NC Can’t Place All Burdens On Our School Principals. But We Just Might Be Doing That In This Pandemic.

No two schools in the state are the same.

We have large schools and small schools. Many in between.

We have schools that are all housed in one building. Some in many buildings. Many in between.

We have old school buildings. Some have fairly new buildings. Many have a mix.

We have schools in the mountains, in the Piedmont, in the sandhills, and near the ocean.

We have elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. There are some schools that are Pre-K through 12. There are alternative-setting schools. Even some early colleges.

We have schools that draw students from high tax bases. We have schools that draw from high poverty areas.

Schools have different student bodies that serve communities with various socio-economic backgrounds.

No two schools are the same.

Now think of the number of LEAs / districts in the state.

Now think of the number of schools some of these districts have. A couple have well over 100 schools.

List of school districts in North Carolina - Wikipedia

Last week in my school system, a veteran teacher assistant died from COVID-19. The local health department and the local school system made clear in their statements that there was no evidence this dear lady contracted the virus while on the job. While the numbers are still low for educator deaths from COVID-19, in each tragedy, the local system and health department have not admitted that the person could have contracted the virus while on the job.

Having a dashboard of data does not excuse any school system from culpability. But what seems even more egregious is that from almost every teacher I have heard from these past three months the person most responsible for the safe return of students and teachers is the school principal.

Not the school boards that vote on what measures to take and when to send kids into buildings.

Not the superintendents or Central Office people.

The principals.

Now think of all of the schools in state and the different “categories” just mentioned above. Think of environmental factors out of our control.

Think of the different landscapes and terrains two schools that are only miles apart could have.

Think of the state of the ventilation systems from room to room, building to building, school to school.

Think of how many windows a school building has.

Think of the width of the hallways. All of them.

There are over 2500 public schools in North Carolina. And what this state has done is force each principal to enact a safety plan and carry it out based on metrics that seem to change as much as the weather in this state.

No two schools are the same.

There could be 2500 different safety plans.

And who is responsible?

Each local school board, each superintendent, and each lawmaker in Raleigh should make damn sure that every site-based principal has as much support and guidance as possible.

Without the total liability.

Or we may have more than just a teacher shortage next school year.

SlowCOVIDNC – An App That May Help With All Public School Stakeholders

When I look at the COVID-19 Dashboard for my local school system, I honestly do not know how to interpret it or how I am supposed to apply the information to my own situation as a teacher and a parent of a public school child.

I have already received notification that someone at my school has tested positive.

The very next day, my son’s school alerted me and my wife of a positive test on that campus. Our son is in the school building already as he is an EC student with self-contained classes. The notifications are all we know right now.

Furthermore, many teachers who work in schools are self-reporting on social media as they want to be be able to alert others if precautions are needed.

There is an app that may help with reporting and let others know that they might have been exposed to COVID-19, and it keeps information private.

It’s SlowCOVIDNC.

It’s in both the APPLE and GOOGLE APP stores.

Free.

And every parent of a student (and even the students themselves) could use it as well.

Bear This In Mind, Grizzlies Were Not Preying on Public Schools – Remembering Betsy DeVos’s “Grizzly” Defense Of Guns In Schools

First there was The Office.

Jim Halpert: [imitating Dwight] “Fact: bears eat beets. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.” (From “Product Recall episode” in 2007).

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Then there was Sarah Palin.

“This mama grizzly … has more reason than ever to protect our young” – Sarah Palin, 2008.

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There’s always been the references to Russia as a bear.

Don’t poke bear.” – Commonly referred to when talking about Russia.

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Then there’s that great presidential campaign commercial from Ronald Reagan in 1984. Entitled “Bear” it makes its point to a country in the midst of the Cold War.

“There’s a bear in the woods.”

And in 2017, bears were forcing us to put guns in public schools – at least according to Betsy DeVos.

“I will refer back to Sen. Enzi and the school he is talking about in Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine there is probably a gun in a school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Betsy DeVos said those now famous words during her confirmation hearing on January 17th, 2017 in response to questioning about guns on school campuses.

