Again, Why Do We Have Exams After The Winter Break? Change The Calendar!

I am just going to say it.

Again.

We need to start the school year earlier here in North Carolina.

While it is nice to think of having a winter break to celebrate the holidays, the calendar system that North Carolina has adopted for traditional public schools is not helping our students AT ALL.

I have argued this very point before, but it bears reminding.

calendar-image

The following is from a post in July of 2016:

“As it stands right now, a Senate Bill (187) from the 2012 session stipulates the following for school calendars:

Start date no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to August 19.

With such an emphasis on test scores and “student achievement” as measured by those same scores, it would make sense to allow the first semester to actually end with exams taken before the winter break. As it stands now, most students in traditional public schools in the state do not take exams for block classes until after the winter break, a time period which generally lasts two weeks.

Some may argue that that is only a two week hiatus, but actually it is longer than that, and it creates an intellectual and mental lapse that affects student scores and ultimately how schools are measured.

Students tend to get excited for the winter break as many look forward to Christmas and other holidays. Commercially speaking, most students are bombarded with other stimuli. Yet, when school reconvenes for the first semester exams, the state and county systems have to create a testing window so that all required stipulations are followed.

Ironically, a whole new year starts on the calendar, but students and teachers are still stuck in the fall semester. Tax forms and W-2’s are being put together because the tax cycle ended; students are still working on second quarter grades.

With EOCT’s, NC Tests, and teacher made exams plus required makeup sessions built in, many public schools are forced to have at least seven (often more) days of testing to accommodate the laws. Add in that a day or two that students need to reacquaint themselves with school. They are coming off a break and thrown straight into a frenzy of testing and have minimal contact with teachers who need review time for exams. Also, consider the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s observed birthday and students are a little more scattered than usual.

On a block schedule (A/B day), this means that for over four weeks of time (holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame.

In a regular four week A/B schedule time period, a teacher usually engages a class for at least 10 class periods. A true block class, at least 20.

To say that this schedule does not affect test scores is shortsighted at the least.

And there are other concerns that should be considered.

  • Many students work during this time full-time hours.
  • Without guided instruction, students may not actually experience academic atrophy.
  • Many seniors are having to finish college applications while worrying about exams.
  • Winter athletes are having to worry about athletic eligibility ovet the break instead of having already secured it.
  • Winter weather can cause an even linger break.
  • If schools are closed, then tutoring opportunities and academic help is limited.
  • January’s pacing is frenetic at best – not a good way to start the new year.

Besides, to feel that the school year was officially “half-way” finished when the actual new year started is a mentally better approach.

“Pro-Life” Means Taking Care Of Those Who Are Already Born

Since we are nearing the holiday season, I tend to think of this part of Dickens’s classic holiday novella.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

christmas-carol


The above passage from A Christmas Carol also comes to mind any time I hear elected officials talk about the role of government and the role of individuals in a nation that professes to be Christian in its founding and in its morals.

Below are three statements made directly by elected officials or posted on their official websites concerning morals and values. I am most interested in their use of the term “pro-life.”

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.” – Dan Forest, Lt. Gov. of NC

“A pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Senator who believes in religious freedom, Senator Berger has fought to protect the unborn and the rights of magistrates and government officials who choose to opt out of gay marriages or other ceremonies because of religious objections.” – philberger.org

“After 30 years of work on pro-life legislation, we were able to produce significant advances for the protection of the unborn and their mothers.  We ended tax funded abortions and sex selection abortion.  We authorized regulations to protect the health and safety of women at clinics. The Woman’s Right to Know Act with its 72 hour waiting period is reducing abortion rates by about 25%.” – Former Paul “Skip” Stam from paulstam.info

It is easy to confine the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” to the arena of unborn children. But the issue of abortion is not really the subject of this post.

Why? Abortion is too big of an issue to tackle in a personal essay and I am certainly not convinced that declaring yourself “pro-choice” automatically means that you condone abortion in any situation. Life throws too many qualifications into its equations to make all choices an “either/or” choice.

When my wife and I received a pre-natal diagnosis that our son had Down Syndrome, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to a genetic counselor at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. The state of North Carolina had at the time in its laws stated that an abortion could not be performed after a certain date in a woman’s pregnancy. If we had chosen to have an abortion, we would have had to make that decision in a rather small amount of time.

We did not seek an abortion; it was not an option for us, but it was rather surreal to receive phone calls from health providers talking about that option because they had to legally inform us of our rights/options/legal restrictions. You might be shocked to know the percentage of people/couples who choose to abort with the information we had. I was.

