So, This Is What Class Size Chaos Looks Like

Remember when lawmakers in Raleigh like Chad Barefoot and Phil Berger told you that the class size mandate was a good thing and had already been funded, and then you realized that they were lying?

Straight through their teeth?

With a smile?

If either one of them looked outside their office or the legislative chambers they may have seen images such as these:

chambers2chambersIMG_6484

Looks like a lot of people in a small space who are forced there because of unfunded mandates.

 

Dear Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore, Exactly What is the Job Description of a Public School Teacher? Because You Seem to Have All the Answers

Almost four years ago, Sen, David Curtis delivered a rather uneducated response to a letter from a young teacher in which he outlined a close-minded viewpoint of the teaching profession (http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0).

Needless to say, it garnered quite a response from teachers around the state.

Other public education critics have gone out of their way to express a narrow-minded take on the teaching profession. For instance:

tim-peck-tweet

Actually, the answer to that is over $100,000. I did the math here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/20/so-whats-the-market-rate-for-an-unaccountable-degree-holding-babysitter-i-assume-he-meant-teachers/.

In a state where the teaching profession has undergone assault after assault from lawmakers such as yourselves, many in Raleigh who claim to represent the best interests of the state pin their opinions of teacher and school performance on test results and financial bottom lines. They (and you) then craft policies that match those opinions.

So I want to ask a non-rhetorical question of you (and actually anyone else), what exactly is the job description of a North Carolina public school teacher?

This is by no means a loaded question or one that is asked to create a nebulous web of answers that would cloud the actual debate. But if public education is to be an issue that defines another session of the NC General Assembly, that decides votes in a huge election year, and that all people already have some sort of stake in, then what the role of a public school teacher in North Carolina might need to be more understood.

So, would you please clarify:

Is it to deliver curriculum and teach mastery?

Is it to help students grow into productive citizens?

Is it to “teach” the whole child – intellectually, mentally, emotionally, etc.

Is it to get students to pass standardized tests?

Is it to keep students safe?

Is it all all of those things and much more?

Below is a screenshot from the statutes of the General Assembly concerning the “duties” of teachers.

duties of teachers

They include a variety of “duties,” some more defined than others: discipline, “teaching,” reporting, provide for well-being, medical care, keep order, etc.

Now throw in some other factors and variables that have a direct effect on those “duties” like poverty, hunger, sickness, apathy, lack of resources, overcrowding, and respect for the profession. It makes those duties in the above statute seem a little more expansive.

So, what is the real job description of a public high school teacher in North Carolina that considers the defined duties, expectations, and realities of public educators? And are you willing to share that as a lawmaker who makes decisions on how teachers are resourced, treated, and viewed? If not, then you might need to educate yourself.

And if you are willing, are you ready to hear from teachers the truth?

But after all the platitudes, accolades, and lip service that you have paid to the teaching profession, every lawmaker must ask him/herself, what is it really worth?

Because teachers in other states are speaking very loudly.

The Part Of The “Listening Tour” The State Superintendent Refused to Attend

When I took office as State Superintendent, I embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community and business leaders. Now I am able to focus on priorities highlighted by teachers from Murphy to Manteo. I believe appreciating teachers means listening to their concerns and working to support them” – Mark Johnson from “Ways to show our teachers appreciation” from EdNC.org on May 8th, 2018 (https://www.ednc.org/2018/05/08/ways-to-show-our-teachers-appreciation/).

When Johnson penned this op-ed he made reference to his “NC Education & Innovation Tour.” One stop was in my home district in Forsyth County last year.

listening

The part of that quote which states, “I believe appreciating teachers means listening to their concerns” seemed very relevant to yesterday’s rally and march in Raleigh for teachers and public education.

Why? Because it seems that if Johnson really was interested in “listening” to teachers, then yesterday might have been the best opportunity to really engage with nearly 20,000 of them.

Think of it as a stop on the NC Education & Innovation Tour that Johnson refused to attend, even though teachers from Manteo to Murphy actually came to him. In this case, Johnson’s actions to not join those he supposedly supports speak so much louder than his words.

And Johnson makes the distinction between action and words. He said so himself in that op-ed on EdNC.org.