In an exhausting search to find the number of public school students killed by grizzlies or other bears, no number besides ZERO has shown up. On the other hand, the number of students killed with guns rises each year at alarming rates.

And honestly, who stood up for bears and grizzlies in this case of absolute discrimination? In an attempt at a red herring on avoiding the question about guns on school properties, DeVos showed a distinct hatred of mammals that were probably here well before humans were, and in doing so directly offended many icons who are of the family Ursidae.

She certainly said that bears have no place in schools. And that just hurts people like Grizzly Adams in the old grizzly groin.

That meant these American icons could no longer grace the hallways of any school.

Winnie the Pooh would have to go by “Mr. Sanders.”

bears-pooh

Baloo the Bear still needs to stay away from the man villages.

bears-baloo

Yogi Bear? Yep, and Boo-Boo too. At least kids kept their lunches.

bears-yogi

Fozzie Bear? You wacka-wacka betcha.

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Ted? I know he’s foul-mouthed, but still.

bears-ted

Little Bear? Yep. Even him and his first grade self. Maurice Sendak was rolling in his grave where the wild things are.

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Paddington Bear? Yep. Gentle Ben? Yep. Even the Coca-Cola Bears who wanted to wish you Happy Holidays?

bears-coca-cola

Even them.

And what about all of the schools that still have “bears,” “grizzlies,” or even “bruins” as mascots? According to mascotdb.com, over 390 high schools, colleges, and professional teams have “bears” as a mascot. Over 100 have “bruins.” Over 100 have “grizzlies.” We’re talking about incredible schools like:

  • University of California at Berkley
  • UCLA
  • Baylor
  • University of Maine
  • Oakland University
  • Brown University
  • Cornell (uses a bear as mascot)
  • Mercer
  • University of Montana.

Even Bowdoin College has the bear as a mascot and it educated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Franklin Pierce, and Nathaniel Hawthorne at one time!

Think of the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Bruins, and the Memphis Grizzlies.

And as if the line had not already been crossed and defecated upon (because bears do that kind of stuff in the woods),

bears-poop

there were Bad News Bears.

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They’re literally just cubs! Look at them. And the law says that kids must go to school, but Betsy DeVos said it was alright to have guns in schools to protect against these “grizzlies-to-be.”

Time for Betsy to leave and go hibernate.

After This School Year, NC Won’t Have To Just Worry About Recruiting Teacher Candidates. It Will Need To Worry About Retaining Current Teachers.

That “slide” above is from a 2019 presentation about the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS) Retirement Planning. 2019 was before the current pandemic.

It would be interesting and predictably disheartening to question LEA HR directors about how many calls they are fielding from veteran teachers concerning retirement and early retirement requirements and possibilities.

As a middle-aged veteran teacher, I have been asked if I was planning on retiring soon by people with whom I am barely acquainted.

And as a veteran teacher, I can say that many more older teachers are considering retiring whether it is “early” retirement or full retirement but done before originally planned.

Before this pandemic even started, this state was already facing a teacher candidate shortage – one that has been manufactured with “reforms” that have devalued the profession in ways that have teacher prep programs in our colleges and universities seeing a 30% drop in students. Programs like SB599 and Teach For America and TeachNC have not shown the ability to replenish that pipeline with career educators.

Now a bigger questions looms: What is NC doing to keep from having a massive teacher shortage next year?

Politicizing school reopenings, neglecting teacher input, massive workloads, and an NC General Assembly that won’t even pass a budget but cherry-picks stats to prop up a false narrative all are about to come to a perfect storm.

And the result will be a massive teacher shortage for next year.

Please remember that before the pandemic, most every school system was scratching to make sure there was a teacher in every classroom – DURING AN ECONOMIC BOOM.

So before all of these “education reform” groups start talking about what they will do about “recruiting” good teacher candidates, it might be better for them to ask, “What the hell is NC doing to keep veteran teachers in the classrooms?”

It starts by engaging veteran teachers. Honestly. And then maybe getting out of the way.

If they are not asking that question, then they already have shown where their priorities are.

Civil Discourse in Public Education “Reform” Cannot Happen If You Refuse to Involve Teachers – Even If There Is Coffee Involved

civil discourse

Over the past couple of days, much has been said about the need for civility and constructive dialogue.