It’s 93%. That’s right. 93%. And I am not about to judge those who did choose what is legally their right in the eyes of the law. There are too many variables in lives that I do not live to run around and make judgement calls.

I also will never carry a child in a womb. Neither will Dan Forest. Neither will Phil Berger. Neither will Paul Stam. Neither will Trump or Pence or Paul Ryan.

We had Malcolm and I would not trade anything for the experience of being his parent. Anyone who knows me and my family can testify to that. But he is no longer “unborn.” He is now in our world among others who need help to lead fulfilling lives.

However, I do get rather irritated when the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are used in such a polarizing fashion, especially for political gain. And when I see the above three statements by prominent politicians, I do not necessarily sense a “pro-life” message as much as I sense an “anti-abortion” message.

Because “pro-life” means so much more than that.

Why are we not protecting the lives of those who are already born? I feel that being “pro-life” is not a matter reserved for the issue of abortion and the unborn, but should include those who are living and need help.

Hubert Humphrey once said in 1977, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

If you are “pro-life” then it would make sense that you would look to the welfare of those who cannot necessarily defend themselves without help like the “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Is it not ironic that many who ran on a strict “pro-life” platform seem to be in favor of privatizing or redefining the very services that help sustain the lives of those whom they claim to champion.

Think of Medicaid that my own son has been on the waiting list for because he will need its services earlier than most people. If it becomes privatized, it may jeopardize his chances of getting the help he needs when he gets older. Within the state of North Carolina, not expanding Medicaid affects many “children, the elderly, and the sick.”

Nationally speaking, think of Obamacare that insures many who would not be eligible if such a plan was not in place. While it is anything from perfect, it has insured many people who were never insured before. And have the parties in charge of the government offered anything else except “free-market?”

Think of our responses to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Think of the use of tax payer money to fund vouchers and charter schools that are actually privatizing public schools all in the name of “choice” when there should be a push to fully fund all public schools and provide for their resources because public education is a public service and not a private entity.

Dan Forest once said in reference to the HB2 debacle, “We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.

But hasn’t some of the “choices” that have been made by those in power been made because there was some sort of price tag on it?

It seems that many of the politicians who claim to be hardline “pro-lifers” are helping to privatize the very institutions that are giving “life” to many individuals. And they are doing it in the name of free-markets, where people are supposed to be able to choose what they want hoping that the “market” controls prices and quality.

How ironic that many politicians who proclaim to be “pro-life” become “pro-choice” when it pertains to those who are already born.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would call himself “pro-life” and allow for big banks (look at what Wells Fargo did) and pharmaceutical companies (think of EpiPens) to literally control prices and the market without a fight.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would have been willing to allow public money to fund private entities without input from the public itself.

I would have a hard time thinking that Jesus would not confront politicians and call them out for their hypocrisy in not defending or helping take care of those who needed aid.

The Jesus I know called out the Sadducees and the Pharisees for their self-righteous ways.

The Jesus I know did not canvas for votes. He came to help all of us no matter race, gender, or physical ailment.

The Jesus I know preached and practiced the Golden Rule in the very places where many who profess to help would never set foot.

Growing up Southern Baptist in a region of the country known as the Bible Belt, I was constantly (still am) confronted with the question, “When you meet your Maker after you die, how will you answer for your actions?”

Yet the more I think of it, there might be another more important question that will require an answer from me and from all of us, especially those who have the power to positively affect the lives of people. That question is “What will you say when you meet your Maker and you are asked to answer for your lack of action?”

Back to Dickens. When Scrooge asked Marley’s ghost, who practiced an incredible amount of selfishness in life, about his afterlife, he was treated to a very terse lesson in what it meant to be “pro-life.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

When you become an elected official, then your business is humankind. That’s being “pro-life.”

The Chronic Unexcused Absenteeism of Betsy DeVos

As a teacher, if I worked the kind of schedule that Betsy DeVos worked, then I would be “nonrenewed” which is effectively fired.

Before anyone says, “Well, teachers have tenure!” please be reminded that tenure really means having due-process rights and blatant absenteeism is hard to defend if it is not for medical leave or another hardship. Besides, here in North Carolina, due-process rights were taken away from new teachers a few years ago long before Betsy DeVos started her current “tenure” as secretary of education.

