Dear BEST NC, So Where Do You Stand on These Vital Issues?

BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy – from http://best-nc.org/.

As business leaders, we understand how critical talent management is to the success of any organization. Currently, North Carolina lacks a talent plan that will successfully recruit and retain excellent educators from pre-k through post-graduate – http://best-nc.org/the-imperative/. 

If you were to read posts on this blog concerning BEST NC, you would quickly ascertain that this teacher looks at them as a group that is trying to “transform” North Carolina’s schools through business-based initiatives.

You would see that they seem to label education as an “industry” and not necessarily a public good.

bestnc

BEST NC has been a presence since 2014 and possibly their biggest “public” splash into public education was the new principal pay plan that really has not been that well-received. They also held a closed-doors legislative “retreat” with Michelle Rhee, whose very policies are antagonistic to a great number of public school advocates.

In reality, BEST NC has not publicly or willingly entered the conversations on a variety of issues that many in public education advocacy would like to hear their views on.

It does state in their “mission statement” above that part of your charge is to ADVOCATE. And advocating means being up front and out loud concerning issues that truly affect public education.

So, I want to ask BEST NC where they specifically stand on the following in hopes that they may clarify how they might really help “transform” education in North Carolina.

  1. NC is one of a few states that has a school performance grading system to measure schools. Only North Carolina has its grading system measuring achievement more than growth (80/20). Should that formula stay the same or should it be altered to allow growth to have a greater influence than achievement?
  2. Do you believe that NC should reduce testing? Does that mean reduce the number of tests that students take?
  3. Do you believe that teachers should have graduate degree pay increases?
  4. Do you believe that a teacher should have career-status and due-process rights?
  5. Should NC increase its per-pupil expenditure to the levels before the recession adjusted for inflation?
  6. Do you believe in performance bonuses, merit pay, and other “incentives” for teachers and schools?
  7. Do you agree with the intent of bills such as SB599 and other “teacher recruitment” efforts?
  8. Did you support the May 16th M Arch for Students in Raleigh by over %20 of the NC teaching force?
  9. Do you think that the voucher system should have more oversight since it is the least transparent in the nation?
  10. Will you ever engage in dialogue with NCAE?
  11. Do you support the current efforts of Mark Johnson?
  12. Do you believe that schools need more teacher assistants?
  13. Do you believe schools need more nurses, social workers and counselors?
  14. What is your stance on class-size chaos?
  15. Do you think that veteran teachers have been treated fairly?
  16. Do you believe that teachers should be the only state employees who no longer have longevity pay?
  17. Do you support the Innovative School Districts design and selection process?
  18. Do you believe that poverty is a major force in the lives of students and their ability to learn in school?
  19. What is your position on HB514 – the Municipality Charter School Bill?
  20. Do you believe that the charter school cap should remain lifted in NC?

And remember that silence might be the loudest answer one can give.

When the State Superintendent Starts Following Your Twitter Account, Again

Yesterday,  I received confirmation that Mark Johnson, the state school superintendent, is now following my personal twitter feed through his office’s official twitter account.

Again.

Even have the proof.

johnson twitter

And I absolutely welcome it.

Again.

Actually, it’s the third time.

There are around 100,000 teachers in this state. Mark Johnson’s official twitter account currently follows 1,324 people (as of this post), mostly political leaders, pundits, and education professionals. Makes one wonder how many are teachers.

Maybe it puts me in select company, but I imagine it may not be for my glowing reviews of his term. In fact, anyone who has read this blog knows that I have been very critical of his performance or rather lack of performance in a two-year tenure that has produced platitudes, nondescript “reforms,” and refusals to offer details.

This blog has been an act of advocacy for public education here in North Carolina. I teach in a public school. My children attend public school. My son requires additional help because of a developmental delay. Public schools are woven into almost every fabric of my life.

As a veteran teacher I have what many may call “tenure,” but rather it is what should be called due-process rights. It allows me to advocate loudly for students, teachers, and schools against what I consider atrocious actions taken to weaken the state’s public school system, a system that was considered not long ago the most progressive in this part of the country.

