Betsy DeVos Wrote An Op-Ed. It’s Bad.

On March 24th, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune entitled “As schools reopen, it’s time to emerge better than where we started.

She starts with the story of a bright young high school student’s suicide. It is tragic under any circumstances.

My heart broke reading about Kooper Davis, a New Mexico high school student and promising quarterback prospect who slowly felt like his life was being taken away from him piece by piece, until he decided there was nothing left but to take his own life.

She then makes this claim:

Kooper’s story is all too common. In the Clark County, Nevada, district alone, 18 students took their own lives since the start of pandemic-related shutdowns. Suicide rates during the pandemic have nearly doubled, according to data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That data she is referring to (or at least what the link takes a reader to) does not prove that claim.

It says a “rise in suicidal behaviors.” In a localized area in Texas. In “some months” in 2020.

Rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts were higher in some months in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a study of 11- to 21-year-olds in a major metropolitan area of Texas.

Significantly higher rates of suicide-related behaviors appear to have corresponded with times when COVID-19 stressors and community responses (e.g., stay-at-home orders and school closures) were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods, according to “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in a Pediatric Emergency Department Before and During COVID-19” (Hill RM, et al. Pediatrics. Dec. 16, 2020).

It is a study about suicide risks not actual suicide data.

It is also a localized study in one state. And it is from when DeVos was the Secretary of Education.

Here is a study from my state, North Carolina from North Carolina Health News.

And 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.”

DeVos took the tragic death of a student during a pandemic that the administration of which she was a part failed to confront head on and framed it within a study that does not conclusively prove what she claims.

She then goes into an “argument” in her op-ed that we as a nation cannot continue with the “status quo.”

Returning to the pre-lockdown status quo in education shouldn’t be deemed a success by anyone. The fact is America’s education system wasn’t very successful before COVID-19. We must do better.

What DeVos and other business model reformers considered the “status quo” in education is intrinsically linked to a final product, measured by standardized testing and other mercurial measurements. However, the real “status quo” is not really linked to that final product. It is more a reflection of the constant infusion of reform models that have altered the process by which public schools have been able to teach our children. The truth is that the existing state of public education is always being subjected to scrutiny, modification, alteration, and change from outside forces for political or profit-minded reasons.

The real “status quo” is the commitment to flux and change to the variables that measure student achievement and school success by people outside of the actual education process. And in that regard, I do agree that the status quo should change.

However, what really seems to be the central unintended argument that DeVos is really pushing is that every public school should have a nurse, a social worker, and be free from billionaire business tycoons who think they know more about public education than the very people who actually work in our schools.

But DeVos would never openly argue for that. It goes against her ignorant nature.

When A North Carolina Lawmaker Says, “Well, We Are Spending More on Education Than Ever Before,” Then Tell Him This

Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2021, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. That district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down –  significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

What many in Raleigh want to pat themselves on the backs about is that we as a state are spending more on education than ever before. And that’s true. Just listen for the many examples to come from legislators looking to get reelected this past year to the NC General Assembly yet never passing a new budget.

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But when the average spent per pupil does not increase with the rise in the cost of resources and upkeep and neglects to put into consideration that the population of North Carolina has exploded in the last couple of decades, then that political “victory” becomes empty.

What many in Raleigh may also want to pat themselves on the back about is how much of the state budget is spent on public education. It’s about 56% now.

But we are supposed to. It’s in our constitution.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Studyprovides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The publication stated:

North Carolina’s first state constitution in 1776 included an education provision that stated, “A School or Schools shall be established by the Legislature for the convenient Instruction of Youth.” The legislature provided no financial support for schools.

A century later, the constitution adopted after the Civil War required the state to provide funding for all children ages 6-21 to attend school tuition-free. In 1901, the General Assembly appropriated $100,000 for public schools, marking the first time there was a direct appropriation of tax revenue for public schools. Today, the constitution mandates that the state provide a “general and uniform system of free public schools” and that the state legislature may assign counties “such responsibility for the financial support of the free public schools as it may deem appropriate.” N.C. Const. art. IX, § 2 (see sidebar, “Sources of Local School Finance Law: The North Carolina State Constitution”).

Apart from the constitutional provisions, a major change in the school funding structure occurred during the Great Depression. Under the School Machinery Act (enacted in 1931 and amended in 1933), the state assumed responsibility for all current expenses necessary to maintain a minimum eight-month school term and an educational program of basic content and quality (instructional and program expenses). In exchange for the state’s expanded role, local governments assumed responsibility for school construction and maintenance (capital expenses). The School Machinery Act established counties as the basic unit for operating public schools, which is maintained today with large county-wide school systems, except in the 11 counties that also have city school systems.

