Don’t Reconsider The School Performance Grading System, Catherine – Eliminate It. But We All Know Who Helped Finance Your Campaign.

The formula is 80% achievement and 20% growth.

Ridiculous.

A school’s grade on its report card is mostly based on standardized test scores. Name another state that does that.

Still waiting.

Anyone who has followed the use of these school performance grades knows that the only real metric that gets measured accurately is how much those grades reflect poverty rates in schools.

From earlier this month in the Charlotte Observer:

Those trends have been in place since the school performance grading system began.

And now we get this bit of publicity:

Look at that again:

“We need to redefine school accountability and rethink what student testing looks like.”

School performance grades are largely measured by EVAAS and EVAAS is a product of SAS and SAS controls a lot of what happens in DPI. Just look.

But it’s what the public sees that is concerning because not everyone knows what happens behind the scenes.

The state pays more than four 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.

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 2018 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.

That new recent principal pay schedule that has garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer of 2018 utilizes EVAAS data.

BEST NC also has had more than a big hand in the recent teacher licensure and pay proposal that is being ever more revealed as a political ploy by advocates such as Justin Parmenter. His recent work is must-read material.

Oh, and that new licensure/ teacher pay plan? It uses EVAAS scores to measure teachers.

And the Goodnights helped to finance Truitt’s last campaign to become the state super.

AND IN ALL OF THIS TALK ABOUT REDEFINING SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADES, TRUITT STILL HAS NOT ANNOUNCED ANY COMMITMENT TO THE LEANDRO COURT DECISION.

If Truitt is really going to redefine accountability and those school performance grades, she will have to acknowledge that how she has been criticizing schools and teachers over the last few years has been through an erroneous lens.

She will have to reassess how much EVAAS has wrongly measured our schools and our teachers.

I highly doubt she will ever do that because her allegiance to SAS and other private entities seems to far outweigh her concern for public schools and educators.

Dammit, Catherine! It’s Still Merit Pay Even If You Say It Isn’t.

The teacher licensure / pay proposal that has taken over 18 months to not even get a full rough draft constructed still is based on merit pay.

And no matter how many times State Supt. Catherine Truitt tries to spin, redirect, or pivot, she still seems to be in denial that merit does not work.

When someone is being paid for performance, then that someone is getting merit pay.

Just look at her quote in the following tweets.

“In the private sector, merit pay is when pay is given out in competition with one another. The pay proposal is competition with oneself. You are being measured against yourself, not someone else. I think it is very important to clarify that compensating teachers according to the impact they have in the classroom, or as Maureen Stover said yesterday at the BEST NC Innovation Lab, ‘Are my students better on Day 180 than on Day 1 because I was their teacher’ is not merit pay.”

Oh, yes it is.

First, when Truitt compares teaching public school to the private sector, she already has a misguided argument. If the failed reforms of the last two decades have taught us anything, it is that you can’t run schools like a business. (It is funny in a sad way that she uses the word “private” so quickly when she is supposed to lead the Department of PUBLIC Instruction.)

Secondly, teachers are not in a competition with themselves.

They are in competition with archaic test scores, lack of resources, false narratives of a state superintendent about learning loss, bad legislation, and secret algorithms.

The fact that the new licensure / pay proposal classifies teachers by levels based on outcomes means that teachers are being measured against other teachers to see who is more deserving of the merit pay. Why? Because if the state is to assume that teachers working now are already at least a level four or higher, they would have already been paid more for what they doing now.

And there is that thing about the state never fully funding a merit pay proposal like that. Remember the ABC’s?

Hell, teachers are in competition with a half-baked pay scheme in a Right-To-Work, At-Will state that outlaws public sector bargaining rights.

Teachers are in competition with a legislature that is funding unregulated charter school growth and the most opaque voucher system in the nation.

Teachers are in competition with a state that does not want to honor the LEANDRO decision.

But Catherine doesn’t want to see it for what it really is because she knows that the term “merit pay” can be a deal breaker.

And she knows this is just merit pay.

Looking At Recurring Vs. Nonrecurring Funds For Public Education

The day before the NC State Supreme Court was to hear arguments about funding the LEANDRO case directive last week, State Supt. Catherine Truitt sent out the following tweet (along with other data points).

The data is below:

Please understand that there is a difference between recurring and nonrecurring funds.

Recurring funds means that that money will be part of the yearly budget allotment. They are not one time offerings of funds. Nonrecurring funds are a one-time only allotment unless the next budget renews it.

