In Praise of the High School Band – Again

band

In less than two weeks, my high school will play its first football game. In fact, before students even take a class, two games will have been played and put in the record books.

And the band will be there with them.

There is a tradition at the end of each game in which the marching band plays the school’s alma mater as the players come near the stands and raise their helmets in tribute to the school and those who support them.

They stand in front of the band. The student section stands beside the band.

It is done whether the game is won or lost. And I marvel at the energy and commitment of our band and how willing they are to travel with the team.

I have also thought many times about the huge presence that our band (and for that matter, any school band) has in the culture and fabric of our school.

Well before school year even officially starts as I begin planning for the year and coming to school to secure resources and get things ready, our band and color guard is already preparing for their season.

Hours of concentrated collaboration. Months of dedicated preparation.

Their season is literally the longest of any “team” in our schools and they are a team. Think of all of the competitions, jamborees, county and regional concerts, and parades. And think of all of the games where the band has led the crowd in its mood.

I recently reread a draft of a recommendation I wrote for a band member a couple of years ago. It stated,

“We are fortunate here to have an extremely talented, motivated faculty and student body. Our school rates extremely well academically and our athletic teams compete at the highest levels, but what makes our school complete is that all students can find an outlet to pursue their interests. That is especially seen with our  Marching Band. __________has been a member since 2011 and the number of accolades and awards that this marching band has received is staggering. Starting in July, members begin practice for the fall, yet because of the many competitions and opportunities to perform in showcases, their actual season takes nearly six months. Members who finish each season are awarded athletic “letters” and the pride that these students show in being part of the Marching Band is contagious. The student body respects the band as it respects any of our other sponsored sports.”

If you ever get a chance to see how well kids can work together collaboratively, then go witness how the school band operates.

If you want to see a group of individuals completely dedicated to a vision defined by a common goal, then go witness how a school band operates.

If you want to see dedication to performance and arts, then go see a school band perform.

And if there is any lawmaker, school board member, or citizen who does not think that the arts and music should not be taught and nurtured in our public schools, then I invite you to go to a game and stay for the halftime show or go to a jamboree or showcase and catch a glimpse of how many of our students are displaying teamwork while growing in mind, body, and spirit.

And if there is some sort of fundraiser that a band member of any school is trying to help raise money with, then help out.

The two frozen Moravian chicken pies in my freezer this past year was money well spent.

The work ethic, collaborative mentality, preparation, and attention to detail that these band students bring to my class is priceless.

He Speaks! But Says Nothing – Mark Johnson’s Interview With Carolina Journal

Earlier today, Mark Johnson tweeted the following self-promoting plug that touts the past to explain his lack of action on the present and lack of vision for the future. 


It doesn’t take much to realize that there is nothing  Johnson has done that has provided any “change” to the status quo. In fact, he has been nothing but a rubber stamp for the policies that those in power in Raleigh have enforced on public education here in North Carolina like Sen. Phil Berger whose birthday was this past week. 

And Johnson made sure to celebrate it. 


Nothing screams “I am for not changing what is happening in public education” like celebrating Phil Berger’s birthday. 

If you click on the link in Johnson’s tweet mentioned earlier, you will be directed to a transcript of an interview Johnson actually gave – to the Art Pope/John Hood affiliated Carolina Journal. 

In what seems to be a series of softball questions (slow-pitch) thrown to a man against no defense in the field, Johnson literally shows us that he has done nothing. 

Nebulous. Noncommittal. Lack of specificity. 

And a fear of actual teachers. 

Take a look at how he answered the question concerning his communication with NCAE. 


I will go on a limb here and say that many concerns have been communicated. 

The problem is that those concerns have gone in one ear and out the other of Mark Johnson. 

Seems that Johnson is ready to make sure that we have “more of the same.”

But it is nice to see him actually talk to some sort of media outlet even though it is akin to Trump giving an interview to Hannity. 

That’s Worth 50K? Really It’s More Money That Could Be Spent on Public Education


Allowing Tom Hofeller to redraw legislative maps for our gerrymandered state is like letting an arsonist loose in a drought-ridden forest and giving him matches to play with.

