Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Still Cannot Really Be Measured

Dear Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness –  including EVAAS.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
  • We have an Innovative School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness in its other forms.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And consider that we still have less money spent per-pupil in this state (adjusted for inflation) than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement.” There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art,” “science,” and “craft.” These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner.” A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student sends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the Voter ID law.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund political races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.
  • Think that our own state school board and state superintendent are suing each other.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

Again, Why Do We Have Exams After The Winter Break? Change The Calendar!

I am just going to say it.

Again.

We need to start the school year earlier here in North Carolina.

While it is nice to think of having a winter break to celebrate the holidays, the calendar system that North Carolina has adopted for traditional public schools is not helping our students AT ALL.

I have argued this very point before, but it bears reminding.

calendar-image

The following is from a post in July of 2016:

“As it stands right now, a Senate Bill (187) from the 2012 session stipulates the following for school calendars:

Start date no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to August 19.

With such an emphasis on test scores and “student achievement” as measured by those same scores, it would make sense to allow the first semester to actually end with exams taken before the winter break. As it stands now, most students in traditional public schools in the state do not take exams for block classes until after the winter break, a time period which generally lasts two weeks.

Some may argue that that is only a two week hiatus, but actually it is longer than that, and it creates an intellectual and mental lapse that affects student scores and ultimately how schools are measured.

Students tend to get excited for the winter break as many look forward to Christmas and other holidays. Commercially speaking, most students are bombarded with other stimuli. Yet, when school reconvenes for the first semester exams, the state and county systems have to create a testing window so that all required stipulations are followed.

Ironically, a whole new year starts on the calendar, but students and teachers are still stuck in the fall semester. Tax forms and W-2’s are being put together because the tax cycle ended; students are still working on second quarter grades.

With EOCT’s, NC Tests, and teacher made exams plus required makeup sessions built in, many public schools are forced to have at least seven (often more) days of testing to accommodate the laws. Add in that a day or two that students need to reacquaint themselves with school. They are coming off a break and thrown straight into a frenzy of testing and have minimal contact with teachers who need review time for exams. Also, consider the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s observed birthday and students are a little more scattered than usual.

On a block schedule (A/B day), this means that for over four weeks of time (holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame.

In a regular four week A/B schedule time period, a teacher usually engages a class for at least 10 class periods. A true block class, at least 20.

To say that this schedule does not affect test scores is shortsighted at the least.

And there are other concerns that should be considered.

  • Many students work during this time full-time hours.
  • Without guided instruction, students may not actually experience academic atrophy.
  • Many seniors are having to finish college applications while worrying about exams.
  • Winter athletes are having to worry about athletic eligibility ovet the break instead of having already secured it.
  • Winter weather can cause an even linger break.
  • If schools are closed, then tutoring opportunities and academic help is limited.
  • January’s pacing is frenetic at best – not a good way to start the new year.

Besides, to feel that the school year was officially “half-way” finished when the actual new year started is a mentally better approach.

“Pro-Life” Means Taking Care Of Those Who Are Already Born

Since we are nearing the holiday season, I tend to think of this part of Dickens’s classic holiday novella.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

christmas-carol


The above passage from A Christmas Carol also comes to mind any time I hear elected officials talk about the role of government and the role of individuals in a nation that professes to be Christian in its founding and in its morals.

Below are three statements made directly by elected officials or posted on their official websites concerning morals and values. I am most interested in their use of the term “pro-life.”

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.” – Dan Forest, Lt. Gov. of NC

“A pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Senator who believes in religious freedom, Senator Berger has fought to protect the unborn and the rights of magistrates and government officials who choose to opt out of gay marriages or other ceremonies because of religious objections.” – philberger.org

“After 30 years of work on pro-life legislation, we were able to produce significant advances for the protection of the unborn and their mothers.  We ended tax funded abortions and sex selection abortion.  We authorized regulations to protect the health and safety of women at clinics. The Woman’s Right to Know Act with its 72 hour waiting period is reducing abortion rates by about 25%.” – Former Paul “Skip” Stam from paulstam.info

It is easy to confine the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” to the arena of unborn children. But the issue of abortion is not really the subject of this post.

Why? Abortion is too big of an issue to tackle in a personal essay and I am certainly not convinced that declaring yourself “pro-choice” automatically means that you condone abortion in any situation. Life throws too many qualifications into its equations to make all choices an “either/or” choice.

