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

hee-haw-2

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 …

hee-haw

 

Don’t Call a One-Sided Conversation “Civil Discourse” – A Reaction to BEST NC’s Perspective in EdNC.org

Brenda Berg’s recent perspective posted on EdNC.org’s website this past Friday is another example that appearance and reality are not always the same when it pertains to “reforming” the public education system here in North Carolina.

“(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” appears as an open missive from the CEO of BEST NC that attempts to invite us all as stakeholders in public education into a conversation to build understanding and possible common ground (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

What probably precipitated this op-ed was a very publicized backlash from public school advocates about the invitation to have Michelle Rhee and George Parker speak at a closed-door legislative meeting that did not allow the media or teacher advocate groups to attend. I myself wrote an open letter to Ms. Berg and BEST NC decrying this session with Rhee, whose reputation alone mixed with the ideologies of the supermajority in the NC General Assembly do not sit well with public school educators, especially when teachers were not part of the meeting.

As stated in her perspective,

“And yet, some people told us to shut the door on them. I couldn’t believe it.”

That alone shows the very disconnect that BEST NC has with public education because in this whole conversation the one group that affects the most positive force in public education is not engaged: teachers.

The perspective used a copious amount of collective pronouns as a way of creating some sort of common ground and common purpose. The “we’s” and the “our’s” along with loaded rhetorical questions throughout the op-ed almost feel like a commercial with a slow playing piano. But when considering the history of “reform” here in North Carolina in public schools, there really has been no invitation to teachers and groups that represent teachers from BEST NC except for maybe the Hope Street Group and that is a small number.

Furthermore, Mrs. Berg herself wrote an EdNC op-ed in the summer of 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. And considering that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians, it only makes sense that teachers come to the defense of public education.

This recent perspective seemed a light admonishment to all of those who spoke against having Rhee come to talk about her ideas and initiatives. Yet it shows how short-sighted many can be when they claim to take the ethical high road. While BEST NC was telling teachers and educators that it was just an exchange of ideas, the action and timing of such a meeting spoke volumes about possible agendas.

Consider the following chart:

privatizers

While it may be hard to actualize all of the relationships that are represented here, one can see that in the bottom right-hand side of the chart is the one entity that seems to not have a stake in the current reform movement: public school teachers. (All of the relationships depicted above are explained here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/).

When considering all that has occurred and considering all who have joined forces to enact “reform” how am I as a public school teacher supposed to believe that a Teach For America alumna who at one time commanded a speaking fee larger than the average NC teacher’s salary, who has direct connections with both charter school development and voucher use, who left an entire school district in a state of absolute confusion amid a testing scandal, who has been linked to the funneling of money from “unknown” investors into efforts to privatize school systems around the country, and who champions high stakes testing as a means of evaluating teachers while neglecting actual student growth in a country that just confirmed Betsy DeVos as secretary of education is coming to a right-to-work state as the guest of a business coalition whose vice-president actually worked for a group aligned with the guest speaker to talk to a body of lawmakers and decision makers who already have shown a proclivity to spending public money on charters and vouchers and giving unwarranted power to a neophyte TFA alumnus of a state superintendent, who have removed due-process rights, stunted salary schedules, and created ambiguous evaluation systems just to talk about career pathways in a secret meeting when the leader of the hosting group says, “Why should we shut people out?” and  “We love to have a lot of diverse perspectives come to the table” and yet the leader leaves out teachers and other teacher advocacy groups that she claims to “elevate?”

That’s not civil discourse. That’s monopolizing the conversation. That’s drawing lines and creating sides.

Berg’s perspective did mention that a press conference was held.

“With that in mind, we moved ahead with the event and even offered an opportunity for the media and public to engage in the conversation.”

But it bears repeating that press conferences are controlled conversations and the supposedly frank, direct questions were reserved for the other side of the wall. In fact, this press conference seemed more like a preemptive move to satiate demands for more transparency without sacrificing the main purpose of the meeting itself.