Those very powers that are engaging in these “reformation” projects have a propped-up representative in the office of DPI, and that person is Mark Johnson.

And according to his recent “following” of my account, he is seeking re-election for the super’s office. It does have the @VoteMarkJohnson handle.

So, I hope that he truly continues to follow this twitter account and consider following the actual twitter account of the blog that I write – @ragecaffeinated.

In fact, I hope he tries to follow the twitter account of every teacher willing to allow him to follow him. Simply send his account a request for him to follow you. For someone who wants to infuse as much technology into schools as well as conduct “listening tours,” this would be accomplishing two “goals” with one action.

I also hope that the state superintendent reads the posts that question his lack of action in the face of the very many policies that weaken our schools such as:

  • Budget cuts
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Vouchers
  • HB17’s power grab
  • The Innovative School District
  • SB599
  • Principal Pay Plan
  • School Choice
  • Lack of Rallying with Teachers

And that’s just a few.

I wish he not only read them, but he responds to them fully explaining why he has taken or not taken action or clarifying his stance and the reasons behind them.

But even if the superintendent does not respond to anything on the blog, I do hope he checks my twitter feed. The main profile picture is of my son, Malcolm. He happens to have special needs and needs his teacher assistant to help him succeed.

Maybe each time the state superintendent sees Malcolm’s face, he could imagine Malcolm asking him what he is doing to ensure that all elementary grades still have teacher assistants and specials.

Maybe even provide some details.

But is it not ironic that Johnson follow my twitter account, but does not invite me and other teachers to the big event he is holding on Feb. 19th?

In fact, on the very day that he began to follow me, many teachers in the state who had asked for a seat at the table of the very event where he is to give a big announcement about public education received this from him.

“Due to the response from invited educators, policy makers, and philanthropic and community leaders, we are at capacity. We regret that we will not be able to provide you a seat for the dinner.”

Actually, he has been denying a seat for dinner for over two years to a LOT of teachers.

But, he will troll you on Twitter.

 

One Year Ago, Today.

 

stonemandouglas

From The Villanovan:

“Below is a list of all mass school shootings in the United States which occurred after the Columbine High School Massacre. Dates and death tolls (excluding the shooter) are included. Although many other mass shootings have occurred,  only shootings involving the death of five or more people have been included in this list.”

Columbine High School Shooting, Littleton, Colorado – April 1999: 13 Dead

Red Lake High School, Red Lake Indian Reservation, Minnesota – March 2005: 9 Dead

West Nickel Mines Amish School, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania – October 2006: 5 Dead

Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Virginia – April 2007: 32 Dead

Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, Illinois – February 2008: 5 Dead

Oikos University, Oakland, California – April 2012: 7 Dead

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut – December 2012: 27 Dead

Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, California – June 2013: 5 Dead

University of California Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, California – May 2014: 6 Dead

Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington – October 2014: 4 Dead

Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon – October 2015: 9 Dead

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida – February 2018: 17 Dead

Mark Johnson’s Version of the “American Dream” Neglects the American Reality For Many of Our Students

If you are a parent of a student in the public schools of North Carolina, you might have received this missive from the state superintendent today:

Parents and caregivers,

As you know, your child is unique. Just as all students have different strengths and likes, all students’ pathways to success will be different.

For too long, many education leaders made students feel that the only way to success was to earn a four-year degree. Teachers, other educators, and employers know this is not true. Together with parents, we need to work to change this incorrect narrative.

Students can find successful careers right after high school, join the armed forces or other public service, attend community college, or – if it is what is right for them – seek four-year degrees. Each one of these choices is a pathway to success.

Please visit www.NCsuperintendent.com/nextsteps to find out about high-demand career pathways in North Carolina that your son or daughter can take to success.

For young students, let’s keep them on track learning their fundamental skills. For students in middle and high school, let’s start having conversations about the many great opportunities in fulfilling and fruitful careers that exist in North Carolina, such as web developers, electric lineworkers, dental hygienists, and first responders.  Not all great careers require a four-year degree.