When my wife and I received a pre-natal diagnosis that our son had Down Syndrome, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to a genetic counselor at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. The state of North Carolina had at the time in its laws stated that an abortion could not be performed after a certain date in a woman’s pregnancy. If we had chosen to have an abortion, we would have had to make that decision in a rather small amount of time.

We did not seek an abortion; it was not an option for us, but it was rather surreal to receive phone calls from health providers talking about that option because they had to legally inform us of our rights/options/legal restrictions. You might be shocked to know the percentage of people/couples who choose to abort with the information we had. I was.

It’s 93%. That’s right. 93%. And I am not about to judge those who did choose what is legally their right in the eyes of the law. There are too many variables in lives that I do not live to run around and make judgement calls.

I also will never carry a child in a womb. Neither will Dan Forest. Neither will Phil Berger. Neither will Paul Stam. Neither will Trump or Pence or Paul Ryan.

We had Malcolm and I would not trade anything for the experience of being his parent. Anyone who knows me and my family can testify to that. But he is no longer “unborn.” He is now in our world among others who need help to lead fulfilling lives.

However, I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in such a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain. And when I see the above three statements by prominent politicians, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-abortion” message.

Because “pro-life” means so much more than that.

Why are we not protecting the lives of those who are already born? I feel that being “pro-life” is not a matter reserved for the issue of abortion and the unborn, but should include those who are living and need help.

Hubert Humphrey once said in 1977, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

If you are “pro-life” then it would make sense that you would look to the welfare of those who cannot necessarily defend themselves without help like the “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Is it not ironic that many who ran on a strict “pro-life” platform seem to be in favor of privatizing or redefining the very services that help sustain the lives of those whom they claim to champion.

Think of Medicaid that my own son has been on the waiting list for because he will need its services earlier than most people. If it becomes privatized, it may jeopardize his chances of getting the help he needs when he gets older. Within the state of North Carolina, not expanding Medicaid affects many “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Nationally speaking, think of Obamacare that insures many who would not be eligible if such a plan was not in place. While it is anything from perfect, it has insured many people who were never insured before. And have the parties in charge of the government offered anything else except “free-market?”

Think of our responses to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Think of the use of tax payer money to fund vouchers and charter schools that are actually privatizing public schools all in the name of “choice” when there should be a push to fully fund all public schools and provide for their resources because public education is a public service and not a private entity.

Dan Forest once said in reference to the HB2 debacle, “We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.

But hasn’t some of the “choices” that have been made by those in power been made because there was some sort of price tag on it?

It seems that many of the politicians who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. And they are doing it in the name of free-markets, where people are supposed to be able to choose what they want hoping that the “market” controls prices and quality.

How ironic that many politicians who proclaim to be “pro-life” become “pro-choice” when it pertains to those who are already born.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would call himself “pro-life” and allow for big banks (look at what Wells Fargo did) and pharmaceutical companies (think of EpiPens) to literally control prices and the market without a fight.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would have been willing to allow public money to fund private entities without input from the public itself.

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

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

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

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule in the very places where many who profess to help would never set foot.

Growing up Southern Baptist in a region of the country known as the Bible Belt, I was constantly (still am) confronted with the question, “When you meet your Maker after you die, how will you answer for your actions?”

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people. That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

Back to Dickens. When Scrooge asked Marley’s ghost, who practiced an incredible amount of selfishness in life, about his afterlife, he was treated to a very terse lesson in what it meant to be “pro-life.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

When you become an elected official, then your business is humankind. That’s being “pro-life.”

Another Reason To Love Being a Titan

There are many reasons why Malcolm loves going to West Forsyth Girls Basketball games.

He loves basketball.

He loves being close to the action.

He loves that the players know him.

And the young ladies on that team interact with him and make him a part of their “family.” Before games some of them come over and fist bump Malcolm as a pre-game ritual. The team even wrote Malcolm a note last year thanking him for his support. It’s in his room.

Something like that makes this father and teacher especially proud to be a part of West Forsyth. And then you see this in the local paper.

http://www.journalnow.com/sports/prepzone/basketball/long-distance-connection-west-forsyth-s-callie-scheier-gets-coaching/article_9651a5de-7705-57d2-be41-2a26f87dfca5.html

It’s a story about one of the players and her father who because of his job cannot make it to her games, but it does not stop him from being close to his family.

