“We Have Found The First Witch!” – About The Lt. Governor’s New “FACTual” Education Taskforce

Image - 639072] | Monty Python | Know Your Meme

Exhume McCarthy and let the witch hunt begin.

From our new Lt. Governor:

No description available.

Yes. Mark Robinson is going to root out those in public education who do not use facts. He even named his puritanical squad the F.A.C.T.S. Taskforce. It stands for Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students.

Before any public school teacher tells Robinson that there is no time in this day and age of teaching to the test and performing the myriad of other duties to even think about what he/she could start to indoctrinate, maybe he should simply extend this witch hunt to all levels of public education policy.

Like the State Board of Education.

And we just found our first witch.

Speaking of facts (from WRAL.com).

Actually Michele is a woman.

World is still here.

Well, actually there is a fact: we are not New Zealand. But those are not real tears he is drinking.

Actually, Obama is worth a lot of money. And he is a man of faith.

There’s the Confederate flag representing a time when slavery was practiced in the South as the root of an economic system that systematically kept an entire race under the control of another.

Wait, but didn’t Robinson say that there was no such thing as systemic racism?

Facts can be slippery things when one is just trying to be relevant and hold a press conference to create a taskforce that has absolutely no power.

Beware of witches.

Image result for monty python and the holy grail memes | She's a witch,  Science nature, Monty python

“Face-to-Face Instruction” & “Personalized Learning” Actually Mean We Should Invest In More Faces And People To Serve In Our Schools – Not Software

The term “personalized learning” has become a bit of a buzzword in North Carolina – a fashionable way to possibly veil an educational reform under the guise of something altruistic.

In its literal and denotative form, “personalized learning” is a rather noble concept. It would allow students to receive tailored-made lessons that match their learning styles, needs, and interests.

It also requires a great amount of time, resources, and PERSONAL attention from instructors.

Time, resources, classroom space, and opportunities to give each student personalized instruction are not items being afforded to North Carolina’s public school teachers. In fact, people in power in this state allowed for the class size mandate to proceed without a fight, never fought against the massive cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, and devoted more time not passing a working budget and ignoring the Lendro Report.

As we start to possibly see a light at the end of the tunnel in this pandemic, there is another rallying term being used: “face-to-face instruction.” In the same sense, it veils with a few words an apparent deficiency in public education that is also veiled by “personalized learning.” That is the lack of people and their faces who can provide instruction and supporting services.

And that lack of actual people means “saving money” to politicians and a dependence on third party software.

In November of 2017, Benjamin Herold of Education Week wrote an investigative article entitled “The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.” It is a straightforward look at how the amorphous term of “personalized learning” has been used to actually advance agendas that really are not good for enhancing instruction. Specifically, he uses three arguments against “personalized learning.” They are:

  • “Argument#1: The Hype Outweighs the Research”
  • “Argument #2: Personalized Learning is Bad for Teachers and Students”
  • “Argument #3: Big Tech + Big Data= Big Problems”

If we as a state really want to actually promote “personalized learning,” then does it not make sense that he would have to counter the arguments laid forth by Herold?

One of the many people whom Herold refers to is Alfie Kohn, a heavy-hitter in the world of educational thought. He quotes Kohn from his book, Schools Beyond Measure.

Kohn1

With a “revamped” website controlled by a software company like SAS that uses secret algorithms to show how well schools are performing on standardized tests which teachers don’t even help to write, NC’s idea of “personalized learning” in a state that still has a very low per-pupil expenditure lacks credibility.

Alfie Kohn’s work as an author and critic is known the world over. In fact, his book The Homework Myth is one of the choice reads for my AP English Language and Composition classes (which ironically argues against the veracity of AP classes in general).

In February of 2015, Kohn wrote an entry in his blog entitled “Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning.’” In it he outlined four warning signs:

1. The tasks have been personalized for kids, not created by them.
2. Education is about the transmission of bits of information, not the construction of meaning.
3. The main objective is just to raise test scores.
4. It’s all about the tech.

I believe Kohn more than I believe our officals. In fact, Kohn actually shows his research if you look at the actual post (http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/personalized/). Footnotes galore and a bibliography at the conclusion.