What this means is that the state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks. To say that the state spends around 56% of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before the GOP’s current majority in the NC General Assembly began, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering.

Lest we forget, some of the very people who are bragging about how well they have treated public education in this state have really in fact weakened it – deliberately. How? Here is a sampling:

  • The financing of failed charter schools that have little or no oversight.
  • The funding of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that effectively remove money for public education and reallocate it to private schools – actually over 93% of them go to religious schools.
  • The under-funding of our public university system, which forces increases in tuition, while giving tax breaks to companies who benefit from our educated workforce.
  • The dismantling of the Teaching Fellows Program that recruited our state’s brightest to become the teachers of our next generation.
  • The removal of the cap for class size for traditional schools and claiming it will not impede student learning. And now they want to make a class cap size for k-3, but are not willing to help finance the enormous amount of building that would have to occur to facilitate the massive number of new classes.
  • The removal of graduate pay salary increases for those new teachers who have a Master’s degree or higher.
  • The administration of too many tests (EOCTs, NC Finals, etc.), many of which are scored well after grades are due.
  • The constant change in curriculum standards (Standard Course of Study, Common Core, etc.).
  • The propping of the most enabled yet invisible state superintendent of public instruction.

The number of LEA’s embroiled in a fight to fund its public schools is rather large– literally. Many parents and advocates are even asking to pay more taxes if they knew it would go to the schools.

If North Carolina’s leaders were serious about helping our public schools instead of praising themselves and trying to invent ways to create obstacles to validate “reform” then there would be no need for this fight.

And they sure as hell wouldn’t use our students as political pawns.

Comparing NC Teacher Salaries Now to 2008-2009 – What New Teachers Won’t Get If They Become Veteran Teachers

Below is the salary schedule for a teacher in North Carolina for the 2020-2021 school year.

Any teacher new to the profession in the last seven years would never be on the second schedule because newer teachers are not allowed a pay bump for graduate degrees. Notice how the salaries also plateau after year 15.

There is no longevity pay included as it does not exist for teachers any longer.

And remember that the average pay that people like Phil Berger and Tim Moore like to brag about includes local supplements that the state is not responsible for.

Now go back a few years before the Great Recession.

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schedule2

Twelve years ago each salary step would have had an increase in pay.

All teachers, new and veteran, would have had graduate degree pay twelve years ago.

All veteran teachers would have received longevity pay twelve years ago above and beyond what the salary schedule said.

Now imagine if that same schedule was in play for teachers today and adjusted for inflation.

Oh, and now new teachers will not be able to have retiree health benefits.

Dear Lt. Gov. Robinson, Where Is Your “Indoctrination” Site?

Last week with fanfare and a highly publicized press confernece, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson introduced his new task force: F.A.C.T.S. and a website to issue complaints of perceived indoctrination.

As Will Doran reported on Twitter:

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson meeting with some fellow Republican politicians today to announce a new task force for students, teachers and parents to report “indoctrination” in public schools.

Robinson says most teachers do keep politics out of the classroom but there have long been complaints about some who don’t. This task force aims to gather those complaints. “People say, well where’s the proof? Where’s the proof? We’re going to bring you the proof.”

Robinson also said “this is not about any political ideology” and he doesn’t think any politics should be in the classroom, left or right. He also wouldn’t answer a question about the political makeup of the task force members, saying it’s irrelevant.

Doran also published a report for the News & Observer which talked about Lt. Gov. Robinson’s press conference.

Most teachers don’t get into politics with their students, Robinson said, but some do. And while there have long been rumors of indoctrination efforts, or one-off stories about a teacher’s controversial lesson plan, Robinson said he hopes to soon be able to show people just how widespread it might be.

And that very day you could go ahead and issue a complaint on the Lt. Gov.’s official website.

Here were the criteria for submission:

What to submit:

  • Examples of discrimination or harassment related to a student’s faith, ethnicity, worldview, or political beliefs;
  • Examples of unequal, inconsistent, or disparate treatment of students in the enforcement of school rules and/or in disciplinary matters;
  • Examples of students being subjected to indoctrination according to a political agenda or ideology, whether through assigned work, teacher comments, or a hostile classroom environment;
  • Examples of students being required to disclose details regarding their individual race/ethnicity, sexual preference, religious ideology, or economic status
  • Examples of students being exposed to inappropriate content or subject matter in the classroom, including matters relating to substance abuse, profanity, or of a sexual nature.