And if anyone says, “Well, teachers have summers off!” please be prepared to explore a much deeper issue in which appearances are wildly different from realities.

It seems plausible that leaders set an example through work ethic and willingness to accept responsibility which is why I do not consider Betsy DeVos a leader. In fact, it seems that she does not even desire to be the leader of the nation’s public school system.

Consider a recent report by the non-partisan watchdog group American Oversight. They released a report on DeVos’s attendance record over the first six months of her term.

Six months is four months shorter than a school year as defined by federal standards.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, American Oversight was able to conclude that DeVos only showed up for work 2 out of three days (https://www.americanoversight.org/unexcused-absences-devos).

An analysis by American Oversight found that during that period – which stretches from February 8th to July 19th – DeVos only completed a full day of work 67% of the time. 

DeVos schedule

That’s not a good track record.

Broken down specifically, the report says:

DEVOS’S CALENDARS BY THE NUMBERS:

  • 113 federally mandated work days (February 8 – July 19, 2017)
  • 77 full days of work (68%)
  • 21 partial days taken off (19%)
  • 15 full days taken off (13%)
  • 5 hours of work on average partial day off
  • 11 long weekends in less than six months

If a teacher was to take a partial-day off, then a substitute teacher would have to be called in for the other half-day. That would be 21 sub jobs there.

If a teacher was to take a whole day off, then a substitute teacher would have to be called in for the entire day. That would be another 15 sub jobs there.

That hurts the school system’s budget because subs have to be paid and it hurts morale because if the teacher is not there for reasons not really excused, then students and other teachers get affected by that. Besides the continuity in the class would be totally compromised therefore hurting student achievement.

And any school will tell you that “voluntary” long weekends are especially hard to navigate.

Leaders do not do this. People who do not really want to lead do this.

Imagine if a student only came to school two of three days and most of the days missed were “unexcused.” That student would not pass.

Makes you want to see Betsy DeVos’s report card at the end of the school year.

Another Reason To Love Being a Titan

There are many reasons why Malcolm loves going to West Forsyth Girls Basketball games.

He loves basketball.

He loves being close to the action.

He loves that the players know him.

And the young ladies on that team interact with him and make him a part of their “family.” Before games some of them come over and fist bump Malcolm as a pre-game ritual. The team even wrote Malcolm a note last year thanking him for his support. It’s in his room.

Something like that makes this father and teacher especially proud to be a part of West Forsyth. And then you see this in the local paper.

http://www.journalnow.com/sports/prepzone/basketball/long-distance-connection-west-forsyth-s-callie-scheier-gets-coaching/article_9651a5de-7705-57d2-be41-2a26f87dfca5.html

It’s a story about one of the players and her father who because of his job cannot make it to her games, but it does not stop him from being close to his family.

A house is where you might keep your possessions, but a home is where the people you love are both literally and figuratively.

A house is usually defined with walls and boundaries. A home is not confined in that way like the distance of three states.

And a person who believes in family knows that the power of the family as a whole is greater than the sum of the individuals.

If you want a great story about family, then take a look at this in the Winston-Salem Journal.

If you want to see a great “family” play some basketball, then come out and see this Titan Girls Varsity basketball team.

Malcolm goes as often as he can.

west forsyth3

 

 

 

The Malleable, Nebulous, and Secretive Algorithm of EVAAS

Recently this blog released a post concerning SAS and its value-added measurement software called EVAAS detailing its rather “undetailed” functionality at least as it deals with North Carolina (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/).

evaas header.PNG

Be reminded the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

It is rather mind-boggling to think that a measurement which comes from EVAAS is shrouded in so much opaqueness. With the power to sway school report cards and school performance grades, it would make sense that there be so much more transparency in how it calculates its data so that all parties involved would have the ability to act on whatever needs more attention.

But for right now, we are relegated to asking questions about how SAS uses EVAAS to come up with its measurements.

So when a teacher receives an EVAAS score can a person from DPI or even SAS answer the following questions when it comes to “measuring performance” that would truly allow that teacher to be convinced his / her effectiveness has been measured correctly?

