The Total Soulless Educational Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017 parts of western North Carolina will be subject to a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the state will certainly witness the once in a lifetime event. Ironically, most people affected by the eclipse will be in rural areas.

eclispe

On July 25, 2017 all of North Carolina became subject to another darkening of the light – a soulless eclipse of funding for public schools.

And again, the rural areas will see the biggest effects of this shadow cast on communities that send most all of their students to traditional public schools.

But this instance is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It will be felt for quite a while. What’s even more egregious is that it could totally be prevented.

Yet, the powers that be will hide even more funds from these same areas next year.

As reported in multiple outlets today like WRAL,

The State Board of Education approved $2.5 million in cuts to the state Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday as a result of mandated budget reductions by the General Assembly. Most of the cuts are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. An additional $737,000 in cuts are expected in the coming weeks (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-approves-2-5m-in-budget-cuts-/16840289/).

This comes at a time when our officials in Raleigh are celebrating a state surplus and an expanding “rainy-day” fund.

The cuts made today will especially be felt in the rural areas. Further in the WRAL report referenced earlier,

Board Chairman Bill Cobey declined to say which positions are being cut, citing personnel laws, but said they will be revealed at a later date. He said the majority of the staff cuts will be in the District Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions. The board plans to merge the two divisions into a new one, called District Support.

“Hopefully the districts can pick up any slack that is produced by this reduction,” Cobey said. “We’re further reducing the service to the districts. Hopefully you won’t see any huge impact any place, but there’s going to be marginal impact in certain places across the state. And we’re going to try our best to mitigate that.”

Many of these affected districts are in areas that actually are worried about their local hospitals staying open because many of the same GOP members who mandated the cuts to DPI also refused to expand Medicaid which these rural hospitals rely on so that people can pay medical bills.

That particular eclipse started years ago and it appears that things are getting darker. Ask the folks in Sen. Berger’s hometown of Eden.

Perhaps most egregious is that this soulless educational eclipse comes as the NC General Assembly is shining so much sunshine on both the state superintendent and non-traditional schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

As Billy Ball reported in NC Policy Watch today:

Board members were limited in their choices for handing down the legislative funding cuts. General Assembly members forbade cuts from GOP-backed initiatives such as the teacher prep program Teach for America and the Innovative School District, formerly called the Achievement School District, which could allow for-profit charter operators to take over several low-performing schools in the coming years…

Lawmakers ordered the board to stay away from additional funds allocated to create up to 10 new positions in the department reporting directly to Johnson. The move came with Johnson, the board and the legislature mired in a court battle over the powers of the superintendent’s office (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/25/teacher-development-struggling-schools-chopping-block-state-board-ed-implements-g-mandated-cuts/).

Also worth mentioning is that the General Assembly gave Johnson $300,000 for legal fees in his defense against the State Board’s lawsuit over a transfer of power done by the GOP in a special session to prop up Johnson as a puppet official.

The state board was forbidden to use state funds in its legal actions.

As true to his nature, Johnson was not present at the actual board meeting but was linked through on a conference call.

Ball continues,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, has been silent on the cuts and he did not speak during the public portion of Tuesday’s conference call session, but Cobey has said his office has been sharing proposals for the cuts with board members.

There is Johnson once again not being available to the public as the leader of the public schools.

However, Johnson did release a statement afterwards, one full of pomp, circumstance, and total ambiguity.

“While these funding cuts will be challenging, I did not run for Superintendent of Public Instruction to shirk away from the challenges of leadership. The General Assembly is clearly frustrated with the lack of accountability of the State Board of Education, and I am too. The culture of a non-accountability created by the State Board is one of the reasons I sought funding for a top-to-bottom, third-party review of DPI. By studying the results from this upcoming operational review and working together with the professional staff at DPI, I believe the department will come out stronger, more efficient, and more effective at supporting public schools in NC. The Board seems to prefer to complain and instead focuses only on more of the same. I embrace the positive changes that can result from addressing this substantive challenge head-on. We can and will be a better DPI at the end of this process.”

Listening to Mark Johnson through an impersonal statement is becoming the norm, not the exception. His availability to the people of North Carolina and the educators who work with most of our students has been more sparse than the funds that DPI can now use to staff vital positions in the School Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions.

It is rather funny to hear Johnson talk of not “shirking away from the challenges of leadership.” He hasn’t avoided being a leader per-se. It’s more like run the other way. And his comments about accountability are humorous as well. Why? He has not done anything that would make him accountable for anything.

Studying results? Interestingly, he has never disclosed his findings. That includes his findings from the “listening tour” he is still pursuing. And the words “Mark Johnson” and “addressing challenges head-on” have never collided in the same sentence.

Maybe next year, the General Assembly can set aside some money for Johnson to get a spine to actually help stand in front of people and explain his lack of action.

 

Budget Cuts to DPI – A Case for Laying Off Mark Johnson

cuts

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.

No truer words have been spoken.

