Why This College Admissions Scandal Should Really Make High Schools Mad

“The FBI and federal prosecutors have uncovered a massive bribery scheme to get students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes and help them cheat on college entrance exams to gain admission.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston says the scheme, which it dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” includes 50 people, including college coaches, actresses and CEOs who collectively paid $25 million to get their children into schools such as Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.”

The above starts a report from Mark Schlabach on ESPN.com about a college admissions scam that affected some elite universities. It should infuriate any person who believes in the integrity of really earning grades and working hard to obtain admittance to a post-secondary institution.

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But for this teacher and parent of a high school junior who actually took the ACT today as well as the SAT last Saturday and a an alumnus of one of the schools implicated today, it is a slap in the face of most every hard-working individual whom I come across on a daily basis on the campus where I work.

It is harder for me to tell a student whose family barely makes it from month to month that her hard work in the classroom will pay dividends in getting into a good college.

It is harder for me to tell students that education can be a great equalizer.

It is harder to not feel angry that a few people make our jobs harder because what is more important to them is the ends and not the means.

Every high school teacher of every student who “benefited” from this scam was just told that their professional assessment of those students’ performance, work ethic, and achievement was not worth listening to.

Every high school teacher who now will have to proctor more exams because adults and trusted figures cheated for money will be working a little harder from now on.

Every coach in high school ranks who obeys the rules and wants each student-athlete  to take pride in earning their place was belittled.

Every guidance counselor who practices a high level of integrity in helping with the admissions process for their students and tries to be fair and equitable to all students was insulted.

The amount of money that was spent by some of these parents to get their children into the “right” school practiced a bought privilege that ultimately hurts all involved. It hurts those who did not get admission because a space was bought. It hurts the very students who received special treatment because they will learn the rudest of lessons.

And it hurts that people would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to buy admission into an “elite” school when that money could have been for more legit purposes that would actually help their kids.

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One Resource All Teachers Need But is Never “Funded” For : TIME

Mark Johnson’s recent budget proposals for the next biennial budget cycle are simply proposals. They are requests for monies attached to “reforms” or investments in resources. Some deal with mentoring and helping younger teachers become more acclimated to the education profession. Some deal with “advanced roles” for teachers. Some deal with curricula that focus on specific “21st century” skills.

These requests along with other initiatives (most actually being counterproductive) that call for more teacher roles, collaboration, extension of personalized learning, and even “deputizing” teachers has ignored the very resource ultimately needed to even begin allowing for teachers to really help students: time.

Time.

TIME.

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It is one of the single biggest deficits in the teaching profession.

The day only has 24 hours. The year is still 365 (+1/4) days long. School still has to meet the equivalent of 180 school days.

Caps on class sizes have been removed. Funding to alleviate class sizes in early grades was never extended to LEA’s as was erroneously claimed by many a GOP lawmaker last year. Students also take more standardized tests than ever before and more schools have turned to block scheduling meaning that more teachers are teaching more classes and more students.

Any veteran teacher can tell you the need for collaboration with others is critical to academic success for students. The need to plan and create/grade authentic assessments is also most critical.

That requires time. And there is nothing in Johnson’s budget proposals that helps to address the “time” shortage. He may claim that he is trying to reduce testing, but there is no concrete plan attached to that claim.

Please remember that in most public schools, there are important duties that must be fulfilled by teachers that may not be considered academic in nature or part of the classroom experience: supervision, committees, coaching, sponsoring of clubs, etc.

Then there is the grading.

All of that requires time. And while one cannot buy extra time to add to a day, there is a lot of truth in the cliche’ “Time is money.” That means that Mark Johnson and the NCGA can make more investments in public education that remove obstacles and current constructs to give more teachers time to truly and fully work on those very facets to teaching that so affect school/student growth.

Imagine what benefits could be reaped if teachers had the time to collaborate, tutor, plan, and assess a more varied sampling of student work.

And it would be easy for Johnson and the NCGA to help that become a reality if they would just seek to fully fund schools and listen to teachers about what really needs to be done in schools.

When Education Reformers in NC Talk About Advanced Roles, Did They Mean This?

In the summer of 2017, BEST NC released an op-ed on EdNC.org about Shamrock Gardens Elementary School and their use of “advanced roles” for educators. And the piece made reference to BEST NC’s Education Innovation Plan, a bit of which is outlined below.

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The key to Shamrock Gardens’ remarkable success is not based on just one thing – there really is no silver bullet in education. They clearly have a great school leader, which is paramount for any organizational transformation. And teachers respect their students – or “scholars”, as they have been dubbed. However, the rest of their recipe for success revolves around sound design principles that private sector employers strive for every day: supporting developing employees, creating clear career paths for leaders, and adapting their delivery of services based on data to meet ever-changing needs.