At the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, we are working hard to show our appreciation with actions, not just words and fanfare.“

The fact that Johnson did not make one attempt to come and “listen” to those teachers, parents, advocates, and students who came to Raleigh speaks volumes. He did say earlier lack week that he would not attend the rally.

“I absolutely support teachers, but I do not plan to attend a protest on a school day.”

He may call it a “protest.” That’s fine. Many people there called it advocating. In fact, most everybody there called it necessary.

It also was a chance to “listen,” which unlike “hearing” is an active endeavor.

And actions mean more than words.

Johnson said so himself.

Mark November 6 As A Day To March And Rally For Our Schools – At The Ballot Box

One would hope that the current General Assembly is a little scared of us public school teachers and our supporters. Look what happened today:

IMG_6484

And they should be very concerned; aside from the Women’s March of 2017, this might have been the largest demonstration on the NCGA in history.

What had originally looked like an election year to simply resupply the NCGA with more ultra-conservatively minded demagoguery has now morphed into a debate about how our state government should serve citizens and fully fund our public schools.

Today in Raleigh, the Rally for Respect and March for Students helped to turn the focus of the elections coming in November to the right to a quality public education (explicitly defined by Section 15, Article 1 of the NC Constitution).

Remember, North Carolina has 100 counties (with 115 LEA’s), each with a public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in 66. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And we are strong in numbers.

Just look at today’s march and rally. Not a single time was there a word given to discourage what teachers and public educators were trying to support. There was a single purpose. Complete focus. And support from others.

Those running for the General Assembly in November knew that they were not fully funding public schools two years ago. They knew it when they took away due-process rights and career status from new teachers. They knew it when they froze pay scales and then offered “average” raises to cloud the truth. They knew it when they abolished the Teaching Fellows Program. They knew it when they took away graduate degree pay for newer teachers. They knew it when they allowed unregulated charter schools to take money earmarked for public schools. They knew it when they created Opportunity Grants. They knew it when they allowed for an “Innovative” School District to come to our state.

Considering the amount of counterproductive measures placed on our public schools today, the fact that we teachers and support personnel still educate and serve our kids to a high degree of effectiveness tells me that North Carolina’s teachers are still passionate and of merit. Teachers do not define themselves through partisan, political definitions; they define themselves by a duty to educate students and as a team of professionals working together, not individual contractors whose service is dictated by a yearly indenture.

And what a display of professionalism that was displayed today because part of the teacher’s job is to advocate for students and schools.

Over 20K did it today just in Raleigh. Many more did in their hometowns.

And we all can advocate for our schools come November by voting.

 

Rep. Tim Moore and the North Carolina General Assembly’s Quest to Make Veteran Teachers Extinct

7-11-OldTeachersMug

The powers that rule in the North Carolina General Assembly have been waging a war against public schools in our state for the last four years. Under the guise of “reform,” GOP conservatives driven by ALEC-crafted policies have successfully enabled and instituted privatization efforts in many forms: unregulated charter school development, expansive growth of unproven vouchers, underfunding traditional public schools (early and middle colleges), and even propped an educational neophyte as state superintendent who has passively allowed the very department that is set to protect public schools to be heinously undercut.

However, the latest moves against public schools in North Carolina might signal the next step in overhauling education in the Old North State – the systematic elimination of the veteran teacher.

From the News & Observer’s Will Doran:

The Republican-led legislature has already approved raises for teachers that its leaders say will average out to about 6 percent next year. They have also floated the possibility of bonuses on top of those raises, for some teachers with specialized skills. But Democrats say more is needed, and are rallying behind Cooper’s more expensive plan. He says his plan would give teachers an average raise of 8 percent, and that it also would give raises to veteran teachers, who are left out of the legislative plans (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article211106649.html).

Let me rephrase that.

A gerrymandered lawmaking body is proposing a budget that further indicates that many lawmakers in Raleigh will go to any length to poach the educational profession of veteran teachers.

Rep. Tim Moore in an attempt to defray any more attention from his anti-teacher tendencies literally just announced that there will be raises for teachers again this year – except not for veteran teachers. Just read the last line of the quoted portion of the N&O’s report.