Thank you for helping us encourage every student to find their right path, work hard, and reach their American Dream!

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC 
NCsuperintendent.com

 

P.S.: Right now, my 6-year-old daughter wants to be a veterinarian, a park ranger, a teacher, a baker, a gymnast, and a mommy. We have time to narrow that list, and I will support whichever paths she chooses!

 

Capture

There’s a feeling that he seems more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

And there’s that constant push to go to his personal website to engage with his office rather than DPI’s actual site.

But it’s that blind, vague reference to the “American Dream” he ends this feel-good letter with that reminds me of the disconnect that he has with what is really happening with our students.

While running for office, Johnson penned an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” in which he talked about this rather nebulous concept of the “American Dream.”

One excerpt states,

“We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of the United States, the only nation ever to have a dream named after it. No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream.”

Yet, I have yet to hear how Johnson plans on confronting the poverty that afflicts so many in our state when he champions a school performance grading system that literally shows the effects of poverty on student outcomes. Over %20 of our children in NC live in poverty.

I have yet to hear any dialogue on the advancement of wrap around services in schools to help students who struggle to get essential services and resources to prepare them for school.

I have yet to hear any advocacy on Johnson’s part to extend Medicaid to help keep students healthy when health costs are so high.

I have yet to hear or see Johnson fight for higher per-pupil expenditures.

I have yet to see Johnson confront the NC General Assembly on funding issues for DPI that help low-income districts get the professional development they could very much use to help teach students who face socioeconomic stresses.

I have not heard anything about increased mental-health services in schools from Johnson.

I have not heard Johnson defend the students who are “Dreamers” or who have been affected by the increased actions of ICE within North Carolina.

And the list goes on.

When I talk to students from various backgrounds, their concept of what the  “American Dream” is to them is far different than the rose-colored version Johnson amorphously purports. That’s because for many of our students, the idea of someone else’s version of the “American Dream” never aligns with the actuality of their “American Reality.”

That’s the deliberate disconnect that Johnson has.

 

I Am a “Loser Communist Democratic Teacher Thug” – And Proud of It

Last year from Rep. Larry Pittman of NC:

pittman

This is a man who is also an ordained minister who called for arming teachers in North Carolina to avoid having “blood on their hands.”

A man who did not expand Medicare to children living in poverty in NC.

That number is over %20 of all the state’s children.

Then there was this:

RepBrodyFacebookPost

“Union thugs.” Nice.

And now this from the son of the President of the United States of America last night in El Paso, Texas:

“You know what I love? I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. (Crowd applauds and shouts.) Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t.” 

So, if I am a teacher who tries to practice the values of inclusiveness and equality in my classroom who happens to think that the teaching profession should have collective bargaining rights in order to keep public schools strong in the state of North Carolina and wants to have more gun control like background checks then I am a “communist democratic,” a “thug.” and a “loser teacher?”

Maybe a “loser communistic democratic teacher thug.”

If that is what they are defining it as, then I will gladly wear that label.

 

Give School Systems Calendar Flexibility!

Did you know that North Carolina is one of only one of 14 states that had state laws that governed school calendars?

school calendar

The above graphic is from the Feb. 2017 Final Report to the Joint Legislative
Program Evaluation Oversight Committee on school calendars.

What is also shows is that North Carolina was at the time was one of the TWO states in the entire country whose laws dictated when a school could start and when it had to end.

But there might be a chance for change on the horizon.

From a recent report from the Wnston-Salem Journal:

An N.C. House education committee on Tuesday began an effort that could allow North Carolina’s school systems more flexibility in planning school-year calendars.

The Education K-12 Committee held a nonvoting session during which its members discussed a controversial 2004 state law that prohibits public-school systems from opening before Aug. 26 and closing after June 10 without permission from the State Board of Education.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, estimates that more than 200 school-calendar bills have been submitted in the legislature in the past six years, with none of them clearing a committee because of stiff opposition from the state’s travel and tourism industry.