Kohn2

Until our policy makers are able to communicate clearly, candidly, and convincingly how their vision and/or versions of “face-to-face & personalized instruction” are going to allow teachers to give all students more individualized attention, then what they are selling is nothing more than a scheme to make a profit for someone else.

No, Sen. Berger, Graduate Degrees Do Matter & NC Should Restore Graduate Degree Pay

The GOP-led NC legislature’s 2013 decision to end graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers entering the teaching profession was not only misguided, but another wave in the assault on public education that continues here in the Old North State.

And the very person who has influenced more policy on public education since 2013, Sen. Phil Berger, continues to shout that graduate degrees for teachers do not have a positive effect in the classroom. In an April, 2019 interview with WFMY, Berger stated,

“Having an advanced degree does not make you a better teacher. We took the money we would have spent on masters pay and plugged it in to teacher raises.”

I confess there exist studies that have shown that advanced degrees do not correlate with higher test scores and/or higher graduation rates. But many who tout those arguments are usually people who have never taught or experienced the absolute never-ending flux that educational reforms in NC have placed on schools and teachers.

But in reality, it is rather hard to measure today’s data with historical data when so many variables in measuring schools have been changed so many times in so many ways – usually by non-teachers like Phil Berger.

Since 1990, we as a nation have transitioned from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump (and DeVos); we have survived No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. As a state, we have gone from the Standard Course of Study all the way to Common Core (and its supposed amorphous successor). And we have used several versions of EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s.

The point is that we have employed so many different barometers of learning utilizing various units of measurements that to actually compare current data on student achievement to historical data becomes almost futile. Even the SAT has changed multiple times since I took it in high school.

However, there is one constant in our classrooms that has provided the glue and mortar for public schools since 1990 and well before that: experienced teachers.

If the Phil Berger thinks that abolishing the graduate degree pay increases for teachers is a good policy, then he needs to convince North Carolinians that our state does not need veteran teachers who are seasoned with experience. Teachers who seek graduate degrees in education (and/or National Certification) are themselves making a commitment to pursue careers in public education. When the state refused to give pay bumps for graduate degrees to new hires, then the state ensured that North Carolina will not have as many veteran, experienced teachers in our schools in the near future. Those teachers will not be able to afford to stay in the profession. Yet, we as a state cannot afford to lose them.

Some teachers do not wish to earn graduate degrees simply because of time constraints and financial barriers. Some do not need graduate degrees to feel validated as master teachers, but the choice to further one’s education to advance in a chosen occupation should always remain and be rewarded. And if a teacher believes that it is beneficial to earn an advanced degree, then it can only help the teacher’s performance. Besides, it is an investment made by teachers who wish to remain in the educational field, especially when future veteran teachers here in NC will never make more than $52K a year under current salary schedules unless they self-finance national certification.

And there is actually plenty of research that suggests that graduate degrees do matter.

Timothy Drake from NC State said in the Summary Report of his publication entitled “Examining the Relationship Between Masters Degree Attainment and Student Math and Reading Achievement,”

“…the results in math and English-Language Arts suggest that teachers earning a Masters degree in math or those earning one designated as “In-Area” have higher average student performance in math across both model specifications.

In an article from EdNC.org, Kevin Bastian of UNC’s Education Policy Initiative at Carolina stated,

Recent research from the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) shows that middle and high school mathematics teachers with a graduate degree in mathematics (i.e. an in-area graduate degree) are more effective than peers with an undergraduate degree only. Likewise, in several subject-areas, teachers with a graduate degree in their area of teaching are more effective than they were before earning that degree. These positive results are modest in size but fit with a broader body of research showing benefits to teachers who acquire knowledge and skills in their area of teaching.

Given a primary focus on student achievement, we know less about whether graduate degrees impact other important outcomes. Work in North Carolina — by Helen Ladd and Lucy Sorensen — indicates that middle school students are absent less often when taught by a teacher with a graduate degree. Our own work at EPIC shows that teachers with a graduate degree earn higher evaluation ratings than their peers with an undergraduate degree only. These evaluation results are particularly strong for teachers with an in-area graduate degree.