Interestingly enough, what gets mentioned in the perspective about Rhee’s accomplishments in her current endeavor with the Washington D.C. schools is not presented in the full context of what surrounds those accomplishments. Berg states,

“Didn’t they understand that according to NAEP – the nation’s report card – Washington, D.C. is the fastest improving education system in the nation?  Perhaps they didn’t realize that recent policies in support of educators have been widely credited with the continuing successes there. Why would we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to learn from what has happened in Washington, D.C. over the last decade?”

And indeed a lot can be learned from the last ten years in Washington D.C.

Those who praise what Rhee and Parker have done with Project Impact and the D.C. schools may point to a study by Thomas Dee and James Wyckoff from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis entitled “Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT.” A link to that study can be found here: https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/w19529.pdf.

Yes, it does show that the performance of teachers is on the rise. But many have found wrinkles in the study because it focuses solely on certain teachers and does not seem to acknowledge that the demographics of the student population has changed in the past ten years based on socio-economic factors such as income and class. It also did not talk about how student performance improved because of “rising” performance of teachers.

John Merrow, the veteran education reporter for PBS, NPR, and dozens of other national publications, has a blog where he discusses trends in public education called Taking Notes. His posting “A Rash of Studies” explored Rhee’s Project Impact and is worth the read (http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6617).

But what Merrow posted before that really puts Rhee’s Project Impact into perspective. In “A Story About Michelle Rhee That No One Will Print,” Merrow provides the content of an unpublished op-ed that looks at the context of what actually happened behind the scenes. The op-ed is entitled “Caveat Emptor: Michelle Rhee’s Education Reform Campaign.” It can be found here: (http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6490).

  • It talks about the fact that the successive chancellor of D.C. schools, Kaya Henderson, was Rhee’s deputy while she was chancellor.
  • It talks about how “when USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s (Henderson) reluctance to investigate.” And “with subsequent tightened test security, Rhee’s dramatic test scores gains have all but disappeared.”
  • It talks about how “DCPS has become a revolving door. Half of all newly hired teachers (both rookies and experienced teachers) leave within two years.”
  • It talks about the lack of stability in schools when there is so much principal turnover.
  • It talks about how “enrollment declined on Ms. Rhee’s watch and has continued under Ms. Henderson, as families continue to enroll their children in charter schools or move to the suburbs.  The year before she arrived, DCPS had 52,191 students. In school year 2012-13 it enrolled about 45,000, a loss of roughly 13%.” That’s seismic.
  • It talks about those NAEP scores referenced by Berg stating, “And while NAEP scores did go up, they rose in roughly the same amount as they had under her (Rhee’s) two immediate predecessors, and Washington remains at or near the bottom on that national measure.”
  • It talks about the widening gap between low-income students and high income students on testing.
  • And it states that Washington D.C., while “improving” is still one of the lowest achieving districts in the country.

And while the NAEP is given every two years to a small representative segment of the school population, D.C. does have the PARCC tests. Pulitzer prize winning columnist Colbert I. King in the Jan 1, 2016 edition of the Washington Post reported,

“The final page has been turned on D.C. Public Schools’ 2015 calendar. But 2016 begins with the same uncompromising problem: the school system’s huge racial achievement gap.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson called the results of last year’s standardized tests “sobering.” How about painful?

The tests, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams, or PARCCshowed that just 25 percent of D.C. students in the third through eighth grades met or exceeded expectations on new standardized tests in English. Only 24 percent met a new math benchmark” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-dc-schools-the-racial-gap-is-a-chasm-not-a-crack/2016/01/01/7cfc33e6-afe9-11e5-b711-1998289ffcea_story.html?utm_term=.0345c00dd1ab).

What Rhee seems to be praised for is the appearance of success, an end product of a singular statistic. And as Mrs. Berg said in her article, “We cherry-pick the facts that validate our suspicions.”

Apparently that is true for this episode as well. The fact that “Washington, D.C. is the fastest improving education system in the nation” according to NAEP scores does not explain the continuing achievement gap, the disparity between low-income and higher-income students, and the enabling of charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools that still occur in D.C.