Secondly, make sure to notice that many of these budgetary items already have been funded in the budget as recurring items but that Truitt only shows a total amount. The state has already been paying teacher salaries and had funds set aside for school safety. The total she is giving on some items is not all new money, but what was already budgeted added to the new funding.

Also, the state still has funds for COVID relief that it has not spent yet that might be funding some of these increases.

The point is that Truitt is touting funding gains that really do not add up to the sum of the numbers that she is giving. Furthermore, much of what she is bragging are nonrecurring budget items being financed by money that the state did not get from state taxes.

While all that is happening, NC is sitting on billions of dollars in reserves that could be used for public schools.

And there is this LEANDRO decision from the courts that states that a minimal investment of about a billion dollars just this school year is what is needed to being to give all students a quality public education.

Truitt won’t publicly support LEANDRO. And she sure as hell ain’t investing as much money in our schools as she wants you to think she is.

There Are No “Silver Bullets” or “Magic Pills” in Changing Schools – People Make Schools Work. Invest In Them.

There are no “silver bullets” or “magic pills” when it comes to changing a school.

There is no one thing that can be done, no standard blueprint, no Harry Potter spell that can be executed that will make a struggling school turn its fortune around overnight.

Rather, transforming schools is a process – one that has to have the investment of all people involved: administrators, teachers, and students.

That process is rooted in school culture.

Culture – noun  cul·ture  \ ˈkəl-chər \ :t he set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (merriam-webster.com)

That definition suggests multiple variables: “attitudes,” “values,” “goals,” and “practices.” They are “shared,” clearly outlined, nurtured, practiced, modeled, and embraced.

culture

Most schools have one principal and perhaps multiple assistant principals who can set a tone and attitude for the school. But the most effective school administrators are the ones who do not see teachers as an extension of authority or executors of mandates. The most effective school administrators view teachers as the very foundation of what makes a positive school culture.

Those same effective school administrators look to remove obstacles for teachers so that they can do what they do best: teach and help students.

In today’s data-driven world and over-reliance on bottom lines, it is easy to judge schools by a series of standardized, yet nebulous measurements such as ACT scores, EOCT proficiency rates, or even EVAAS projections. To say that those measures do not have any merit is not the point. They do, but to a smaller degree than other variables, ones fostered by school culture.

Positive school culture celebrates the process, not just a score on a test. It focuses on the actions taken to improve all measurable and immeasurable outcomes. It sees the student as a person, an individual, not as a test-taker. It values the roles of the teachers and honors the relationships that each teacher makes with the students. It includes student and parent involvement, the student section, the quality of the yearbook, the number of kids in extracurricluars, and the willingness of a community to support them.

Look at the number of teachers who come early and stay late, who attend events in the school that are not academic. Look at the students who come for tutoring and ask for help because they feel free to advocate for themselves.

Listen to the announcements and see what is celebrated. Look who wears apparel that reflects school spirit.

Look at teacher-turnover rates, student dropout rates, and workplace condition surveys.

When the only valued measure of a school becomes data points whose formulas are never fully revealed, then what happens is that blind faith in algorithms and conversions is greater than the trust in the human capital that is the life force of the school.

Find a principal who can fully explain the algorithms used by SAS to come up with EVAAS predictors. Find a county administrator or a state officer who can.

Find the ACT report that breaks down every strand and standard for each missed question and totally reveals how each student did on each question so complete that it can be used to help remediate.

Find a state or local benchmark test whose answers can be validated by any administrator or teacher having to use it.

Yet in many of those cases, those standardized ways of measuring students have become so much more the focus of many schools and administrators which in turn forces schools to look only at bottom lines and manufactured outcomes. That approach easily dismisses the human element.

Students are human.

Teachers are human.

Administrators are human.

And school culture is driven by students and teachers and nurtured by administrators. It is not measured by numbers, but by atmosphere, attitude, and shared visions. That takes time, effort, communication, and trust. It is something that starts from the inside and grows outward, not the other way round.

There is no “silver bullet” to make that happen.

There is no “magic pill” to swallow.

For schools to have a positive school culture there must be a strong faith in a process that creates a better outcome the more it is practiced. The more input that comes from those invested in the process, the more investment overall.

And when those who are in a school that wants to improve help to create an organic, dynamic culture that celebrates the student/teacher relationship and understands that all positive outcomes cannot be really quantified, then something that is actually magical does appear: a great school.

Besides, we do not need any more bullets in schools. We really do not.

I Don’t Need To Drink DPI’s Kool-Aid To Tell A “Truthful & Authentic” Story About Teaching In NC

There is no doubt that the new merit pay-based teacher licensure and pay proposal is not beneficial to the teaching profession and the state of North Carolina.

