Is NC Seeing An Increase In Youth Suicide Due To The Pandemic?

This is an important read from North Carolina Health News.

Here are some of the highlights as reported by Hannah Critchfield:

North Carolina currently lacks data for deaths by suicide in young people in 2020. The state doesn’t have a comprehensive electronic death registry – meaning it has a slower system for reporting deaths than all but two other states.”

Children in North Carolina were hospitalized for self-harm injuries, including suicide attempts, slightly less last year than in 2019, according to data obtained by information request from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Chart shows the Self-Inflicted/Self-Harm Emergency Department Visits Among Children Ages 10-18 in North Carolina by Race/Ethnicity, 2019-2020. Overall, the visits have decreased by a few hundred, dropping across every racial and ethnic group except

“Existing studies that have analyzed suicide during the pandemic have not found evidence that deaths by suicide are increasing overall.”

“Suicide is complex,” said Cubbage. “This narrative that suicide is increasing due to the pandemic is not only unsupported by the data at this time, it also completely ignores the disparities impacting minority groups before the pandemic — and the impacts of the racial and political landscape in our country over the past year.”

Dear North Carolina Public School Advocate: Get Ready For “Local Bills”

If you remember back in 2018…

When Rep. Bill Brawley of Mecklenberg County first championed HB 514, he promoted a bill that allowed for cities to use property tax money to fund local schools. It also allowed for some select cities and towns to establish their own charter schools with enrollment preference for their citizens using taxpayer money. And because it was a local bill, it did not require the governor’s approval; therefore, Gov. Cooper could not issue a veto.

The “select” cities were predominantly affluent parts of Mecklenberg County and the bill was what many correctly deemed an attempt at legal resegregation.

Later in that same year during a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly to supposedly iron-out details for the new Voter ID amendment, a Technical Corrections Bill called SB 469 removed the provision for the original HB 514 that stipulated its “local bill” status.

That “local bill” was then rolled into a bigger piece of legislation that would remove the “local” tag and make it statewide.

We are about to see a lot of local bills for reopening and legislating public schools without the checks and balanced of a governor’s veto.

From the UNC School of Government:

Found on page 10:

Constitutional Limits on Local Acts
Article II, Section 24 of the North Carolina Constitution limits what subject matters can be
addressed by local act. Any local act enacted in violation of this constitutional provision is void.
The subject matters that are constitutionally prohibited from consideration in a local bill are:


(1) Relating to health, sanitation, and the abatement of nuisances;
(2) Changing the names of cities, towns, and townships;
(3) Authorizing the laying out, opening, altering, maintaining, or discontinuing of highways,
streets, or alleys;
(4) Relating to ferries or bridges;
(5) Relating to non-navigable streams;
(6) Relating to cemeteries;
(7) Relating to the pay of jurors;
(8) Erecting new townships, or changing township lines, or establishing or changing the
lines of school districts;
(9) Remitting fines, penalties, and forfeitures, or refunding moneys legally paid into the
public treasury;
(10) Regulating labor, trade, mining, or manufacturing;
(11) Extending the time for the levy or collection of taxes or otherwise relieving any collector
of taxes from the due performance of his official duties or his sureties from liability;
(12) Giving effect to informal wills and deeds;
(13) Granting a divorce or securing alimony in any individual case; and
(14) Altering the name of any person, or legitimating any person not born in lawful wedlock,
or restoring to the rights of citizenship any person convicted of a felony.

The only limit on what a local bill can do to schools is redraw district lines.

Everything else is on the table.

In light of the failed veto override of SB37 that occurred in Raleigh last night, we are about to see a lot more of these.

#LeadWithLeandro

This is an important tweet thread by one of our fiercest advocates for public education in the North Carolina General Assembly.

It’s that second tweet that says it all.

“A lack of resources, infrastructure needs of over $8 billion & understaffing have created unsafe conditions for teachers and students- all a direct result of Republican policies since 2011. We need to direct our anger to the real problem- the inequities created by the NCGA.”

She’s absolutely correct when she states that we should “Lead With Leandro.”