And today we get this:

North Carolina: Where Muscadines Are More Important Than Fully Funding Public Schools

This is a legislative body that could not pass a new budget.

This is the same NCGA that stayed in session for an extra 100 days to try a veto override.

This is the same NCGA that is giving more money to the most nontransparent voucher system in the country.

This is the same NCGA that has not even begun to honor the findings of the Leandro Report.

This is the same NCGA that has members applauding a task force charged with dealing with claims of “indocrtrination.”

This is the same NCGA that took away new teacher retiree health benefits. .

But at least it is doing this for our school lunches:

And it is brought to you by one of the original sponsors of the HB2 (Bathroom) bill.

“Disparities In Students Learning In Person” – Results From The First Survey By The U.S. Dept. of Ed.

The U.S. Department of Education just released the results of a survey trying to ascertain the number of students in totally virtual settings as opposed to at least some face-to-face learning. NPR had a post about it this morning.

The actual survey used can be found here.

The findings are rather interesting.

As of January and early February of this year, 44% of elementary students and 48% of middle school students in the survey remained fully remote. And the survey found large differences by race: 69% of Asian, 58% of Black and 57% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were.

And the survey found large differences by race: 69% of Asian, 58% of Black and 57% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were.

Conversely, nearly half of white fourth-graders were learning full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of Black and 33% of Hispanic fourth-graders. The remainder had hybrid schedules.”

Nearly half of white fourth-graders were learning full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of Black and 33% of Hispanic fourth-graders

“This disparity may be partly driven by where students live. City schools, the survey found, are less likely than rural schools to offer full-time, in-person classes. Full-time, in-person schooling dominated in the South and the Midwest, and was much less common in the West and Northeast.”

“Three out of 4 districts around the country were offering some in-person learning as of January.”

More than 4 in 10 districts said they were giving priority to students with disabilities for in-person instruction. Yet in practice, 39% of elementary students with disabilities remained remote, compared with 44% overall. 

“The response rate to this nationally representative survey varied around the country and was lowest in the Northeast. Notably, out of 27 large urban districts targeted in the survey, 16 declined to participate.”

Notably, out of 27 large urban districts targeted in the survey, 16 declined to participate.

The Average NC Teacher Salary is $54,682. Here’s Why That Is Grossly Misleading.

From the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation in May of 2020,

“According to DPI budget analysts, North Carolina’s average teacher salary reached $54,682 this year.  The 2019-20 average was an increase of $742 or 1.4% compared to the previous school year.  DPI declares that North Carolina’s average teacher compensation ranks second only to Georgia in the Southeast.  Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the region.”

JLF1

Of course, Stoops would spin this “statistic”into an empty narrative. Even Tim Moore tweeted out some praise for this empty “victory” at the time.

jlf2

That figure is one of the most grossly manufactured statistics in this state. Let’s lay bare the facts of how that figure has come about.

The operative word here is “average”. What GOP stalwarts purposefully fail to tell you is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

“Average” does not mean “actual”. But it sounds great to those who don’t understand the math.

This report reflects a whopping double standard of the NC General Assembly and a total contradiction to what is really happening to average teacher pay. Just follow my logic and see if it makes sense.

The last nine years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that only makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule with at 52K per year (unless they use their own money to pursue a rigorous national certification process).

jlf3

So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 54K when no one can really make much over 52K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. North Carolina is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgusted the former governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout this new wonderful “average.”

Furthermore, this average is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of budgets that are allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements. Imagine what the pandemic will be doing to these funds.

Plus, those LEA’s will have to do something in the next few years to raise even more money to meet the requirements of the delayed class size mandate.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really tout that average salaries will be higher?

You can if you are only talking about the right here and right now.

The “average bear” can turn into a bigger creature if allowed to be mutated by election year propaganda as it been the case for many cycles.

Remember the word “average” is a very easy word to manipulate. Politicians use it well. In this case, the very teachers who are driving the “average” salary up are the very people that the state wants to not have in a few years. There will then be a new average. It can’t possibly be over 54K then if current trends keep going.

And Stoops even knows that. From a report in the News & Observer in March of 2019:

Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, says he agrees that the average teacher salary is misleading. But he questions why critics didn’t make more of an issue of its accuracy before Republicans began raising the state average.