Take a read : http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article166115407.html.

Fifty thousand dollars is above the salary of a highly qualified veteran public school teacher who raises student achievement consistently in a poverty-stricken district and never complains.

Hofeller gets that much for redrawing legislative maps in a matter of days that he will intentionally use to create more gerrymandered districts.

But it should not be a surprise as those who want to keep the maps gerrymandered will pay good money to do so.

The state could just save the money. I would actually take fifty cents and do it myself and the result would be more fair.

Revisiting That Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Below is the transcript of an open letter I wrote to Mark Johnson almost a year ago when he was running for the office of state superintendent. I revisit it to compare what he has done in office in these seven months on the job to what he claimed he was going to do.

Judge for yourself and see if there is any correlation.

 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

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 lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

Open Letter to the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

This may not be a popular opinion, but it is one that is a matter of principle to me.

I will be receiving the maximum in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2016-2017. Many of you may think that it will continue to somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: continued lack of respect for all public school teachers.

I am not going to keep my bonus, again. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that former Gov. McCrory signed last year before he became the first sitting governor in NC history to not get reelected when he/she sought to, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported last year (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

“Advanced Placement course teachers will receive $50 bonuses for each of their students who score 3 or higher on AP exams. Teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program courses will receive a $50 bonus for each student who scores 4 or better on IB exams.

Those bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year. Scores from 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be used. Bonuses are to be paid in January 2017 and January 2018.

Teachers whose students earn approved industry certifications or credentials will win bonuses of $25 or $50 per student, depending on the value of the credential as determined by the state Department of Commerce. The bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year.”

In fact, I would receive more money in bonuses if there was no cap. But unlike class sizes, you have capped the bonuses.

But, as I said, I will not keep the bonus, again. Part of it will be taxed. The state will get some of it back. The feds will get some of it. 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. None of it will go to my retirement plan.

The rest I will give back to my school. 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.

But I can’t make it this way again, 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, one that does not even have any influence on their transcript.

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 I will attempt to explain them clearly and concisely.

  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. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.
  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. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.
  3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.
    But 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’sfaculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.
  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.
  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. I wrote Rep. Stam once concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

“If some subjects matter more than others, then why do schools weigh all classes the same on a transcript? If some subjects matter more than others, then why do we teach all of those subjects? I certainly feel that as an English teacher, the need to teach reading and writing skills is imperative to success in any endeavor that a student wishes to pursue after graduation. In fact, what teachers in any subject area are trained to do is to not just impart knowledge, but treat every student as an individual with unique learning styles, abilities, and aptitudes in a manner that lets each student grow as a person, one who can create and make his/her own choices. “

  1. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. As I stated in my aforementioned letter to Rep. Stam,

“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. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

  1. 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 you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.
  2. It’s pure electioneering. 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 HB2, lawsuits between our puppet state superintendent and the state school board you appointed, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

These bonuses are not part of the solution. They are a symptom of a bigger problem. And while I will defend each person who receives this bonus his/her right to keep it and spend it any way he/she chooses, I plan to give mine to my school, one of many that you have not fully resourced.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Go Fund Me! – The Lengths That Teachers Go To In Order To Supply Classrooms

gofundme

Last month I wrote a post referencing a rather ignorant claim by someone who claimed that schools should not be asking for money from the general public to help outfit and supply classrooms or help students in need (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/02/about-the-civitas-institute-post-on-a-middle-school-asking-for-donations-for-supplies/).

In it the writer stated,

“If HGMS or WCPSS does not have on hand any of the suggested supplies that they are asking parents to buy, what school supplies does the school buy with its approximately $71 per child budget?

Asking parents to pitch in is one thing. It’s quite another to ask because taxpayer money is not being spent wisely.”

It was a purposefully antagonistic missive.

Ask any teacher who has been around in public school for a few years and it you will probably never hear the words, “We are totally funded to get supplies.”

So what happens when the need for technology and updating ways for students to engage with the ever changing curriculum becomes so apparent that teachers have to raise money to help students achieve more efficiently?

Consider the number of students in classes now and the number of classes that teachers teach as compared to when there were class size caps. Consider how evaluations for schools and teachers rely on test scores and student achievement.