It’s hard to look at how this state could have sat on a large manufactured state surplus and extended more corporate tax cuts while conditions in the public schools exist to the level explained clearly in the Leandro Report BEFORE THE PANDEMIC STARTED.

Again, it is important to look at the entire report – Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina.

These were the 12 basic findings listed below.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.

These 12 data exhibits help to summarize some of those issues as far as the effects of poverty on school systems, lower numbers of teacher candidates, attrition levels, per-pupil expenditures, and how it is hard to compare NC to other states in how it funds its schools.

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AGAIN, THAT WAS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC!

How Can Phil Berger Care About “Equity” When He Does Not Even Support Public Schools?

It’s always nice when Phil Berger pretends to care about issues in North Carolina that truly affect the citizens. And when he gets his lackeys to communicate his devotion to “equity” and “gaps” it almost reaches comically tragic proportions.

Below is a tweet from his “special counsel” this past summer:

That’s actually hilarious. Why? First, this conveys the absolute fear that Berger and his cronies have for organized teachers fighting for better public schools. Secondly, Justin Parmenter is right that “nobody in the last ten years has worked harder against equitable education outcomes in NC than Senator Berger.”

Consider that no Senate budget in the state of North Carolina gets released without Phil Berger’s approval.

The one he was trying to pass before the pandemic did nothing to help relieve what has been ailing public education in NC.

And this state still has no new budget.

If Berger had his way then all NC Senate’s budgets would all have:

  • Schools still being judged by the 80/20 formula where the %80 is achievement. NC is the only state where achievement is over half of the formula.
  • No graduate pay restoration.
  • No longevity pay restoration.
  • No Medicaid expansion.
  • No minimum wage for school employees.
  • More money for vouchers.

If you do not think then prove it otherwise. Just look at the voting records of people in his party and you will see that he controls the rank and file. And if you want to make the argument that a post like this is targeting a certain political party, then it sure is. But this is not the party that my grandparents knew. This is the party that has drifted from its roots of supporting strong public schools in this state and done what Phil Berger dictates.

Under the leadership of Sen. Phil Berger, the NCGA has done this to public schools in North Carolina:

  1. Teacher Pay – Manipulated raises to make it appear that the “average” teacher salary raise is higher than “actual” raises.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed.
  4. Push for Merit Pay and Bonus Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition.
  5. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation has also taken away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  6. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools.
  7. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.
  8. Reorganization and a Weakening of the Department of Public Instruction – It all started with HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began.
  9. Less Money Spent per Pupil – When adjusted for inflation.
  10. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – The math is simple: more students per teacher.
  11. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement.
  12. Cutting Teacher Assistants –  NC has lost nearly 7500 teacher assistant jobs in the last ten years.
  13. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But it is the least transparent system in the nation.
  14. Charter Schools – Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students. Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools.
  15. Virtual Charter Schools – There are two virtual charter academies in NC. Both have been run by for-profit entities based out of state. Both also have rated poorly every year of their existence.
  16. Innovative School District – Only one school is part of this ISD which has its own superintendent and was really was never wanted in the first place.
  17. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years.
  18. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”. Yes, it was reintistited, but as a shadow of its former self.
  19. Class Size Chaos – It was never funded by the NCGA.
  20. Municipal Charter School Bill – Passed as a local bill, it now has gone statewide to literally allow for segregated schools.
  21. A Puppet of a State Superintendent – If someone wants to make an argument for how great a job Mark Johnson has done, then I am ears.

There is more.

Too many kids are hungry and poor in this state. ALEC style reforms have not worked. Veteran teachers are being ignored.

The graphics below chart actual data during the time that Phil Berger has been leader of the NC Senate.

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From the 2020 Public School Forum of North Carolina’s report on top ten issues in NC education.

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View image on Twitter

Source: Kris Nordstrom

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Yep. Berger “knows a lot about equity.”

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Are Doing Cannot Really Be Measured

Despite what lawmakers and reformers may say, you can’t really be measured.

Image result for measuring appleIn fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

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.

The pandemic has only exacerbated that.

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.

And those attacks have only been added to during this pandemic.

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 non-transparent 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.

And the pandemic has only shed more light on that.