A house is where you might keep your possessions, but a home is where the people you love are both literally and figuratively.

A house is usually defined with walls and boundaries. A home is not confined in that way like the distance of three states.

And a person who believes in family knows that the power of the family as a whole is greater than the sum of the individuals.

If you want a great story about family, then take a look at this in the Winston-Salem Journal.

If you want to see a great “family” play some basketball, then come out and see this Titan Girls Varsity basketball team.

Malcolm goes as often as he can.

west forsyth3

 

 

 

Save Our Public Schools NC – Holiday Card Bonanza

Wanted to make you aware of this. Good people doing good things for great kids. Please consider helping.

SAve Schools Christmas Card

From the “Details.”

Our North Carolina elected officials have persistently failed to prioritize public schools across our State. Strong public schools lead to increased home values, economic growth and stable communities. [Read below for a quick history on the K-3 Mandate.]

This holiday season, add your NC House Representative and NC State Senator to your holiday card list. Let’s make sure our representatives see the faces of the children in their districts who will be affected by the#ClassSizeChaos

1. Mark up your card using our slogan: “Fix The #ClassSizeChaos” and include your kids’ grade level, school name or favorite special. 
Include language stating the K-3 Mandate needs to be fixed in January 2018.

2. Have an extra minute? Include a message about how the #ClassSizeChaos will affect your family or school. Remind them that you vote and care about public schools.

If you don’t have family photo cards, send a regular card, holiday card, New Years card, post card, child’s drawing/artwork — heck, send a piece of scrap paper lying around, we don’t care! Just write to your two NC State representatives letting them know to Fix The #ClassSizeChaos in January 2018!

Wait. You need their addresses! Find out who represents you by inserting your address into the map here:

https://www.270towin.com/elected-officials/

———————–
Quick History: In Spring 2017, the NC General Assembly passed an unfunded K-3 class size mandate which will require smaller class sizes in K-3 for ALL North Carolina elementary schools.

But wait! Aren’t smaller class sizes desirable? Of course. But the mandate lacked discussion with educational professionals and districts across the State and IT NEEDED FUNDING. Imagine smaller K-3 class sizes, but with the following potential impacts across our State:

– Eliminating Art, PE, Music, and Technology jobs to create $$ to pay new K-3 teachers
– 4th and 5th grade class sizes could swell to greater than 29:1 students: teacher ratio
– Middle & High School teaching jobs are cut, leading to larger class sizes to free up $$ to pay new K-3 teachers
– Specials (art, music, tech, languages, etc.) taught by unqualified K-3 teachers

Without funding, this legislation will ultimately diminish the overall educational experience of our children.
———————–
Interested in how to make a greater impact? Join our FB page: Save Our Schools NC for more information, ask questions and find answers regarding the K-3 Statewide mandate, and help us advocate for public schools across North Carolina!

Gomer Pyle Makes a Citizen’s Arrest For Art Classes in NC

Did you ever see the Andy Griffith Show episode where Gomer makes a citizen’s arrest on Barney for making a U-turn on the main street? Take a look.

https://youtu.be/G-VJNJhPCNo

gomer

Baseball cap on sideways. Oily rag in back pocket. Impeccable logic. Steadfast loyalty to rules.

Gomer Pyle was always more than he seemed. So was the man who created that character.

Jim Nabors died today, and while he was a man born in Alabama, migrated to California and eventually settled in Hawaii, his Gomer Pyle character will always rank him as a North Carolinian as well – a North Carolinian who was accessible and relatable to so many who watched and continue to watch the Andy Griffith Show.

If what I have gleaned about Jim Nabors’s life is correct, he was born in the South and went to California and started working in the film industry. He began doing small time theatre and stage acting along with singing.

And Jim Nabors had a beautiful voice. My grandmother had his records in the house I grew up in. The stark contrast from his Gomer Pyle accent and his classically groomed baritone voice was just a reflection of his range as a performer.

We did not have cable growing up. We had an antenna for CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and WTBS which aired episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and the Carol Burnette Show. Jim Nabors was in all three, one of which showcased him as the star. I even remember him in a Sid and Marty Croft Saturday morning show when kids actually watched Saturday morning cartoons.

This middle aged public school teacher can remember the iconic “G-o-o-o-l-l-e-e” and the “Shazam!” and the “Gosh!” that became a staple of Nabors’s character.