“The fact that the average is influenced by factors such as the experience of teachers and the credentials that they possess is one of the reasons why the average is a misleading figure to use when discussing teacher compensation,” Stoops said. “But the problems preceded the Republicans.”

Interesting that he did not mention that the Republicans took away step increases and longevity pay and that they have been in power for almost a decade.

HB 32: Using The Pandemic To Further Fund The Least Transparent Financing Of Religious Schools With Taxpayer Money In The Nation

From the same group of lawmakers who made sure to not pass a new budget for the state that directly affects our public schools comes this bill.

From the same group of lawmakers who made sure to not dip into the “rainy-day” fund to help schools comes this bill.

An “Opportunity Grant” in North Carolina is worth up to $4200 a year to cover (or help cover) tuition at a non-public participating school.

According to the Private School Review, there were 34 private schools in North Carolina for which an Opportunity Grant could cover the entire tuition ($4200 or less) last school year.

The average cost of tuition at a private school in NC last school year was almost $10,000. The most expensive had a tuition of over $55,000.

All 34 of those aforementioned schools are religiously affiliated schools. Over 20 of them took and still take Opportunity Grants.

Please remember that tuition is only one of the costs. There tend to be other fees and expenses like books, supplies, transportation, costs for extracurricular activities, and food. What a voucher can’t cover, the family must fund themselves.

Currently NC is on pace to give almost a billion dollars to vouchers within the next ten years.

senatebudgetvouchers

And this is a system that was considered the least transparent in the entire country in 2017. From the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke’s School of Law:

Duke study

And still is in the 2020 version of the report from the same research team.

Here is some more food for thought from the NCSEAA, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.

Again, mostly religious schools that do not have regulations on curriculum and nothing really to enforce open admission standards. In fact, in most cases, it is hard to even measure how well voucher students do academically compared to public schools which are highly regulated and very transparent. From that most recent Duke study:

Now just view the schools in the past few years that have taken the most voucher money.

And these lawmakers want all students in North Carolina to have these.

During a pandemic.

Move Over Spanish Inquisition. NC Now Has The F.A.C.T.S. Task Force.

We’ve had the Spanish Inquisition,

those judges at the Salem Witch Trials,

Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities,

2 different people as Mrs. Kravitiz,

the Ministry of Magic with Dolores Umbrage,

and now the F.A.C.T.S. task force filled with partisan people.

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As Will Doran reported on Twitter:

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson meeting with some fellow Republican politicians today to announce a new task force for students, teachers and parents to report “indoctrination” in public schools.

Robinson says most teachers do keep politics out of the classroom but there have long been complaints about some who don’t. This task force aims to gather those complaints. “People say, well where’s the proof? Where’s the proof? We’re going to bring you the proof.”

Robinson also said “this is not about any political ideology” and he doesn’t think any politics should be in the classroom, left or right. He also wouldn’t answer a question about the political makeup of the task force members, saying it’s irrelevant.

Doran also published a recent report for the News & Observer which talked about Lt. Gov. Robinson’s press conference.

Most teachers don’t get into politics with their students, Robinson said, but some do. And while there have long been rumors of indoctrination efforts, or one-off stories about a teacher’s controversial lesson plan, Robinson said he hopes to soon be able to show people just how widespread it might be.

And now you can go ahead and issue a complaint on the Lt. Gov.’s official website.

Here are the criteria for submission:

What to submit:

  • Examples of discrimination or harassment related to a student’s faith, ethnicity, worldview, or political beliefs;
  • Examples of unequal, inconsistent, or disparate treatment of students in the enforcement of school rules and/or in disciplinary matters;
  • Examples of students being subjected to indoctrination according to a political agenda or ideology, whether through assigned work, teacher comments, or a hostile classroom environment;
  • Examples of students being required to disclose details regarding their individual race/ethnicity, sexual preference, religious ideology, or economic status
  • Examples of students being exposed to inappropriate content or subject matter in the classroom, including matters relating to substance abuse, profanity, or of a sexual nature.

Examples concerning faith, ethnicity, worldview, or political beliefs? Examples of being subjected to indoctrination according to a political agenda or ideology? Examples of disclosing details regarding their individual race/ethnicity, sexual preference, religious ideology, or economic status? Examples of being exposed to inappropriate content or subject matter including matters of a sexual nature?

Examples like these?