“Snowbirding” on the Court of the Class Size Fix

When a player on a basketball court refuses to go and play defense and only wants easy passes for wide open shots to pad their stat sheet, that player is “snowbirding.”

Rather than doing the heavy lifting, playing hard to make a stop and secure the rebound, this player raises his hands, yells for the long pass, and celebrates making an uncontested shot (if he can actually shoot the ball) while never doing any of the very work that made the shot possible.

Metaphorically speaking, when it comes to the supposed victory in the “fix” to the unfunded class size mandate, State Superintendent Mark Johnson had the audacity to take credit for “work” done to help put off the class size mandate for a while longer with a bill laced with other harmful legislation concerning the environment and election boards for the coming elections.

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He used that possessive plural personal pronoun called “our.” He tweeted,

Happy to report that our work to be a voice for parents, students and educators has paid off. Students will benefit from smaller class sizes, pre-K programs, and our school districts will benefit from dedicated enhancement teacher funding and a longer implementation.

Forgive me if I am mistaken in any way, but when was Mark Johnson a voice for parents, students, and educators for this class size fix? While many parents, teachers, and advocates were doing all of the hard work in rallying, speaking, galvanizing, canvasing, and talking to politicians, Mark Johnson was a no-show, a no-voice, but a smile on a television camera that he chose not to share with anyone who would challenge his actions (that’s a reference to declining an invitation to debate Mark Jewell of NCAE in television about comments he himself made).

He was “snowbirding,” waiting for the issue to be resolved, screaming for the microphone, and gladly taking credit for something that he had no part in.

That video referenced in the tweet is worth the watch if just to see someone whose very job is to advocate for public schools but rather takes credit for something that so many others worked for despite his inactivity.

If anyone needed any more evidence that our state superintendent is nothing more than a puppet for the NC General Assembly powers who put together the poison-laced class-size fix called HB90, then nothing will convince you.

Players who “snowbird” are not really team players.

In fact, they almost work for the other side.

HB90 Shows That NC’s Public School Children Are Political Pawns

News today that a “fix” for the class size mandate was “agreed” upon by both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly should seem like a welcome outcome.

On the surface, it is a victory for parents, advocates, and schools in that the mandate will be pushed back for a while and some extra funding for “specials” teachers is being given.

But during that press-conference in which Sen. Chad Barefoot announced with carefully prepared and partisan comments the “fix,” he negated to tell North Carolinians what else was attached to the bill that NC democrats were never privy to (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article199207129.html).

That link not only gives you a video of Barefoot’s press conference; it also links to Lynn Bonner’s report that further explores HB90’s reach.

Long-sought help for schools struggling to lower class sizes is now tied up with a controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline fund and a power struggle over control of elections boards.

A bill proposed Thursday would take $58 million that energy companies building a pipeline through Eastern North Carolina are expected to give state government as part of a deal Gov. Roy Cooper negotiated, and distribute it to school districts in eight counties the pipeline would run through. Cooper calls it a mitigation fund to offset environmental effects of the pipeline, but Republicans repeatedly called it a “slush fund.”

House Bill 90 also makes changes to the state elections board. The changes are the response to Republicans’ recent loss in the state Supreme Court in a ruling that said their earlier attempt to reconstitute the board was unconstitutional. In the latest iteration, the elections board would have nine members, including one member not affiliated with a political party.

But to Barefoot and other GOP members of the NCGA, the day was really about bragging about a class-size fix.

Throughout most of the last calendar year people like Barefoot, Berger, and Moore have been yelling that the class size mandate has been funded in the past, yet there was absolutely no proof of that. One only has to read the work of Kris Nordstrom and see that those claims were not only baseless, but now are revealed to be the very smokescreen for today’s announcement.

What happened today was that the GOP education reformers took credit for a solution to a problem that they purposefully used to position themselves to pass partisan legislature to help them remain in power despite the gerrymandering and doublespeak.

And yes, it is politics. But public school kids were the pawns. They made it look like they were listening to the public, but it seems more than orchestrated.

Think of Craig Horn’s statements earlier in the year that a “fix” was coming only to be rebuffed by Berger. That is until more came out about the ruling of the state supreme court on the state elections board. They needed that time to figure out how to allow a fix that they have been holding in their back pocket to a problem they originally created could be used to offset their political loss.

And again, the kids were the pawns.

They have been all along.