What happens is that schools lag behind in technology, but many in the reform movement (vouchers and charters) seem to criticize public schools for being outdated.

I received this comment recently on a post from a good friend of mine who has been teaching for many years.

“I found that the only way to acquire a Chromebook Cart for my students was to fund raise from my family, friends, and school parents. The good news is that we raised $5,730 in five days. How many times can we, as teachers, go to that well? Not too often. In reality, we shouldn’t have to.

This teacher is grateful to his supporters. Why should he have to be? And what do I say to my fellow faculty members this fall when they look at my cart filled with thirty brand new Chromebooks and ask what they should do?”

I know of many teachers who have used grants and other measures to experiment with teacher methods or explore new avenues of pedagogy. Great teachers do that. However, what this teacher did was fund raise from family, friends, and parents for materials  that other schools have that his students did not.

Why should he?’

He should not have to, but he does.

And it would not take long to figure out why when you consider our North Carolina General Assembly.

It almost makes me want to start a GoFundMe campaign within the General Assembly for school resources and see what is raised.

 

 

 

Don’t Mistake My “Exaggeration” For Your Active Ignorance – A Somewhat Rational Response to the John Locke Foundation

Reading educational perspectives from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation is like opening a letter with a nice stamp, a handwritten address, and some hearts drawn on the outside.

Yet, once you open it up, what falls out is nothing but glitter. No letter. Nothing really of substance. Just a mess on the floor that requires cleaning.

But I know that I will still open any letters from John Hood and the John Locke Foundation because as a public school activist, those letters will inevitably revalidate that I am on the right side of the school choice argument.

Hood’s latest missive on school choice appears in EdNC.org’s Perspective section. It is entitled “Exaggeration won’t stop school choice” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/31/exaggeration-wont-stop-school-choice/).

Its tone is condescending and entitled. Its substance is watery. And its covert claim of taking the moral “high road” in the debate over school choice in NC smells of garbage juice. Consider the final line of his op-ed.

“Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally.”

For a man who fronts organizations founded and led by Art Pope, the idea of having a rational conversation on public issues in this arena is like walking into a dialogue with someone who will only allow you one word for every sentence he says and who will not allow you to present evidence because it may actually refute any nebulous claims he makes.

But he will smile and shake your hand as if you are on the same side.

John Locke as a philosopher embraced empiricism, practicality, and strong observation. And while Mr. Hood loves using the word “empiricism” and “empirical” to define his “proof” he offers in this instance another lofty, general, glittering, and amorphous claim that what North Carolina has done to reform public education is strongly beneficial.

And it is beneficial – for those who are seeking to make a profit like Art Pope.

But Mr. Hood did offer to discuss this rationally, so here are some claims that he makes and that I will “rationally” refute.

  1. During the 2016-17 academic year, nearly one out of five North Carolina children were educated in settings other than district-run public schools. In Wake County and some other urban areas, the percentage was even higher.

He is right on both counts. Also, it needs to be noted that over one out of five North Carolina children live in poverty. And while Wake County has a higher percentage of students in non-public school settings, it might be worth noting that the budget shortfall for funding the public schools in Wake County is one of the more well-known shortfalls in the state as far as supporting public schools. Just do a little research.

  1. To opponents of parental choice in education, the trend signifies an elaborate plot to destroy public schools by denigrating their accomplishments and funding their competition. To other North Carolinians, the rising share of children attending charter, private, or home schools simply reflects the fact that more opportunities are available, more families are exploring them, and the state’s education sector is becoming more diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly.

Actually, a “rational” person could look at what has happened in the past five years in NC and see that there really is a dismantling of public education. Look at the money that is being used to fund charters, vouchers, and other “reforms” that have no “empirical evidence” showing that they are successful.

Just take a look at this : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/18/the-assault-on-public-education-in-north-carolina-just-keeps-on-coming/. That’s an elaborate plot.

Of course other North Carolinians might see “school choice” as a road to more opportunities but is it really offering a more “diverse, innovative, and parent-friendly” experience?

Not really.

