Drama Kids Rule! A Standing Ovation For High School Drama Programs

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Totus mundus agit histrionem.”

When translated, the above Latin quote means “All the World’s a Stage” which is the motto of the Globe Theatre owned chiefly by William Shakespeare and the King’s Men. It is also a famous line from a most famous speech by Jacques from As You Like It.

This past month, I enjoyed another fantastic performance by my high school’s drama department for their spring musical play and am again convinced that by allowing for students to pursue interests in the arts is as worthwhile an endeavor as any in our public schools.

Actually, I not only enjoyed it, I got to be part of it.

Hairspray might be one of the hardest musicals to produce. The singing. The sets to be built. The choreography. The timing. The music. The orchestra pit.

There is a bit role for a principal to send Tracy Turnblad to detention for an infraction. For each of the three performances, that role was played by various faculty members. I got to perform it on opening night because that was the only night I had available.

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That whole outfit is mine. The wig, the glasses, the blazer – all mine.

When I as a teacher am asked to be a part of something that students deem important to them, then it is not another “duty;” it is an honor. When I look back on my career as a teacher, moments like these are the ones that will provide the best of memories.

And I got to be backstage watching these incredible young adults do something they are passionate about. They were a team. They pulled for each other.

The best part was that my own daughter was helping backstage as well.

What if people in Raleigh could have seen that.

If you have read many of my posts and op-eds, it is not uncommon for me to make parallels between what is performed on screen or stage to real life as art tends to imitate life in wickedly realistic ways. Add to that the fact that many of us (myself included) have a lot of drama in our lives.

But more importantly, there is so much evidence and research that the fine arts enhance any student’s ability to improve in all academic areas. Theater, music, visual arts, and dance help students expand themselves and develop self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and self-expression.

And there are some fantastic drama productions where I teach. There are fantastic productions in many high schools across this state because drama is a necessary investment for any high school. For that matter, it is a necessity for elementary and middle schools.

We’re not only just talking about multi-sensory intelligence, creating presence, understanding audience, and collaboratively producing. We’re talking about expression and allowing students to follow their curiosity.

How can you not see the importance of drama when a musical like Hamilton takes the world by storm and at the same time makes political and social statements? How can you not see the importance of drama when you could literally “binge watch” hundreds of shows that have critical acclaim and never get through all of them in a lifetime? How can you not appreciate the role that drama has in our schools when you realize that the movie you just saw not only moved you emotionally but etched itself into your psyche?

How can you not appreciate the very talents that God has given people if there are not ways for those talents to be found, explored, developed, and nurtured early in life?

And considering what all has happened in the last two years here in our country and in our world, many of us will look to the stage of a theater or the screen to gain perspective on what has happened on the stage of life.

The Greeks looked to their playwrights for guidance and angles.  The Elizabethans loved their theater.

So do we.

Support high school drama efforts. They have been supporting you for years.

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Fully Fund The Specials, Raleigh – The Bible Tells Us So

 

Kep Calm

We live in a country that is the most evangelical in the world.

We live in a state that is part of the Bible Belt. In fact, it may be part of the buckle.

And it is amazing how many American politicians seek to gain a political endorsement from the Son of God. They know that seeking the endorsement of God is essential to garnering a very faithful voting segment of the population. Many in our state have done it.

Take a visit to the website for the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation – http://cpcfoundation.com/. That’s .COM. It’s commercially driven.

Now take a look at the North Carolina Caucus members – http://cpcfoundation.com/north-carolina-prayer-caucus-members/. See some familiar names?

  • Governor Dan Forest
  • Senator David Curtis, Co-Chair
  • Senator Chad Barefoot
  • Senator Jerry Tillman

These lawmakers abide by the CPCF’s Vision and Mission which state,

  • Protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer.
  • The CPCF will restore and promote America’s founding spirit and core principles related to faith and morality by equipping and mobilizing a national network of citizens, legislators, pastors, business owners and opinion leaders.

All in the name of religious freedom. Talk about your separation of church and state. All of those lawmakers are avid defenders of education “reform” like deregulated charter schools, vouchers, and de-professionalizing the teaching profession.

They also are in favor of the class size mandate that may plague public schools for many years to come – the same class size mandate that will force schools to eliminate arts and physical education classes because the lawmakers in Raleigh (including the aforementioned) will not fully fund the mandate to allow for more class space and teachers to be hired to completely honor what the law asks.

If Jesus came back to earth right now I envision him walking around in a pair of blue jeans and wearing a t-shirt with some sandals. And I do not think he would support these “reforms.” He certainly would not want to jeopardize the arts and physical education in our schools.

 

The predominant spiritual path in the United States, Judeo-Christianity, talks much of the need for music, dance, movement, song, and expression. I think of all of the hymns and musicals my own Southern Baptist church produced, some complete with choreography, which is odd considering that many joke about Baptists’ aversion to dancing.

Even the Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth”(Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Not fixing the class size mandate in NC is egregious. It’s backwards. It’s forcing school districts to make decisions about whether to educate the whole child or part of the child in order to make student/teacher ratios look favorable. It’s either drop those courses or cutting teacher assistants and that would be yet another detrimental blow against public education.

That’s like going out of your way to get plastic surgery, liposuction, and body sculpting to create a new look while ignoring the actual health of your body. Without proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, mental health, and emotional support, we open doors to maladies.

When the Bible that people like Chad Barefoot and Phil Berger and Tim Moore read talks about a temple, it talks about the insides, not just the outsides.