Gov. Cooper’s office did respond with a press release and it is correct.

cooper

But the statements that came to mind were from Mark Johnson’s “less than stellar” op-ed from yesterday’s News & Observer (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

And some of those tasked with making schools better are more focused on preserving tired partisan wedges….

Nothing was more partisan than what the people who empower and enable Johnson  (who never has really said anything about the class size mandate) did today.

And today also shows us why we need to vote so many people out of office come November.

“For the first time in its history, the Gerber spokesbaby is a child with Down syndrome”

Don’t think that this does not make me smile a little more than a lot – https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/07/health/first-gerber-baby-down-syndrome-trnd/index.html.

And who wouldn’t if there was someone like this smiling back at you with the most sincere display of joy?

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Reminds me of someone I know.

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Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Less Than Stellar” – The State Superintendent Is Right

Stellar

“Less than stellar.”

That’s what State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about his recent comments concerning teacher pay in rural counties.

It’s one of the first times that he has been correct in gauging his performance as the top public school official in the state. But in truth, Johnson’s entire tenure as state superintendent has been less than stellar.

The first paragraph of today’s News & Observer op-ed was nothing more than a beginning at an ill-fated attempt in damage control for an elected public official who has been anything but “public.”

A key challenge facing North Carolina today is the urban-rural divide. This probably isn’t news to you. Gov. Roy Cooper started the Hometown Strong project to focus on this issue. What is surprising is how I recently triggered a statewide partisan flare-up after my admittedly inelegant attempt to highlight how this urban-rural split causes us to see things differently (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Bridging that “urban – rural divide?” What about the move last July by Johnson to halt use of the key list-serve communications to LEA’s around the state leaving school systems, especially those in the rural counties, in the dark over DPI mandates? What about not fighting the cuts to DPI’s budget of nearly 20% over two years that would have been used to help professional development in school systems whose local budgets are strained?

“Partisan?” That’s a word Johnson uses to hopefully dismiss any notion that he is a politically motivated individual – one who is suing his own state board of education over power grabbing that occurred in a special session of the NC General Assembly that was meant to address HB2 but became a secret political coup. And the very day this op-ed comes out, arguments from lawyers that taxpayers are paying for are arguing over politics on Johnson’s behalf to the NC Supreme Court over that same power grab.

“Surprising?” Not at all. Just look at all of Johnson’s missives in the past – long on rhetoric, short on action.

Further in his “stellar” op-ed, Johnson says,

Last year, my team and I worked with the General Assembly to commit $105 million to replace clearly outdated school buildings in rural communities that cannot afford to build schools on their own.

But at any time did Johnson ever make comment on the class size mandate that will force local systems to create more class room space to accommodate an unfunded law?

No.

This op-ed was nothing but an attempt to deflect attention from Johnson’s inexperience, lack of scope, and refusal to actually engage in the conversations he says that we must have. But that does not keep him from trying to claim the high road as his own when he ends with this:

We don’t agree on everything, but the governor and I can, and do, engage in productive conversations. I want others to join us.

Yet, if anything has become apparent with Mark Johnson, it is that he is not willing to have those conversations. If he can’t control the arena, the medium, or the audience, then he does not want to have the conversation. For a man who claims we need to be “urgent” and fight to transform public schools, Mark Johnson would rather write glittering op-eds, make videos, and only talk in controlled atmospheres. Anything else is too confrontational and fear-inducing.

Ironic that this past week, Johnson was invited to have one of those conversations with Mark Jewell from NCAE about the very comments he made that prompted this very op-ed. He declined.

So much for conversations.

But it certainly was an “inelegant attempt.”

The Newest Member of the Endangered Species List in NC, the “NorthCackalacky Magister Expertus” – Commonly as the North Carolina Veteran Teacher

7-11-OldTeachersMug

There are many on West Jones Street in Raleigh who are deathly afraid of a certain “genus” of people, and more scared are they of a certain species in that genus that they have exerted great effort to make it endangered in hopes of making it extinct.

The biological classification of this genus / species is called “NorthCackalacky Magister expertus”, otherwise known as the North Carolina veteran teacher.

Interestingly enough, you can still find these “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in public schools. Many have graduate degrees in education and other vital fields, have due-process rights, and have survived many government-driven initiatives to change curriculum, testing, and evaluation protocols. These veteran teachers have also withstood the failed initiatives of merit pay, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top. Currently many are weathering, but still educating effectively, in the wake of school voucher programs, ridiculous school measurement instruments, and lowered funding. Some even belong to education advocacy associations like NCAE.