That last part says, “creating career paths for leaders, and adapting their delivery of services based on data to meet ever-changing needs.”

Makes one wonder if one of those roles might include what John Cole’s latest political cartoon on NC Policy Watch refers to.

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That bill referred to in the cartoon is Senate Bill 192, the School Security Act of 2019.

SB192b

A 5% raise for a teacher to carry a gun and be “deputized.”

That’s not an “advanced role.” That’s a failure of government to attack the root causes of school shootings.

 

Mark Johnson Wants To Reduce Over-Testing? Then Do Not Let the ACT Have This Much Power Over NC High Schools.

A little over three years ago, an extended editorial appeared in newspapers across North Carolina concerning public education. I happened to read it in the Winston-Salem Journal.

It was written by Walter McDowell, a board member of BEST NC. McDowell, a former executive with Wachovia, talked of the dire need to transform education in North Carolina. And just to clarify, there are many who will always say that we “need to transform” education. You can read that op-ed here.

In short, McDowell told the state it had a huge problem and that his consortium, BEST NC, was mapping a way for our transformation. He called it “Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision.”

“Recently, Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision was launched. It was developed with input and collaboration from education, business and policy leaders from across the state. Excellence outlines a shared vision to make North Carolina’s education system the best in the nation by 2030.

Inspired by this vision and the important work of our educators, the 115 business leaders who compose BEST NC will continue to work with the education community, the governor and the General Assembly on high-yield investments and systemic strategies that will dramatically improve students’ educational experiences in our state. It is our hope that our elected leaders see from this report that elevating educators must be at the top of the list in those discussions.”

It is always nice to think that we educators are being “lifted” in the eyes of the public, but McDowell used as one of the measures to qualify our state’s dire circumstances the state’s average ACT scores.

He said,

“Then, shortly before the budget passed, North Carolina received news that we are still last in the nation in college and career readiness as measured by the ACT exam. There could be no greater urgency in North Carolina than solving this education crisis.”

I responded to McDowell’s argument with a rebuttal. It was published in the 10/17/15 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. Specifically, I responded to the use of the ACT as the barometer of the entire health of the NC education system. I argued,

“North Carolina is one of only 13 states (in 2015 – in 2017 it was around 17) that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam, which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement and is administered on a school day on which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-judging-schools-by-an-unfair-standard/article_0aa55234-8b82-5713-8114-65bc43e80eb1.html).

In fact, last school year, the ACT was supposed to become the most “important test” that could be given in all of North Carolina high schools. That was thanks to CCRGAP, or the Career and College Ready Graduate Alignment Partnership.

It cannot be helped that taking out a “C” and the “G” from the acronym gives us “CRAP” was not noticed.

According to Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241 (and a presentation found created by the NC Community Colleges),

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What that said was that if any high school junior did not make a certain score on the ACT (or its particular subject areas), then they must go through remediation during their senior year using a curriculum chosen/designed by a local community college but delivered by the high school teachers within already prescribed core courses.

In short, teachers would have had to take time in their already crowded and time-constrained classes to deliver more curriculum.  No extra time was to be given. Curriculum standards for the actual classes still had to be met. Why? Because there will be a test for them.

Ironically, it did not go “live” last school year maybe from lack of funds or lack of follow-through.

Debate over what scores were to be the threshold for whether a student had to be remediated was nebulous and rarely publicized. What was reported to this teacher in a professional development workshop in August of 2017 was the following:

GPA of 2.75 -or- 18 on English and 22 on Reading (tentative)

If you don’t know how an ACT score is broken down, then:

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You can access that chart here: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/act-score-chart.

What CCGRAP (as told to my school system’s English teachers) said was that all students must get at least 40 or 41 of 75 questions on the English section correct and 26 of 40 questions correct on the language portion to avoid remediation.

I have not even mentioned what was to happen with math.

That’s a high bar for all students. I repeat, a high bar. If you do not think so, then take the test yourself in a controlled situation. For students in North Carolina public schools, that administration will happen on a school day when they have other classes. Of course, many will succeed, but we are talking ALL students.

However, according to some sources, students could have escaped remediation if they had a high enough GPA. But some administrators reported being told that it was not an “OR” but an “AND” when it pertains to ACT scores and GPA requirements.

Bottom line: the ACT has a lot of power over our students. It even affects a schools performance grade, which for high schools relies much more on scores of standardized tests than it does on growth.

Interestingly enough, State Superintendent Mark Johnson delivered an interview last year  with EdNC.org and WRAL in which he talked about “teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/27/fighting-status-quo-inside-combative-world-ncs-new-public-schools-chief/).

But we were about to let the ACT, a college-ready testing tool, determine the lot of all students during their junior year. And this is the same Mark Johnson who talks about over-testing as well.