And teachers who pursue graduate degrees to gain more insight into what they can do in the classroom tend to stay in the classroom if that graduate degree would be rewarded in their salary. Teachers who stay become veteran teachers who gain more and more experience that only enhances school culture and student performance in ways that can never be truly measured.

In a report published in Education Week in March, 2015 entitled “New Studies Find That, for Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter”, Stephen Sawchuck recounted findings by Brown University scholars saying:

 The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions, coming up in debate after debate about pay, professional development, and teacher seniority, among other topics.

 But findings from a handful of recently released studies are raising questions about that proposition. In fact, they suggest the average teacher’s ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career—and likely longer.

 Moreover, teachers’ deepening experience appears to translate into other student benefits as well. One of the new studies, for example, links years on the job to declining rates of student absenteeism.

 Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up, the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.

 “For some reason, you hear this all the time, from all sorts of people, Bill Gates on down,” said John P. Papay, an assistant professor of education and economics at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. He is the co-author of one of two new studies on the topic. “But teacher quality is not something that’s fixed. It does develop, and if you’re making a decision about a teacher’s career, you should be looking at that dynamic.”

This reiterates that we need experienced, veteran teachers – many of whom believe that advanced degrees or even national certification are ways to improve their performance in the classrooms. That is not to say that all teachers who have advanced degrees are better than those who do not. I work with many teachers in my school who have earned just a bachelor’s degree and are master teachers who possess traits I wish to emulate.

What many who work on West Jones Street in Raleigh do not mention is that while beginning teachers have seen a big increase in pay, those with more experience have not. That is one major reason we are seeing fewer and fewer teaching candidates in undergraduate education schools here in North Carolina. It is not inviting monetarily to be a teacher for an entire career.

And we need career teachers.

Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. Furthermore, the amount of money it would take to repay the cost of a master’s degree would still take a teacher many years to make on a teacher’s salary, and in most cases that tuition is being paid to public colleges and universities. In essence, many teachers are reinvesting in the very public education system that they serve.

Ironically, not many of those who agree with eliminating graduate degree pay increases argue against that veracity of National Board Certification, which also leads to a pay increase. North Carolina still leads the nation in NBCT’s (National Board Certified Teachers). National certification is defined by a portfolio process which many schools of education emulate in their graduate programs. Additionally, national certification is recognized across the country and its process of validating teacher credentials has rarely been questioned.

But what really seems to be the most incongruous aspect of the argument against graduate degree pay increases is that it totally contradicts the message we send to students in a college and career ready curriculum. If we want students to be life-long learners and contribute to our communities, then where else to better witness that than with our teachers who want to get better at what they do. When students witness a teacher actually going to school (or knowing he/she went back to school), then the impact can be incredible because it means that teachers still “walk the walk” when it comes to furthering an education.

Besides, most all students know that public school teachers do not get into the profession to get rich.

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Go Ahead And Eliminate School Performance Grades; They Only Map Poverty, Health Care Access, And Food Deserts – Not School Effectiveness

Below is a map provided by EdNC.org that plots the most recent school performance grades across North Carolina before the pandemic started.

mapednc.PNG

Next is a map of the economic well-being of each NC county as reported be the North Carolina Department of Commerce in 2019.

2019 County Tier Designations

The LIGHTER the shade of blue, the more economic “distress.” This is how it was determined according to the site.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce annually ranks the state’s 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a Tier designation. This Tier system is incorporated into various state programs to encourage economic activity in the less prosperous areas of the state.

The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3.

Review the 2019 County Tier Designations Memo (published November 30, 2018)

County Tiers are calculated using four factors:

  • Average unemployment rate
  • Median household income
  • Percentage growth in population
  • Adjusted property tax base per capital

The next map is of poverty rates as reported by the Port City Daily on Feb. 18th, 2018.

As of 2016, 17.3 percent of the New Hanover County population lives in poverty. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service)

Below is a map that considers what areas in NC are considered rural.

“The darker green areas are more rural according to most definitions. Courtesy of the Sheps Center for Health Services Research.”