And having these “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in our schools is vital to our students and our communities. Furthermore, they pave the way for newer teachers, also referred to as “NorthCackalacky Magister novi” to mature into “NorthCackalacky Magister experti”. If there are no more “experti”, then the “novi” will not transition into “experti” themselves.

However, many profit-minded political poachers are lurking in legislative chambers hoping to alter the environment for these veteran teachers in hopes to prevent more from coming into fruition. Why? Because veteran teachers with due-process rights have the ability to provide a check and balance for the public school system like none other against the forces of personalities and profit that are mixed in NC’s politics.

And while there are still many “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” in schools now, they are lower in number than five years ago, and those numbers will continue to dwindle if current “environmental stressors” stay in place.

It will get to a point where the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” will be no longer. They will either go to other states or mutate into another profession.

They will be extinct. And our schools, students, and communities will suffer severely from that.

What actions have been taken to help eradicate our veteran teachers and keep new teachers from becoming veterans in North Carolina? They are many and they are deliberate.

  1. Removal of due-process rights. At one time the NC General Assembly took away due-process rights for all teachers. It was ruled unconstitutional by the court system in the case for those veteran teachers who already got those rights when they became fully certified. However, new teachers in the profession will not get due-process rights in North Carolina. That will surely inhibit those teachers from advocating loudly for schools in the future for fear of reprisal.

And those teachers who had due-process rights may be retiring earlier than expected because of conditions.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to stand up for themselves and the students they teach.

  1. Removal of Graduate Degree pay bumps. As with due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps have been abolished. What once represented the only way (besides National Board Certification) to gain a promotion in pay was to get a relevant graduate degree. While many have argued that teachers with graduate degrees are not more effective, that argument is usually made by people who stand to profit from controlling teacher pay (https://www.ednc.org/2016/04/22/why-teachers-believe-advanced-degrees-matter/).

    “NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to work on becoming more qualified.

  2. Salary Scale “adjustments”. This current GOP-led NCGA put into place a new salary schedule a few years ago that literally tops out at a little over $50 K as the highest salary a new teacher could ever make in a thirty-year career. While many in the NCGA claim that salaries have gone up for teachers they lock in on a trivial word – “average”. It’s true that average salaries have gone up, but really only for the newer teachers. Veteran teachers did not receive these kinds of raises.

Besides, it is easier to pay three new teachers than two veteran teachers if you are only looking at the bottom line for salary. However, think of the mentoring and the effect on student achievement coming from those veteran teachers, especially if they are respected by the state.

Oh, and that doesn’t even begin the discussion of the removal of longevity pay, which in NC only applies to teachers.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they cannot make a salary that allows for them to support a family and/or have a mortgage.

  1. Removal of class size caps. When the legislation removed the caps on class size, it helped to balloon the number of students in a class for teachers. That applies to all teachers, k-12. Some systems made the switch to block scheduling as well for their high schools. Simply put, teachers are teaching more classes with more kids with less planning time and collaboration opportunities.

Also put into consideration the removal of funds for professional development and teachers are forced to either get recertified in the summer on their own time and money, or they have to squeeze that professional development into the school year which takes away time from those bigger classes.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they are forced to teach so many kids that it takes away from the student/teacher dynamic crucial to learning.

  1. Too many standardized tests. The only thing a citizen has to do is to see how many tests are administered in a public school for the sake of measuring student achievement – EOG’s, EOCT’s, NC Finals, PSAT, PLAN, ACT, AP, ASVAB, etc.,etc.,etc.

And that doesn’t even touch the time needed to review for the exam or to take teacher made exams.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if not allowed to have a say into what is on the test and how those tests are graded.

  1. Inconsistent teacher evaluation programs. Two words – Standard 6. Three more words – Value Added Measures.

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if their effectiveness is measured arbitrarily.

  1. Lack of resources and less money per pupil. This has been explained so many times, but it can’t be stated enough.  -(https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/30/north-carolinas-playbook-to-dismantle-public-education/ ):

 

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they constantly are asked to do more with less and watch as charter schools and vouchers suck more money from traditional public schools.

  1. School grading system. This is another “constantly explained” item. From the same posting as above (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/30/north-carolinas-playbook-to-dismantle-public-education/):

“This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.”