In the last four years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the “average” salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers, those pay “increases” do plateau at about Year 15 in a teacher’s career. Afterwards, nothing really happens. Teachers in that position may have to make career-ending decisions.

Without promise of much pay increase and no graduate degree pay bumps, those teachers may have to leave a profession they not only excel in and love, but serve as models for younger teachers to ensure professional integrity, the kind that was allowed to shine in a North Carolina of yesteryear when Republican governors and lawmakers were in the forefront of making sure public schools were a strength. And those teachers will not have due-process rights that would allow them to speak up about issues like compensation for fear of reprisal.

Student will suffer; communities will suffer.

The taking away of retiree state health benefits for teachers hired after January of 2021 is another step to create a system where students are more or less taught by contractors because the endangered species known as the “veteran teacher” will come to the point of extinction.

Lynn Bonner reported in the News & Observer last June (“State retiree health coverage to end for future NC employees”),

Republican state senators want limits on future retiree benefits to control costs and get the state more in line with perks private-sector employees get. The state employee health plan has a $42.2 billion unfunded liability, estimated future costs that are outpacing revenue.

The retiree health care provision is in the budget the legislature passed this week. Republican senators filed a bill limiting future state employees’ retirement benefits that received a committee hearing earlier this year. That bill never went to a vote (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article157928844.html).

That whole idea of getting “the state more in line with perks private-sector employees get” might be one of the most misleading mantras that rules the mindsets of these lawmakers. Why make a public sector service run like a business when public schools aren’t allowed to be businesses? If that were a reality, then schools could treat lawmakers like a Board of Directors of sorts and then rally to oust them at any time beside election years.

 

And that whole revenue debacle? When those same lawmakers enact laws like HB2 and make ill-informed and misguided expenditures like giving the state superintendent legal fund money to sue his own state board, financing pork barrel spending, and expanding unproven vouchers (despite evidence to the contrary http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article157926389.html ) all the while bragging about a surplus as they lower taxes for wealthy people, it is easy to call into doubt that it is the state retirement system causing all of this financial unrest.

Bonner later reports,

Representatives from state employee, retiree and teacher organizations said eliminating the retirement benefit will hurt recruitment and retention. State salaries don’t compete with private-sector wages, they said, so retiree benefits are an important lure.

Mark Jewell, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said everyone thought the proposal to end retiree benefits was dead. “Then, it sneaks up buried in the budget,” he said.”

This proposal “snuck up” because it was meant to.

It was meant to surreptitiously take away more from the teaching profession, which has valiantly fought against the regressive “reforms” of the NC General Assembly. To say that educational issues did not weigh into the elections of Roy Cooper and Josh Stein into office in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump would sound uneducated. State Treasurer Dale Folwell called it a “knee-jerk reaction.”

No, it was not.

This General Assembly went out of its way to cut Stein’s budget, limit Cooper’s constitutional powers, and keep assaulting the very people who still pose a threat against the privatization of public education – veteran teachers.

Oddly enough, retiree benefits are one of the last recruitment tools that our school systems can use to bring in teachers who make education a profession. Bonner reports,

Richard Rogers, executive director of the N.C. Retired Governmental Employee Association, said the organization is going to try to get the decision reversed before 2021.

“There’s no doubt in my mind – having retiree health brings the best and the brightest to the state,” he said.

Right now, we are not attracting the best and brightest. Just look at the past four years and see what has been done to make teaching an unenviable career in North Carolina. This recent action is making sure that anyone who may want to teach in North Carolina in the future will not stay in the profession for long.

Sen. Chad Barefoot’s Bill SB599 should then not be so puzzling. Bringing in alternate teacher-preparation programs that can be controlled by the state weakens the profession overall. This bill was supposedly introduced to help with the shortage in teachers. Why would we have a shortage of teachers?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

If the trends stay in place and we as a state do not replace those in Raleigh with lawmakers who will fully fund public schools and reinstate the very items that attract the best and brightest, then we will literally make the North Carolina veteran teacher an extinct entity.

Something else in Bonner’s report really shed light on the process by which those in Raleigh have promoted their version of secretive “democracy.” It came in an email response from the Office of State Human Resources.