Then I think of the fact that he was stage trained, worked in the film industry, was a singer (and therefore in the performing arts), and he played a character who was always more than he seemed.

Jim Nabors made an indelible impression on everyone who watched him perform and his Gomer Pyle is as Old State as it gets.

But the North Carolina that Gomer Pyle loved was a place where the film industry thrived and the arts were celebrated and woven into the fabric of schools. Is that the North Carolina we have today?

Of course NC still remains devoted to the military, but considering the public life of Gomer Pyle and the private life of Jim Nabors, NC has moved away from some of the very foundational tenets someone like Jim Nabors would have wanted to still remain.

Makes this citizen want to scream for a “Citizen’s Arrest.”

Why Teachers Should Be Wary of EVAAS and SAS

In October, the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

In 2013, the state of North Carolina started using a value-added measurement scale to help gauge teacher effectiveness and school performance. Developed by SAS which is headquartered in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, EVAAS collects student data and creates reports that are used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

 

Think of the iceberg and what is seen and what is under the water line.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

There is even a nice little video that one can go to in order to “understand how EVAAS” works (https://ncdpi.sas.com/videos/EVAAS/WhatIsEVAAS.mp4).

EVAAS pic

The whole video is an attempt to validate the use of EVAAS by the state. Except it does not tell anyone how “EVAAS performs value-added analysis.” The only people who know how that works are inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory or as we know it, SAS headquarters.

This past March, Angela Scioli wrote a powerful piece for EDNC.org entitled “EVAAS: An incomplete and painful system for me.” In it she stated,

I did not change anything else about my teaching.  I did not know what to change.  No one met with me to intervene.  No one even spoke to me about the results.  It just sat there, like a black eye I couldn’t cover up, but no one wanted to talk about it.  

The next year, I received my EVAAS results, after using the same methods, and I was now deemed “highly effective.”  I was relieved and confused.  How could that be? (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/21/evaas-incomplete-painful-system/).   

Justin Parmenter’s op-ed entitled “The cost of doing business in the education world” (August 9, 2017) was another powerful expose of a world in which EVAAS is being used to measure teachers and schools. He said,

In the years that followed, EVAAS was rolled out on a larger scale across the district and state, and similar data measuring teacher effectiveness was made available to more teachers. I was dismayed to see that, while some years I apparently had made a difference, there were other years when I did not make much of a difference at all. Some years I even made a negative difference (https://www.ednc.org/2017/08/09/cost-business-education-world/).

This criticism of EVASS is not limited to North Carolina. From the National Education Policy Center:

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the European software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers” (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/houston-you-have-problem).

And the ambiguity of how SAS uses data within the EVAAS program is not lost on many people. From a 2014 WUNC report called “Ranking Teachers: NC Bets Big On A Complicated Stats Model,”

EVAAS is based on that student growth, not the test score itself. And the software is complicated – and some say largely secret. Teachers, principals, even administrators at the state level don’t know everything that goes into the model.

“Now the statisticians, and I’m not a statistician – I’m not the smartest guy in the world – they would say that stuff should even out, and I think they are correct, I’m sure it does even out, when you look at statewide data,” says Jim Key, an assistant superintendent in Durham. “But within a particular classroom? You could have more than a normal share of students who are going through some challenges with their personal lives” (http://wunc.org/post/ranking-teachers-nc-bets-big-complicated-stats-model#stream/0).

That last quote from Mr. Key accurately sums up the relationship between the EVAAS program and the Iceberg Effect.

Simply put, EVAAS only measures what is the tip of the iceberg that is above the water and then it tells us how to view it. It completely disregards what is under the water level.

LET ME REPEAT: EVAAS ONLY MEASURES WHAT IS TO BE SEEN, NOT WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH. IT IS ONLY CONCERNED WITH STUDENT OUTCOMES. IT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR “INEQUITY & INEQUALITY,” “STRESS & VIOLENCE,” “SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS,” AND “SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES.”

Teachers and schools measured by EVAAS actually have to battle against all of the iceberg, not just the tip which is by far the smallest part of the iceberg.

The state pays more than three million dollars annually to SAS which was co-founded and is still run by Jim Goodnight who according to Forbes Magazine is one of the top donating executives to political campaigns. In 2016 he donated much to a PAC for Jeb Bush who while in Florida instituted the school performance grade system that North Carolina uses now – the same one that utilizes EVAAS reports to measure schools (https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/10/forbes-sas-goodnight-among-tech-execs-for-top.html).