  1. Do EVAAS scores consider the viewpoints of the parents whose students are being taught?
  2. Do EVAAS scores consider the viewpoints of the students and how they feel about the learning experience and their security in the school and the classroom?
  3. Do EVAAS scores consider the growth index of a school?
  4. Do EVAAS scores consider the attendance records of the students?
  5. Do EVAAS scores consider the graduation rate?
  6. Do EVAAS scores consider how many students are taking “rigorous” courses?
  7. Do EVAAS scores consider the amount of community service done by students in the school?
  8. Do EVAAS scores consider the strength of the drama department and the quality of the productions?
  9. Do EVAAS scores consider what is seen in the yearbook?
  10. Do EVAAS scores consider the strength of the student newspaper?
  11. Do EVAAS scores consider the strength of the JROTC program?
  12. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of viable clubs and organizations on campus?
  13. Do EVAAS scores consider the amount of scholarship money won by graduating students
  14. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of student participating in sports?
  15. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of teachers who have advanced degrees and advanced certification?
  16. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of foreign languages offered?
  17. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students in the Student Section at a game?
  18. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students who wear spirit wear?
  19. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students involved in choral and musical endeavors?
  20. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students who attend summer academic study opportunities?
  21. Do EVAAS scores consider the quality of the artistic endeavors of students through visual and performance arts programs?
  22. Do EVAAS scores consider the strength of programs that hope to help marginalized students?
  23. Do EVAAS scores consider the transient rate of the student body?
  24. Do EVAAS scores consider the turnover rate of the staff and faculty?
  25. Do EVAAS scores consider the poverty levels of the surrounding area that the school services?
  26. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students who hold jobs?
  27. Do EVAAS scores consider the effect of natural disasters such as hurricanes?
  28. Do EVAAS scores consider the funding levels of the programs?
  29. Do EVAAS scores consider the number of students on 504 plans or IEP’s?
  30. Do EVAAS scores consider the rations of nurses and counselors to students?
  31. Do EVAAS scores consider the class sizes?

And that’s not even really directly touching on issues related to poverty.

If any or all of those are considered in calculating EVAAS scores then SAS should prove it.

If any or all of those are NOT considered, then maybe SAS should take a deeper look at whether or not they should be considered.

Because all of them has an effect on students and schools in varying ways.

Quantify that.

 

Save Our Public Schools NC – Holiday Card Bonanza

Wanted to make you aware of this. Good people doing good things for great kids. Please consider helping.

SAve Schools Christmas Card

From the “Details.”

Our North Carolina elected officials have persistently failed to prioritize public schools across our State. Strong public schools lead to increased home values, economic growth and stable communities. [Read below for a quick history on the K-3 Mandate.]

This holiday season, add your NC House Representative and NC State Senator to your holiday card list. Let’s make sure our representatives see the faces of the children in their districts who will be affected by the#ClassSizeChaos

1. Mark up your card using our slogan: “Fix The #ClassSizeChaos” and include your kids’ grade level, school name or favorite special. 
Include language stating the K-3 Mandate needs to be fixed in January 2018.

2. Have an extra minute? Include a message about how the #ClassSizeChaos will affect your family or school. Remind them that you vote and care about public schools.

If you don’t have family photo cards, send a regular card, holiday card, New Years card, post card, child’s drawing/artwork — heck, send a piece of scrap paper lying around, we don’t care! Just write to your two NC State representatives letting them know to Fix The #ClassSizeChaos in January 2018!

Wait. You need their addresses! Find out who represents you by inserting your address into the map here:

https://www.270towin.com/elected-officials/

———————–
Quick History: In Spring 2017, the NC General Assembly passed an unfunded K-3 class size mandate which will require smaller class sizes in K-3 for ALL North Carolina elementary schools.

But wait! Aren’t smaller class sizes desirable? Of course. But the mandate lacked discussion with educational professionals and districts across the State and IT NEEDED FUNDING. Imagine smaller K-3 class sizes, but with the following potential impacts across our State:

– Eliminating Art, PE, Music, and Technology jobs to create $$ to pay new K-3 teachers
– 4th and 5th grade class sizes could swell to greater than 29:1 students: teacher ratio
– Middle & High School teaching jobs are cut, leading to larger class sizes to free up $$ to pay new K-3 teachers
– Specials (art, music, tech, languages, etc.) taught by unqualified K-3 teachers

Without funding, this legislation will ultimately diminish the overall educational experience of our children.
———————–
Interested in how to make a greater impact? Join our FB page: Save Our Schools NC for more information, ask questions and find answers regarding the K-3 Statewide mandate, and help us advocate for public schools across North Carolina!

Gomer Pyle Makes a Citizen’s Arrest For Art Classes in NC

Did you ever see the Andy Griffith Show episode where Gomer makes a citizen’s arrest on Barney for making a U-turn on the main street? Take a look.

https://youtu.be/G-VJNJhPCNo

gomer

Baseball cap on sideways. Oily rag in back pocket. Impeccable logic. Steadfast loyalty to rules.

