious private schools.

Many of those schools have come under investigation like this recent development where a coach at a religious school in Fayetteville was arrested for supposedly embezzling nearly $400,000 over an almost eight year period. That school, Trinity Christian, also receives more voucher grant money than any other school in the state (http://ajf.org/employee-states-largest-recipient-school-voucher-funds-accused-embezzling-nearly-400000-public-tax-dollars/).

Currently, the Opportunity Grants give a maximum yearly amount of $4200 to low income families for use in tuition.

I have yet to see any empirical information from Opportunity Grant advocates that the students being served with these vouchers are experiencing any growth in academic achievement.

I also do not know of the more well-known private schools in the state who have really accepted funds from the grants. Typically these types of schools have a yearly tuition price tag that far exceeds $4200 for a single quarter of school, much less an entire school year.

And it also might be of interest to see exactly how many new private schools have been established in the state since the advent of the Opportunity Grants.

Either way. Someone is making money from them.




Where, O Where Are You Tonight? – A Hee Haw Song For Our State Superintendent

“Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and I thought I’d found true love.
But you met another and pthhp! You was gone.”

– Roy Clark, “Where Are You Tonight?” From Hee Haw


Gloom, despair, and agony on me! I just made an allusion to Hee Haw. And if you don’t know what I am talking about, then go to YouTube and enjoy.

My Saturday nights were filled with Hee Haw as a child in the farmland of the Georgia Piedmont.

But if I simply changed a few words in the chorus while keeping the spirit of the song, it might be an exact anthem for the first two months of Mark Johnson’s tenure.

If I as a teacher walked into a classroom full of students without a lesson plan and declared that I would take the first quarter just to find out what the students were like and what they might want to learn, I would probably be dismissed (yes, I can be dismissed even though I have due-process rights) from my job or at least severely reprimanded.

Simply put, I would not have done my job. I would have short-changed my students, my fellow teachers, my administration, the parents, and really the community at large.

Billy Ball’s recent account in NC Policy Watch entitled “Unofficial DPI spokesman raises questions of accountability, transparency,” reports on a PR executive, who is not an actual employee of the state or an appointee of the Department of Public Instruction, and how he has become a de-facto spokesman for the state’s new superintendent Mark Johnson.

Ball says concerning this person named Jonathan Felts,

“Felts, a former George W. Bush White House staffer, professional GOP consultant and senior advisor to former Gov. Pat McCrory, says he’s taking no pay for his work in the office of new Superintendent Mark Johnson.

That includes providing updates and statements to the press on behalf of Johnson’s state office and offering scheduling details for the superintendent as he embarks on a statewide listening tour. Felts emphasizes his official title is transition chairman for Johnson, nearly two months into the new superintendent’s tenure in Raleigh” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/02/21/unofficial-dpi-spokesman-raises-questions-accountability-transparency/).

Yes, it is a little weird that a “transition chairman” be performing this “labor of love” to help out the new superintendent. And yes, it raises questions about accountability and transparency. But there is a bigger question here.

Where the hell is Mark Johnson and what has he been doing to help “reform” our antiquated public school system?

“Where, oh where, are you today?
Why did you leave us here all alone?
I searched the state over to just get some answers.
But you met another and pthhp! You was gone.”

Oh, right. He’s out “listening” to people.

Does it not seem that THE leader of public education in the state of North Carolina, the instructional leader for the unit on transforming what he called an antiquated system, be up in front of the class that is this state leading the discussing and execution of the lesson plan.

Even he talked about the urgency of the situation especially in his first words to the state board of education in early January.

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

“If we don’t act with urgency, we’ll continue to betray students. And we’ll continue to lose teachers and have difficulty recruiting them and retaining them” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/01/05/new-superintendent-public-instruction-highlights-urgent-need-transform-outdated-school-system/).

Johnson even lauded the exchange of power from the state board to the superintendent with bills like HB17.  On December 18, 2016, the Winston-Salem Journal reported,

Among the provisions limiting the power of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, House Bill 17 strips power over the state’s vast public education system from State Board of Education and transfers it to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Starting in January, that will be Johnson. The 33-year-old lawyer was two years into his first term on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education when he beat incumbent June Atkinson, a 40-year veteran of DPI. The Democrat was seeking her fourth-term. Johnson’s previous education experience includes two years in Teach For America, where he taught at West Charlotte High School.

After the bill’s passage Friday, Johnson commended lawmakers for passing “straight-forward, common-sense reforms.”

“HB 17 will help usher in an era of greater transparency at DPI by eliminating the more confusing aspects of the relationship between the N.C. superintendent and the N.C. Board of Education,” Johnson said.

“This will better serve constituents visiting Raleigh as our working relationship will be more similar to how local superintendents and their respective boards of education work together across North Carolina.”

HB17 would actually give the State Board of Education considerably less oversight of Johnson’s decisions at the Department of Public Instruction, though, than Johnson had as a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education over the district’s superintendent.

One example: hiring and firing.

Yet, what we have mostly heard from the state superintendent are words from a non-paid spokesperson who still has some sort of title that applies to transition chair.

Mark Johnson says he plans to spend the rest of the school year on his listening tour to come up with a list of action items to present as part of his vision to transform NC public schools.

That’s January through June, or:

  • Six months.
  • 180 days.
  • One/eighth of his term as state superintendent.
  • One/fourth the amount of time he spent in an unfilled term on a local school board.
  • A little over 25% of the amount of time he was a teacher.

Billy Ball also made a point of how Johnson seems a little “press-shy” often declining interviews with media outlets concerning his “urgency.”

It seems as if the teacher at the front of the room is refusing to answer a question concerning the lesson from a student who really wants to know what is going on.

Teachers are always available to students, especially during class at while at school. One would expect the same from the instructional leader of the state’s teachers.

At least that was what he was elected to do when people assumed that he had listened to them while campaigning and was ready to start his process as soon as he took office.

And he should because there will never be another February 23, 2017 ever again.

Or a February 24, 2017.

Or a February 25, 2017.

Or a February 26, 2017.

Or a February 27, 2017.

Or a February 28, 2017.

Or a March 1, 2017.

Or a March 2, 2017.

Or a March 3, 2017.

Or a March 4, 2017.

Or a March …

Or a …

Or …