What real “civil discourse” would really show is that education reform cannot be instituted from the top down. It must come from the roots, from the people in the trenches like teachers and administrators, and from the empowering of communities. What Rhee’s accomplishments in D.C. and what North Carolina’s use of bottom-line evaluations show is that what really affects student achievement more than anything is poverty and other issues that students face in their lives outside of the classroom.

In a state whose General Assembly brags about budget surpluses while nearly a quarter of our state’s children live in poverty, continues to take away teachers’ freedom to be professionals to make them test facilitators, enables an unregulated charter school industry and siphons vouchers to religious schools while giving enormous tax breaks to the very people and businesses who are involved in the reform movement, it is no wonder that Rhee was invited for “discourse.”

Ironically, the very people involved in that “legislative session” with Michelle Rhee could have a greater impact on overall student achievement and growth if they focused more on their investments in the communities themselves – the communities that look to the public schools as a foundational piece of their cities and towns.

But with all the talk of overhauling the Affordable Care Act which covers many more North Carolinians than people realize, the economic impact of stupid laws like HB2 which hurt our communities, and the current tax structure that puts more burden on those who make less, what North Carolina is doing is actually attacking the public school system from both sides.

One side is trickle-down reform. The other side is stagnating social mobility.

And all of this “civil discourse” amongst reformers is nothing more than talking with people who share their false beliefs about how bad teachers are.

 

 

 

About That Letter to the Editor Concerning “Failing Schools”

letter-to-the-editor

The shortsighted missive from the “Correspondent of the week” in the editorial section of this past Sunday’s Winston-Salem Journal was not only condescending and off target, but also a reminder that many who pass judgement on the public school system have really no grasp of what happens in schools and the challenges that teachers and administrators face on a daily basis.

If you did not read it, here is the text.

“Reading about the group of teenagers who beat Bill Bloxham (“New details in assault on homeless man,” Feb. 15), makes me both sad and mad, but mostly sad. I can’t help but feel like our schools are failing.

I don’t know what the home situation is like for these young men, or what led them to such despicable acts, but it’s obvious that the schools weren’t helping them. Maybe if the schools were different, maybe if they were taught to respect themselves and respect God, this would never have happened. Maybe if these young men had been given a choice, they would have taken a different path.

Maybe Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has some solutions. Shouldn’t we give her a chance? What’s going on now isn’t working” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/the-readers-forum-sunday-letters/article_67e55c21-f74f-55cb-830b-7e98cf49010e.html).

It is absolutely tragic what happened to this man who was beaten while sleeping under a bridge near Hanes Park. The three juveniles who did this crime should be punished, and while I am not familiar with the extent of what the law can do, I am sure that it will never give a sense of justice to many who know Mr. Bloxham.

But to blame the schools for what happened? That’s utter nonsense. It’s ignorance. It’s sanctimonious. And it’s wrong.

No sooner does the correspondent express his emotions does he talk about schools failing. Without even really investigating the situation surrounding the relationship between these boys and their school he places the blame on a flagship school in our public system. Never does he mention that the crime was neither done on school grounds or done during school hours.

If schools were solely responsible for the actions of young people and the way they treat others in society, then what this uninformed correspondent is saying is that schools are responsible for most of what happens in the country.

That young adult who sold drugs to others? It must be the schools’ fault.

That person who beat his/her child? It must be the schools’ fault.

That person who later in life embezzled money from a non-profit. Yep, it’s the fault of the schools.

Or at least that is the logic of this correspondent. But that knife cuts both ways.

That person who helped a non-profit feed countless homeless people? Maybe that’s the schools’ fault.

That person who found a cure for a malady that killed many? Maybe that’s the schools’ fault too.

That person who donated money to charitable organizations? Darnit! Schools’ fault again.

That person who does a hard day’s work, pays his taxes, productively supports the community, and volunteers in schools? That is also the schools’ fault.