Mr. Cobey’s words are in reference to the $3.2 million dollar cuts that are part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget hit on DPI for the next two years.

As reported by Billy Ball today on NC Policy Watch:

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009 (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/24/state-board-education-vote-dpi-budget-cuts-layoffs-tuesday/#sthash.ufZnGu0C.dpbs).

Ironically, the public has not heard the head of DPI, State Superintendent Mark Johnson, on this matter although it has been said by Comey that he has offered suggestions to where the cuts should be made.

It surely would have to do with layoffs of certain positions. And I hope Johnson was looking in a mirror when he came up with his list of cuts. If such a fiscally unsound, politically-motivated decision to cut funds to DPI is to actually be carried out, it might make a great amount of sense to layoff those people in DPI who really have not done the job.

Therefore, it makes total sense that Mark Johnson be the first to be let go in this budget cut.

Think of it. In all of DPI, he probably has the least amount of experience. Next, he has done really nothing. Name one initiative that he has put into place that has really furthered the cause of public education. And more importantly, the state has already spent an enormous amount of money on him for absolutely no return.

As the state superintendent, Mark Johnson makes $127,000 dollars a year as a salary. Add to that the budgetary lines items that allow him to travel around the state without actually being available to the public and the press at large.

He has been given $300,000 for legal fees against the state board of education whose members were appointed by many of the same people who are giving Johnson this money.

300

He has also been given over $432,000 to create positions in DPI loyal to him as DPI is having its budget cut YET ONCE AGAIN.

432

That’s already nearing a million dollars of ill-spent money on one person who has done more to not do anything as a state superintendent than anyone in history.

If this were a business, and forgive the use of a business model in the talk of educational matters (but sadly that is the way that many in Raleigh think), then Johnson would have already been gone.

Consider the costs of special sessions last year for policies and laws that were secretly crafted and had negative impacts on the state.

  • Special session regarding congressional redistricting: 02/18/16-02/19/16
  • Special session regarding LGBT nondiscrimination measures: 03/23/16
  • Special session regarding S4 and HB17 : 12/14/16 – 12/16/16
  • Special session regarding H2: 12/13/16 – 12/15/16

The redistricting sessions are really mute because the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that NC’s maps were racially gerrymandered. The HB2 law that came in the spring was economically disastrous. S4 and HB17 set up the current debacle that cripples DPI and the state board of education. H2 was about helping victims of Hurricane Matthew – people mostly in rural areas where the effects of cuts to DPI will be felt the most.

Each day for a special session costs taxpayers over $42,000.

There’s another quarter of a million at least.

Consider these tidbits:

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a “special session” that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/06/north-carolinas-anti-lgbt-law-has-cost-state-more-560-million-so-far).

AND

Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state’s elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It’s a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state’s top lawyer. (http://www.wral.com/legislature-s-legal-bills-top-9m-in-defense-of-state-laws/15905135/).

What has happened is that the General Assembly spent a hell of a lot of money to enact policies that cannot be defended and enabled unqualified people like Mark Johnson to assume important posts so that more money can be spent on inactivity and stupid legal fees so that people like Mark Johnson can help layoff those people in a vital department who have much more experience in helping public schools.

And our students are hurt by it.

Actually, School Starts In One Week

Sure. Most people here in North Carolina might think of the beginning of the school year as being closer to the end of August, but it actually begins much earlier.

Well before students will begin roaming the halls to re-acclimate themselves to a bell schedule, teachers will report to school for “pre-planning,” which is a series of days to get prepared for the new school year.

Academically that is.

If you are a coach of a fall sport, then your year officially starts much earlier – July 31st to be exact as that is the first day of practice allowed for fall sports in North Carolina.

july-31-2017

To be exact, that means:

  • Cheerleading
  • Cross Country
  • Dance Team
  • Field Hockey
  • Football
  • Men’s Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Women’s Golf
  • Women’s Tennis
  • and the activity that has the longest season – Band.

Many actual games will be played before the first day of school and while that may seem a little odd to some people, it is quite necessary because of the school calendar placed in motion by the state and the county system.

If you follow the banter that surrounds public schools, many believe that teachers have this extended summer “off” to do anything they may want. But get to know a coach for any high school sport who tries to help build exceptional teams and you will probably meet someone who spends quite a bit of time in summer getting teams prepared. That includes all of the camps, workouts, and fundraisers that almost all teams (fall, winter, and spring) and activities must do to have the necessary funds just to function.

Because the state sure isn’t helping with its emphasis on less spending. Just look at the “Pay to Play” systems being used in some school systems to help with costs (http://www.journalnow.com/sports/pay-to-play-system-not-being-considered-in-forsyth-davie/article_6671d31c-747c-54b1-b95f-5030f480c6f1.html).

Consider:

  • Athletic fields don’t magically stayed manicured.
  • Equipment doesn’t magically come ready to be used.
  • Papers and eligibility forms don’t magically complete and file themselves.
  • The weather doesn’t magically cooperate.

