Thinking of School Lunches and Federal Guidelines

Today, The New York Times reported the following:

“This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced its final plans to lower nutrition standards for grains, flavored milks and sodium in school cafeterias that were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that Michelle Obama, the former first lady, had advocated – “Trump Administration Rolls Back Obama-Era Rules for School Lunches.”

That report began with a quote from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Governor of Georgia.

“I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk,” Mr. Perdue told reporters in May 2017, while discussing his plan to relax Obama-eraschool lunch rules. It was one of his first days on the job.

It is reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s supposed classifying ketchup as a vegetable. From The Washington Post in 1981, Reagan’s first year in his first term:

Charging that the Agriculture Department “not only has egg on its face, but ketchup, too,” Budget Director David A. Stockman said yesterday he had ordered the withdrawal of proposed federal rules that would have listed ketchup and pickle relish as vegetables in school lunches.

He said the controversial guidelines, which also would have allowed the substitution of soybean cakes for hamburger and doughnuts for bread, were the result of a “bureaucratic goof.”

Stockman’s rough-edged remarks were an obvious effort at damage-control. The proposed redefinition of the school lunch has let the Democrats embarrass the administration as rarely before. But Stockman’s effort to stop one flap instantly started another. Agriculture Secretary John R. Block, whose department issued the regulation, was sorely miffed.

When diet related health problems become more and more of a burden on medical costs and insurance premiums, it is disheartening to see that many school children will not have food as nutritionally balanced as it could be because of bureaucracy and special interests.

If you want to see what can possibly happen in some school cafeterias, then check out what Jamie Oliver, The Naked Chef, presented in the following TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver?language=en.

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And take notice of the part where he brings out a wheelbarrow of sugar cubes that is equivalent to some students’ intake of chocolate milk during elementary school.

Maybe Sonny Perdue should see that as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If North Carolina Wants to Attract and Retain Great Teachers, Then It Needs to RESPECT Teachers, Not Simply “Reward” Them

In an April 12, 2016 report from the Lumberton NC paper The Robesonian (“McCrory: Former teacher inspired pay proposal”), Sarah Willets quoted Gov. McCrory as being inspired by a former teacher to suggest a pay hike for teachers in that election year. He said:

“Ruth Revels was one of those teachers who had a lasting impact and influence on me. I will always remember her passion and strong belief in each one of her students. In honor of Mrs. Revels who recently passed away, I announced a plan to reward teachers for their hard work and raise average pay to over $50,000 plus benefits.”

When someone remembers a teacher’s impact on his life, that teacher must have been special. In fact, there are many Mrs. Revels in this state and many more are still embarking on the teaching profession.

But I am stuck on one word – “reward”.

A reward is something that is given in recognition of someone’s service, effort, and/or achievement. One could get a reward for doing well on a project or completing a task. Some could look at a bonus check as a reward for accomplishing a goal.

However, this teacher wants more than a reward from my General Assembly. This teacher wants respect for all of our public school teachers. People like Phil Berger and Tim Moore seem to think that rewards can drive more people into the teaching profession. Think bonuses, merit pay, and other carrot/stick measures.

Actually respect for the profession and treating the profession as one of respect for what it does would not only attract more candidates for teaching; it would help to keep them in the profession.

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously. There are many stark differences between rewards and respect.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just your campaign speeches and vague promises.

And respect can work both ways. For those lawmakers who view public education as a priority and view teachers with respect, I will not only reward them with my vote, I would show my respect by supporting them throughout their terms.

But most importantly, don’t reward me for teaching. Respect me for being a teacher.

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Look at Teacher Pay in This Way

“The average wage nationally for people who hold at least a four-year college degree, as teachers must, is $66,872, according to the U.S. Department of Labor”(https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/05/16/comparing-your-salary-teacher-pay-north-carolina/617441002/).

Below is the latest salary schedule for teachers in North Carolina.