That person who becomes a loving parent who models the behavior that would make the correspondent praise him? Schools did that.

Yet, I do not think that the correspondent would give credit to schools for all of those positive actions. He might say it was learned from home or church or just God-given.

As a public school teacher, I wish it was that easy; however, when listening to the ludicrous and illogical accusations of a man who simply points and blames schools for society’s woes only proves that it is not that easy at all.

Schools and the communities are more like mirrors of each other. But if the correspondent could ensure that all students came into schools physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared then maybe this conversation does not occur.

It is asinine to claim that what all students do outside of school grounds and out of classrooms is a total reflection of the schools and the teachers. Too much is out of the hands of the education system. Over one in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal.

If the correspondent had any idea as to what the legislature has done to limit schools concerning resources, personnel, and power to help students beyond passing arbitrary tests, then he might actually see that the responsibility of what these juveniles did to this homeless man is a symptom of a much bigger problem that all of society must confront.

If schools were supposed to teach all people to have the kind of respect that the correspondent claims they should, then he might need to go back and take classes because to say that schools shape society alone is senseless and unwise.

If others were to look at the correspondent’s logic and ability to articulate a reasonable argument, then they may actually question how he even got out of school with a diploma.

But that quip about how Betsy DeVos could stop crime before it happens might be true – if the culprits are grizzly bears.

If Anyone is in “Receive Mode,” It’s Betsy DeVos

devos-tweet

“They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

That’s how Betsy DeVos explained the use of “receive mode” when describing the teachers at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington D.C. last week.

Interesting that D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson had a totally different observation while actually accompanying DeVos on that visit.

“I’ve worked in schools for my entire professional life — as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. I have learned from much experience what it takes to prepare students for college success. The teaching and learning at Jefferson will put our students on a path to college, successful careers, and beyond. I see that. Our teachers see that. Our students see that. And our parents see that. Defying expectations takes experience and a lifelong dedication to all students. DCPS is rich with educators who have this experience” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/02/18/devos-criticized-teachers-at-d-c-school-she-visited-and-they-are-not-having-it/?utm_term=.abb19e34b678).

While the shock of such a blunt and apparent show of uninformed observation may sting many, it should not be that surprising that our new secretary of education would make such an observation. Why?

Because DeVos doesn’t know what the hell to look for. And privilege has clouded the lens through which she sees things.

devos-visit

When it comes to “receiving” and “giving,” DeVos is used to receiving the benefit of the doubt because of all the influence she buys by giving so much to those who gladly receive her “gifts” and give back to her a sense of power that she gladly receives in return so she can give stupid, vague observations like “receive mode” and expect people not to take that negatively.

DeVos’s nomination to her present post probably received the greatest public pushback of a cabinet appointee seen in quite a while. Part of that stems from the fact that she gives so much money to entities that support endeavors which receive taxpayer money like private and religious schools while the public receives no transparency. Part of that stems from the fact that she has been a big proponent of giving taxpayer money to build charter schools that don’t receive special needs students or other students based on vague requirements.

Part of that stems from the fact that DeVos simply is used to receiving what she wants because she gives (rather buys) so much money to those who gladly give her what she wants. And she wants influence and power. The following quote says it all:

“My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right.” -Betsy DeVos, 1997 op-ed

People heard that answers she gave at her confirmation hearing.

People knew that most of the republicans on the committee had received financial contributions from DeVos and her family.

People knew that the democrats on the HELP committee were not given much time to give questions to receive more glaring answers from a lady who does not give a damn about public schools.

So if anybody is in “receive mode,” it is Betsy DeVos.

She certainly gave a lot to receive her office.

What she should be willing to receive is an education about how public schools have been doing despite the obvious pressures that influence academic outcomes that schools have no control over like poverty. But that takes willingness, honesty, integrity, and humility.

And Betsy DeVos has not given much of that.