The lead article for EdNC.org this morning asked an interesting question.

Relationships.

Teachers know about relationships and how to build them. Can’t very much become an effective teacher or one who stays in the profession without building relationships.

But in that article was this:

Civil debate. And “civil discourse.” Coffee, Relationships.

In North Carolina politics.

It’s a great message. And not many more people love coffee more than I do.

But it’s hard to be in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. Wasn’t it Berger who called for special sessions that excluded debate and amendments and passed a state budget through committee instead of a floor vote?

How the hell can you have coffee with him when his words and actions often do not match?

And civil discourse would be fantastic especially when discussing that most hot-button of topics: public education.

I am reminded of a Nov. 2017 John Hood op-ed in EdNC.org entitled “Carolina needs civil, curious leaders.” It begins,

If you are involved in politics and public policy in North Carolina, I have some unwelcome news: lots of North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the quality of our political discourse and leadership.”

I am usually not in agreement with Hood on many things, but I do agree with this statement. He made a good point then and it still rings solidly.

Speaking about that need for “civil discourse” and coffee, Brenda Berg from BEST NC responded to a “tweet” concerning Rash’s article this morning.

Ironically, not long before Hood’s op-ed in 2017, Brenda Berg from BEST NC wrote a perspective also on EdNC.org’s website about that need for “civil discourse.”

(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” appeared as an open missive from the CEO of BEST NC that attempted to invite all as stakeholders in public education into a conversation to build understanding and possible common ground.

But as with with Hood’s op-ed, it seemed to neglect what had happened before the need to ask for “civil discourse.”

Yes, it is a little ironic that the subject of coffee with civil discourse be the central topic on a post by someone who named his blog Caffeinated Rage. When you write a blog, you can control the dialogue. If someone makes a comment on a post who does not agree with what is said, it can be dismissed and never posted, but I do not make disagreement a reason for not posting a comment (although cursing and profanity are not published as well as threats to a person).

The issue that this teacher takes is that in order for civil discourse to happen, all parties need to be at least invited to the conversation. And there are a lot of people who have been deliberately not invited to the table, namely teachers.

Mr. Hood has written extensively about the educational reforms that have happened in North Carolina, mostly in praise of what the North Carolina General Assembly has done in the past eight years. He published one article for the Carolina Journal concerning the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education where he glossed about the need to have some civil discourse about her appointment lest people give up the “higher ground.” He stated,

Conservatives like DeVos who believe that applying conservative principles to education policy would benefit students and the public at large could certainly be mistaken. But we have good reasons for advocating the reforms we do. Those reasons stem from personal experience, empirical evidence, and basic insights about why organizations succeed or fail. In our view, those who question our motives are implicitly granting that they can’t refute our arguments. They are surrendering the high ground, not fighting for it.”

It makes a veteran teacher like me try and remember when teachers were actually part of the civil discourse concerning the very reforms that Hood and others in the conservative movement have championed which have done more to hurt public education than help it. Consider:

  • Opportunity Grants
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Push for merit pay
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Removal of graduate degree pay
  • Principal pay restructuring
  • Change in standardized tests
  • Changes in how schools are graded
  • Changed in teacher recruitment
  • Teacher pay unevenly restructured
  • School funding debated in a hurried fashion
  • State Board suing the State Superintendent over unconstitutional transfer of power
  • An Innovative School District that has little public support

And that’s just a small sampling of “reforms” by a General Assembly that has had more laws overturned in court than they had special sessions to come up with those laws. That’s the same General Assembly that tried to force a Voter ID law in gerrymandered districts.

Where was the civil discourse in those actions? That is not a rhetorical question. Where was the civil discourse there? Or the coffee?

Back to Berg’s op-ed.

What probably precipitated her op-ed was a very publicized backlash from public school advocates about the invitation to have Michelle Rhee and George Parker speak at a closed-door legislative meeting that did not allow the media or teacher advocate groups to attend.

Michelle Rhee doesn’t have a history of drinking coffee and participating in civil discourse with public school educators.