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Now that a new teacher in North Carolina cannot get a pay bump for a graduate degree, the most he/she will ever make in a career according to this schedule is 58,240 if he/she chooses to invest money into national certification (which NC used to pay for).

One might argue that this salary schedule will show increases in the years to come. That same argument could be made for all salaries; therefore, the average salary for anyone with a comparable educational background will rise as well.

What follows is a chronological list of quotes, statistics, and other reports about teacher pay, the need to raise the teaching profession, and the walking contradiction that is State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

April 18, 2016:

According to media reports, average teacher pay in North Carolina ranks 42nd nationally. Last year, the state legislature increased starting teacher pay and gave teachers a one-time bonus of $750.

Atkinson said average principal pay in North Carolina public schools is 49th or 50th in the nation.

She said a 30 percent drop in enrollment in university and college teacher education programs statewide since 2010, was largely due to low teacher pay.
“Our teachers are better educated than ever today, but we’ve got challenges,” she said (http://www.journalpatriot.com/news/atkinson-teacher-shortage-looms/article_066628f0-0592-11e6-9d1f-97e69c4ecc03.html).

September 7, 2016:

“Most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges. They are not to blame, and I am grateful to lawmakers in Raleigh (and my fellow board members in Forsyth County) for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them.” – Mark Johnson (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/our-american-dream/).

September 30, 2016:

Johnson supports continued salary increases, the teacher-leader model and increasing pay for teachers working in struggling schools. But Johnson said teachers also need better professional development opportunities and to be treated “like professionals” – Mark Johnson (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/education-candidates-spar-on-teacher-salaries-charter-schools-and-more/article_a75fbf84-9f8b-5a81-8ad3-8f4b24880b5d.html).

December 20, 2017:

“So, we worked with the General Assembly to secure $105 million for desperately needed new schools in our most economically disadvantaged counties and to reestablish NC Teaching Fellows scholarships to support future educators who will teach hard-to-staff subjects” – Mark Johnson (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

January 26, 2018:

The median weekly salary nationally for full-time workers between the age of 20 and 24 in the last quarter of 2017 was $528 a week, or $27,456 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It increased to $724 a week, or $37,648 a year, for people between the ages of 25 and 34 (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article196911774.html?__twitter_impression=true).

January 26, 2018:

But looking only at college graduates, students majoring in other professions reported much higher starting salaries than new teachers. The average salary for an education major in the Class of 2017 was $37,046 nationally, compared to $74,183 for computer science majors, $64,530 for engineering majors and $53,259 for math and statistics majors, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers(http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article196911774.html?__twitter_impression=true).

January 26, 2018:

During a question-and-answer session Thursday at the N.C. School Boards Association’s policy conference in Raleigh, Johnson said that the base state starting salary of $35,000 for North Carolina teachers was “good money” and “a lot of money” for people in their mid-20s (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article196911774.html?__twitter_impression=true).

January 26, 2018:

“But that $35,000 mark for a starting salary if you’re in your early 20s, that is really good, especially in some of our rural districts.” – Mark Johnson (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-defends-teacher-pay-comments-amid-criticism/17292076/).

January 26, 2018:

“Teaching is the most important job. It’s one of the most difficult. Without teachers, no one else has a profession.” – Mark Johnson (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-defends-teacher-pay-comments-amid-criticism/17292076/).

January 26, 2018: 

From Thad Ogburn of the N&O – @thadogburn

johnson salary

Yes, teachers have an argument that we need to receive higher salaries. But look at it in the light of what teachers receive in comparison to other professions that require a comparable educational background (4-year degree, etc.). Then make an honest decision about how important it is to keep great qualified teachers in the classroom for their entire careers.

Vouchers, Privately-Run Charters, And an ISD – Using Systemic Poverty to Privatize Public Education in North Carolina

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

Those performance grades also help to fuel “reform” efforts.

EdNC.org released a new version of its Data Dashboard that allows users to filter for different variables when viewing data pertaining to NC’s school performance grades.

This is what this year’s performance grades look like when viewing them as plotted on a map of the state.