200 bills and none have made it past committee in a legislature that had a super-majority  in those six years because of opposition from another industry? And now all of a sudden without those veto-proof majorities, one or two of these bills may actually get out of committee to become something that can be voted upon?

We need to have the ability as local school systems to be able to have exams done before the winter break instead of having the “fall” semester end the day before Groundhog Day.

We need to have the flexibility to not have to consider forgiving days of school because of weather and other natural occurrences.

We need to have the flexibility to allow for schools to plan for professional development and workdays that actually help teachers prepare.

We need to have flexibility to allow schools to not have to start classes until after two football games have been played.

Oddly, it is funny to think that the travel and tourism industry has this much power over our school calendars.

A lot of high school students still have sports and other activities that bring them back routinely to their schools before the school year starts in early August.

And until the law is changed, students still will have to go to school 180 days a year.

Summers would just start a little earlier.

Like Memorial Day?

 

Remembering Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s “Education Endowment Fund” and Those License Plates For Teachers

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

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

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

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

“This is not only an opportunity to raise money for great teachers, but also an opportunity to let all our teachers know we appreciate their service,” Forest says in a video posted this week. “The ‘I Support Teachers’ license plate initiative is the first step toward creating a sound foundation for the North Carolina Educational Endowment and planning for the future of teaching excellence in North Carolina through an innovative and self-sustaining fund.”

The plates were to look like this.

plate1

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

That’s because the demand never reached 500 to start the production.

You can look on the NC DOT site for ordering license plates and see all of the options. “I Support Teachers” is not there.

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

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

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

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

plate2

If you did not know, Forest literally has his own television studio in his office that was supposedly funded by a 501(c). There was some speculation that this was a little unethical. Consider these reports:

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

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

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

 

plate5

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

plate8

Remember that Forest was instrumental in starting two virtual charter schools in NC that are still run by for-profit entities? In fact, they were and still are doing so poorly  that they are asking for more money – money that could have gone into the “endowment fund.”

And dammit, if they didn’t get “renewed!”

virtualcharters

plate4

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

plate6

IR4OWIO = I Run For Office While In Office.

Thanks for the support, Dan.

 

My School System Needs a New Superintendent, One Who…

This past Friday afternoon right after the ending school bell in the high schools rang (high schools end last of all levels) teachers in my district received an email from the system superintendent announcing that she took a position with the Department of Public Instruction.

Superintendent-533x300

People may debate on how effective a superintendent was / is in the office of leading the local public school system. Honestly, I could not imagine many jobs that are harder to perform while pleasing a majority of the stakeholders.

A system superintendent is hired by the local school board, whose makeup is determined by the voters who in some capacity have a stake in the public schools: parents, teachers, taxpayers, employers, etc.

The superintendent has to be able to bridge relationships between the state and the local, between the community and the schools, and between teachers and those who can support them. But mostly the super has to always keep in mind that his/her mission is student-centered.

It’s always about improving conditions and outcomes for students.

Yet, we need a new superintendent of public schools, and while I may never be asked by those who choose what I as a veteran teacher might want to look for in a new super, I can use this platform.

And I will.