Yet there are a lot of good people who “work” in the summers who are ten-month employees on paper, but they will allow school to start in August with a sense of cohesiveness and purpose.

Why?

Because the stands will be filled before the classrooms will.

Drink plenty of water and go to the games. School starts in a week.

 

 

 

 

About That BEST NC Perspective on Shamrock Gardens Elementary – It Was the Community, Not the Model

This past week, BestNC’s president and CEO Brenda Berg published an op-ed on EdNC.org focusing on Charlotte’s Shamrock Gardens Elementary School and its success at transforming itself into a school where all teachers are high-performing and student proficiency has risen “by 15 points – from 42% to 57% – an achievement reached by fewer than 5% of schools in North Carolina during the same time period.”

That op-ed can be read here: https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/17/shamrock-gardens-elementary-school-blueprint-educator-innovation/.

It is worth the read. There are some good points to be made, but this piece is also indicative of the cursory nature of investigation that many use to make claims about what happens in schools and what affects school culture in positive ways.

More precisely, it is another example of how corporate reformers try and frame a situation to fit a profitable narrative when the truth is much more involved and resides on a much deeper plane.

Mrs. Berg begins her perspective with the following introductory paragraph:

For several years, a primary focus of BEST NC’s student-focused advocacy work has been around the importance of having strong, well-supported educators in every classroom from; pre-K to higher education. Without great educators, anything else we advocate for is unlikely to work. That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation. It is based on the premise that the status quo systems and structures for recruiting and supporting educators are dangerously outdated, and, most importantly, cannot adequately prepare students for a new economy.

From the very beginning, it is not really about Shamrock Gardens Elementary. It is about BEST NC.

There are numerous references to “we” (BEST NC) before the name of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is even mentioned at the end of the second paragraph. It establishes a scenario that what enabled Shamrock Gardens Elementary to change were the very ideas that BEST NC has been championing and sharing.

If you are a public school advocate who works inside of schools and has weathered the reform-oriented agendas of many in the business community here in North Carolina, it was refreshing to see that EdNC.org published a piece a couple of days later about Shamrock Gardens Elementary’ amazing transformation from the perspective of someone who was actually a part of the process – a member of the school’s community.

Pamela Grundy in “Charlotte parent on sending son to failing school, importance of integration” went beyond the surface of what Berg discussed and exposed what really helps to transform schools – not a top-down model, but rather a foundational shift in priorities that can be most enabled by the removal of societal obstacles.

The first few paragraphs of Ms. Grundy’s op-ed are enough to show the very focus on transforming schools is not the instilling of “core-business principles” like Berg suggests, but rather the vast wealth that resides in the school’s indigenous community and the human capital that no test or metric can truly measure.

But this next paragraph near the start of the piece stands out as a most insightful observation for anyone who wants to improve public schools and one that Mrs. Berg seems to downplay.

This is a crucial concept for those who wish to improve struggling schools. A school is not a business — it is a community that reaches well beyond its walls. Building schools that reflect the society we want our children to live in is a more daunting task than simply reorganizing internal operations and monitoring test scores. But it is a necessary one (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/19/charlotte-parent-sending-son-failing-school-importance-integration/).

Pamela Grundy’s piece is a must-read because it does not talk about the appearances of schools and how they measure on random tests. It talks about changing the foundational fabric of the community that the school serves and the removal of obstacles that stand in the way of school success that could be easily be tackled by better legislation – issues like poverty, healthcare, and economic disparities.

In Mrs. Berg’s piece she references BEST NC’s “Educator Innovation” plan. Click on it and you get this.

best1

That’s a top-down reform model based on business practices and full of redundancies.

Again, with a copious amount of “we’s,” this “plan” seems to celebrate the act of incentives and rewards. In fact, this is not the entire “Educator Innovation Plan.” There is actually another page.

best2

There is no argument that “elevation” of educators is a great thing coming from any public school advocate. But there are some glaring glittering platitudes in this “plan.”

  • “Educators are not treated as professionals.”
  • “School leaders are inadequately supported.”
  • “Teacher recruitment is inconsistent.”
  • “Economically disadvantages students” exist and are in schools that are harder to staff.
  • “The teaching profession is outdated, negatively impacting recruitment, development and retention.”

This is simply another example of claiming to identify problems that teachers in North Carolina have been screaming about for years and that the current lawmaking powers and those who influence policy (some of whom are on the board of BEST NC) have fostered.

If “educators are not treated as professionals,” then it might be the fact that they are not respected.

“Inadequate support?” That’s not new. Look at the budget priorities of the NC General Assembly and you see how much support is not there. Vouchers, unregulated charter growth, and less per-pupil spending might be part of the problem.

Teacher recruitment is hard because the NC General Assembly has de-professionalized the teaching profession. In fact, there has not really been a statement by BEST NC on SB599 which fast-tracks “teacher preparation” to provide teacher candidates.