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Look at that more closely.

map2

And look at the numbers of student body percentages that received free & reduced lunches as correlated with the school performance grades.

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No school that had 0 – 25% free and reduced lunch (low poverty) received a score of “D” of “F”. The other bars explain themselves.

The default settings are set at how the current grades are calculated: 15 point scale and 20% growth / 80% “achievement”. But that grading point scale will be changing soon.

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That will seismically change things and the interactive map shows that.

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Just changing the grading scale to a ten point scale would increase the number of students in “low performing” and failing schools nearly threefold.

Those school performance grades are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis on achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

The people who made the decision to change the school performance grading system formula next year, expand vouchers, create an ISD school district, and deregulate charter school growth ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF REFORMS THAT ACTUALLY PRIVATIZE PUBLIC EDUCATION.

Imagine if more emphasis was placed on “growth” than achievement as measured by amorphous standardizes tests. Here is what the scores would look like on a 15 point scale if growth and achievement were equally balanced.

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But the current NCGA will not allow that to happen. Those test scores mean too much to a plan.

It is no wonder the most recent school chosen to be taken over by the Innovative School District is a “high poverty” school: Carver Heights Elementary School in Wayne County.

It is a school that has a 90% free & reduced lunch population.

And just recently, DPI under Mark Johnson (who is all in for these “reforms”) received a grant to open up more charter schools for “economically disadvantaged” students.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools will receive $23.6 million over five years to help the state’s charter schools meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students. North Carolina is one of eight states to receive the Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program grants from the U.S. Department of Education. 

The funding, which totals $10.4 million for the federal fiscal year that began Monday, will be used for sub-grants to new and existing charter schools to:

  • Assist new charter schools that will serve a large economically disadvantaged student population in their planning year 
  • Assist charter schools in their first three years of operation that serve a large, economically disadvantaged student population
  • Assist high-quality charter schools that serve a large economically disadvantaged population and want to replicate
  • Assist high-quality charter schools that want to expand to serve a larger economically disadvantaged population

“North Carolina’s charter schools should be laboratories of innovation, proving grounds for ideas that can be scaled across all our schools and all student populations,” said State Superintendent Mark Johnson. “This funding will allow schools to better serve our students in the most need and increase the diversity of students served by charter schools(https://www.ednc.org/2018/10/03/department-of-public-instruction-wins-federal-grant-to-expand-charter-school-opportunities-for-traditionally-underserved-students/).”

Makes one want to look at the districts that were redrawn by the current powers that be to help make the political landscape remain intact; that is what gerrymandering is supposed to do.

Makes one want to see what schools were most affected by the hurricanes that forced many to close for a while and while being allowed to “forgive” missed days, the NCGA did not allow for much in the way for calendar flexibility. Will that affect  “achievement”scores? That’s not a rhetorical question.

What this really shows is that in a state that did not expand Medicaid, gave huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy but not to the average North Carolinian, runs on a supposed surplus, and chooses not invest fully in its public schools, systemic poverty becomes a reason to enact “reforms” that profit a few and not the state as a whole.

The Best Spirit Wear You Can Own Comes From Your Local High School – And It Makes Great Presents for the Holidays

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

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

When my daughter was attending middle school, she often wore West Wear because she spent so much time with me at school that she felt a part of the culture. Now that she is in the 11th grade at West, she has a nice collection of her own garb, specifically hoodies – that she got from my collection. Daughters do that apparently.

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

He is a part of the culture.

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

Open the closet and I can probably tell you when I got each particular item of spirit clothing and the occasion that it might have marked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And students notice that.

Wear those items with pride

For years to come.

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

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

 

Let Us Praise Great High School Coaches

Let us praise great high school coaches.

whistle

If you teach long enough in the public schools, you will be fortunate enough to come across some great individuals who coach sports teams all the while teaching these very players lessons of life and success even in the wake of defeat.

And I want to praise great coaches, especially the ones I work with and have worked with.