 

 

 

“CheeBerger, CheeBerger!” -Sen. Phil Berger and the Art of Walking Contradictorily

cheeberger

Sen. Phil Berger’s words that introduced BEST NC’s fourth annual legislative meeting which featured Michelle Rhee is yet another indication that the powers that be in North Carolina are still addicted to reform ideas that not only further harm public schools but erroneously claim that schools should run more like businesses.

But at least he is consistent.

These words are featured on his website and have been widely shared, and they serve to show the deliberate ignorance that perpetuates the “reform” movement (http://www.philberger.org/berger_highlights_major_teacher_bonuses_commitment_to_raise_average_teacher_pay_to_55k).

First of all, this legislative meeting was not open to the media. BEST NC, which claims to be neutral and non-partisan, did not seem to want media coverage or even teacher attendance. Having someone like Sen. Berger open the meeting with an introduction already casts a partisan shadow over the rest of the meeting. If the purpose of the meeting was simply to be informational and an exchange of ideas, then conducting it behind closed doors would not have been needed.

Besides, aren’t we talking about a public institution that uses public money?

Ultimately, Berger’s comments are filled with claims that need to be debunked, especially when it comes to merit pay, incentives, and teacher salaries.

Berger states toward the beginning of his remarks,

“It is good to join so many business leaders, educators and policymakers all with a shared interest in the future of public education in North Carolina.”

The fact that business leaders and policy makers were in the meeting is not in question. But what educators were in the meeting, specifically teachers? Is it not ironic that the public has not heard from one teacher about what was discussed in the meeting? I would have LOVED to be in that meeting as a teacher, and if good ideas were shared, I would be the first to trumpet them.

But alas.

Berger continues,

“But we’ve also focused on ways to incentivize outstanding performance and provide financial rewards for teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”

Oh, merit pay and bonuses. As a teacher, I can tell you that merit pay does not work. Allow me to refer to a letter I wrote to Rep. Skip Stam last year.

“The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?

Besides, if you think merit pay is effective, then I would question your willingness to fund that merit pay. Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. One problem with that model (and you stated it in the interview) was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem that you did not mention is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.”

And then Berger backed his point with a singular example.

“Please take a look at what happened in one Cumberland County elementary school when the faculty learned two of their peers would be rewarded for their outstanding work with students.”

Here’s that video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/brt9glwz4razc5y/Elizabeth%20Cashwell%20Elementary.mp4?dl=0.

Only one example? That’s hardly proof. That’s almost staged. What teachers show their principal in a meeting may not be what they actually feel. And if Berger really wanted to know if teachers in North Carolina thought this bonus pay was effective, then he should have allowed each teacher to answer an anonymous questionnaire.

And I am sure that what was shown by Berger is the exception rather than the rule.

Berger’s comments also included a jab at NCAE and other teacher advocacy groups.

“Instead, what we hear from many entrenched education bureaucrats – and from the North Carolina affiliate of the national teachers’ union – is that this kind of policy creates jealousy and dissension in our schools. In fact, some even deride it as “treating teachers like assembly line workers.”

Of course he used the word “union” because he is among business leaders in a right-to-work state. But it is ironic that he does specifically point out NCAE which has successfully appealed policies made by a Berger-led constituency like the removal of due-process rights because they were deemed unconstitutional.

Besides, if BEST NC wanted to bring all stakeholders together to discuss what is best (pardon the pun), then NCAE would have been present there as well.

Berger continues:

“Instead, that policy initiative treats teachers like the professionals they are, and creates a compensation model in line with how most other professionals are paid.

“This is the kind of innovative solution – one based on business principles – that my colleagues in the General Assembly and I have worked hard to implement over the past six years in order to improve education outcomes.”

This claim that we should run public schools more as a business rather than a service is old, worn-out, and erroneous.

And I have made this argument before.

“Every one of the assertions about adopting a business model in public schools that I have encountered always places the schools in the scope of a business. Maybe that paradigm needs to be shifted. If you want to truly envision a business model in schools, you might want to view all angles of the argument.

Try and see if you could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because you’re not even comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing apples to rocks.”