When over %20 of students in NC public schools live in poverty and rural hospitals are declaring bankruptcy and having to close because of a business model stipulating profits makes GOP lawmakers decide not to expand Medicaid, then poverty and health will remain obstacles in schools.

Teaching profession is “outdated”? No, the way that West Jones Street views the teaching profession is outdated.

Take a closer look at this part of the “plan” by BEST NC.

best3

This is nice proposal for differentiated pay. What Berg’s op-ed seems to miss is that “advanced roles” for teachers already exist. Mentors, supervising teachers, committee chairs, PLT leaders, and department chairs already are working in schools. Successful schools have been using this approach for years. What this fails to show is that in the time that BEST NC has been working “to advocate for teachers and schools,” legislators have removed caps for classroom size, many teachers are now teaching more classes in a school day, and more public tax-payer money is being funneled to private schools and charter schools that can set their own admission standards.

Add to that, monies for professional development really do not exist, so any training that teachers need to help keep up with new research and best practices has to be done during planning periods or summers at the expense of schools. Time is not a malleable variable and time to plan and grade is always needed. In fact, collaboration amongst teachers has to occur at some time.

AND TEACHERS ARE STILL DOING THE JOB! Why? Because improving outcomes for schools is an “inside-out” job. It is a community-driven initiative that talks about relationships and looking at students as more than a product, but as individuals and members of a community.

Besides, NC has a horrible history of funding initiatives to “reward” and “incentivize.” Remember the ABC bonuses? Teaching Fellows? What about funding the ASW evaluation?

It’s also funny that Berg highlight this “innovation” plan right after the current NC General Assembly cut the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by nearly a fifth over the next two years and is about to force class size restrictions on elementary schools in the state forcing each LEA to prioritize limited amounts of monies. Just look at Wake County’s predicament.

Furthermore, considering the invitation to Michelle Rhee this past winter to a legislative retreat without either educators and or the press involved does not bode well for the civil discourse that BEST NC claims to foster.

Now, if you go back to the entire “plan”…

The word “incentive” occurs four times. The word “recruit” occurs nine times. The word “reward” appears three times.

“Poverty” never appears (except in a table).

“Community” never appears.

“Respect” never appears.

It is ironic that many of the very people Grundy talks about in Shamrock Gardens Elementary’s transformation were not incentivized by titles or bonuses, overtly recruited, or rewarded monetarily. In fact, they did not receive monetary recompense. Grundy was not paid to write that op-ed.

Berg is paid to write them as part of her duties to BEST NC.

Those parents and community members respected the school, the teachers, and most of all the students in such a way to remove obstacles that may stand in the way of the community’s school from prospering.

BEST NC often talks about engagement with teachers and communities. Selecting schools whose appearance helps them further their “business reform” narrative seems to be more of a public relations activity.

That’s not what our public schools need.

They need obstacles removed, not models placed over them.

To conclude the “Educator Innovation Plan for North Carolina,” BEST NC quotes Eli Broad.

best4

When it comes to privatizing public schools, no one is more well-known than Eli Broad. He does not preach innovation. He preaches an agenda, which seems to be what this Educator Innovation Plan is.

SB599 on Steroids – The Fast Tracking of DeVos and Johnson

Teacher resume

This past month, I wrote about SB599 in a post called The Stench of SB599.

In it I stated,

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine putting together a list of possible qualifications for becoming an instructional leader of a large public school system such as a state superintendent of secretary of education in a democratically controlled country.

How much experience do you think is necessary to be that instructional leader?

Does there need to be a working knowledge of the system, the curriculum, the pedagogy, the theory?

Does there need to be a perspective that is shaped by being in the classroom and serving as an administrator?

Or can you have someone lead who has never been a part of the system before?

Take a look.

Because it seems like some leaders were fast-tracked by those who will profit by them. In DeVos’s case, she already made sure to fill the coffers of the very committee (HELP) that nominated her.

Think of it as SB599 on steroids.