When winning seems to be the only criteria by which many measure the success of a team, a great coach understands that winning is much more than a final score. That “W” in the “Win” column is the culmination of a process by which young people are pushed, nurtured, taught, challenged, and built. That same process is the part rarely seen in the media or by the fans.

In a world where statistics are obsessed over by not only fans and players, but also parents and scouts, great coaches see that as secondary to the chemistry of the team. When people squabble over playing time and egos, great coaches see that team is more important than one individual.

When a team wins, great coaches give the players credit. When a team loses, great coaches look at themselves as the first to be accountable and find ways to help the team reflect on those losses. Why? It’s part of the process.

Great coaches see the team as more powerful than the sum of its parts put together because building a community where a common goal drives the participants is part of that process of being successful. Great coaches praise players in public, encourage loudly, and practice discipline and leave constructive criticism behind closed doors in locker rooms, practice, and dugouts.

Great coaches care about their players as students. It is quite often how I tell people who do not teach that so many players perform better academically while in season than out of season. The time management and the added incentive to keep playing helps many students make the needed commitment to academics and family.

Great coaches have probably kept so many students out of trouble because when spending time being mentored and coached negates opportunities to create conflict.

Let us not forget that most of these great coaches are teachers in the same schools where they coach. They take care of our students in so many ways. And if they were actually paid an actual living wage for the time they spent preparing players, mowing fields, cleaning courts, talking to media and parents, and other unseen duties, they would be walking home with a much larger paycheck.

If you want to witness what the effect that a great coach can have on a school and its surrounding community, then go to the games, see the support, watch the passion of the players, and see the pride of the student sections.

And pay for the ticket. Any money made from a high school athletic contest goes straight back into an investment in our kids.

About That Letter From the State Treasurer to Teachers With the State Insurance Plan

From our State Treasurer:

“Did You Know?

During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.

What Can You Do?

You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”

Many teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA who is also the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent a letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And simply put, his letter was rather insulting, at least to me and to some other teachers.

I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state.

And that paragraph under the “Did You Know?” heading actually shows a bit of a contradiction in how the state seems to treat the teaching profession: as prices for services and products go up in most every segment of the economy, the willingness to invest in those very things seems to not be the same.

What if the words associated with benefits were replaced with words associated with public education?

“During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on public schools. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for education only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion deficit in unfunded mandates for public education. This liability is a result of promises that were made for our state’s students but no money was ever put aside to pay for those.”

That’s actually what really happened with public education: watching costs rise to properly educate students and recruit and keep quality teachers without raising our own investments to keep up with those costs.

And the idea that we teachers and government employees must try and cut costs to help the state finance insurance benefits when the state literally is giving massive corporate tax breaks and limiting the very revenues that come to the state to begin with is rather hypocritical.

Maybe Folwell needs to talk to Blue Cross and Blue Shield and get them to better negotiate prices for medical care and not us.

Because telling a bunch of teachers to “save” money on their medical costs to help the state is like telling teachers to teach more students with less money spent per pupil.

Oh, wait.

That’s already happening.

Distorting How Our Public Schools Are Really Performing – Raleigh’s Use of “Revisionist History” Concerning Public Education

I could not tell you how many times a student has asked me what my SAT score was – probably to compare his/her score against mine.  (To tell you the truth, I do not remember as most colleges when I applied for school took the best combined score).

The problem is that there really is no comparable way of measuring an SAT score from the fall of 1987 to one thirty years later. The test itself has undergone so many changes and iterations. How colleges look at the test has changed. My alma mater, Wake Forest, does not place emphasis on it as it did when I applied many moons ago.

 

In fact, my GPA as an undergraduate does not even abide by the same scale as students at Wake are measured by now. There was no distinction between a B-minus and a B-plus during my matriculation.

Imagine the changes that have occurred in high schools –  NCLB, EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, RTTP, AYP’s, School Performance Grades, Common Core, NC Finals, Benchmarks, etc. have all undergone changes and “re-norming.”