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Yes, the ACT is considered a test of knowledge and how much a student has learned. But many studies do show that the ACT is as flawed in being concretely certain in a student’s ability to do well in college as the SAT (which students take if they want to). In fact, many studies show that grades and GPA are a better indicator than standardized tests. Here is some fodder on that: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/nail-biting-standardized-testing-may-miss-mark-college-students/.

Funny how SAT scores in North Carolina have risen in the past few years.

Also, ACT scores seem to have a greater correlation to students’ household income levels. Consider the following:

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That’s from a Huffington Post report. Yes, it’s a left-leaning publication, but it is using only data points here that are really hard to refute .

We have in NC another rather good indicator of the effect of poverty in public schools. It’s called the School Performance Grade. The correlation between schools that scored “D” or “F” and high poverty levels is astounding.

The state of North Carolina pays for the administration of the ACT to all high school juniors during valuable class time on a regular school day. That’s a lot of money going to ACT. Furthermore, classroom teachers are having to administer the ACT as well as play “catch-up” with students because of the missed class time.

And DPI had their budget slashed by the General Assembly. Oh, and we have lower per-pupil expenditures now than we did in the past when adjusted for inflation.

  • So, what does our State Superintendent Mark Johnson say about this in regards to his platform of less standardized testing?
  • Is this what Walter McDowell and BEST NC had in mind?
  • Is this really what we want for our students and schools?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Give That Money to Expand The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to Its Original State

This past week Mark Johnson released his budget recommendations for the next two-year cycle for the North Carolina General Assembly to use in their shaky investment in NC’s public schools.

He published those recommendations on his website. And here is an interesting segment:

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There is a $750K request for TeachNC which was described by Kelly Hinchcliffe this past Thursday in WRAL.com.

His second initiative is a collaboration among the Department of Public Instruction, BEST NC and Teach.org, with support from the Belk Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union. “Teach NC,” launching this spring, is a “public-private teacher appreciation campaign to better align the image of the teaching profession with the fruitful, fulfilling career it is and develop a statewide teacher-recruitment system to attract the next generation of North Carolina teachers.”

Right above that “request” is a line for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, whose current version is but a shadow of the program that put so many great teachers in our NC schools.

This latest iteration of the Teaching Fellow Program only accommodates 160 potential teachers at “only one of five public or private universities to be selected by an appointed committee by Nov. 15” for only select fields. This comes nowhere to replacing a program that yearly helped train 500 potential teachers at multiple campuses  in a variety of subjects who were for 25 years also walking advertisements for teaching in the state that was at one time committed to public schools.

$750K to the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program would be a more worthwhile investment than a public relations campaign run by private entities who would use taxpayer money to try and spin how badly the NCGA has treated the profession of teaching in public schools.

It also shows Johnson’s loyalties.

So Is Mark Johnson Running for Reelection?

In January of 2017 it was all about “urgency”.

In the first six months of 2017 it was all about a “listening tour.”

In all of 2017 into 2018, it was about a legal fight with a state board of education under control of the same political party about who had the most control over the public school system.

In early 2018, it was about rallying for school choice and speaking at the highlight event for school choice and shunning all rallies for public education.

In 2018, it was about a million dollar audit to find places for cuts that actually showed DPI was underfunded.

In May of 2018, it was about leaving Raleigh to avoid confronting over a fifth of the teaching force that descended upon Raleigh to demand answers.

In July of 2018, it was about bringing in Jeb Bush for a consultation about privatizing public education directly after laying off many DPI workers and reorganizing DPI staff into more silos.

In the summer of 2018, it was about iPads.

In the fall of 2018, it was about creating a new personal campaigning website to drive people to in order to control information about public education during a hurricane.

In early 2019, it was about doughnuts.

In Feb. of 2019, it was about 2030 and a private dinner for announcements about public education.

So, after four people have filed and/or declared their intentions to run for the office of state superintendent, Mark Johnson was asked point blank if he will be running to keep the office he currently holds on this episode of Education Matters with Keith Poston:

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Just listen for yourself and you might see the pattern of “commitment” continue.

 

 

The Cardiac Kids From Clemmons, NC

You can have all of the talent in the world. You can have every resource at your disposal. You can have every appearance of being a winner.

But you may never be a champion.

Why? Because it’s an “inside job.”

Today’s victory in the Western Regional Championship game by the Titans Girls Basketball team will be remembered by many who did not witness it just for the final score. But I believe that those who were in attendance and especially those on the court will remember that that win wasn’t just won on the hardwood in Hickory, NC.

It was mostly won because of what those young people had inside of them.

Heart. Simply heart. With a huge side of guts and soul.

Having heart tells you that your success is in your hands.

Having heart means you have a short  memory on mistakes but forever remember what you learned from them.