Criteria Betsy DeVos Mark Johnson Veteran Public School Teachers in NC Who Have Taught For Five + Years
Has a degree in education or went through a teacher preparation program at a college or university NO NO Most all of them. Lateral Entry in most states still requires that teachers take certain preparation courses.
Has teaching experience NO YES – two school years YES –
Attended public schools NO YES – graduated from Louisiana’s equivalent of a Magnet school for math and science IF 90% of go to traditional public schools, then safe to say MOST OF THEM
Sends children to public school NO NO MOST OF THEM, if they have kids
Believes vouchers hurts traditional public schools NO NO DON’T MEET MANY WHO LIKE THEM
Supports teacher unions and teacher advocacy groups NO NO MOST DO – IF NOT WITH MEMBERSHIP, THEN DO RELY ON GROUPS TO LOBBY FOR THEM
Administrated in a school NO NO Most administrators were teachers
Been through a principal change as an educator NO NO MOST OF THEM
Been through a curriculum change NO NO YES
Seen a group of students matriculate throughout an entire school experience from beginning of high school to graduation to another level of schooling NO NO YES
Managed budgets for public funds NO Served a partial term as a local school board member but was campaigning partially during that time PROBABLY NOT
Talked to teacher advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Talked with special education advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Finished an entire term in elected office NO NO NOT APPLICABLE
Oversaw a budget that expanded resources for students in traditional public schools NO NO A GREAT MANY OF THEM ON A SMALL SCALE
Displayed understanding of IDEA and IEP law. NO NO YES
Led a school in a reaccreditation process NO NO MANY OF THEM – IT’s A SCHOLLWIDE INITIATIVE
Participated in a PTSA NO NO MANY OF THEM
Coached a public school sport NO UNKNOWN MANY OF THEM
Oversaw a budget for a school NO NO ADMINSTRATION DOES THIS
Had continuing certification NO NO YES
Mentored a younger teacher NO NO YES
Had a student teacher NO NO MANY OF THEM
Sponsored an extracurricular NO NO MOST OF THEM
Written curriculum standards NO NO MANY OF THEM
Led a professional development workshop NO NO MANY OF THEM
Published scholarly work on educational issues. NO NO SOME OF THEM
Knows difference between proficiency and growth for students NO DON’T KNOW MOST OF THEM
Meet With ALL Parents Who Request Conference NO NO YES
Keeps Open Channels of Communication with students, parents, administration, and community NO NO YES
Does Not Require an Entourage to Explain Concepts of Job NO NO YES

 

Results United States Secretary of Education North Carolina State Superintendent Becoming an Endangered Species

 

 

 

Betsy DeVos and Mark Johnson – Social Vegans in a Job For Omnivores

 

I came across this picture of a restaurant’s sign located in Texas, and while I am not in any way trying to criticize people’s dietary choices, I did have to chuckle.

social vegan

God knows anyone who knows me knows the dietary adventures that I have had in my life. But what this sign is saying really has more to do with how we are part of a bigger community that has some communal tables from which we eat and socialize.

Think of a food chain, yet not consuming, but rather adding and enhancing.

It is a little humorous as well that it would seem that instead of “vegan,” the sign would say “vegetarian.”

In America, we have the right to choose our friends. We have the right to not associate with certain groups. We have the right to not be a “part of” as long as we obey the law. We have the right to eat meat products. We have the right to not eat meat products. And this post is not to debate about whether or not we should judge people on that.

But if you are an elected official who claims to work for the public, you cannot be a “social vegetarian.”

Why? Because you must not eschew “meet.” You must want to devour “meet.” You need to be a social omnivore and be willing to digest whatever as given to you and must be willing to go to all of the buffets that are offered.

Especially if you are the leader of a public school system.

This past week, Betsy DeVos was invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been invited to address the audience of an annual conference in Washington sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

The three-day OSEP Leadership Conference starts on July 17 and draws special education experts from around the country to discuss policy issues affecting students with disabilities. Her appearance would mark the first time the secretary has met with a special-education focused audience, after a bumpy introduction to the topic (http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F58%2F%3Fuuid%3D72988&cmp=soc-fb-shr).

Think she showed up or even acknowledged the invite? Nope.

She was elsewhere.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to speak in Denver next week (July 17 – ) at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that has successfully advocated for free-market principles at statehouses across the country (https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2017/07/13/betsy-devos-is-coming-to-denver-for-a-meeting-of-the-conservative-group-alec-and-protesters-are-ready/).

If you are a public school advocate, you may need no introduction to ALEC, but if you are unfamiliar with them, then research them and you might see why DeVos goes to get her “meet” there.

In essence, DeVos is an avowed social vegetarian. She refuses to come to the table unless she gets to choose the people who are sitting there and what they get to consume and digest. She willingly forgets that she is the one hosting the meal for all of the tables and that she doesn’t get to choose her guests. She has to serve all people.

In North Carolina, we have another social vegetarian running our public schools: Mark Johnson.

For someone who is responsible for the biggest portion of the state budget as far as education is concerned, he has successfully made sure not to show up for “dinner invitations” and makes reservations at private clubs where he cannot be disturbed by the very people he should be “dining” with.

In fact, Johnson, while being a social vegetarian, is actually allowing food to be taken away from other tables when he should be advocating for bigger portions and more nutrition.

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may be in jeopardy this week as the State Board of Education mulls ways to pass down millions in legislative cuts.

Officials confirmed that the State Board of Education could vote as early as Wednesday on how to dish out $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered funding reductions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, turned over multiple options for distributing the cuts to the state board, which has provided feedback behind closed doors, Policy Watch has learned. Neither the board nor Johnson’s office would turn over specific details given the cuts broach confidential personnel matters.

Yet programs likely on the chopping block this week include offices that provide services and support for local school districts, including intervention efforts in low-performing regions, state board Chair Bill Cobey confirmed (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/18/general-assembly-ordered-cuts-likely-hamper-services-poor-rural-schools/).

This report gets better.

Superintendent Johnson did not agree to an interview with Policy Watch for this report.