Gomer Pyle was always more than he seemed. So was the man who created that character.

Jim Nabors died today, and while he was a man born in Alabama, migrated to California and eventually settled in Hawaii, his Gomer Pyle character will always rank him as a North Carolinian as well – a North Carolinian who was accessible and relatable to so many who watched and continue to watch the Andy Griffith Show.

If what I have gleaned about Jim Nabors’s life is correct, he was born in the South and went to California and started working in the film industry. He began doing small time theatre and stage acting along with singing.

And Jim Nabors had a beautiful voice. My grandmother had his records in the house I grew up in. The stark contrast from his Gomer Pyle accent and his classically groomed baritone voice was just a reflection of his range as a performer.

We did not have cable growing up. We had an antenna for CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and WTBS which aired episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and the Carol Burnette Show. Jim Nabors was in all three, one of which showcased him as the star. I even remember him in a Sid and Marty Croft Saturday morning show when kids actually watched Saturday morning cartoons.

This middle aged public school teacher can remember the iconic “G-o-o-o-l-l-e-e” and the “Shazam!” and the “Gosh!” that became a staple of Nabors’s character.

Then I think of the fact that he was stage trained, worked in the film industry, was a singer (and therefore in the performing arts), and he played a character who was always more than he seemed.

Jim Nabors made an indelible impression on everyone who watched him perform and his Gomer Pyle is as Old State as it gets.

But the North Carolina that Gomer Pyle loved was a place where the film industry thrived and the arts were celebrated and woven into the fabric of schools. Is that the North Carolina we have today?

Of course NC still remains devoted to the military, but considering the public life of Gomer Pyle and the private life of Jim Nabors, NC has moved away from some of the very foundational tenets someone like Jim Nabors would have wanted to still remain.

Makes this citizen want to scream for a “Citizen’s Arrest.”

Can Berger, Moore, or Barefoot Explain This? Concerning School Funding Levels Pre and Post Recession

Today the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report on school funding in states that compared current funding with pre-recession levels.

Entitled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding”, the authors begin with this:

“Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity — has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.  Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools. 

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels.  In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008” (https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding).

Yes, North Carolina was one of those states.

In fact, North Carolina was mentioned in several instances.

“As of the current 2017-18 school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey we conducted using state budget documents.”

North Carolina was one of those states.

“Seven of those 12 — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding.” 

There we are again.

“Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but some enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years.”

And, again.

“In order to accurately compare past and current education spending, North Carolina’s numbers do not include funding for one-time bonuses and increases for salaries and benefits for education personnel.”

For those who may argue that there were bonuses and “salary increases,” there is a lot more to that.  Consider the following:

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/14/open-letter-to-gov-mccrory-and-the-ncga-concerning-bonus-pay-for-teachers/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/

And from the footnotes:

“This analysis examines the 12 states with the deepest cuts in “formula” or general K-12 education funding as identified in CBPP’s 2016 paper “After a Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States.” These states are Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.  While Wisconsin appeared among the 12 deepest-cutting states in our 2016 paper, that state has been providing school districts with an increasingly large amount of general funding outside of the state formula.  Including this non-formula general aid, Wisconsin’s cuts since 2007-08 are not in the top 12.”

And for good measure, there’s a nice chart.

11-29-17sfp-f8

Won’t take long to see North Carolina in that list.

In the red.

Almost 20%.

Wow.

Why Teachers Should Be Wary of EVAAS and SAS

In October, the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

In 2013, the state of North Carolina started using a value-added measurement scale to help gauge teacher effectiveness and school performance. Developed by SAS which is headquartered in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, EVAAS collects student data and creates reports that are used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

 

Think of the iceberg and what is seen and what is under the water line.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

There is even a nice little video that one can go to in order to “understand how EVAAS” works (https://ncdpi.sas.com/videos/EVAAS/WhatIsEVAAS.mp4).

EVAAS pic

The whole video is an attempt to validate the use of EVAAS by the state. Except it does not tell anyone how “EVAAS performs value-added analysis.” The only people who know how that works are inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory or as we know it, SAS headquarters.

This past March, Angela Scioli wrote a powerful piece for EDNC.org entitled “EVAAS: An incomplete and painful system for me.” In it she stated,

I did not change anything else about my teaching.  I did not know what to change.  No one met with me to intervene.  No one even spoke to me about the results.  It just sat there, like a black eye I couldn’t cover up, but no one wanted to talk about it.  