“We value state employees, and reducing benefits for them potentially sends the wrong message about the important work they do and the services they provide for the people of North Carolina. We would appreciate an opportunity to openly discuss, study and collaborate on this important issue.”

  • Openly discuss?
  • Study?
  • Collaborate?

If there is one thing that many GOP lawmakers like Berger, Moore, Barefoot, Tillman, and others of their ilk (who don’t have term limits) despise more than veteran public school teachers, it’s open dialogue that may expose their hypocrisy.

And if they actually studied and researched, they would see that most every “reform” that they are enacting has a terrible track record in other states.

And they sure as hell don’t collaborate unless it is in a locked room with only those of like opinions.

Veteran teachers openly discuss, study, and collaborate.

And we will fight.

Especially tomorrow, May 16th in Raleigh.

Remembering Rodney Ellis – He Would Be Fighting For Public Schools in Raleigh on May 16th

I believe Rodney Ellis would be proud of us.

rodney ellis

While it has been over a year and a half since we lost this leader, father, and tireless public school advocate, there is still his unmistakable presence among us here in North Carolina.

Think of all that has occurred in past few years with the continued assault on traditional public schools led by a General Assembly bent on privatizing a public good.

  • Think of the struggle to get rid of gerrymandered legislative districts.
  • Think of the unconstitutional Voter ID laws.
  • Think of the discriminatory HB2 law and the fallout.
  • Think of the recent decision by the president to end DACA for many of our students.
  • Think of passive nature of the current state superintendent.
  • Think of less money for students in public schools.
  • Think of the manipulation of funding vouchers and unregulated charter schools.
  • Think of the de-professionalizing of the teaching profession by lawmakers.

Rodney Ellis was in the thick of those battles because he would make sure to focus on the students who are affected by these actions.

And he would tell us to keep fighting the good fight.

There is no doubt in my mind that we public school advocates will continue to confront these issues head-on. There is no doubt that we have great leaders like Mark Jewell now in place to help guide our actions and efforts and remove obstacles.

I would like to think that those who leave us still are among us in spirit. While it doesn’t take away all of the sorrow or pain, what we do as public school advocates is bigger than just us. Rodney knew that; he knew that the collective strength of our communities is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

That’s what May 16th is all about.

This week sometime, I will wear this shirt. Rodney gave it to me one time before a rally in Raleigh. I think of him every time I put it on. The more I wear it, the more comfortable it is.

I am thinking we should get this in red as well.

we-love-public-schools-shirt

Yes, I think Rodney would be proud of us.

Actually, I think he is proud of us. And he will be with us tomorrow in Raleigh.

 

Human Capital: People Make Schools Work – Ask the NCGA to Invest in Them (Reason #34 To March For Students & Rally for Respect On May 16th)

There are no “silver bullets” or “magic pills” when it comes to changing a school.

There is no one thing that can be done, no standard blueprint, no Harry Potter spell that can be executed that will make a struggling school turn its fortune around overnight.

Rather, transforming schools is a process – one that has to have the investment of all people involved: administrators, teachers, staff, and students.

That process is rooted in school culture.

Culture – noun  cul·ture  \ ˈkəl-chər \ :t he set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (merriam-webster.com)

That definition suggests multiple variables: “attitudes,” “values,” “goals,” and “practices.” They are “shared,” clearly outlined, nurtured, practiced, modeled, and embraced.

culture

Most schools have one principal and perhaps multiple assistant principals who can set a tone and attitude for the school. But the most effective school administrators are the ones who do not see teachers as an extension of authority or executors of mandates.

Those same effective school administrators look to remove obstacles for teachers so that they can do what they do best: teach and help students. In fact, those same school leaders view everyone who helps to provide students with a safe-learning atmosphere and helps students achieve as being just as vital.

Think of those who serve vital roles:

  • Teacher Assistants
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Guidance Counselors
  • Media Coordinators
  • Psychologists
  • Therapists – speech, occupational, physical
  • Social Workers
  • Test Coordinators
  • JROTC Coordinators
  • Curriculum Specialists
  • Community Coaches
  • Registrars
  • Data Control
  • Janitors
  • Maintenance
  • Bus Drivers
  • Food Services
  • SRO
  • Crossing Guard
  • Nurses
  • Career Development Coordinators
  • PTSA
  • Volunteers

Those leaders value the human capital. The most effective school administrators view teachers and all staff as the very foundation of what makes a positive school culture.