“NorthCackalacky Magister novi” cannot fully become “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” if they are constantly being told that their schools are “failing” when they actually show substantial student growth.

Those are eight of the more seen ways that the NCGA has tried to alter the environment to eventually exterminate the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti”. To a certain extent, it has worked. Last year’s teacher turnover report claimed a turnover rate over 10%  It was surely more than that as not all teachers who leave the profession report to DPI their reasons. Some teachers move to another district that may have more local supplement and support to offer. In that case, it could be just the “NorthCackalacky Magister experti” migrating to places where the environment has not been as damaged.

And remember, if a species becomes extinct….

Only One Person is “Attractive Inside of This Moral Kiosk”

“It‘s so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk.”

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It is true that if your ego is both big and fragile enough that everything can be “so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk” especially if it is a kiosk of your own construction.

Possibly one of the most underrated songs of R.E.M. is “Moral Kiosk.” While the fifth song on the Murmur album is uniquely 1980’s, it has morphed from a catchy, dance-able tune that may have been laced with ambiguous lyrics to a song whose verses seem almost eerily pertinent to today’s political landscape.

Imagine having your own floating pedestal that follows you wherever you go that you can climb upon at any time to present yourself as blessed, pure, and most righteous. All who see you upon it immediately look negatively inward and compare themselves unfavorably to you.

This pedestal looks inviting, but no one else is allowed on it but you. It may even look like one of those kiosks in the mall that openly sells some sort of consumable or displays something newsworthy. But no one else is allowed to shop there no matter how much money he/she may have.

It’s like a “moral kiosk” that allows you to look down upon others and pass judgement. In fact, it is surrounded by a glass dome that when viewing the outside world from within automatically casts all others in an inferior light and makes them “little” by belittling them.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper!”– February 5, 2018.

Or “treasonous” (for not clapping for you).

“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.” – February 5, 2018.

The moral kiosk allows you to openly absolve yourself when even the most egregious character defects and “scratched scandals” that would ruin others like grabbing women by the “p***y” or providing hush money to people with whom “idle hands oriented” are washed away with talk of religion.

And there are those who look from the outside in see only grace, humility, and integrity – even supposed “Men of God.”

graham

In a country where so many supposedly benefited from a massive tax break, the idea of having a “magic pillow under head” is still a far-fetched idea for almost everyone. That’s because many do not even have a pillow to sleep upon or a pot to piss in unless it is on loan from the Guggenheim Museum.

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That moral kiosk allows you to script a doctor’s findings in an “official” physical because inside of it you can defy time itself (Horae) and reverse gravity to grow another inch in height from your last physical.

Small hands become “yuge.”

All positive things like unemployment and the stock market are all of your doing.

All negative actions that reflect badly on you are to be blamed on others.

And you are so much more attractive.

At least to yourself.

Billy Pilgrim and the Sermon on the Mount – The Differences Between the Beatitudes and the Me-atitudes

I miss Kurt Vonnegut.

Lived through the Great Depression. Fought in WWII. A POW and a social critic.

Truly a leading voice for the twentieth century. Fifty years of writing – 14 novels, 3 short story collections, 5 plays, and 5 works of nonfiction. Slaughterhouse Five is a must read for anyone (and on my suggested list of works for my daughter to read) and “Harrison Bergeron” was a staple of mine in freshmen English classes.

And probably the best cameo performance ever in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School.

He also was one of the most recognizable authors to ever walk the earth, sporting a mustache about as well as Mark Twain and Magnum P.I.

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He also has a quote about religion and politics that a recent post by my Auntie Sherry reminded me of. It reads,

“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

There’s a lot of truth to that in this political climate, especially here in this election year. For me it is more applicable to the elections in North Carolina.

I am not a Biblical Scholar. After being christened in the Roman Catholic Church, I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition where services ended right at noon and softball season brought about a higher attendance in church for eligibility. I do not attend a regular church now, and I do consider religion and spirituality as being separate. My study of his words and deeds do not lead me to believe that he would endorse many of the people in office today who claim to follow his teachings. And I am very adamant that Jesus not be used as a political endorsement.

I do look to the teachings of Christ for guidance and inspiration, and the Sermon on the Mount where the Beatitudes are found are very dear to me.