It also is worth looking at the fact that his wife, Ann Goodnight, is a co-founder and board member of BEST NC. When BEST NC had its annual legislative meeting it brought in the toxic Michelle Rhee and her campaign for value-added measurements to discuss policy. That “closed-door” meeting was held at SAS headquarters.

The recent principal pay schedule that has garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer utilizes EVAAS data.

Too much is being dictated by a private entity that is privately calculating data in a secret fashion to measure a public good and how much should be spent on that public good in a state that wants to privatize that public good.

There’s too much incestuous synergy there. And all of it is purposefully ignoring the part of the iceberg that is beneath the water line.

In using EVAAS, what the state of North Carolina is doing is sending schools on expeditions in remote icy waters without the use of radar and sonar to navigate themselves. It’s like the Titanic.

But instead of being surprised at the fact that the “unsinkable” actually succumbed to a lonely iceberg, the state has already made a hole in the hull for water to leak in, so even if the “ships” avoid hitting icebergs, they would already have a hard time reaching port. As the “unsinkable” ships begin to sink, the state says we must invest in other alternatives like charter school reform and vouchers, so the money starts going to other modes of “transportation.”

The problem is that the icebergs in our state are getting bigger and more are breaking off. As the income gap widens and as segregationist tendencies begin to take firmer root, systems like EVAAS will still serve as a façade of the actual truth which lies beneath the water.

Of course, SAS could release how it uses data and calculates its reports but that would require transparency.

But icebergs work best in cold, murky, choppy waters. And people in Raleigh like having big icebergs.

Civil Discourse in Public Education “Reform” Cannot Happen If You Refuse to Involve Teachers

civil discourse

Over the last year (and week), much has been said about the need for civility and constructive dialogue especially when discussing the topic of public education.

John Hood has a recent op-ed in EdNC.org entitled “Carolina needs civil, curious leaders.” It begins,

If you are involved in politics and public policy in North Carolina, I have some unwelcome news: lots of North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the quality of our political discourse and leadership (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/22/carolina-needs-civil-curious-leaders/).

I am usually not in agreement with Hood on many things, but I do agree with this statement. He makes a good point.

However, I do take issue with the context in which it is said and the unrevised history that predates it. Hopefully, this post will be civil enough to explain. And yes, it is a little ironic that the subject of civil discourse be the central topic on a post by someone who named his blog Caffeinated Rage.

When you write a blog, you can control the dialogue. If someone makes a comment on a post who does not agree with what is said, it can be dismissed and never posted, but I do not make disagreement a reason for not posting a comment (although cursing and profanity are not published as well as threats to a person).

The issue that this teacher takes is that in order for civil discourse to happen, all parties need to be at least invited to the conversation. And there are a lot of people who have been deliberately not invite to the table, namely teachers.

Mr. Hood has written extensively about the educational reforms that have happened in North Carolina, mostly in praise of what the North Carolina General Assembly has done in the past five years. Just recently he published “On reform, quicken the pace” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/25/reform-quicken-pace/). He began that one with the following:

The annual testing data and report cards for North Carolina’s public schools are out. Here are the headlines. Achievement rose in some areas and declined in others, with most changes being fairly small. Our graduation rate continued to rise, but other data suggest some of these graduates aren’t really college- or career-ready.

The testing mechanisms, the formulas used to measure and disseminate data, and the criteria of the report card grades were constructed by lawmakers and their appointed officials. What civil discourse was there in the creation of those measures?

The “requirements,” the “evaluation protocols,” and the funding of resources were also in the control of lawmakers. Was there any civil discourse when those were created and enacted?

And data about being “college – or career ready?” Betsy DeVos recently gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal and made the following claim:

Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created” (http://www.chalkbeat.com/posts/us/2017/11/21/to-back-up-claim-that-schools-must-change-devos-cites-made-up-statistic-about-the-future-of-work/).

There is absolutely no evidence for that data. Just read the rest of the Chalkbeat report referenced above.