In today’s data-driven world and over-reliance on bottom lines, it is easy to judge schools by a series of standardized, yet nebulous measurements such as ACT scores, EOCT proficiency rates, or even EVAAS projections. To say that those measures do not have any merit is not the point. They do, but to a smaller degree than other variables, ones fostered by school culture.

Positive school culture celebrates the process, not just a score on a test. It focuses on the actions taken to improve all measurable and immeasurable outcomes. It sees the student as a person, an individual, not as a test-taker. It values the roles of the teachers and honors the relationships that each teacher makes with the students. It includes student and parent involvement, the student section, the quality of the yearbook, the number of kids in extracurricluars, and the willingness of a community to support them.

Look at the number of teachers and staff who come early and stay late, who attend events in the school that are not academic. Look at the students who come for tutoring and ask for help because they feel free to advocate for themselves.

Listen to the announcements and see what is celebrated. Look who wears apparel that reflects school spirit.

Look at teacher/staff-turnover rates, student dropout rates, and workplace condition surveys.

When the only valued measure of a school becomes data points whose formulas are never fully revealed, then what happens is that blind faith in algorithms and conversions is greater than the trust in the human capital that is the life force of the school.

Find a principal who can fully explain the algorithms used by SAS to come up with EVAAS predictors. Find a county administrator or a state officer who can.

Find the ACT report that breaks down every strand and standard for each missed question and totally reveals how each student did on each question so complete that it can be used to help remediate.

Find a state or local benchmark test whose answers can be validated by any administrator or teacher having to use it.

Yet in many of those cases, those standardized ways of measuring students have become so much more the focus of many schools and administrators which in turn forces schools to look only at bottom lines and manufactured outcomes. That approach easily dismisses the human element.

Students are human.

Teachers and staff are human.

Administrators are human.

And school culture is driven by students and teachers and nurtured by administrators. It is not measured by numbers, but by atmosphere, attitude, and shared visions. That takes time, effort, communication, and trust. It is something that starts from the inside and grows outward, not the other way round.

There is no “silver bullet” to make that happen.

There is no “magic pill” to swallow.

For schools to have a positive school culture there must be a strong faith in a process that creates a better outcome the more it is practiced. The more input that comes from those invested in the process, the more investment overall.

And when those who are in a school that wants to improve help to create an organic, dynamic culture that celebrates the student/teacher relationship and understands that all positive outcomes cannot be really quantified, then something that is actually magical does appear: a great school.

Besides, we do not need any more bullets in schools. We really do not.

Combating The NCGA’s Fear Of A Well-Educated General Public – Reason #33 To March For Students & Rally for Respect On May 16th

(1) General and uniform system: term. The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.  – NC State Constitution.

There is one thing that the current powers in the North Carolina General Assembly fear most.

It is not unclean water.
It is not a budget deficit.
It sure as hell isn’t climate change.
It’s not even maps, although all of those weigh in the equation.

It is having a well-educated general public – one that would not allow current lawmakers to be in a position of power to continue to promote an agenda that absolutely favors a few over those they should be helping. And their actions over these last four to five years have been a recipe in ensuring their policies remain intact.

Many of those have been very apparent. There is the current debacle of gerrymandered legislative districts. Even the redrawn maps have shown a more-than-obsessive addiction to hold on to majorities in Raleigh.

There is the voter-ID law that was struck down in the judicial system. A determined effort to water down minority voices might have been one of the most open secrets in this state.

But those unconstitutional actions coincided with other egregious acts that have weakened public education to a breaking point – one that makes next year’s elections so very important. Those actions have been assaults on public schools coated with a layer of propaganda that keeps telling North Carolinians that we need to keep reforming public education.

What once was considered one of the most progressive and strongest public school systems in the South and the nation all of a sudden needed to be reformed? What necessitated that? Who made that decision? Look to the lawmakers who saw public education and the allotted budgeting for public education dictated by the state constitution as an untapped reservoir of money to funnel to private entities.

The public started to see test scores that appeared to be less than desirable even though what was being tested and the format of the testing was in constant flux.