When the Department of Public Instruction has to hire a public relations firm whose past includes marketing controversial menthol-infused cigarettes to a certain demographic for a profit to sell that proposal to teachers and legislators, then you know something deceptive is in the works.

What we know about this new licensure/pay proposal was never meant to be publicized. Through the work of teacher advocates like Justin Parmenter and his Notes From The Chalkboard blog, we are being shown the true nature of DPI’s plan to further damage a teacher pipeline to achieve an endgame of turning the teaching profession into prorated work for curriculum deliverers under contracted work.

What is more disheartening is that part of the DPI team who is trying to “sell” this proposal to teachers are former teachers who seem in a short time to have pledged loyalty to a privatizer like State Supt. Catherine Truitt and forgotten what has been happening in classrooms for the last few years.

Specifically, former Teachers of the Year for regions and even the state.

This past April, former state TOY Maureen Stover published an article in EdNC.org entitled “Together we can develop a new licensure system that empowers our teachers.

Within it she stated,

“When I was first introduced to the Pathways to Excellence Licensure model, I was excited because I felt that it was designed for a teacher like me — someone who wants leadership opportunities without going into administration. As I continued to learn more about the model, I realized the incredible potential and positive impact it could have on every teacher from pre-service through veteran in North Carolina.”

It reads like a statement prepared by an entity that was paid for by public tax dollars with all the glittering buzzwords within the arsenal of a public relations firm.

If this proposal was so great then we should be hearing so much more teacher approval swirling in the profession. We should be hearing more teachers touting its benefits. We should hear teachers excited about it. We should be hearing from all of those people in the classrooms who had input.

What we have is a surreptitiously constructed ad campaign put together by a bunch of people who have no idea what teaching through this pandemic was like while non-educators in Raleigh continuously pick and choose their opportunities to either praise or belittle teachers to fit a narrative.

And months after Justin Parmenter began uncovering what was actually happening, these former TOYs are trying to keep plugging a narrative that this proposal is best for NC, a state that has over 25% more vacancies at the start of this school year than last year.

From a Facebook posting this past week:

When someone tells me that he/she wants to share an “authentic and truthful” story, I am preparing for a story about spiritual conversion or a pyramid selling scheme.

Teachers, especially veteran teachers, do not need to be told an “authentic and truthful” story about how someone no longer in the classroom became a teacher. THEY ALREADY HAVE AUTHENTIC AND TRUTHFUL STORIES!

In fact, those teachers who felt compelled for various reasons to pursue other careers for reasons of low pay and disrespect have authentic and truthful stories.

To “sell” a disingenuous plan that will in no way address the reasons that teachers are leaving the profession in a state like NC sounds like a prepared tactic from someone who has drunk too much of the Kool-Aid being served in DPI.

In her op-ed, Stover never mentioned restoration of graduate degree pay, longevity pay, or even due-process rights. She was a teacher when those things were taken away. She knows damn well what those measures did to the teaching profession in North Carolina.

She should also know that over 1 in 5 teachers in NC have national certification and teachers have already been taking on multiple duties to make our schools work despite underfunding. She should also know that there is a court decision called LEANDRO that states that NC has underfunded its public school system for decades.

Now that’s authentic and truthful.

School Performance Grades Come Out Today – The Gerrymandered NCGA’s Continued Use Of Poverty To Drive “School Choice”

Today school performance grades for the 2021-2022 school year were released. The only positive about those school performance grades in relation to the last time they were issued (three years ago) is that the NCGA kept the scale at a 15-point scale instead of what was planned originally for the 2020-2021 school year: making it a 10-point scale.

The formula is still the same however – extreme emphasis on test scores over growth. Grades for the last two years were never released due to the pandemic.

From the January 2019 Public School Forum of North Carolina’s report on top the issues in NC education:

graph

Those were from the last time these grades were released. Not surprisingly, this year’s school performance grades yielded the information shown in the graph above: school performance grades correlate heavily with poverty levels in schools. In fact, it almost is sure-fire measure of poverty rates.

Back to the Charlotte Observer report:

Those trends have been in place since the school performance grading system began. And NC is unique in how it uses their school grading system. From Lindsay Mahaffey, Wake County Board of Education – District 8 in January of 2019 when the last grades were given:

16 states

If NC is the only state that puts more emphasis on proficiency than growth and counts proficiency for 80% for a school performance grade, then NC weighs proficiency at least 30% more than the next ranking state.

For certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

The people who made the decision to institute and maintain the school performance grading system formula and still expand vouchers and rapid charter school growth ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE “REFORMS.”