They are as follows from Matthew 5: 3-10.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Many believe that the word “blessed” here means “happy” and that serves well for me. I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, but I will trust what linguistic experts say here.

Terms like “poor in spirit”, “mourn”, “the meek”, “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, “merciful”, “clean of heart”, “peacemakers”, and “persecuted” are not simply literal references. It seems to me that what Jesus was saying was that he was going to help those (and charge his followers to do the same) who had lost faith, who suffer any form of sorrow, who put others needs ahead of theirs, who show mercy to others, who strive not to be polluted by the world, who seek peace rather than confusion, and who do right even when others disagree to find happiness.

And if we are going to follow Christ’s example, then we should as well.

I wrote a post last April after the Network for Public Education convention on Raleigh entitled “Legivangelists and Others Who Praise the Lard.” In June I wrote a post entitled “Politics and the God Complex- Putting Jesus on the Ticket.” I believe that I had Vonnegut’s words streaming in my mind when I wrote them. And both pieces deal with the use of Jesus and God as validation for what has been enacted here in North Carolina under the present leadership.

If anyone on West Jones Street can convince me that suppressing the vote through a racially motivated Voter ID bill, discriminating against the LGBTQ community, cutting unemployment benefits for many who were still reeling from the great recession, denying the expansion of healthcare through Medicaid, and allowing for people to drink polluted water, drawing election districts to deny people’s democratic voices, and allowing for over 20% of our kids to live in poverty fits in with the Beatitudes, then I will gladly withdraw this post.

It seems that in those instances it was more about the “Me”atitudes rather than the Beatitudes.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Is that still true? I am not asking it as a rhetorical question.

If I had a picture of every lawmaker in Raleigh who championed, sponsored, and voted for the aforementioned pieces of legislature, I think I might have the most homogenous looking group of lawmakers I have seen in a while.

I wonder what Billy Pilgrim would have said about that. Actually, I think I do.

RIP Kurt Vonnegut. Rather, please keep talking to us.

The Silence of the NC State Superintendent on Public Schools And a Fear of Tough Questions

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I don’t get to choose my students. Whoever walks into my classroom and is on the roll I receive from the school system will get the best instruction that I can offer.

And in those classes, I do not write a script. Students are always allowed to ask questions, especially tough ones. If I know answers, then good. If I can lead them to answers, then great. If I do not know the answer, then I tell them and we search for answers together.

The tougher the question, the better. It means higher order thinking is going on. It also makes me as a teacher keep striving to learn and be more prepared. It makes me accountable and “accountable” is a word that some in Raleigh use in talking about others rather than reflecting on themselves.

In fact, I should never shy away from an inquisitive student. Nor should any public official shy away from an opportunity to offer answers, clarification, and/or insight from anyone who is affected by his/her actions or lack of actions.

When State Superintendent Mark Johnson first took office over a year ago, he embarked on what he termed as a “listening tour” as he vowed to listen directly from teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina.

But has Mark Johnson done any speaking about what he has heard? Has he come back to teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina and shared those observations in an open forum where he could be asked pointed and direct questions?

He certainly had a chance this week.

Today, it was learned that Johnson declined an offer by Capital Tonight to debate NCAE President Mark Jewell on educator pay. Johnson turned down a chance to talk with an important public school advocate and offer explanation on his nebulous views on education.

He was not going to have any part of that. Maybe it was because of a scheduling conflict, but he could have offered an alternate date.

I believe it’s because it is a debate. He could not script all of his words and he would be forced to answer tough questions.

In the times that I have been able to glean any information from Mark Johnson about his stance on the many issues we public educators are facing now, it is from a prepared text carefully placed in chosen media.

And there has been nothing from Johnson about the class size mandate, the principal pay plan, or reductions in funding.

Interviews have been given to specific outlets. Video addresses are sent out after careful production. Op-eds are placed throughout the state without a chance for people to actively rebut. And when challenged in meetings like the state board meetings this past year, he remains vague or silent.

For a man who spends a lot of time talking about his teaching experience, Johnson should remember that teachers answer tough questions from really smart students about intricate subjects on a daily basis. Even the teachers who make 35K a year.

But the elected state superintendent who makes over 120K a year will not come on television and actively debate an educator concerning his own words about teacher pay.

Maybe it is a good thing he is not in the classroom any longer. There may be too many hard questions to answer.

silent

To All Former AP Lang Students – The Best Homework Assignment of the Year: Super Bowl Commercials!