Furthermore, look how many people take the tests in comparison to years ago. In many cases, it is required of all students to take tests. Here in NC, they all take the ACT.

Someone’s making a lot of money from that.

To equate current data in student achievement to historical data is really not that easy to do, but when the names of certain tests and terms never change, it is very easy to think that measuring data now to previous sets is fluid.

Many politicians and education reformers know that and take advantage of many people’s lack of understanding that comparing current data with historical data goes deeper than the names of the tests.

It allows these politicians and reformers to use “revisionist history.”

Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known writer many books that call into question our interpretation of social phenomena and what we may assume are tried and true relationships of cause and effect. Titles like David and GoliathOutliers, and The Tipping Point are staples in my AP English Language & Composition choice-read units because they force students to question their criteria of how they determine truth.

Gladwell also has a rather poignant podcast called Revisionist History. Episodes explore how our interpretations of what has happened in the past are often clouded by how others present their “truths” which may purposefully exclude crucial facts and hidden clues to the actual truth.

That term “revisionist history” suggests a purposeful facade has been placed over some historical event in order to skew its appearance in the present.

Public education, especially here in North Carolina, is a victim of revisionist history. When people like Betsy DeVos cry over our world rankings on tests or when our own state superintendent, Mark Johnson, bemoans the “status quo,” what they are not showing is how the very terrain of how student achievement is measured has morphed considerably in the last two decades. Especially ironic is that DeVos and Johnson have between them two years of classroom experience. That’s not a lot of history in the classroom.

But the terms by which we name these measurements have not changed; therefore, we as a public can feel a false sense of security in our knowledge of how well public education is doing.

Consider the following (at least in North Carolina):

  1. All school systems in NC now operate under a ten-point scale. In the past, a “70” was the lowest passing grade a student could receive in many districts. Now it is a “60.”
  2. Some school systems have a minimum grade allowed for a student on a report card: “50.” Couple that with the first condition and of the 51 actual numerical grades that a student can receive, only 10 of those are failing grades (“50”- “59”).
  3. Graduation rates are altered. It is interesting to think that those rates can be measured differently from state to state. Does it include students who graduate in only four years? Five years? Who finish at least with a GRE?
  4. Definitions of what is proficient on standardized test results changes constantly. Some people may call it a “curve,” but what really is happening is that a “conversion formula” is used to create a final grade. In some instances, that may change from semester to semester. Plus, we have those in power who can’t tell proficiency from growth.
  5. In the last two to three decades the nation has seen a rapid rise in standardized tests on federal, state, and local levels. Who makes those tests and how they are graded are rather vague in many cases. Writing tests may actually be graded by algorithms and not people.
  6. There is the move move to all online testing for convenience and economic reasons takes away from the kinetic advantages of using pen and paper.
  7. Funding for resources in public schools constantly changes. Actually, it keeps decreasing. In NC, schools are receiving less per-pupil expenditures than they did before the Great Recession (adjusted for inflation).
  8. Schools are measured differently than they were just a few years ago. In NC, there is the school performance grading system that uses variables like the ACT, which ALL students must take on a school day. The ACT designed to be taken by those students who wish to apply to college. Not all students want to go to college.
  9. Those school performance grades in NC and school “report cards” are calculated by a company called SAS. The algorithms they use in coming up with those results are secret. Educators do not know if those calculations use a constant formula.
  10. End-of-course tests and standardized finals have changed considerably over the last few years and many do not know who writes them.
  11. Many students are now taking more classes as a seven period day is being replaced with block scheduling. That means that students now take eight classes in a school year.

And that’s just a few.

When the criteria for how we measure schools and student performance are constantly in flux, then the people who control the data can present it in any way they like. It allows for revisionist history.

And that can skew the truth.

Maybe Malcolm Gladwell could investigate that in his next book. I would certainly add it to my choice-read selection list for school.

Oh, by the way, you can take the ACT or SAT as many times as you would like as long as you pay the money.