What if businesses had to:

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

Berger ended his manufactured resume of “improving” public education by offering a string of “accomplishments” which are more contradictory than literally true.

  1. “Improve(d) graduation rates” – Graduation rates are one of the easiest statistics to manipulate. Create a statewide 10-point grading system and have school systems dictate that a “50” is the lowest grade possible for a student, then it would be hard for a student who chooses not apply himself to actually NOT graduate.
  2. “Better inform(ed) parents of what our public schools are doing and how well they are doing it (transparent school grades)” – And that Jeb Bush style of school performance grading shows exactly how poverty affects school systems which is ironic for Berger to say considering that he boasts of a state surplus while nearly 25% of children in our state suffer from poverty and are still serviced by the underfunded public schools.
  3. “Empower(ed) parents with greater choice and greater innovation in their kids’ education (charter schools, opportunity scholarships)” – The word “choice” is very interesting. Charter schools have not shown to improve outcomes, but have been shown to be most selective in whom they allow to attend. And when over 75% of the vouchers go to religious schools that can discriminate based on religious beliefs, the word “choice” doesn’t carry the same meaning. It also does not take much research to find charter schools that fail in their purpose and see monies pouring into schools that do not even teach viable curriculums.

    Sometimes there can be embezzling (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-man-accused-of-embezzling-more-than-from-church-withholding/article_c75b83cc-3cd1-59fb-a002-bd240e46858c.html). Ironically, the school where this occurred, Trinity Christian, is located in Fayetteville. That’s in Cumberland County – the same county where the two teachers highlighted earlier in Berger’s remarks hail from. Apparently, having these fantastic teachers in the public school system in Cumberland County did not deter the allowance of Trinity Christian to receive more money ($990k+) in Opportunity Grant scholarships (vouchers) than any other school in THE STATE!

  4. “And attract, retain and reward the highest quality teachers in our classrooms” – Actually that’s laughable. The same General Assembly eliminated due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps, and the Teaching Fellows program as well as put a vice on the NC university system. That’s driving potential teachers away and forcing other teachers to leave NC or the profession altogether. One simply needs to see the seismic drop in teacher candidates in our schools of education and see how well we are “attracting” people.

    Oh, and that HB2 debacle that has cost our state millions in lost revenue and even more in reputation still looms while Berger blames others for its effect even though he helped to craft it and pass it with a supermajority during a “special” session of the NCGA. That’s quality!

But the most egregious misrepresentation offered was saved for last and it deals with teacher salaries.

“Most of you have probably heard me talk about the average 15.5 percent pay raise that we’ve provided teachers since 2013.
“And you’ve heard me explain that, prior to 2011, public schools were struggling with declining state support; that thousands of state-funded teaching positions had been eliminated, teachers had been furloughed, and teacher pay had been frozen.
“And all too often, the people most critical of what this Republican-led General Assembly has done are the same people who were directly responsible for those cuts and furloughs.
“But under Republican leadership, state funding for our public schools has reached record levels.
“Beginning teacher pay is at an all-time high, and average teacher pay has climbed to $50,000 for the first time in state history.
“And this General Assembly has already publicly committed in our last budget to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years. It is encouraging that our new governor has committed to partnering with us to continue increasing average teacher pay.
“But there is one data point – one significant fact – that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and that is how much more teachers will earn over the course of a career thanks to our pay reforms.
“The old pay scale was a ball and chain – it took teachers 30 years to reach the top. I can’t think of any other professionals who have to wait three decades to get to the top.
“I cannot believe that the policymakers who designed such a system could honestly contend it was done in an effort to treat teachers as professionals – on the contrary, a 30-year trek to maximum pay is what assembly line compensation looks like.
“Under the new scale for the 2018-19 school year, teachers will reach a base salary of $50,000 in half the time – or 15 years in the classroom.”