What if in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale did shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that would have meant?

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE HAD A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE!

There would have been more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board a few school years ago to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but also wanted to shrink scales for those schools’ performance grades.

A legislative body that was elected with unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps.

NC still has policies that hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty would have as much if not a bigger role in the school performance grades released today .

Guess what else happened in 2022?

Voucher expansion!

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. Students who live in poverty in a state that refuses to attack the very issue of poverty will become potential targets for “reform” efforts.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers and new charter schools, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students and newer charter schools are being created simply to provide “choice.”

Lawmakers and education “reformers” know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for “reforms.”

North Carolina Is Actually Financing Three State School “Systems” – Another Attack On Public Education

An explanation of how a smaller piece of the revenue pie is funding public schools because money is being siphoned off to other “initiative” such as:

  • Charter Schools
  • Vouchers
  • Tax Breaks to Corporations
  • Sunshine Fund That Has Billions

Go back a couple of decades.

And about 57-62% of that budget would be directed toward public education in North Carolina.

But in the last decade with “reforms” has caused a per-pupil expenditure that is lower than it was before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation.

And the money that is “allocated” for education is siphoned in different directions.

And it is interesting to whom each of these school “systems” are really accountable to.

And how transparent they really are.

So, what we really have in North Carolina is this:

Two Days Until LEANDRO Hearing: A Look At Some Numbers

The following numbers come from a post by Clayton Henkel at NC Policy Watch today.

K-12 students:

1.4 million — Number of public school students in North Carolina returning to class this week

130,000 — Number attending charter schools

126,000 — Number attending charter schools in 2020-2021

160,528 — Number learning in a homeschooling setting (2021-22 school year)

14,408 — Estimated enrollment of home schoolers in Wake County, which has the largest enrollment of homeschoolers in the state

20,377 — Number of students who received vouchers to enroll in more than 500 nonpublic schools last year

$56 million — Increase NC lawmakers included in the state budget for the Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program.

51 — Percentage of eligible North Carolina 4-year-olds enrolled in the public NC Pre-K program (Source: myfutureNC.org)

75 — Percentage of eligible 4-year-olds in each county enrolled in NC Pre-K in North Carolina by 2030, according to the state’s goal

76% — More than three-quarters of students still attend traditional public schools

$9,958 — North Carolina’s per-pupil spending places the state at 43rd in the nation. (Source: Census.gov)

$11,532 — South Carolina’s per-pupil K-12 spending (Ibid)

$10,954 — Average per-pupil spending in the South (Ibid)

$865 — Average amount per U.S. household planned for back-to-school spending this year

In higher education:

244,508
 — Number of students enrolled in the UNC system (2021 system enrollment report)

500,000+ — Enrollment in North Carolina’s Community College System, a network of 58 public community colleges

2 million — Number of adults with a post-secondary degree or high-quality credential by 2030, according to the state’s goal (Source: myfutureNC.org)

1.2 million — Number of North Carolinians ages 25-44 who hold an associate’s degree or higher

Our teaching workforce:

23,418 — Number of North Carolina teachers who have earned National Board Certification, the highest credential in the teaching profession

23% — Percentage of all teachers in the state holding the National Board Certification

$54,150 — Average annual teacher salary in North Carolina

24.5% — The “pay penalty” — the compensation disparity — between North Carolina teachers and other comparable college-educated workers

11,297 — Number of teacher and staff vacancies superintendents reported earlier this month just ahead of the new school year

1,342 — Number of bus driver vacancies across the state as of Aug. 19

2013 — Year that North Carolina lawmakers removed salary increases for educators with advanced degrees

11 — Number of days since a subcommittee of the state Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission voted 9-3 to ask the State Board of Education to seek reinstatement “master’s pay” in hopes of improving teacher retention

$526 — Average amount  North Carolina teachers spend of their own money to buy classroom supplies for their students

2 — Number of days remaining before the Leandro school funding case returns to the NC Supreme Court — education advocates will hold a press conference and prayer vigil at 9 a.m. ahead of Wednesday’s court hearing, at 2 E. Morgan St., Raleigh

Supt. Truitt Is The Last Person To Criticize College Debt Forgiveness. Why?

It’s funny that our state superintendent post the following tweet in response to President Biden’s announcement of college loan forgiveness for many in the nation (and NC).

Why? Because it’s just highly hypocritical coming from her.

Here’s the post.

That’s rich coming from the person who was the initial chancellor of the state’s “franchise” of a private online university that has historically low graduation rates and received taxpayer money to become embedded in NC.