When a “Zero” Becomes a “50” And Other Miracles in Educational Reform

So, are you a glass is half- empty person or a glass is half-full person? It’s a generic question. I know.

Preferably, I would like to be around a water source and not worry if I had enough to fill a glass and just drink my fill.

But there is another way to never have to worry about if a glass is half-full or half-empty. Just pour what you have into a smaller glass and change the paradigm.

That’s exactly what has happened with many school districts in their decisions to make a “50” the lowest possible grade a student could receive for a quarter grade on a report card.

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Let me explain. In a four quarter system for a yearlong A/B class like an AP course, a student could do absolutely no homework, complete zero papers, and refuse to answer any questions on any assessment and get a true zero percent for a quarter score while that student was present for class on almost all possible days.

I would still have to give that student a “50” for the quarter. That’s ten points below a passing grade for doing nothing.

I could have a student who is busting his/her butt to complete work, but is not mastering the concepts as quickly as others. I offer tutoring, extra credit, and differentiate instruction, but that student is still struggling. That student gets a 65 for the quarter.

I would have to say that there is more than a fifteen point differential in the performance of the two students.

It is hard to fathom, but there are students who literally can do nothing for over half the year (or semester for a block class) and still salvage a passing grade in a class where other students have literally sweated and toiled just to pass. They simply pass two quarters and the state exam, an exam that is not made by the teacher but a third party and graded by a third party who then can designate a conversion formula to alter the outcome.

I don’t like it.

Proponents of this policy for a “50” being the lowest possible quarter grade argue that it allows a student to not be placed in a hole of academic failure for a bad quarter. It gives them a chance to work out of the abyss of failure.

However, when you place a 10 point letter grade system for all high schools in North Carolina where a “60” is a “D”, it means that of the 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing. I am not sure that this is saving grades for students or actually enabling many of them to play the system.

Think of it this way. I am getting older. My metabolism is not what it used to be. My body does not have that teenage ability to heal quickly and take the demands of rigorous sports activity. Consequently, I weigh more than I did years ago.

What if all of a sudden, the state’s health department changed the guidelines by which obesity is defined? All of a sudden, in the eyes of the medical community, I am not as overweight as I was in previous days because the labeling has changed; the measurements have changes.

Does that make me healthier all of a sudden? No. My body is still my body. You can’t make it healthier by changing the criteria.

But we can make students more successful academically using the same logic? I don’t think so. What if we extended this policy of inflation for other areas of students’ lives? It would be hard to do that in this economy. Many of the students in my classes today have jobs. If they decided not to show up for work without an excusable reason, then they will get fired. If they drive a car and they (or their families) miss a car payment, then they will lose the car.

I guess my point is that we are not doing students a great favor by artificially raising a bad grade due to lack of performance and work. When doing no work at all can still get you half of the points available in a quarter grade, students might be getting a message that that cushion will exist for them at all times.

It won’t.

A good teacher will work with a student, if the student is willing to work. There is tutoring. There is spending extra time looking over a paper or problem. There is conferencing. There are lots of available options to help a student raise a grade that involves still learning. The grade is authentically earned.

In that respect, students learn to advocate for themselves. And that will serve them wonderfully throughout all of their lives.

NC Should Re-institute Graduate Degree Pay For Teachers For Many Reasons

The GOP-led NC legislature’s 2013 decision to end graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers entering the teaching profession was not only misguided, but another wave in the assault on public education here in the Old North State.

I confess there exist numerous studies that have shown that advanced degrees do not correlate with higher test scores and/or higher graduation rates. John Hood’s October 2015 op-Ed “Not a matter of degrees” on EdNC.org makes note of these studies. He states:

Since 1990, scholars have published more than 100 studies in academic journals that tested the relationship between teachers having graduate degrees and some measure of educational success, such as test-score gains or increases in graduation rates. In more than 80 percent of the studies, there was no statistically significant relationship. A few of the studies actually found a negative effect. Only 15 percent produced a positive association (https://www.ednc.org/2015/10/26/not-a-matter-of-degrees/).