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 arbitrary at best. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

DURING A PANDEMIC.

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.

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.

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 General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that over %20 of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about that Voter ID law amendment and racially profiled gerrymandering.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about the fact that the minimum wage in this state is the lowest in the country.
  • Think about NC having some of the worst unemployment benefits in the country.

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.

Giving Standardized Tests In a Nonstandard Year to Students Who Were Never Standard Is Far Below Our Standards

Exam

If you make a list of the standardized tests administered by the state of North Carolina in our public schools that are both federally and state mandated, then you would still have quite a tally even if NC Finals have been eliminated.

Depending on which math and science track a student has in high school, it is conceivable that a student who matriculates in NC’s public schools will take dozens of these standardized tests.

That list would not include any local benchmark assessments, the PSAT, the ACT, the Pre-ACT, or any of the AP exams that may come with Advanced Placement classes.

Throw in some PISA or NAEP participants. Maybe the ASVAB and the Workkeys.

That’s a lot of tests. And a lot of time to “teach toward a test.”

When I graduated high school last century, I never had to take even one-tenth of these kinds of assessments.

We wrote a lot of essays in my school.

Not short answers graded by algorithms.

Essays.

But we are giving standardized tests in the most non-standard year in recent history to students who were never standard.

Teachers Have More Than Ever Been On Task – So Much That It Feels Like March 345th

There are teachers in this state who literally are teaching both in-person students and still required to provide synchronous instruction to those students whose families have elected to begin this school year remotely. That could mean teaching one class section as if it were two. But there were no new hours in the day created.

There are teachers in this state who had to learn new online platforms and try to master new resources during the summer without synchronous professional development and at their own expense and on their own time.

There are school systems that have stipulated different parameters for grading and student work and expectations that differ greatly from what would happen in a typical school year which require more work and time to maintain.

And for most every teacher in a school operating under hybrid or remote learning schedules, the expectations of classroom management have been morphed to include aspects that are simply out of the control of any teacher.

Add to that the fact that communication with students and parents have more obstacles attached with remote learning as this pandemic has exacerbated the connectivity divide in this state not to mention the economic woes that many face.

Oh, and the state is still bringing in students to complete EOC, EOG, PSAT, and Pre-ACT as well as have observations.

THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR CENTRAL OFFICES TO BE ASKING FOR MORE PAPERWORK, RECORDINGS OF MEETINGS, AND MORE REPORTS TO PROVE THAT TEACHERS ARE ON TASK.

Teachers have been on task so much since last March that today feels like March 345th rather than February 21st.

Teachers have families, their own children trying to navigate remote learning, bills, and personal lives.

Or we might as a state see a teacher burnout like never before.

And this state already does a bad job in recruiting teacher candidates.

extended | UAH Library Blog

This Pandemic Is An Opportune Time To Talk About Investing In More Teacher Assistants

We conclude that teacher assistants are a cost-effective means of raising student achievement, especially in reading.

North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

Let me repeat: North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago.

When study after study published by leading education scholars preach that reaching students early in their academic lives is most crucial for success in high school and life, our General Assembly  actually promoted one of the largest layoffs in state history.

And another study was just released.

As a voter, I am disappointed that the last six years with this GOP-led NCGA has fostered a calculated attack against public schools with more power and money given to entities to privatize education. By eliminating teacher assistants, the NCGA  simply weakened the effectiveness of elementary schools even more and helped substantiate the need to divert my tax money to segregate educational opportunities even more.

As a teacher, I am disheartened that my fellow educators are being devalued. Yes, teacher assistants are professional educators complete with training and a passion to teach students. With the onslaught of state testing, curriculum changes, and political focus on student achievement, these people fight on the front lines and advocate for your children and your neighbors’ children.

But as a parent, I am most incensed by this move to eliminate teacher assistants because my own child has tremendously benefited from the work of teacher assistants. Even as I write these words, my thirteen-year-old red-headed, blue-eyed son, who happens to have Down Syndrome and autism, walks through the house articulating his thoughts, communicating his needs, and sharing his love to explore. And I give much of that credit to those who teach him in school: his teachers and their assistants.