From the North Carolina Alliance For Health:

That is a map that represents death rates in conjunction to economic transactions and income rates.

And this is from the USDA.gov. It concerns low access to grocery stores.

mapfooddesert

And then there is access to hospitals. Also from North Carolina Health News:

Imagine how many beds right now are being filled with COVID-19 patients.

Now go back to that map of the school performance grades.

mapednc.PNG

See a pattern?

Before Anything Invest In People And #LeadWithLeandro

Mark Johnson gave us a lot of iPads and talk about “personalized learning.”

Catherine Truitt is pushing for Plan A and spending money on standardized tests to measure “learning loss.”

Here’s a list of things that really should be done before this state begins to “fully” reopen schools again.

  • Lead with Leandro.
  • Put a nurse in every public school.
  • Put at least one reading specialist per grade in each school.
  • Put a social worker in each school.
  • Make all school meals free for students.
  • Invest in more professional development.
  • Include teachers in discussions about how to improve teaching and learning.
  • Restore graduate degree pay.
  • Restore due-process rights for teachers.
  • Pass a statewide school bond for construction and renovation of school buildings.
Investing in human capital is key to success - Dare to Learn - The Festival  for Rethinking Learning

Why Is NC Paying For The “Science Of Reading” When It Took Away The Very Things To Make It Work?

Balanced literacy or the science of reading? According to the new State Superintendent, NC should start focusing more on the science of reading approach.

Teaching reading is hard especially when talking about the English language, the largest language in the world that does not always abide by a single set of rules and laws or has consistency in spelling.

So much is the new state super wanting to incorporate more “science of reading,” it has become a new line item in a bill recently offered in the NCGA.

12 million dollars to an outside entity to provide training.

That company, Voyager” is part of a bigger conglomerate. Huge. It makes a lot of money. And no matter how good they are or how effective their hold on the “science of reading,” we need to look at why it may be hard to say that this money is going to be well spent.

First, where are the reading specialists that should already be in schools? Years ago many elementary schools would have their own reading specialists, professionals who could work with students and with teachers. They were a valuable resource to help plan, reflect, and coach teachers and staff. They were current on techniques and resources. Now it is hard to even find one who is totally committed to a single school. Currently, it seems that people who qualify as reading specialists are centrally placed having to travel to many schools.

Second, remember what NC did to professional development for public school teachers. From WUNC.org in December of 2018:

“The General Assembly cut the budget line item for teacher professional development from the state budget during the recession and has never restored it. In 2008, the state budgeted $12.6 million for educator professional development. That line item has been reduced to zero. Now schools might pay for some professional development from other budget areas—like federal funding or state funding to support digital learning — or teachers can turn to grants.”

Ask any professional in an ever-changing, global society about the need to keep up with latest practices and approaches to serving those who depend on them. He /she will probably cite the need to keep learning and coming into contact with others who are attempting to not staying stagnant or becoming out-of-date. They will talk about the need for ongoing professional development. Teachers are no different. 

Third, NC eliminated teacher assistant positions that could help deliver instruction on an individual basis for those elementary students.

North Carolina has over 7400 fewer teacher assistants than it did ten years ago. When study after study published by leading education scholars preach that reaching students early in their academic lives is most crucial for success in high school and life, our General Assembly  actually promoted one of the largest layoffs in state history.

And another study was just released.

Teaching a skill like reading requires individualized instruction. What the NCGA has done is work against that.

Four – time.

It is one of the single biggest deficits in the teaching profession.

The day only has 24 hours. The year is still 365 (+1/4) days long. School still has to meet the equivalent of 180 school days.

Caps on class sizes have been removed. Funding to alleviate class sizes in early grades was never extended to LEA’s as was erroneously claimed by many a GOP lawmaker in the last couple of years. Students also take more standardized tests than ever before and more schools have turned to block scheduling meaning that more teachers are teaching more classes and more students.

Any veteran teacher can tell you the need for collaboration with others is critical to academic success for students. The need to plan and create/grade authentic assessments is also most critical.

That requires time.

Reading specialists. Commitment to professional development. Teacher assistants. Time.