Remember this? It was proposed rather secretly within the 2015 budget – page 86 to be specific.

WGU1

On May 21, 2015, Sarah Ovaska-Few reported on the controversial online college known as Western Governors University and its shady introduction to North Carolina in “Controversial online college on its way to North Carolina?” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/05/21/controversial-online-college-on-its-way-to-north-carolina/).

Some of the more eye-opening, yet not surprising elements of that report included:

  • “A controversial online university that credits students for their existing skills and knowledge could soon have a larger role in North Carolina, with a funding stream carved out in the state House’s version of the budget.”
  • “Though WGU is not named directly in the budget, a reference deep in the 317-page proposed budget (pages 86 and 87) written by House Republicans would allow a private online school that uses the competency model of education to receive some of the nearly $90 million slated for need-based scholarships the state provides to low-income students attending private colleges and universities in the state.”
  • “The online school is also quick to accept students’ previous college credits, but once students began taking classes at WGU, it can be difficult to get those classes recognized outside the online university, Pressnell said.”
  • “WGU’s six-year completion or graduation rate is only about 38 percent, a number that WGU hopes to raise to over 60 percent in coming years, said Mitchell, the spokeswoman for the Utah-based online university.”

And then there is this:

Rather than use the time in the previous 18 months since she has been in office to campaign for a better solution to the horrible principal pay program before it came into effect at the worst possible time, Truitt is using taxpayer money in the form of COVID relief money to avoid bad public relations.

And speaking of taxpayer money being used to bail out someone (credit to Kris Nordstrom):

Yes. That’s her husband.

So before Truitt even starts to think about showing how her “taxes” have been raised to “pay” for this debt relief for NC citizens, maybe she could comment on the constant lowering of corporate tax rates in NC when there is a major court decision called LEANDRO that states that NC has vastly underfunded public education for decades.

But until that happens maybe she can address the hypocrisy of her stint at Western Governors University, her use of taxpayer money to avoid ugly publicity, and her husband’s forgiven PPP loans that dwarf any person’s college debt affected by the recent action by Biden.

The Classroom Library – Getting More Students To Read

If you teach reading or language arts in any capacity in a public school, one of the most dynamic resources you can offer your students is a classroom library.

No, not a bookshelf with copies and class sets of school bought books and ancillary materials from past (and now ancient) textbook adoptions.

But actual individual books. Varied in nature. Spanning multiple genres. Written by people of various backgrounds.

Books that have been read. Dog-eared. Annotated. Crinkled spines.

Books that you are familiar with so when a student asks about them, you can discuss why that book has merit.

Books that you don’t mind go missing for long periods of time because it is possibly being read by someone who may never have had a chance to read it before.

As a veteran teacher, I have always had a small shelf of books that I have read and taught on display for students to peruse. However, one of the wonderful aspects of being a veteran teacher is gleaning new ideas from new young teachers. One of those was creating an authentic reading library in the classroom that possessed a wide variety of texts that students were allowed to borrow from and read.

So, I expanded the small bookshelf into something bigger.

All of those books in my house still in boxes that need to be given away? They came to my classroom.

When the school library started replacing texts with new titles, I took the older books and placed them in my classroom.

When I went to Goodwill, I scanned the books and purchased ones that I had read before or had some sort of link to what students might be interested in.

When I go to a public library, I go to the section sometimes called “Friends of the Library” where they sell donated texts for small amounts of money as a fundraiser and put them in my classroom. Almost 100 titles have come from the Greene County Public Library in Greensboro, GA, my hometown of 4,000 people. It resides on the same block as my childhood home where my grandmother still lives. Ian McEwan, Mark Twain, J. M. Coetzee, Frank McCourt, Michael Chabon, Shel Silverstein, Somerset Maugham, and others have traveled from that small town to my classroom.

Why do this? Because students need to see teachers enmeshed in the very subject they teach and see those same teachers as students still hungry to learn more and willing to follow curiosities. It expands the workable “canon” of the course. It provides opportunity to create assignments based on choices and independent initiative.

Students need to feel safe enough to come to the “library” and pick something that might interest them. And as a teacher, I need to be fine with them taking a book and possibly dog-earing it more, crumpling more of the pages, or even not returning it.

But hopefully, it will get read by that student and maybe others.

More and more teachers I know in my own school and in other places have classroom libraries. Students notice this. It shows them that reading is one of the most authentically cool things to do, and what active independent reading does for students in other academic endeavors cannot be measured by standardized tests.

Besides, it shows students how nerdy I really am.

And I am proud of being a nerd.

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