That alone showed the very disconnect that BEST NC still has with public education because in this whole conversation the one group that affects the most positive force in public education was not engaged: teachers.

Berg’s perspective used a copious amount of collective pronouns as a way of creating some sort of common ground and common purpose. The “we’s” and the “our’s” along with loaded rhetorical questions throughout the op-ed almost felt like a commercial with a slow playing piano. But when considering the history of “reform” here in North Carolina in public schools, there really has been no invitation to teachers and groups that truly represent teachers from BEST NC except a small amount of teacher representatives who are invited to small gatherings and “workshops.”

As Hood stated in the originally referenced op-ed,

“I believe in the value of structured, face-to-face programs. But they can’t scale up large enough to solve the problem on their own. Everyone has a role to play.

We can start by making concerted efforts to avoid politicizing all our personal and professional relationships, or thinking we can always know why “they” disagree with us. Why not ask them?”

Everybody.

That actually means everybody.

Hard to be “face-to-face” and have “civil discourse” over “coffee” when you aren’t allowed in the room. And yes, everyone has a “role to play,” but when a few are constantly redefining the very roles that others are playing, then it is already an uncivil situation.

And veteran teachers are not being “asked” about why they disagree with these “reforms.”

Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that many have been thrown out of the conversation. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss that there is no empirical evidence that what North Carolina has done as far as “reforms” are concerned has actually helped the public education system. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that someone who is highly financed tends to be able to command at least a sizable reading audience.

But those claims do not make that someone “more correct” or their coffee better.

It means that public school advocates are having to speak up more frequently and with more volume to at least be heard with the hopes of being listened to. And many of those advocates are the very teachers who civilly discourse with hundreds of students, parents, and public school stakeholders on daily basis without politicizing the very issues that bring them all together.

That is why some of us drink a lot of coffee and write a blog.

Every Local School Board Should Allow A Public School Teacher To Serve

Many have asked me over the years if a teacher can be a school board member and still be in the classroom.

At least in my LEA, one cannot. Many teachers over the years have run for positions on the school board, but each has had to stipulate that he/she would step away from the classroom to serve.

That should not be the case. If anything, this pandemic has shown that many school boards have not really listened to teachers as far as reopening school buildings is concerned.

People can say that a teacher is too involved in the school system to view it from different angles and through diverse lenses.

They would be wrong.

Teachers are voters. Teachers are parents of public school students. Teachers are tax payers.

Teachers know the school system well. From the inside out.

That perspective has largely been missing from many school board meetings.

school-board-elections

And it’s desperately needed.

The Centaurs Are Coming – Betsy DeVos WAS Our Dolores Umbridge

This picture is rather brilliant, eerie, humorous, yet foreboding.

And it’s appropriate because Betsy DeVos WAS our Dolorous Umbridge.

IMG_3878

(Credit:?) I do not know who the credit should go to, but if you find out, then let me know.

Here are two women who had no real experience with public education (or the education of wizards) and no IDEA of what growth is versus proficiency. They were entitled with the power of a ministry. Both women had a certain agenda to force into schools that seemed more in line with their own personal ideologies rather than the public benefit.

And then there were the standards that each strived to put in place within the schools.

For Dolores Umbridge it was the use of Educational Decrees. Defined by the Harry Potter Wiki website, these decrees are,

“The Educational Decrees are laws created by the Ministry of Magic to set or modify standards at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

…the Ministry (spearheaded by Dolores Umbridge) created new educational decrees to suppress and outlaw behaviour of which the Ministry did not approve, some of which would outright expel the students found to be in transgression of. In truth, however, is just an excuse to strip Albus Dumbledore of his headship of the school and give it to Umbridge.”

decree1

In the actual book the Educational Decrees were as follows (thanks to Harry Potter Neoseeker ).