This is the same BS offered by former governor Pat McCrory who became the first incumbent governor to not get reelected in a year that saw 20k more North Carolinians vote for Trump than Clinton. In response to McCrory, I countered last summer with:

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

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

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

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really tout that average salaries will be higher?”

But remember that this meeting was closed and the audience was not there to question. They were there to reaffirm the very myths that guide the actions of the current powers in Raleigh to further dismantle public education.

So much for transparency.

 

 

The Dramatis Personae in the Privatization of Public Schools in North Carolina – or Who is Trying to “Reform” Education Through Deformation

Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in the current climate of public education in this country and in the state should not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting that was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos) should serve as an ominous omen of what will be attempted in North Carolina.

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

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

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders. In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17.

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

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

Look at the graphic below:

privatizers

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

Consider the following groups:

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

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

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above were in that closed door meeting which started literally four hours after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting may just be another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

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

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just last year merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers.

Also consider:

  • Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation.
  • Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. That means that the dialogue between what happens at the meeting and other teachers will be brokered by BEST NC because if HOPE Street can’t go, then other teachers can’t go.

It could also mean that there might be an altered script that is read to these teachers.

And one other thing – the vice-president of BEST NC (Julie Kowal), the Director of the North Carolina Teachers Network for Hope Street Group (Katharine Correll), and the NC state superintendent (Mark Johnson) all have law degrees. Johnson practiced corporate law. Kowal and Correll worked with non-profits.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Achievement School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

Mark Johnson has only three to four more years (as a teacher and local school board member) of experience with public schools than DeVos, and DeVos has no experience with public schools.

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s selection for secretary of education, is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

civitas

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Furthermore, on February  8th, the NC GOP which holds a supermajority in both chambers of the NC General Assembly issued a formal invitation to Betsy DeVos to come and “share ideas” according the 2/9/17 edition of the News & Observer (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article131486504.html).

Now look at the graphic again:

privatizers

The NC GOP (where many of the very same lawmakers and policymakers in this Feb. 7th meeting with Rhee caucus together) were very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Also look at the timeline in which BEST NC came into existence – 2013

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants – 2014
  • Hope Street Group in NC – 2015

And one last thing – the Feb. 7th meeting with Rhee and Harris does have a connection with SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

“Decision-making” is an interesting term in this discussion, because isn’t this meeting with Rhee just about asking questions?

Because it seems to have raised more questions.

But what this all really means is that public school advocates should and must hold our officials accountable and do everything they can within legal limits to counter the trends that are privatizing our public schools.

Part of that started today with the Moral March in Raleigh. The tens of thousands of people who came to show solidarity in overturning suffocating government policies is just a sampling of the strength that resides within the citizens of our state – 90% percent of whom are affiliated with the public schools either as a student, graduate, parent, or a combination.

The NC GOP Wants to Meet Betsy DeVos To “Share” Agendas and Give Her A Pencil

News that the North Carolina GOP has invited newly and (barely) confirmed U.S. Education secretary Betsy DeVos to come and “share ideas” with lawmakers concerning school choice is rather humorous.

As reported in the News & Observer yesterday (2/9) in an article entitled “Republicans invite DeVos to North Carolina for advice on expanding school choice,” Lynn Bonner quoted NC GOP state chairperson, Robin Hayes, as stating,

As leaders in the school choice movement, we would be thrilled to host Secretary DeVos at the earliest possible time. We look forward to showing her North Carolina’s success, and examine ways how we can expand school choice with a now willing federal government” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article131486504.html).

However, DeVos’s history is not one of sharing ideas as it is pushing an agenda, one that seems to be detrimental to the public schools.

Remember that her confirmation hearing was one that revealed a great many concerns that her real agenda was not to support public schools, but to support the always changing dynamics that weaken public schools to give validation to “reform” them.

From the confirmation hearing about funding:

“Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?” asked Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington.

“I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students,” DeVos said. “We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them. I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

“I take that as not being willing to commit to not privatizing public schools or cutting money from education,” Murray said.

“I guess I wouldn’t characterize it in that way,” DeVos said.