The next year, I received my EVAAS results, after using the same methods, and I was now deemed “highly effective.”  I was relieved and confused.  How could that be? (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/21/evaas-incomplete-painful-system/).   

Justin Parmenter’s op-ed entitled “The cost of doing business in the education world” (August 9, 2017) was another powerful expose of a world in which EVAAS is being used to measure teachers and schools. He said,

In the years that followed, EVAAS was rolled out on a larger scale across the district and state, and similar data measuring teacher effectiveness was made available to more teachers. I was dismayed to see that, while some years I apparently had made a difference, there were other years when I did not make much of a difference at all. Some years I even made a negative difference (https://www.ednc.org/2017/08/09/cost-business-education-world/).

This criticism of EVASS is not limited to North Carolina. From the National Education Policy Center:

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the European software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers” (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/houston-you-have-problem).

And the ambiguity of how SAS uses data within the EVAAS program is not lost on many people. From a 2014 WUNC report called “Ranking Teachers: NC Bets Big On A Complicated Stats Model,”

EVAAS is based on that student growth, not the test score itself. And the software is complicated – and some say largely secret. Teachers, principals, even administrators at the state level don’t know everything that goes into the model.

“Now the statisticians, and I’m not a statistician – I’m not the smartest guy in the world – they would say that stuff should even out, and I think they are correct, I’m sure it does even out, when you look at statewide data,” says Jim Key, an assistant superintendent in Durham. “But within a particular classroom? You could have more than a normal share of students who are going through some challenges with their personal lives” (http://wunc.org/post/ranking-teachers-nc-bets-big-complicated-stats-model#stream/0).

That last quote from Mr. Key accurately sums up the relationship between the EVAAS program and the Iceberg Effect.

Simply put, EVAAS only measures what is the tip of the iceberg that is above the water and then it tells us how to view it. It completely disregards what is under the water level.

LET ME REPEAT: EVAAS ONLY MEASURES WHAT IS TO BE SEEN, NOT WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH. IT IS ONLY CONCERNED WITH STUDENT OUTCOMES. IT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR “INEQUITY & INEQUALITY,” “STRESS & VIOLENCE,” “SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS,” AND “SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES.”

Teachers and schools measured by EVAAS actually have to battle against all of the iceberg, not just the tip which is by far the smallest part of the iceberg.

The state pays more than three million dollars annually to SAS which was co-founded and is still run by Jim Goodnight who according to Forbes Magazine is one of the top donating executives to political campaigns. In 2016 he donated much to a PAC for Jeb Bush who while in Florida instituted the school performance grade system that North Carolina uses now – the same one that utilizes EVAAS reports to measure schools (https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/10/forbes-sas-goodnight-among-tech-execs-for-top.html).

It also is worth looking at the fact that his wife, Ann Goodnight, is a co-founder and board member of BEST NC. When BEST NC had its annual legislative meeting it brought in the toxic Michelle Rhee and her campaign for value-added measurements to discuss policy. That “closed-door” meeting was held at SAS headquarters.

The recent principal pay schedule that has garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer utilizes EVAAS data.

Too much is being dictated by a private entity that is privately calculating data in a secret fashion to measure a public good and how much should be spent on that public good in a state that wants to privatize that public good.

There’s too much incestuous synergy there. And all of it is purposefully ignoring the part of the iceberg that is beneath the water line.

In using EVAAS, what the state of North Carolina is doing is sending schools on expeditions in remote icy waters without the use of radar and sonar to navigate themselves. It’s like the Titanic.

But instead of being surprised at the fact that the “unsinkable” actually succumbed to a lonely iceberg, the state has already made a hole in the hull for water to leak in, so even if the “ships” avoid hitting icebergs, they would already have a hard time reaching port. As the “unsinkable” ships begin to sink, the state says we must invest in other alternatives like charter school reform and vouchers, so the money starts going to other modes of “transportation.”

The problem is that the icebergs in our state are getting bigger and more are breaking off. As the income gap widens and as segregationist tendencies begin to take firmer root, systems like EVAAS will still serve as a façade of the actual truth which lies beneath the water.

Of course, SAS could release how it uses data and calculates its reports but that would require transparency.

But icebergs work best in cold, murky, choppy waters. And people in Raleigh like having big icebergs.