  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-four: All Student Organizations, Societies, Teams, Groups, and Clubs are henceforth disbanded. An Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge). No Student Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor. Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an Organization, Society, Team Group, or Club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-five: The High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of privileges pertaining to the students of Hogwarts, and the power to alter such punishments, sanctions and removals of privileges as may have been placed by other staff members.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-six: Teachers are hereby banned from giving students any information that is not strictly related to the subjects they are paid to teach.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven: Any student found in possession of the magazine The Quibbler will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight: Dolores Jane Umbridge (High Inquisitor) has replaced Albus Dumbledore as the Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

And in the movie where so many got to meet Dolores Umbridge in a more personal way, these decrees were more numerous and amended somewhat. (Again, thanks to Harry Potter Neoseeker – http://harrypotter.neoseeker.com/wiki/Educational_Decrees).

  • Educational Decree Number 22 – In the event of the current Headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.
  • Educational Decree Number 23 – Dolores Jane Umbridge has been appointed to the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
  • Educational Decree Number 24 – NO MUSIC IS TO BE PLAYED DURING Study Hours.
  • Educational Decree Number 25 – The High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of privileges pertaining to the students of Hogwarts, and the power to alter such punishments, sanctions and removals of privileges as may have been placed by other staff members.
  • Educational Decree Number 26 – Teachers are hereby banned from giving students any information that is not strictly related to the subjects they are paid to teach.
  • Educational Decree Number 27 – Any student found in possession of the magazine The Quibbler will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number 29 – Although never actually passed, it was mentioned by Argus Filch, and would have presumably allowed Filch to torture the students as a punishment.
  • Educational Decree Number 30 – ALL WEASLEY PRODUCTS WILL BE BANNED IMMEDIATELY.
  • Educational Decree Number 45 – PROPER DRESS & DECORUM IS TO BE maintained AT ALL TIMES.
  • Educational Decree Number 68 – All Student Organizations, Societies, Teams, Groups, and Clubs are henceforth disbanded. An Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge). No Student Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor. Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number 82 – ALL STUDENTS WILL SUBMIT TO QUESTIONING ABOUT Suspected ILLICIT Activities.
  • Educational Decree Number 98 – THOSE WISHING TO JOIN THE INQUISITORIAL SQUAD for Extra Credit May sign up in the High Inquisitor’s OFFICE.
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While I cannot confirm if DeVos had an affinity for cats or for the color pink or office décor centered on putting plates on the wall, it was this adherence to the wishes of the “ministry” where she and Umbridge have a magical connection.

Since Cornelius Fudge was the Minister For Magic who placed Umbridge in her educational post, he directed what Hogwarts can and cannot do in the classrooms. In fact, Umbridge on many occasions simply talked about herself as an extension of Fudge within Hogwarts.

“I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty.”

“Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?”

“It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.”

Now that’s loyalty.

Betsy DeVos in her confirmation hearing and almost four years in office has continuously stated her allegiance with her own Cornelius Fudge, Donald Trump, as she backed up his policies, especially when it comes to privatizing public schools.

But something happened to Dolores.

Dolores Umbridge Gets Gang Raped by Centaurs Dolores Umbridge is -  #127527882 added by emperorwatergate at POST COMP

Centaurs.

And now they are coming for Betsy.

An Open Letter To The New NC State Superintendent

Dear Mrs. Truitt,

It is not a secret that I didn’t vote for you. In fact, I actively campaigned for the other candidate.

You were the senior education advisor to a governor who championed policies that I believe did more harm in NC than good. You stood on stage with candidates for other offices who wanted to expand vouchers. You were financially backed by people who control the EVAAS system, for-profit charter schools, and other privatization efforts. You have run an online college campus that received money from the NC General Assembly to get started in our state which is in direct competition with public colleges and universities. And you have criticized teachers who have actively advocated for student well-being.

But you were elected. I can’t change that.

Presumably, you will be in office for four years; I will still be in the classroom and loudly advocating for public schools.

It will be hard for you to do any worse than the puppet whose office you will take over. Actually, I would say that about anyone who follows Mark Johnson.

As I write this, this country is about to have a new president with a new Secretary of Education to be named. Betsy DeVos and her disastrous pharisaical influence will be out of office. Her stances on not waiving tests this year and funneling more monies to charters and vouchers will be replaced by someone whose wife was a public school English teacher – like you were. Like I am now.

So, I want to ask some questions. Not rhetorical ones, but questions that will require answers offered through prolonged action.