The state budget also bars school board members from making up the lost cash with transfers from various GOP-backed education initiatives, including the controversial Innovation School District—which provides for charter takeovers of low-performing schools—and other programs such as Teach for America, Read to Achieve, and positions in the superintendent’s office.

The budget reduction, which slashes operational funds for the department by 6 percent this year and another 13.9 percent (about $7.3 million) next year, comes amid years of criticisms and similar budget reductions led by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Notice which programs are not getting “less food” on the table.

It seems that when you are in public office, you need to be more than willing to “meet” with the public.

DeVos and Johnson’s choices to avoid the “meet” are not for health reasons, but rather for political motives and to hide the fact that they do not have the teeth, the stomach, and the ability to digest all that encompasses leading public schools.

The Best Spirit Wear You Can Own Comes From Your Local High School

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of the culture of a school by the amount of garb students, faculty, and community members wear that dons the name, mascot, or colors of the local high school.

At my school, they call it “West Wear.” And I  have a closet full of it much to my wife’s chagrin. But she understands fully that there is a method to the madness.

When my daughter was attending middle school, she often wore West Wear because she spent so much time with me at school that she felt a part of the culture. Now that she is about to enter 10th grade at West, she has a nice collection of her own garb, specifically hoodies.

That she got from my collection. Daughters do that apparently.

My son has many a Titan shirt and every so often I buy a used jersey that the booster club is selling to make money so that he can have it.

He is a part of the culture.

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When you teach at a school for a number of years, you will collect a number of clothing items that show pride in your school.

Open the closet and I can probably tell you when I got each particular item of spirit clothing and the occasion that it might have marked. Today, I wore a t-shirt that commemorated homecoming last year and it has  a pink school logo as it happened to be “Pink Out” night for the homecoming game to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

It also reminds me of a friend, colleague, mother, sister, and teacher we lost to breast cancer a few years ago at a young age – Sarah Garcia. She is still ever the presence in the 1000 Building.

I have shirts that mark championships of great teams. I have shirts that I bought from clubs to help raise funds or to help them get more exposure. I have shirts that simply identify me as a fan and a supporter.

I could wear something from my favorite pro team or college alma mater (Go Deacs!), but to wear something that shows a tie to the local high school offers something a little more.

It shows support for schools. One could make the argument that schools make revenue from sales of spirit wear, but those hoodies, t-shirts, shorts, hats, and other items help build community and pride and awareness that kids are involved in things.

I have been in other towns and other games supporting my nephew and worn a West baseball cap and had people ask about it and comment that they had heard of our school’s team. Before you know it, we are talking about high school sports.

There are students who wear special shirts for being on the newspaper staff, the yearbook staff, and the shooting team. They wear them with pride. They belong. It means something to them.

And it isn’t just at my school. All schools have this to an extent. What I think is neat is when people who have since graduated or had their kids graduate still don spirit wear from the high school they attended or sent their kids.

Even community members might have some articles of clothing they wear just to be supportive. And that goes a long way to creating a positive culture. It builds community.

And students notice that.

Today, there was a sale of West Wear (previous years’ stock) at discounted prices at the school. As soon as the doors opened, people were there.

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Teachers, parents, staff,  and some students who were awake early enough came to get more West Wear for themselves or for others.

I got my kids another hoodie.

They will wear them.

With pride

For years to come.

Because you know that every style comes back “in-style” again.

Except those shorts we wore in basketball in the early ’80’s.

 

 

Dear Secretary DeVos, From Malcolm, A Special Normal Public School Kid

Dear Secretary DeVos,

My name is Malcolm and I just finished third-grade in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system. I have vibrant red-hair and blue eyes like my mom, wear cool glasses, have a wicked follow through on my jump shot, and am quite the dancer. My dad also wears glasses, but he does not dance very well nor has much hair. My sister is in high school. She is very smart and she helps me with my homework.

I also have an extra chromosome because of a condition called Trisomy 21. You may know it as Down Syndrome. It does not define me. It just is, but I do need a little extra help in school and in learning other skills on how to be independent.

I am having my daddy write this letter for me. He is a teacher in a public high school. In fact, I spend a lot of time at his school going to games and functions. A lot of people know me there like they do at my own school. My having an extra chromosome doesn’t seem to scare them so much because in the end we are all more alike than different anyway.

But I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going. I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.

My daddy has noticed you like this thing called “school choice” and that the budget that you and Mr. Trump like puts more money into this. Yet it really seems to have done a lot to weaken public schools like not fully give money to them or give them resources so that all kids in public schools can be successful. It seems that some money went to this thing called “vouchers” and some has been used to help make other types of schools – schools that will not accept me.

When I got ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. Doesn’t seem like I had much choice.

But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning because of the good teachers and the teacher assistants. Imagine what could happen if my school could have every resource to accommodate my needs.

When people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

You and Mr. Trump control a lot of what we get.