It is that time again for one of my favorite assignments of all time: dissecting Super Bowl ads.

If you are a former student of mine or just want to play along, I want to ask you to relay to me either through a comment on the blog or via Facebook what the best and worst ads were. We are covering them in class the next couple of days.

For those who are not familiar with this assignment, what I ask students to do is to consider audience, appeals, context, color, music, and timing of the commercials and we will judge their effectiveness.

Did you know that the most “remembered” commercial of the 1980’s aired one time? It was the famous 1984 Apple commercial introducing the Macintosh personal computer.

Oh, and I hope the Patriots lose.

About Sen. Berger’s Words Concerning Teacher Bonuses and North Korea

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Sen. Phil Berger’s words in reference to the teacher merit bonuses based on 2017 scores reflect the growing willful ignorance that is being bred in secret chambers in Raleigh amongst GOP stalwarts.

In fact, his statement is so preposterous and outlandish that the only thing keeping this teacher from laughing out loud is the fact that Berger’s reasoning is more the norm than the exception for the state’s most powerful lawmaker.

There are a couple of places in the statement that immediately seem incongruous. North Korea strikes me as more of a communistic totalitarian state. The government controls everything. Actually, the government owns everything. When I think of a socialist country, I tend to think of countries whose economies provide large “welfare” and social services to all citizens like Norway, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, or even Ireland. Many talk about the “socialized” medicine in Canada and England. Putting North Korea in that context seems a little extreme. Besides, many socialized countries have education systems in which the teaching profession is much more highly revered than here.

Oh, and Sen. Berger also seemed to forget that North Carolina is a “right-to-work” state. That means there are no unions. NCAE is not a union. It’s an association of education professionals. If Berger really wants to see how teacher unions work, then he should go to Chicago and New York City. Now those are unions.

But it’s the word “bonus” that seems to be most spun by Sen. Berger.

I got a bonus. Got one last year. This year’s bonus was larger as the cap was higher. When any of my students from my multiple sections of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition scores a passing grade of “3” or higher, I receive a bonus of $50 per student. If lots of my students pass, that bonus gets bigger.

And the bigger the bonuses get, the more I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: continued lack of respect for all public school teachers. In fact, I do not even consider the “bonus” a bonus. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

One thing about bonuses is that they are highly taxed. Ironically, almost 40% of my bonus was taken out by three different taxes.

25% of it went to the federal government. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. Sen. Berger was a champion in not expanding Medicaid in NC.

Almost 8% went to Social Security, which at my age may not be around when I am old enough to receive it.

Almost 6% went to the state. That’s actually kind of funny to think about because the state gave me money to give back to them. And the same day I received the bonus, I got in the mail a tax statement about how much money I “made” from a tax refund last year will be taxed.

Last year, I did not keep the bonus. I wrote a check to my school because the school needed it more.

I did the same thing this year along with helping some kids with special needs. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – still have two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

It is hard for me to consider taking this money, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but if I had a chance to tell Sen. Berger why I feel that his statement is rooted in political “newspeak,” I would talk about the following:

  1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. It’s funny to think of rewarding me for my students working harder and not other teachers who do absolute wonders in the classroom that do not get measured.
  2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them.
  3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Students need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation. Yet many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus, with all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.
  4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’s faculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own.
  5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too. So should Sen. Berger.
  6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.
  7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter.
  8. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.
  9. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. Many teachers got a raise in the past four years, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that lawmakers seem to care about teacher compensation. But if Berger really respected teachers, he would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. He would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. He would restore due-process rights for new teachers, he would give back graduate degree pay, he would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and he would restore longevity pay.
  10. It’s pure grandstanding. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amount of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is a lawsuit between our puppet state superintendent and the state school board Berger helped appoint, and an ISD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that Berger thinks a bonus will help to hide.

Sen. Berger thinks that bonuses are part of the solution. Rather, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.

But if he wants to make comparisons with North Korea, then he might want to look at his own actions in promoting unconstitutional mandates that gerrymander districts to ensure certain people remain in power, that suppress minority voters so they do not have a voice, and that attempt to rig a judicial election cycle so that two of the three branches of the state government are under one thumb.

And there are so many excellent teachers who will never receive a bonus because the work they do in advancing kids can never be measured by the eyes of the narrow-minded who have no idea of what happens inside of a classroom.

Like Phil Berger.