And again, Mr. Hood brings up the teacher effectiveness versus student achievement in this week’s op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “Subject mastery produced best teaching” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/07/subject-mastery-produced-best-teaching/).

Hood recently stated,

In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Surveys, a team of Dutch scholars analyzed the academic research on teacher quality conducted since the 1970s by researchers across the developed world. The authors picked only high-quality studies, excluding those with inadequate statistical controls or other defects. Then they summarized the results.

One of them will be familiar to readers of this column: teachers with graduate degrees are no more effective than teachers without them. This is one of the most replicated findings in modern education research — which makes it all the more outrageous when the North Carolina legislature is attacked for getting rid of teacher bonuses for acquiring graduate degrees.

You can read that study here: www.tierweb.nl/tier/assets/files/UM/Working%20papers/TIER%20WP%2014-28.pdf.

Yet, those words still do not convince this teacher that having advanced degrees is not beneficial for teachers, students, and schools.

And his use of the word “bonus” is rather intentional. Teachers call it a salary increase. That brings up another debate on rewards versus respect – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/10/the-reward-of-having-respect/.

On the sterile surface of an antiseptic world, Hood’s argument holds a lot of weight. But it does make sense to look at the study more closely rather than just gloss over “results.”

On pages 27-28 of the Dutch study referred to by Hood this week there is a table of data labeled Table 12.

In Table 12, the main outcomes of this literature review are shown. In the first three columns, a general tentative conclusion about the results per topic is given for respectively math, reading and other subjects. In the last three columns we show the number of studies which and positive results, negative results or non-significant results for each topic. The general tentative conclusion is based on the number of studies with positive, non-significant and negative findings, combined with the strength of the evidence provided by the respective studies.

table

The first “topic” indicates that 5 studies show a positive correlation between student achievement and education level, 15 that show no correlation, and 5 that show a negative correlation. Go down the list and you see how each “topic” rates according to the meta-analysis of the Dutch researchers.

Interesting that experience is fairly one-sided in this table. Mr. Hood has made several references to studies that talk about how teacher effectiveness plateaus after a shirt number of years. It fits the narrative of the current NCGA GOP majority and reflected in their altered pay scales. But in this study that he praises, he doesn’t really explain that.

He’s too focused on the graduate degree pay bump argument.

Further in the study under the “Discussion and Conclusion” section, it states,

Although the research on teacher quality has contributed to our knowledge of which teacher characteristics improve learning outcomes of their students, there remains a gap between the estimated teacher effects on student outcomes and the extent in which underlying observable teacher characteristics can account for these effects. Apparently easily measurable characteristics like education, credentials and experience can explain only a small part in the variation of teacher quality and the resulting effects on student test scores (28-29).

The words “CAN EXPLAIN ONLY A SMALL PART IN THE VARIATION OF TEACHER QUALITY AND THE RESULTING EFFECTS ON STUDENT TEST SCORES” really resonate.

Research, especially the kind that is conducted in most controlled variable studies, tries to isolate “measurables” and compartmentalize them.

As a teacher, I can assure you that they (all of the topics in Table 12 above) are all so intertwined that it is too hard to even conceive of measuring one without having to consider the others. They are not mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, the terrain that teachers in North Carolina have to travel everyday constantly changes with all of the flux in policy coming from Raleigh. In fact, West Jones Street might be the most uncontrollable variable in the entire equation of public education in North Carolina.

Look at the years for all of the studies in the Dutch paper. They are all over the place.

Since 1990, we as a nation have transitioned from Clinton to Bush to Obama; we have survived No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. As a state, we have gone from the Standard Course of Study all the way to Common Core (and its amorphous successor?). And we have used several versions of EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s.

The point is that we have employed so many different barometers of learning utilizing various units of measurements that to actually compare current data on student achievement to historical data becomes almost futile. Even the SAT has changed multiple times since I took it in high school.