My family is very aware of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It says that I am entitled by law to a sound and quality public education that will work to overcome my obstacles like any other student. We were surprised that you were not aware of IDEA when you were asked earlier this year. That law is my lifeline. And there are many students who do not have the advantages that I have. Some have more obstacles and more physical hurdles to overcome. They really need for you to step up for them. Part of your job is to protect that law.

But this budget that you seem to like does not really help to strengthen that.

The Individual Education Plan that I have that my school and parents put together is backed by federal law. That means that you are supposed to protect it.

But this budget and your actions do not seem to want to honor that.

I think you should stand up more for students like me. I think you should fight more for public schools. I think that you should be loud about it. Make everyone know your commitment to public school children and their teachers and the staffs at each school as many times as you can.

I can be loud. It’s easy. I let my presence be known all of the time. It’s how others know I am there. But I have to be there.

It seems that if you are the leader of the public schools in the nation, then you would be more of a champion for public schools. You would show up at places when asked to talk about what is going on in schools.

Like accepting invitations to places and conferences.

I know that you were invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference this next week. My daddy says that you have never met with a special-education advocacy group before. Why?

Why have you not accepted the chance to talk to the very people who need to hear you talk? These are the people who help make sure that I have what I need because I depend on the public schools.

In fact, my daddy says that you do not really talk to those who really need you to explain your views on education and why you seem to like some types of schools more than others.

Why?

Shouldn’t you be willing to talk?

My daddy goes to work every school day and teaches the students who show up for school. He does not get to choose his students. But that does not matter to him.

I go to school and my teacher did not get to choose what students she got to have. But she teaches me anyway.

If you are the secretary of education for the whole country, then shouldn’t you be willing to go anywhere to talk about school?

Sincerely,

Malcolm
Special Normal Public School Kid

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The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

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The July 14th ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it is not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time, Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson just became the most enabled man in all of North Carolina.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He then spent the first six months of his term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who “won” the lawsuit was financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh had to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here.

Johnson’s statement on the ruling was certainly sprinkled with pyrite.

“For too long, the lack of clarity about DPI leadership has fostered a system of non-accountability,” Johnson said in a statement. “While this system is great for shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, non-accountability at DPI hurts North Carolina students. Last December, the General Assembly addressed this problem by clarifying the parameters set forth in the NC Constitution. Their efforts offered greater transparency to educators and parents across the state seeking to engage with DPI and greater accountability at DPI.

“Today, the Superior Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s actions and I look forward to, belatedly, working for more and better change at DPI” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article161450393.html).

It’s rather odd to hear of Johnson talking about “lack of clarity.” Considering that this might be one of the longest quotes attributed to him in his tenure and his press-unfriendly “listening tour” along with no sign of the promised item list of proposals he prophesized this past January, he certainly correct about there being some sort of lack of clarity.

As far as “shifting blame?” No one has been slinging blame as much as the very people who are enabling Johnson.

That “transparency” comment? Halting communication at DPI through the most commonly used listserv to all of the LEA’s in the state is not an act of transparency. That’s an act of muddying the waters.

And that “belatedly” remark? Funny how that word is almost the precise antonym of the word Johnson used in January as he took office – “urgency.”

The man who now controls the Department of Public Instruction which has been further downsized by the very people who financed his lawsuit and who champion the very reforms that hurt the schools he is supposed to protect did not really win.

The people who enable him really won.

Listen to what Phil Berger had to say.

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and now the very hospital in his hometown of Eden has filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

What really happened on July 14th was that Mark Johnson showed how controlled he is as the state superintendent. He showed that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

There still is hope. There is still an injunction and a sure appeal to a higher court.

I would be remiss if I did not flat out state that if the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

When the Leader of the Public Schools Refuses to be Part of the Public

Imagine you are an official of the state elected by the public. Your job is to lead the state’s public school system. You are the head of the Department of Public Instruction. You are the lead public school instructor. You control public information. You oversee taxpayer money that comes from the public.

Should you not be publicly available?

Because that’s a lot of public involved – six “publics” in the first paragraph alone.

From the “Organization” page of DPI’s website (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/organization/):

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is charged with implementing the state’s public school laws and the State Board of Education’s policies and procedures governing pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education. The elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction leads the Department and functions under the policy direction of the State Board of Education.

The agency provides leadership and service to the 115 local public school districts and 2,500+ traditional public schools, 150+ charter schools, and the three residential schools for students with hearing and visual impairments. The areas of support include curriculum and instruction, accountability, finance, teacher and administrator preparation and licensing, professional development and school business support and operations.

The NCDPI develops the Standard Course of Study, which describes the subjects and course content that is taught in North Carolina public schools, and the assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success. In 2016-2017 Department staff are developing North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. This work is being informed by public comments collected in 12 regional meetings and through feedback collected from educators and others. The states ESSA plan will be submitted to the US Department of Education in September 2017.