The public started to see “school performance grades” that did nothing more than track how poverty affected student achievement. The “schools were failing” to actually help cover up what lawmakers were refusing to do to help people before they even had a chance to succeed in the classroom.

The teaching profession was beginning to be shaped by a business model that does not discern a public service from a profit minded investment scheme which changed a profession of professionals into one that favors short term contractors.

But there are two large indicators that voters in North Carolina should really pay attention to when it comes to the NCGA’s relentless pursuit to quell their fears of a well-educated general public – money spent per pupil and tuition costs to state supported universities.

Below is one of many different data tables that shows how willfully the NCGA has made sure to keep public schools from thriving (from  the NC Justice Center’s July 2016 analysis).

Inflation-Adjusted-2

And how that per pupil expenditure truly affects schools becomes even clearer when you read reporting that clearly shows how funds are used (and stretched) by school systems. Take Kris Nordstrom’s piece entitled “As new school year commences, shortage of basic supplies demonstrates legislature’s failure to invest” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/08/29/new-school-year-commences-shortage-basic-supplies-demonstrates-legislatures-failure-invest/).

This table should be easy to decipher.

supplies

Simply put, this is a great example of truth-telling and an equally fantastic exposure of the very fear that the NCGA has of thriving public schools. Nordstrom states,

“When adjusting for enrollment and inflation, school funding has been cut in the following areas since leadership of the General Assembly switched hands in 2010 (a time period in which the state was already struggling to find resources as a result of the Great Recession): classroom teachers, instructional support personnel (counselors, nurses, librarians, etc.), school building administrators (principals and assistant principals), teacher assistants, transportation, low wealth schools, disadvantaged students, central office, limited English proficiency, academically gifted, small counties, driver training, and school technology. Funding streams for teacher professional development and mentoring of beginning teachers have been eliminated completely.”

  • Don’t we have a state surplus?
  • Don’t we spend millions on validate vouchers that have shown no improvement in student outcome?
  • Don’t we spend millions in legal fees defending laws that are unconstitutional?

The answer is “YES” to all of these.

Remember, our lawmakers are bragging that we are economically thriving. So who is profiting?

The Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy conducted a national survey on the attitudes on whether higher education has had a positive or negative effect on our country (http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/). It’s rather disturbing.

More disturbing is that it is not surprising.

PP_17.06.30_institutions_lede_party

While one might think that Joel Osteen’s antics to protect his tax exempt megachurch from actually serving the Houston public in a Christ-like fashion during the devastating hurricane would change the first set of data points, it is the last category that is the focus here.

Inside Higher Ed highlighted the Pew survey. Paul Fain in his report opened up with this:

“In dramatic shift, more than half of Republicans now say colleges have a negative impact on the U.S., with wealthier, older and more educated Republicans being least positive”(https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/07/11/dramatic-shift-most-republicans-now-say-colleges-have-negative-impact).

Might want to see who controls policy in Raleigh.

And those “wealthier, older, and more educated Republicans” who are in control in Raleigh have also enabled state-supported colleges and universities to become more expensive.

At the beginning of last year, WUNC published a report called “Incoming UNC Students Likely To See Tuition Increase” (http://wunc.org/post/incoming-unc-students-likely-see-tuition-increase#stream/0). In it there is a data table that shows the steady and steep increase in tuition costs for UNC undergraduate resident tuition.

tution_increases_through_the_years

And yes, we are still a bargain compared to other states, but that is an over 70% increase that does not include housing, board, food, supplies, books, travel, and all of the other expenses sure to accompany a college experience.

Is it supposed to make sense that rising tuition costs should accompany lower per-pupil expenditure in public secondary schools all the while boasting of a state surplus in a state that currently has racially gerrymandered legislative districts and an increased investment in a rather robust effort to privatize public schools?

Apparently “yes” to many in Raleigh.

Which is why they say “no” so often to people.

The “Less Than Stellar” Comments About Teacher Pay From the State Superintendent – Another Reason to March For Students & Rally for Respect On May 16th

Stellar

“Less than stellar.”

That’s what State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about his January 2018 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 the referenced 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 would have forced 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 soon after his comments on teacher pay, 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.”