Today the News & Observer had an editorial entitled “The hidden cost of vouchers” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article165488352.html). All North Carolinians should read this.

It states,

When they passed the ill-conceived program to hand taxpayers’ money to lower-income people to pay for private schools for their children, Republican lawmakers didn’t bother to point out the fine print – that the $4,200 maximum might not cover expenses such as food and transportation. And it also doesn’t cover the full tuition of private schools, many of which are church-affiliated…

There’s a cynical side to this entire program as well. Yes, the $4,200 can cover a lot of expense at small church schools, for example, but wealthy Republicans aren’t going to see any of the Opportunity Scholarship recipients in the state’s most exclusive private schools, the ones that cater to wealthy families. Tuition in those schools is often $20,000 and above.

Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits. This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.

Would Mr. Hood like to rationally refute this?

The op-ed in the N&O also references an NC State study led by Anna Egalite which offers some rather “empirical” data that seems to take Mr. Hood’s claims and send them back for reconsideration (https://news.ncsu.edu/2017/07/nc-state-research-explores-how-private-schools-families-make-voucher-decisions/). It too is worth the read.

Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, is also quoted in the N&O op-ed. I am willing to bet my salary as it would have been if the General Assembly had not messed with the schedule I saw when I came into the profession that Nordstrom is much more educated in current public education issues than Mr. Hood and could offer more “rational” perspectives on the issue of school choice – calmly or otherwise.

  1. I’m in the latter camp, obviously. I’ve advocated school choice programs for three decades. My parents, former public-school educators, were supporters of the idea throughout their careers and influenced me greatly on the subject. If you disagree, I probably won’t be able to convince you in a single column about the merits of charter school expansion or opportunity scholarships. But I will offer this observation: exaggerating the case against school choice isn’t doing you or the public any favors.

No, Mr. Hood will not convince me. But if he thinks that what is being offered by myself or other public school advocates is exaggeration, then I would claim that Mr. Hood is compressing and ignoring the truth because he never refutes the evidence offered by public school advocates. In fact, he never offers any proof that vouchers and charters are showing evidence of high student achievement here in North Carolina.

Mr. Hood says that he has “good reasons, both theoretical and empirical” for his claims. What are they? Where is the data from North Carolina? The only time I have heard a “pro-school choice” official mentioning even talking about empirical evidence as far as North Carolina’s reforms are concerned actually helping low-income students.

Lindsay Wagner’s latest piece for the AJ Fletcher Foundation entitled “Are publicly-funded private school vouchers helping low-income kids? We don’t know” raises a rather glaring inconsistency when it comes to whether vouchers are really helping low-income students.

The leader of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, Darrell Allison, said recently that school vouchers aren’t likely to hurt children from low-income households who use them. But he couldn’t say definitively that the voucher program actually helps these children, either.

Why? Because despite the fact that North Carolina spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars each year on vouchers, we have no meaningful data that can tell us if this is an effective way to help poor students who deserve a high quality education (http://ajf.org/publicly-funded-private-school-vouchers-helping-low-income-kids-dont-know/).

Doesn’t sound like empirical data to me. Sounds like avoiding the actual debate. I would also like to see Mr. Hood explain his point of view in reference to the NAACP’s recent call for a charter school moratorium.

Hood1

Or, what is found in this report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/federal-study-of-dc-voucher-program-finds-negative-impact-on-student-achievement/2017/04/27/e545ef28-2536-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.e45590a4a1db.

It states:

“Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the Education Department’s research division, follows several other recent studies of state-funded vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio that suggested negative effects on student achievement. Critics are seizing on this data as they try to counter Trump’s push to direct public dollars to private schools.”

Or even this report from the NY Times: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html).

  1. Elementary and secondary education is becoming more like the rest of the education sector, and more like a health care sector that features lots of taxpayer funding but a diverse array of public, private, and nonprofit hospitals and other providers.

Actually, Mr. Hood is right in this respect when he compares public education to health care. Just look at the refusal to extend Medicaid for the very families who would qualify for vouchers and you see how the refusal to fully fund public schools only makes matters unhealthier.