Having heart means you have faith in your teammates, but always listening to the coaches.

Having heart means that no matter whose court you play on as long as it’s about team, it will always be a “home-court” advantage.

Having heart means that you recognize that your “team” is not just the ones wearing the uniforms. It includes the cheerleaders and the family and friends in the stands. And a whole community back home who couldn’t be there in person.

Having heart means that today’s victory was only part of the bigger quest – one that started in the gym the day after last season ended.

The more you use it, the bigger and stronger it gets.

And that was a lot of heart the Titans showed today.

Preparation for the next game starts tonight.

For this house, that means we have laundry to do.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Retro wear.

It’s in these days.

Dear BEST NC, You Want to Expand The FIT Initiative, But Where Do You Stand on These Vital Issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are now advancing with an open application to their FIT initiative – that’s First in Teaching. Rumor has it they are looking to add 100 teachers from NC to their cohort.

So, I would challenge anyone who is thinking about applying for the FIT program to ask BEST NC where they specifically stand on the following in hopes that they may clarify how they might really help “transform” education in North Carolina.

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

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

Would Like to Know Where Mark Johnson Stands On SB192

North Carolina made national news again with another bill that involves teachers and guns.

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On March 8, CNN posted a piece on its website entitled “North Carolina teachers who carry guns to school could get a pay raise under a new bill.

Filed on Wednesday, the School Security Act of 2019 would give a 5% salary boost to teachers who undergo basic police training.
These “teacher resource officers” could carry guns in an open or concealed manner, and they would have the same arrest powers as police officers, the bill says.

The piece references a survey done by NEA about teachers’ attitudes pf being armed in the school setting.

NEA members overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming teachers and other educators to address the problem of school shootings.

  • An overwhelming majority, 82 percent, say they would not carry a gun in school, including sixty-three percent of NEA members who own a gun.
  • Sixty-one percent of gun owners oppose arming teachers. Sixty-four percent of those in gun households oppose arming teachers.
  • Two thirds, 64 percent, say they would feel less safe if teachers and other educators were allowed to carry guns.
  •  Educators do not believe that this proposal would be effective in preventing a school shooting.
  • Seven in ten (69 percent) NEA members say arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools.
  • Three quarters (77 percent) of NEA members believe it is too easy to access guns in the United States. As a result, they support a wide range of solutions to limit access to guns.
  • Ninety-nine percent of NEA members favor universal background checks. 
  • Ninety-one percent support taking measures to prevent the mentally ill from accessing guns;
  • Ninety percent support preventing those with a history of domestic violence from gaining access to guns;
  • Strong majorities also support creating a database (87 percent) to track all gun sales; banning assault weapons (85 percent); banning bump stocks (84 percent) and high capacity magazines (80 percent); and also raising the age of gun ownership to 21 (78 percent).

So, as the top public school official in the state, what is Mark Johnson’s stance on this issue?

 

Sen. Berger’s Comments on Graduation Rates, One of the Most Manipulated Statistics in Public Education

Yep. He’s right.

Graduation rates in NC have gone up.

In his response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s “State of the State” address, Berger did selectively say this:

“Since 2011, the gap in high school graduation rates between African-American students and all students has been cut in half, from 6.4 percent to 3.1 percent.” 

And the News & Record did a fact check on it. The numbers do pan out.

“Berger spokesman Pat Ryan said the statistics came from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which keeps track of graduation rates and publishes them online.

According to the department, the graduation rate for all students graduating in 2010-11 was 77.9 percent, and the rate for black students that year was 71.5 percent. That means there was a 6.4 percentage-point gap between the rate for all students and the rate for black students.

The gap has shrunk by more than half since then, getting smaller every year between 2010-11 and 2016-17, when it reached a low of 2.6 percentage points.

In 2017-18, the graduation rate for all students was 86.3 percent, and the graduation rate for black students was 83.2 percent, making the gap just 3.1 percentage points.”

But there are reasons for this. And those reasons were intentionally manufactured to allow Berger to make these statements veneered with a positive shine.

Just dig deeper.

Along with “student test scores” and “student achievement,” “graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale a few years ago (after 2011) in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower. That drastically affects graduation rates.

Add to that, it takes fewer credits to graduate  than it did years ago, and in many cases students are taking more classes to pass fewer credits because many systems have adopted the block schedule. In fact, most all high school teachers are teaching more classes and more kids because of removed class size caps and overcrowding in schools and altered schedules.

And then there is this rather interesting practice.

Many school districts have decided to make a “50” the lowest possible grade a student could receive for a quarter grade on a report card.

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

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

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.

That affects graduation rates.

Makes one wonder how Berger would want to explain the reason for higher graduation rates if he was really pressed with the facts.

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