However, there is one constant in our classrooms that has provided the glue and mortar for public schools since 1990 and well before that: experienced teachers. Again, refer back to Table 12.

If the North Carolina General Assembly thinks that abolishing the graduate degree pay increases for teachers was a good policy, then it still needs to convince North Carolinians that our state does not need veteran teachers who are seasoned with experience. Teachers who seek graduate degrees in education (and/or National Certification) are themselves making a commitment to pursue careers in public education. When the state refused to give pay bumps for graduate degrees, then the state just ensured that North Carolina will not have as many veteran, experienced teachers in our schools in the near future. Those teachers will not be able to afford to stay in the profession. Yet, we as a state cannot afford to lose them.

Some teachers do not wish to earn graduate degrees simply because of time constraints and financial barriers. Some do not need graduate degrees to feel validated as master teachers, but the choice to further one’s education to advance in a chosen occupation should always remain and be rewarded. And if a teacher believes that it is beneficial to earn an advanced degree, then it can only help the teacher’s performance. Besides, it is an investment made by teachers who wish to remain in the educational field, especially when teachers here in NC still make salaries that still rate at the bottom part of the national scale. Even former Governor McCrory called the teacher salaries “chicken feed” in an episode of NC Spin during his last campaign.

In a report published in Education Week in March, 2015 entitled “New Studies Find That, for Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter”, Stephen Sawchuck recounted findings by Brown University scholars saying:

The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions, coming up in debate after debate about pay, professional development, and teacher seniority, among other topics.

 

But findings from a handful of recently released studies are raising questions about that proposition. In fact, they suggest the average teacher’s ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career—and likely longer.

 

Moreover, teachers’ deepening experience appears to translate into other student benefits as well. One of the new studies, for example, links years on the job to declining rates of student absenteeism.

 

Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up, the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.

 

“For some reason, you hear this all the time, from all sorts of people, Bill Gates on down,” said John P. Papay, an assistant professor of education and economics at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. He is the co-author of one of two new studies on the topic. “But teacher quality is not something that’s fixed. It does develop, and if you’re making a decision about a teacher’s career, you should be looking at that dynamic.”

This reiterates that we need experienced, veteran teachers  – many of whom believe that advanced degrees or even national certification are ways to improve their performance in the classrooms. That is not to say that all teachers who have advanced degrees are better than those who do not. I work with many teachers in my school who have earned just a bachelor’s degree and are master teachers who possess traits I wish to emulate.

What many who work on West Jones Street in Raleigh do not mention is that while beginning teachers have seen a bigger increase in pay, those with more experience have not been as respected since the abolishment of graduate pay. In fact, the salary schedule for public school teachers ensures that a teacher who enters the profession today will never make over fifty –two thousand dollars ever in a year throughout his/her career. That is one major reason we are seeing fewer and fewer teaching candidates in undergraduate education schools here in North Carolina.

Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. Furthermore, the amount of money it would take to repay the cost of a master’s degree would still take a teacher many years to make on a teacher’s salary, and in most cases that tuition is being paid to public colleges and universities. In essence, many teachers are reinvesting in the very public education system that they serve.

Ironically, not many of those who agree with eliminating graduate degree pay increases argue against that veracity of National Board Certification, which also leads to a pay increase. North Carolina still leads the nation in NBCT’s (National Board Certified Teachers). National certification is defined by a portfolio process which many schools of education emulate in their graduate programs. Additionally, national certification is recognized across the country and its process of validating teacher credentials has rarely been questioned.

But what really seems to be the most incongruous aspect of the argument against graduate degree pay increases is that it totally contradicts the message we send to students in a college and career ready curriculum. If we want students to be life-long learners and contribute to our communities, then where else to better witness that than with our teachers who want to get better at what they do. When students witness a teacher actually going to school (or knowing he/she went back to school), then the impact can be incredible because it means that teachers still “walk the walk” when it comes to furthering an education.

Besides, most all students know that public school teachers do not get into the profession to get rich.