  1. There is an impressive body of empirical evidence suggesting that as district-run public schools face more competition, their students tend to experience gains in test scores and attainment as school leaders rise to the challenge.

There’s that word again – “empirical.” Funny how public education works really well when it is collaborative rather than competitive, but it is worth mentioning that in a state that routinely has principal pay ranked around 50th in the nation, actually keeping school leaders is an obstacle created by the very people who brought us reform.

  1. And because the state’s choice programs are targeted at disabled and lower-income kids, the enrollment changes wouldn’t represent some kind of neo-segregationist conspiracy.

Apparently, Mr. Hood didn’t read this:

Hood2

He could just confer with Lt. Dan Forrest on its contents.

Or maybe he hasn’t fully digested this (which was sent to me, but I cannot verify its source, so if you find it, please let me know):

Hood3

The last statement before he offers the “Let’s calm down and discuss this rationally” conclusion, Mr. Hood says, “Competition improves performance.”

When the North Carolina General Assembly stops gerrymandering districts and enabling policies that seem to be ruled unconstitutional like Voter ID laws then the playing field might be leveled somewhat.

Then Mr. Hood might see how the performance of his op-ed and its baseless claims really offer no competition to the truth.

 

What 5.5 Million Could Have Done for Public Schools

The following table was released by the North Carolina Senate Democrats today in conjunction with the first “meeting” of the committee to redraw gerrymandered district lines.

IMG_5524

That’s five and one-half million dollars to defend something that was declared unconstitutional.

Last week, the State Board of Education began to initiate cuts in the amount of $3.2 million for the Department of Public Instruction. Those cuts will most adversely affect rural districts in the state that rely on the state for services that more populated areas can pay for locally.

The median salary for a teacher assistant in North Carolina (according to Sokanu referencing the US Dept. of Labor) is $22,780.

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The state could finance over 240 more teacher assistant jobs with %5.5 million.

This past year the state spent $6115 per student in NC.  The amount of money paid to defend the state for a blatantly unconstitutional law would cover the costs of almost 900 students in the eyes of the very General Assembly that says $6115 is enough for each student.

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Think of how many more textbooks could be bought.

Think of how that could help to save the specialties in elementary schools.

Think of how that might help keep good principals in schools.

Now, think of the money the state gave to Mark Johnson to fight the state school board in a power struggle and the money they gave him to hire people.

Think of the money given to vouchers that have not shown to be effective but mostly go to religious schools affiliated with organizations that even do not have to pay taxes.

And what the hell did Ogletree do that warrants over $4.3 million?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Onion and Its Take on School Choice

The Onion is a well known satirical news outlet. It recently published a piece on school choice.

the onion

It is shown below (http://www.theonion.com/infographic/choosing-right-school-your-child-56536).

And no, I am not asking for your response to this or your thoughts (although, they are certainly welcome), it was interesting to see the take that a national publication has on school choice while viewing it from the perspective of a North Carolinian traditional public school teacher and parent of two children in public schools.

It’s worth the look.

“With a new school year beginning soon, parents are making decisions about which type of school best fits their child’s needs. The Onion breaks down what each has to offer.

  • Charter Schools – For the same price as a public school, these institutions can provide the same racial and economic discrimination as private schools
  • European Boarding School – Though it’s unaffordable for most parents, those who can send their children away to study in Europe often say that it helped them finally secure the full attention of the little brats’ tycoon father
  • Homeschooling  – This alternative education model ensures you can focus on the subjects you think are most important for your child, such as wearing floor-length denim skirts
  • Online School – The ideal option for kids who, between chores, kickball, and going to the park, never thought they could make full-time grade school work
  • Tuff Pup Academy – With top-of-the-line instructors and a rigorous workload of sitting, staying, and shaking, this technical school is a great option
  • Military School  – We’re sorry to hear that it’s come to this
  • The Same One Their Brother Went To  – With a curriculum that seemed to be just fine for him, parents are increasingly sending their children to the school down the street that Brendan graduated from last year
  • Reeducation Camp – The perfect environment for difficult pupils struggling with the correct way of thinking
  • Math Immersion School – In order to impart a rigorous and well-rounded math education, students are only permitted to speak in numbers and equations
  • Montessori School – A slightly more supervised version of letting your kid wander around in a field from 8 until 3 every day
  • Public School – Hey, you might as well take advantage of this while it still exists”

 

Raises In Stipends For High School Coaches Is a Must Or Else NC Will Pay a Bigger Price

Whether you realize it or not, school started this past Monday, July 31st.

whistle

Many a student, many a sponsor, and many a coach went back to public school campuses to start official practices for sanctioned and unsanctioned fall sports and other worthwhile activities like marching band, cheerleading, color guard, dance teams, etc.