What will you be doing to elevate the teaching profession here in North Carolina? That’s not really that broad of a question considering that with the combination of the pandemic’s effects and prolonged political pressure, we as a state are about to see one hell of a teacher shortage. The numbers of teachers retiring early or seeking new careers are frightening if only a quarter of the rumors I hear have any truth.

And before you offer up new teacher prep programs like the ones the Western Governors University offers, you might need to do a better job of showing first what you would do with existing, proven avenues of teacher prep in our colleges and universities like the one you were at when you worked for Margret Spellings who was an architect of No Child Left Behind.

Are you going to fight for more money and resources for our public schools for not only instructional needs but for other needs like nurses, social workers, and counselors? What are you willing to do to combat what will very likely be budget cuts because of the pandemic and because of the people who control the NCGA?

How well are you going to work with the State Board of Education? Mark Johnson carried on a rather contentious relationship with the BOE. And will you speak out against the new Lt. Governor when he makes claims about how there is no systemic racism and that people who identify as gay are less than human?

What will you do to raise morale in the Department of Public Instruction? Johnson decimated it. Berger had him reorganize it. It seems to be an intentional shadow of what it used to be.

Are you going to continue to not engage with NCAE? It’s growing. Yes, it’s growing. In a state that bans public sector collective bargaining, that is a Right to Work state, that is an At Will state, and that took away graduate degree pay and due-process rights from new teachers, it seems odd that so many in Raleigh and elsewhere spend so much time and money worrying about NCAE and at the same time publicly dismiss NCAE’s influence.

But I think the most important question I have is who are you really going to listen to concerning issues about public education? Your donors? Business leaders who belong to education reform groups? Berger and Moore? Charter School groups? PEFNC? SAS? Think Tanks? ALEC? Or maybe, just maybe…teachers?

Yes, I know that you are to serve all people in your new capacity, but as a teacher, I did not see you totally engage with teachers during your campaign. In fact, you seemed to shy away from them. Your job is about to become enmeshed with public education and that does not work without engaging teachers.

Because they will engage you.

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Mark Johnson’s Version of the “American Dream” Always Neglected the American Reality For Many of Our Students

If you are an educator in the public schools of North Carolina, you might have received this missive from the state superintendent yesterday:

Educators,

Today, I had the pleasure of dropping my daughter off at school for the first time since the pandemic closed all classrooms. Her excitement, and the joy of other students, to be back at school cannot be expressed in words.

Thank you for everything you are doing for students. Thank you for your support of your communities during these trying times – whether your students are with you in the classroom or you are helping them remotely.

Despite all the challenges of this year, we still live in a country that has a dream named after it. Every student, no matter their background, should be able to work hard and reach their American Dream.

Education is one of our greatest tools to help every child succeed. Please know how much North Carolina appreciates our hard-working educators.

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC

There’s a feeling that Johnson always seemed more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming the statewide instructional leader NC needed.

It’s that blind, vague reference to the “American Dream” he ends this feel-good letter with that reminds me of the total disconnect that he had with what was and still is really happening with our students.

While running for office in 2016, Johnson penned an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” in which he talked about this rather nebulous concept of the “American Dream.”

One excerpt states,

“We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of the United States, the only nation ever to have a dream named after it. No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream.”

Yet, I never heard how Johnson planned on confronting the poverty that afflicts so many in our state when he championed a school performance grading system that literally shows the effects of poverty on student outcomes. Over %20 of our children in NC live in poverty.

I never heard any dialogue on the advancement of wrap around services in schools to help students who struggled to get essential services and resources to prepare them for school.

I never heard of any advocacy on Johnson’s part to extend Medicaid to help keep students healthy when health costs are so high.

I never heard or saw Johnson fight for higher per-pupil expenditures.

I never saw Johnson confront the NC General Assembly on funding issues for DPI that helped low-income districts get the professional development they could very much have used to help teach students who face socioeconomic stresses.

I never heard anything about increased mental-health services in schools from Johnson.

I never heard Johnson defend the students who are “Dreamers” or who have been affected by the increased actions of ICE within North Carolina.

And the list goes on.