  • I want a superintendent who praises the growth of students and is not solely focused on “proficiency.” Growth means that students are learning. Proficiency in this state means that you are meeting a moving target that you have no control over setting.
  • I want a superintendent who recognizes that he / she will be serving a district in which well over %20 of the students live in poverty and that poverty is the major obstacle for so many students. Maybe there should be a “proficiency” set for making sure that students’ needs are met outside the classroom. Maybe the new superintendent could fight for more wraparound services.
  • I want a superintendent not afraid of telling Raleigh that its practices do not serve our students well. Speaking out for the district can do so much for morale and building bridges with the community. Think of the class-size chaos. Think of the school performance system. Think of all of the testing. Think of the budgeting and lower per pupil expenditures when adjusted for inflation. Think of needed professional development funding. Think of textbooks.
  • I want a superintendent not afraid of going to government officials and “asking” for what is needed to not only build a first-class system, but keep it growing.
  • I want a superintendent who goes to teachers inside of the classrooms to see what schools and students need most. Seeking input from teachers and really listening to what they say about conditions and needs will go a long way.
  • I want a superintendent who sees the need to make sure that all special-needs students have their needs met and are able to access as much of what other students are able to experience.
  • I want a superintendent not afraid to “call out” DPI and state officials when bills and statutes hurt a school system’s ability to service the needs of students.
  • I want a superintendent who does not look at the school system as a business, but as a public good.
  • I want a superintendent who can find multiple reasons to praise any student, any teacher, and any school in this district.
  • I want a superintendent who is accessible, can take constructive criticism, and knows what a classroom is really like.

Our students deserve that.

And more.

 

State Champions & Even Better People

I am biased toward my own school. Won’t deny that.

But hearing that four students from my school won individual state championships in the state indoor track meet makes me proud and not just because of the hard work and the effort put into a mentally tough and physically challenging sport culminated in being first in the state.

But because each of those young people is a great person.

One young lady scored 24 points in an away basketball game last night and then won in a different sport today. And she is one of the most positive, hardworking people you could ever want to meet.

Two of them are in my class this year handling college level material and improving their reading and writing skills by the day. Their attitude toward academics is a reflection of their dedication to their sport.

The other champion is one of the chief editors of a yearbook that last year received the highest honor a high school yearbook can receive in the state of North Carolina.

All four will go to college with athletic scholarships. But they won’t succeed because they are great athletes.

They have already succeeded because they are great individuals.

Congrats to them and those great coaches.

track field

 

 

NC is Not a “Prudent” Employer of Teachers: About Berger and Moore’s Recent Staff Raises

From a February 1, 2019 column by Colin Campbell in the News & Observer concerning staff raises for Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore’s staff:

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have seen a lot of turnover on their staffs since 2017, but some of the staffers who stuck around have been rewarded with pay increases of 20 to 50 percent.

The NC Insider compared current salary records for the president pro tem’s office and speaker’s office with records from January 2017, at the beginning of the last biennium. The records show pay increases varying significantly among staffers who have kept the same job titles for the past two years.

By contrast, most state employees received a $1,000 raise in 2017 and a 2 percent raise in 2018.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Asked if the employees with bigger raises had seen changes in job responsibilities, Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said “we can’t comment on personnel matters involving specific employees. In general, we increase salaries to reflect additional job responsibilities, more prominent roles, and to retain talented employees, as would any prudent employer.”

Read that last statement again if you are a teacher.

“In general, we increase salaries to reflect additional job responsibilities, more prominent roles, and to retain talented employees, as would any prudent employer.”

I wonder if Berger’s spokesperson had teachers in mind when he said this.

So, if the “prudent” employer here is the state and teachers are employees, can teachers say that the state has been “prudent” with them?

Yes, the article does reflect that some of those who received substantial raises have taken on extra responsibilities in the last couple of years.

So have public school teachers. More students per class. More classes. Less planning time. More duties and committee responsibilities. Coaching. Fundraising. Community outreach. Physical facilities maintenance (ask those Down East what they have had to do to help get  schools ready after hurricane damage). Resource gathering. Professional development (state doesn’t fund it any longer).

The list goes on. And on.

And on.

So,  has the state of North Carolina been a “prudent” employer for teachers who have served far longer than those people who work for Berger and Moore who received those monstrous pay increases?

No. In fact, the longer a teacher has been in the state long after he/she has proven to be effective, that idea of North Carolina being a “prudent” employer is completely nullified.

By the very salary schedule it produced for this year.

salaryschedule.png

In fact, if one went back to calculate how teacher pay has changed over time in this state with adjustments for inflation, then you will get a real sense of what “prudence” is not (courtesy of the venerable John deVille).

teacherpay2019

 

So much for “prudence.”