DeVos is not one to be able to bring a lot of people to the table for a civil discourse. She is too polarizing. And while Hood has defended her (“DeVos attackers surrender higher ground”) with a nice armor, he seems to forget that in the discussion of public education, it probably would help if the people in the discussion actually were knowledgeable of public education. In that defense Hood said,

Conservatives like DeVos who believe that applying conservative principles to education policy would benefit students and the public at large could certainly be mistaken. But we have good reasons for advocating the reforms we do. Those reasons stem from personal experience, empirical evidence, and basic insights about why organizations succeed or fail. In our view, those who question our motives are implicitly granting that they can’t refute our arguments. They are surrendering the high ground, not fighting for it” (https://www.carolinajournal.com/opinion-article/devos-attackers-surrender-high-ground/).

The use of “we” with Betsy DeVos, the claim of “personal experiences” about public education, “empirical evidence” that was not evidenced by DeVos’s earlier claim on future jobs, and “basic insights” about a public good that is not an organization is not grounds for claiming the high ground.

In fact (and in the most civil way possible), the very reforms that Hood and others in the conservative movement have championed have done more to hurt public education than help it. Consider:

  • Opportunity Grants
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Push for merit pay
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Removal of graduate degree pay
  • Principal pay restructuring
  • Change in standardized tests
  • Changes in how schools are graded
  • Changed in teacher recruitment
  • Teacher pay unevenly restructured
  • School funding debated in a hurried fashion
  • State Board suing the State Superintendent over unconstitutional transfer of power
  • An Innovative School District that has little public support

And that’s just a small sampling of “reforms” by a General Assembly that has had more laws overturned in court than they had special sessions to come up with those laws. That’s the same General Assembly that forced a Voter ID law in gerrymandered districts.

Where was the civil discourse in those actions? That is not a rhetorical question. Where was the civil discourse there?

Those actions have literally thrown public school teachers (especially veterans) out of the very room where the discourse is supposed to happen. How else can we be heard and more importantly the students whom we serve be heard without raising our voices with higher pitched tones?

Hood stated in the originally referenced op-ed,

“I believe in the value of structured, face-to-face programs. But they can’t scale up large enough to solve the problem on their own. Everyone has a role to play.

We can start by making concerted efforts to avoid politicizing all our personal and professional relationships, or thinking we can always know why “they” disagree with us. Why not ask them?”

Hard to be “face-to-face” when you aren’t allowed in the room. And yes, everyone has a “role to play,” but when a few are constantly redefining the very roles that others are playing, then it is already an uncivil situation.

And veteran teachers are not being “asked” about why they disagree with these “reforms.”

Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that many have been thrown out of the conversation. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss that there is no empirical evidence that what North Carolina has done as far as “reforms” are concerned has actually helped the public education system. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that someone who is highly financed tends to be able to command a least a sizable reading audience.

But those claims do not make that someone “more correct.”

It means that public school advocates are having to speak up more frequently and with more volume to at least be heard with the hopes of being listened to. And many of those advocates are the very teachers who civilly discourse with hundreds of students, parents, and public school stakeholders on daily basis without politicizing the very issues that bring them all together.

It is why some of us drink a lot of coffee and write a blog.

Thankful for Public School Advocates

Maybe today is a good day to mention how thankful I am for public school advocates. And it’s not just today, but every single day that I am thankful.

And that thankfulness has grown into gratitude.

And that gratitude means that I am grateful.

And to me being grateful means that I add action to being thankful and hopefully “pay it forward.”

I began this blog about 18 months ago as a way of helping advocate for public education as  a teacher in public schools, a parent of public school students, and a willing taxpayer who helps finance public schools. On this digital journey, I have come in contact with some of the most tireless public school advocates whose actions to preserve and strengthen our public good continually inspire me to do more.

I am thankful for that.

It is no secret that we stand at a sort of crossroads here in North Carolina when it concerns public education. We have many in power who truly believe that privatizing public education through vouchers, unregulated charter schools, takeover schemes, and constantly changing, yet nebulous standards is the way to proceed.

Public school advocates have fought against this – yesterday, today, and will tomorrow.

I am thankful that people are speaking out against “deforms” in our state system.

I am thankful that people are holding lawmakers and elected officials accountable.

I am thankful that people are showing support for schools in so many ways and becoming involved.

I am thankful that people are beginning to assert themselves as advocates knowing that when it comes to our students we cannot settle for compromise when we say we promise them a good education.

I am thankful that there are organizations and groups committed to helping public education.

I am thankful that so many people have turned their thankfulness into gratitude and taken action to support our schools whether urban, suburban, rural, and all places in between.

I am thankful that it makes me grateful.

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