When I talk to students from various backgrounds, their concept of what the  “American Dream” is to them is far different than the rose-colored version Johnson amorphously purports. That’s because for many of our students, the idea of someone else’s version of the “American Dream” never aligns with the actuality of their “American Reality.”

That’s the deliberate disconnect that Johnson had with the students in this state.

This Teacher Does Not Want To “Build Bridges” Or “Have A Seat At The Table” With Berger & Moore; I Want Them Out Of Power

Simply put, it’s hard to build bridges in this state with those who are making the very divides that separate us.

Before the 2008 Great Recession took hold of the country, North Carolina had what was considered one of the more progressive public school systems in the Southeast. That is no longer the case.

While other states have helped their public education systems recover, North Carolina’s General Assembly deliberately put into place measures that continued to weaken public education in the name of “reform” and privatization that included:

  • Removal of Graduate Degree Pay
  • Removal of Longevity Pay
  • Removal of Career Status
  • Removal of Due- Process Rights
  • School Performance Grading System
  • Bonus Pay Schemes
  • Vouchers
  • Charter Cap Removed
  • Class Size Chaos
  • Removal of Professional Development Funds

And there are many more.

When one surveys the terrain of North Carolina and sees just how many divides there exist, it might be easy to say that we need to “build bridges” and bring people back together again “at the table” to start a dialogue of how we can be great again.

But then it needs to be asked why those divides are there in the first place and why have certain parts of North Carolina been shut off from others.

Yes, public education can be the ultimate bridge that spans socio-economic divides, that links the rural to the urban, that allows for social gains, yet the parties who are in the construction of those bridges must be in complete synchronicity as far as goals and intentions are concerned.

But after watching lawmakers like Tim Moore and Phil Berger hold this state hostage through unethical measures to pass budgets, hold special sessions, and pass legislation that continuously weaken our public schools it has become apparent to this teacher that these are not the people with whom you build bridges.

In fact, why would public school advocates even want to “have a seat at the table” with them? Time and time again, the powers in the NCGA have shown that not only will they not invite teachers to the “table” but that they will go out of their way to make teachers part of the menu.

Yes, there has been a lot of talk about “building bridges” and having a place at the table.

But that is not happening.

When in the last eight years of Moore and Berger has there ever been any indication that teachers and public school advocates would be given even a small role in the building of metaphorical bridges much less have a “seat at the table?”

That’s not a rhetorical question.

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who when 20+K teachers come to Raleigh runs the other way to avoid having to “confront” their needs and concerns?

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with a state superintendent who while making platitudes and vapid speeches about what will bring back greatness to NC’s schools actually reorganizes DPI, helps slash its budget, and then removes the exemption status from many in DPI so that they can be fired more easily?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with lawmakers who actively promote the policies of the Koch brothers and their use of dark money?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with a governing body that actively promotes the use of secret algorithms to measure our schools and our teachers?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who allow North Carolina to be the only state that uses achievement scores more than growth to determine a school’s worth?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who actively fought against Medicaid expansion in a state where over 20% of our public school students lives in poverty.

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with legislators who deliberately passed a budget bill through a committee (nuclear option) rather than open up the discussion for debates and amendments?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion a voucher system that is considered the least transparent in the country and overwhelmingly goes to religious schools?

How can one build a bridge or sit at a table with people who champion charter school construction in places that jeopardize the very funds of the traditional public schools that already service those students?

How can one build a bridge or sit a table with people who knowingly allowed per-pupil expenditures to remain lower when adjusted for inflation than levels before 2008?

The list goes on and on….

And teachers know how to build bridges: differentiated structures that expand classrooms and curricula to bring students together in ways that help them achieve in academics and life. Teachers also know how to “set a table” that includes all stakeholders.

The gerrymandered lawmaking body in Raleigh that claims altruism CAN NOT AND WILL NOT.

In 2020, this state can set a new table and bring in a new “construction crew” to build bridges. The first step is voting for candidates who truly champion collaboration with teachers.

What we have in Raleigh is a group of people who have no interest in truly “building bridges” and bringing people “to the table.” Those people are more concerned with creating divides and putting public schools on the menu and teachers under the table.

So vote in 2020.

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