The list goes on and on.

If every coach actually divided his/her stipend for fulfilling his/her role by the actual number of hours spent in preparing, practicing, and community outreach, the per-hour recompense would make 1983’s minimum wage appear like the lottery.

And then you see news reports like this:

“Wake County athletic and academic coaches could find out as soon as today if planned raises will be nixed this year to help close a budget gap.

Wake school administrators had previously listed the $2.6 million in raises for extra-duty pay as among the options that the school board could use to close a $28.8 million budget gap. At Tuesday’s work session, staff will ask for the board’s feedback on what adjustments to make to the budget.

[Wake school budget cuts might delay raises for coaches, halt plans to hire counselors]

The school district has to cut $28.8 million from its $1.6 billion operating budget after getting less than what it wanted from the Wake County Board of Commissioners and to cope with changes in state funding.”

That’s from T. Keung Hui’s piece in the August 1st edition of the News & Observer entitled “Wake County athletic coaches may lose raises due to budget gap” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/wake-ed-blog/article164628912.html).

Mr. Hui is a fantastic reporter and he knows the Wake County educational terrain like no one else.

That budget shortfall that he is referring to was catalyzed by the underfunding for public schools by the state lawmakers in the very same county (Wake/Raleigh) and local politicians. In a political climate that embraces “funding” public schools and brags about a state surplus, the fact that this is happening is egregious.

Coaching and sponsoring are not undertaken by teachers and community volunteers to make money or get rich. People do these things to give back to the school and more importantly help students. But to deny coaches and sponsors the raises needed to at least keep some sort of pace with the cost of living and expending their own resources is ludicrous.

One of the most highly revered baseball coaches in North Carolina public school history actually told me that he did the math and as a coach he made less than a dollar and hour. I never heard him complain about that, but he always tried to make sure that his assistant coaches were as well taken care of as possible. They were younger and were starting families.

Most every sports program or large extracurricular activity (like band) teaches students skills and values that cannot be measured by dollars. They also keep students out of trouble and strengthen communities.

Furthermore, one might be surprised by how much revenue sports can generate for a school program or a school system as places like Forsyth County require county schools that play each other in several sports split the gate proceeds evenly. That’s generating money for a school system. And it isn’t going into a savings account.

Furthermore, every sport usually has to do its own fundraising. Do you even want to think of how much money is needed to outfit an entire band and help secure instruments? Go ask schools, but don’t ask lawmakers who squabble over funding. They probably will not know.

Go to a successful athletics program in any traditional high school (and by successful, I do not mean wins versus losses) or a driven band program, and you will see coaches and parents and community volunteers spearheading some of the most successful fundraising efforts ever conceived. They are also making sure that students are performing in the classroom as well.

Despite what government is “helping” them do.

Yes, there are some high-profile programs that do pay coaches large supplements from booster club revenue and that is a choice made by individual schools, but it is the exception and not the norm. And that supplemental money comes through individual school fundraising.

Maybe every lawmaker in Raleigh or every county commissioner should spend time volunteering as a coach for a high school sports team or band and get some sort of idea of what it is like to keep a program running. What we see under Friday Night Lights is only a fraction of what is done for these students and communities.

Maybe also have every lawmaker be an officer in a booster club or PTSA of a local high school and see what kinds of obstacles are in place that are overcome each and every year to make things possible for school students.

I know of one particular school board member in my district who was and her understanding of how finances in schools work is more than admirable. She also happens to be a former teacher.

Then maybe there would not be “budget shortfalls” like there are today.

Or news reports like the one mentioned earlier.