The rationale for eliminating teacher assistant positions actually reveals the disconnect that our elected officials have with public education. In June of 2015 in the Greensboro News and Record, former Sen. Tom Apodaca said, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is not only obvious; it is glaring.

That’s what teaching assistants already do. They mitigate class size by increasing the opportunities for student interaction. More prepared people in a classroom gives more students like my son the opportunity to learn. Apodaca suggested that having two classrooms of 25 students with a teacher and an assistant is weaker than having two classes of 22 students with just a classroom teacher. That’s not logical.

Oddly enough, Sen. Apodaca and his constituents at the time already knew the value of assistants. He himself had three on staff according to the July 2015 telephone directory of the General Assembly. Sen. Phil Berger had fifteen staff members, three with “Assistant” in their title and five with “Advisor”. Maybe dismissing some of these “assistants” would have offered some perspective.

Kris Nordstrom (@KrisNordstrom) offers some further persepctive:

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Public schools are strongest when the focus is on human investment. People committed to teaching, especially experienced professionals, are the glue that holds education together. Eliminating jobs so that some political agenda can be fulfilled really is like forcing a bleeding public school system to swim in shark infested waters.

We find consistent evidence of positive effects of teacher assistants, an understudied staffing category, on student performance in reading and math. We also find larger positive effects of teacher assistants on achievement outcomes for students of color and students in high-poverty schools

“Innovative Benchmark Assessments” To Assess Learning Loss – Yet Another Horrible Idea From Raleigh

The rush to find a way to further quantify the effect of the pandemic on schools without placing responsibility on our government’s response to the virus is on display in HB82 in the North Carolina General Assembly.

First, it would be nice to know exactly what “innovative benchmark assessments” actually are. It would also be nice to know who would be constructing them. Then it would be nice to know when they would be given when we as a state still are on the hook for EOC’s and other standardized tests like the PSAT, Pre-ACT, and ACT.

But it seems a little hypocritical to ask for “innovative benchmark assessments” when the state superintendent herself already has stated how much learning loss there has been.

Remember this?

In a November 22nd interview with Fox News, Catherine Truitt was quoted as telling the producers of the segment that “between March and September students lost on average 50% in literacy and 70% for math.”

She was talking about “learning loss” due to the pandemic.

Listen for yourself. Click here for the link.

That was a fairly bold claim considering that almost half of the time between March and September is traditionally a summer break.

It’s also odd that all federally mandated tests and most state tests that “measure” learning traditionally given at the end of a school year were waived very eagerly by officials on the national and state levels.

Hard to quantify “student learning loss” without the actual testing data. Even harder to quantify learning loss due to the pandemic during that span when there is no historical precedent to measure it against.

AND it’s even harder to measure it still when there was a “summer slide” in place.

So where did Truitt get those numbers she never explained? Here’s a possible explanation from Daniel Wydo.

Here’s the research brief that Wydo refers to:

The NWEA is an assessment company mostly known for the MAP tests.

NWEA (formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association[1][2]), is a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for students pre-K-12. Currently, NWEA assessments are used by over 9500 schools and districts in 145 countries[3]. Its primary assessment product is the MAP Suite, a collection of formative and interim assessments that help teachers identify unique student learning needs, track skills mastery, and measure academic growth over time[4]. By testing students three times over the school year, MAP assessments attempt to track student growth over time in order to help educators plan instruction that meets student at their level and predict performance on accountability measures.”

What the interviewer said Truitt told her producers was a 50% literacy loss and a 70% math loss in learning,

Here’s what the brief said:

Truitt made it sound as if it was fact. It’s conjecture. A projection that she never said that included a “summer slide” component added to another hypothetical number.

Truitt also didn’t say that her information may have come from an quantitative assessment company that did not have actual data from quantitative assessments to make such projections.

“Preliminary estimates” do not automatically translate into reality that can be passed off as gospel on television but that seems to be what happened in Truitt’s interview. If not, then she can show us the data.

And any teacher can tell you that most of what students really learn can never be measured with “innovative benchmark assessments.”

Especially considering we are in really nonstandard times.