And it’s still rather confusing that we do not invest in our public university schools of education and research to help develop tools for public schools.

Makes their prices lots lower. Saves money. Keeps revenue within the state. Invests in our public universities.

Week 52

How Many Months Since March 13, 2020? - DateDateGo

52 weeks. 12 months.

In March, the state quickly shut down school buildings in the state due to a few known cases of a virus. That alone probably saved lives and staved off transmission. Then we had to enter the world of remote instruction literally overnight. No real preparation for it. No professional development.

Literally overnight.

What these past twelve months have clearly showed us is that too many in our society do not truly understand that schools are more than just buildings and that our public school system is a common good that should be invested in and more respected.

With the one-year anniversary of school buildings being order closed due to COVID-19 consider the following questions:

Can you as an educator think of a time in your career where you worked so hard for an extended period of time doing tasks that could never be measured by a standardized test?

Do you feel more respected as an educator now than you did 12 months ago?

Do you feel that you are a better educator than you were 12 months ago?

Do you feel more supported than you did 12 months ago by your Central Office and by your community and by your lawmakers?

There are many educators young enough to look at these questions and think about whether or not they might try a new career. There are educators old enough to be able to consider retirement who may have not thought about it a year ago.

The effects of this pandemic are going to be felt for a long time.

The effects of how we handled this pandemic may be felt for longer.

Parent Preferences For How Children Attend School By Income Level

Following education journalists, academics who study public education, and other mavens in the policy world on social media is one of the better ways to stay current with research and news.

That’s why I follow Kris Nordstrom on Twitter. He “liked” this today.

It is referencing a data study from the University of Southern California about attitudes toward school building reopening based on a variety of criteria. That tweet above is looking at parent preference on children attending schools by INCOME LEVEL.

It’s revealing.

“Learning Loss” Is Nothing Compared To “Leadership Loss” – A Reply To Our State Superintendent’s Comments On The “Lost Year Of Learning”

This is the argument – numbers in a data table.

To State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, it has been a “lost year of learning.”

Dismiss the irony that a person who was a chancellor of an online college that had really no “in-person learning” itself said the above.

Dismiss the fact that that data table leaves so many questions that need to be answered.

  • So, how many of these students live in poverty?
  • How many already had circumstances in their lives that impeded their ability to engage with curriculum that just got exacerbated by the government’s response to the pandemic?
  • How many of these students live in households that were not helped by lack of Medicaid expansion, connectivity, or even adequate help from the worst state unemployment system in the country?

The very person who has been calling for local school systems to open up school buildings during a pandemic literally sat on stages and offered newsworthy quotes with people who years ago made it harder for today’s public schools to actually open safely.

Think of the unfunded mandate that was “class size chaos” and the lack of a statewide bond to build new buildings to help overcrowded situations and the elimination of thousands of teacher assistant positions.

Now think of the push by Truitt to decrease the spacing between people in schools from 6 feet to 3 feet. Social distancing and people to help enforce mitigation strategies are key to opening up school buildings safely. Makes one think about what might could be if we still had those teacher assistants and if we did have funding for more school space especially considering that the people Truitt sat on stages with have bragged about incredible budget surpluses.

But back to this “learning loss” and all of these students failing.

Just imagine what those numbers would be if all teachers had treated grading and delivery of curriculum with the same expectations that we did before the pandemic.

I have altered everything in my approach to teaching – how I grade, what and when I accept work, how I communicate to and with students and parents, and how plan instruction.

I have found more grace and more willingness and more love.

I have changed the lens through which I was viewing this school year.

There was no historical precedent to go by. Nothing standard at all.

Truitt is literally showing us that she does not know that and that is why she is trying to measure student achievement without acknowledging student realities.

We have had to reinvent process and delivery as well as focus more on the non academic aspects of what schools do. Mrs. Truitt is not willing to acknowledge that. She gives us a data table and stresses that we give standardized tests to students to measure “learning loss.”

But “learning loss” is nothing compared to “leadership loss.”

A leader cannot forget this pandemic and its effects on students, teachers, and schools outside of the classroom.

It means that nothing was learned from it.

And we have as a nation and as a state “lost” enough.