The NCDPI administers annual state and federal public school funds totaling approximately $9.2 billion and licenses the approximately 117,000 teachers and administrators who serve public schools. The NCDPI’s primary offices are in Raleigh, with four regional alternative licensing centers in Concord, Fayetteville, Elm City and Catawba. Approximately 30,000 new teacher and administrator licenses are issued annually from these centers. The NCDPI’s work extends to the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching with locations in Cullowhee and Ocracoke, and the NC Virtual Public School – the second largest virtual public school in the nation. The state agency also works closely with nine Regional Education Service Alliances/ Consortia and six regional accountability offices.

There’s a lot of duties in that job description. But is it not ironic that many of those duties seemed to have been ignored? Look at the job description again (first three paragraphs) with what is known to have happened and what is still happening.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is charged with implementing the state’s public school laws (in a state that is controlled by a GOP majority who has had many “policies” declared unconstitutional) and the State Board of Education’s policies and procedures governing pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education. The elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction leads the Department and functions under the policy direction of the State Board of Education (that he is currently embroiled with in a lawsuit over power).

The agency provides leadership and service to the 115 local public school districts and 2,500+ traditional public schools (many of which are suffering because Johnson halted key list serv communications from DPI), 150+ charter schools, and the three residential schools for students with hearing and visual impairments. The areas of support include curriculum and instruction (nothing has occurred), accountability (nothing has occurred), finance (DPI budget slashed without him commenting), teacher and administrator preparation and licensing (SB599?), professional development (where are those funds?) and school business support and operations (who will build the extra classroom space needed to fulfill the class size quotas?).

The NCDPI develops the Standard Course of Study, which describes the subjects and course content that is taught in North Carolina public schools (nothing has occurred), and the assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success (ASW just got cancelled and the school performance grades are about to get more constricting). In 2016-2017 Department staff are developing North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. This work is being informed by public comments collected in 12 regional meetings and through feedback collected from educators and others (have not heard anything). The states ESSA plan will be submitted to the US Department of Education in September 2017 (that’s two months away and Johnson still has not talked about his “findings” from his listening tour).

There is no other office in the state of North Carolina that has the word “public” associated with it more. The job description alone has the word “public” in it TWELVE times. And the web address has the word “public” in it – http://www.ncPUBLICschools.org.

That’s unacceptable. As the head of DPI and as the overseer of the “assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success,” Johnson would be familiar with the distinct standards that teachers and educators like himself would have to show at least proficiency in.

One of them is communication with stakeholders – students, parents, administration, others.

If you were to look at the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Rubric (easily found in .pdf form on the web), you could do a “find” for the word “communicate.”

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It occurs over 20 times.

Add the word “communication” to the search.

You get over 40 hits.

Communication means being “public” with those who are stakeholders. For Johnson that’s everybody in the state of North Carolina, but if he were being measured by the rubric that he actually is responsible for and should model as the instructional leader of the PUBLIC school system, then he may not be proficient.

When a teacher is evaluated, there are certain pieces of evidence that can be introduced to verify and validate rubric scores.

Imagine how Johnson should be scored. Consider the following pieces of evidence.

  1. Mark Johnson, the state superintendent of public instruction, may be violating state law by failing to respond to a public records request, according to an articleby N.C. Policy Watch’s Billy Ball, a former INDY staff writer (https://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2017/06/06/nc-policy-watch-state-superintendent-of-public-instruction-may-be-violating-the-law-by-ignoring-records-requests).
  2. WRAL News requested an interview with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to discuss the Senate’s budget. Instead, he emailed a statement, saying he looks forward to “continuing our work with the NC House and Senate as they transform education in North Carolina” (http://www.wral.com/senate-proposes-cutting-8-state-education-staffers-including-42-year-employee/16707728/).
  3. Johnson has declined multiple interviews with Policy Watch since January, although he has spoken to a handful of other media organizations in the first six months of his term. He also did not respond to Policy Watch communications regarding this report (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/06/06/state-superintendent-may-violating-law-ignoring-public-records-request/).
  4. The tour will begin at a Winston-Salem high school, although press will reportedly not be allowed to join. Prior to his election as state superintendent, Johnson was a corporate attorney in Winston-Salem and a local school board member (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/02/02/state-superintendent-mark-johnson-begin-listening-tour-winston-salem/#sthash.YoYxJcaT.dpbs).
  5. In an interview with WRAL News last week, Johnson declined to say what other positions he would like to hire if the bill passes (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-hopes-to-hire-chief-innovation-officer-other-positions-with-help-from-lawmakers/16684497/).
  6. Johnson isn’t sharing what those ideas are just yet (http://www.wral.com/ousted-nc-superintendent-on-successor-how-do-i-help-an-infant-in-public-education-/16236296/).
  7. Johnson did not agree to an interview this week, but the superintendent—a Republican who defeated  Atkinson in November’s election—said in a statement Tuesday other exceptions have been allowed in the days since. Johnson did not provide specifics, but those exceptions apparently include updates from the department’s finance office, which has continued to post reports (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/12/state-school-superintendent-muzzles-communication-dpi/).

That’s not being very public.