In an expose for Mother Jones (yep, it’s liberal, but still cites quotes correctly) it was shared that:

However, in a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, she and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom” (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary).

Those are not the words of someone who is looking to strengthen public education; those are the words of someone who wants to dismantle public education. (Funny, c to think of it, those seem to be words that have emanated from the NC GOP the last four years.)

The NC GOP wants to “share ideas” about public education with a woman whose resume in public education looks like:

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They to “share ideas” about public education with someone who:

  • has no degree in education meaning she is not even educated in how to educate.
  • has no teaching experience
  • has never attended a public school or state supported university
  • has never sent any of her children to public schools.
  • has distributed monetary contributions to Christian-based schools and evangelical organizations conservatively estimated at $200 million.
  • has shown that she is totally anti-union and believes that teachers are paid too much.
  • has supported vouchers like no other.

The NC GOP wants to “share ideas” with someone who has no idea about public education but is supposed to lead the public school system.

The NC GOP wants to “share ideas” with someone who doesn’t even know have an idea about IDEA.

Call it for what it is – this exchange of ideas is really a meeting of like minds who have a similar agenda that has nothing to do with strengthening public schools.

But when DeVos does come to North Carolina, it will be interesting to see if she will visit any public schools. If any visit goes anything like what happened today in Washington, D.C. at Jefferson Middle School Academy, then DeVos will come face to face with the very majority of people who voiced opposition to her appointment.

devos2devos1

Yet, I will extend her an invitation to come to my school and my classroom. For all of the time and effort she has put in to show how public schools are failing, I would love to show her where public schools are succeeding despite efforts to dismantle them.

She can sit in on one of my classes, participate, talk to students, and experience a wonderful environment.

And I’ll even let her borrow a pencil.

That I bought.

With my money.

For my students to use.

devos3

A Thank You Letter From Betsy DeVos to Sen. Richard Burr

Oddly enough, I found this fake letter absolutely nowhere on the internet, but if it did exist it might sound like…

 

 

Dear Richard,

I cannot thank you enough for your confirmation vote this past week as I strive to continue my quest of taking public money from taxpayers and finance more unregulated charter schools and blindly give out vouchers for religious schools.

Thank you for looking past my lack of experience and confusion that became so evident in the hearing in front of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Your help with the H.E.L.P. was really helpful.

betsy

Thank you for understanding that my lack of skills with grammar and usage directly corresponds to my ability to run a branch of government.

tautology

Thank you for overlooking the fact that I forgot that the Individual with Disabilities Education Act was a federal mandate because as you know I tend to prefer to help children who only worship God as I see him.

“So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?” Hassan asked.

“I may have confused it,” DeVos said.

Thank you for supporting me in my quest to arm schools against grizzly bears because I know that your state is just like Utah and has lots of bears who commonly roam classrooms to seek another meal like Satan seeks another soul.

grizzly-in-classroom

Thank you for understanding that my financial support of groups that believe in conversion therapy for LGBT people is very important to me. I mean look at that bathroom law you have in North Carolina.

“Foundations run by her parents and her husband’s parents have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Focus on the Family, a group that’s promoted damaging gay ‘conversion therapy’ and called homosexuality ‘preventable and treatable.'”

“A foundation run by her husband’s brother and sister-in-law donated $500,000 to the antigay National Organization for Marriage, and a foundation run by DeVos and her husband has donated more than $100,000 to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. DeVos’s late father, Edgar Prince, helped found the Family Research Council; her mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, sits on the boards of the FRC and the Acton Institute, which sponsored a conference held by an antigay hate group.” – Randi Weingarten.

But most of all, thank you for taking my maximum contributions to your reelection campaign and proving that you can be bought.

devos-image

 

Because when I said,

“We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections,”

I meant it!

I hope the Senate is as easily fooled and as weak as you when it comes to standing up for public schools.

 

Love,
Betsy

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

Dear Mrs. Berg,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball’s article later reports,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It certainly has changed my opinion of BEST NC.