Interestingly enough, many of the private schools and charter schools that receive public money through Opportunity Grants that many in Raleigh heartily champion have plentiful art programs and physical education opportunities.

So why put these programs for public schools in jeopardy if they reach so many more children?

What our history has shown us time and time again is that we needed music, dance, arts, and physical education to cope and grow as people and we needed them to become better students. To force the removal of these vital areas of learning would be making our students more one-dimensional.

It would make them less prepared.

It simply would hurt public education.

Don’t think Jesus would want that.

 

 

 

My Kid Is An Artist – One of the Many Reasons For Me to Go to the Rally to Stop #ClassSizeChaos

When lawmakers in Raleigh like Chad Barefoot and Phil Berger tell you that the class size mandate is a good thing and has already been funded, then please realize that they are lying.

Straight through their teeth.

With a smile.

Interestingly enough, what this unfunded mandate will do to elementary schools will be felt for years if not fixed. There is not enough classroom space in most schools to allow for this. That immediately puts “specials” such as art and physical education on the chopping blocks for school year 2018-2019.

And it will affect all other grades.

Because it is an unfunded mandate, all other grades will be crowded. Class sizes in middle school will grow. Same in high schools.

That whole idea of actual “personalized learning” as Mark Johnson wants you to believe it really is will actually not be able to exist. More students per teacher creates fewer opportunities to target each student adequately. It will create a market for more online instruction (which is what Johnson seems to really want).

But the idea that “specials” might be first to go is disheartening, especially since my oldest child is an artist.

And a good one at that.

She took this picture of me in my classroom.

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Then she created this in a couple of days with pencil and paper.

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Just one of many portraits she has done.

And that love of creativity was fostered in art classes throughout her elementary and middle school years. She says that it helps her conceptualize other curricula. It certainly has helped her find a niche in a big school, one where I teach and see how art, drama, and other artistic endeavors by students have enriched our campus.

Just take a look at the literary magazine.

You will see my daughter’s work in there. One of an incredible amount of selections by a myriad of students from a fantastic art department.

On January 6th at Halifax Mall in Raleigh from 1-3, there will be a rally to stop #ClassSizeChaos.

Hope to see you there.

When a Teacher Grows a Mustache For The School He Loves

If you are a teacher and a group of students asks you to help out with a project or a performance in one of their electives, then do it.

Even if it is a dance concert that calls for ten seconds of an adult dressed as a coach for a number that mimics a baseball game.

Being a teacher in a public high school means more than just facilitating learning, expanding the intellectual horizons of America’s young people, and helping students hone life skills.

It also means being involved outside of the class in the lives of students doing the very things that may not get measured by a standardized test, but mean so much to the culture and fabric of the school community.

It allows students to see teachers as the caring, supportive people they are plus if teachers can be in front of  around 100 students a day in a classroom, what is a few hundred more? It’s like collaboration squared.

And it lets me reacquaint myself with some childhood memories.

In elementary school during the late 1970’s, I had a gym teacher who also served as the head football coach in a small school in rural Georgia. He wore the snap-back baseball cap with the school name, a shirt that had school colors made out of polyester, high rise tube socks, colored running shoes, a brass whistle around his neck,  and those wonderful coaches shorts.

That’s right – coaches shorts. Those wonderful polyester based stretchy icons that had to be snapped in the front. The BIKE brand is the one I remember.

And he had this luscious, thick mustache – one that looked like he was an angry motorcycle cop in the 1970’s who always wore aviator sunglasses even when inside or at night.

The look on his face was of majestically constipated sternness.

So, I was asked to be a part of this dance number 40 years after my initially meeting this coach and it required an adult to look like a coach, preferably one who fit the stereotype you see in older movies.

Simply put, I just brought this man from my past back to life. With the help of eBay.

And he is as strong and debonair as ever. Full of life and vitality.

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It’s all authentic. No touch-ups or anything. That’s the real deal you see in that picture.

Even the knee brace, the no-lens mega-glasses, and the hair coloring to bring out the mustache.

I am not going to lie. Since I have had this certain style of facial hair, my confidence level has shot up going through ceilings I never knew were there. My mental acuity, my mental awareness, and my ability to play with the time space continuum has expanded exponentially.

And I dance better now than I did when I was in high school.

All because of this mustache that I grew.

I grew it for the students.

That’s right. For the kids.

Now just imagine what this has done for my ability to teach Shakespeare. It’s a brave new world in the Dunsinane of my classroom.

So, if you are a teacher and asked by students to be a part of something for school, then do it.

And grow a mustache for it.

 

 

In Defense of the Arts and Humanities in Our Public Schools

There is an incredible emphasis on the STEM curriculum approach in our public schools. And I fear that because of the limiting of resources and reduction of per-pupil funding by our state government that other subject areas have and will suffer for it. We are already seeing that manifested in the class-size law that threatens specials in the K-3 grades in traditional public schools.

There is no doubt that having a unique approach to engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is important as we still adjust to instilling 21st century skills in our students. However, without the skills derived from other fields of study such as the liberal arts, the social sciences, the fine arts, and the humanities, that sole focus on STEM will create very knowledgeable, but one-dimensional students.

Think of a physical body where all limbs are functional and useful. Yet, the right arm is much more developed and favored than the others. In exercises that require only the use of the right arm, this person does well. In exercises that require full body coordination and strength, this person is weakened.

This century requires a much more fully coordinated workforce and a more dynamic world economy. Communication, presentation, collaboration, and understanding of other cultures past and present are just as critical as the products that we produce.

Many decision makers in Raleigh believe that our country’s ability to maintain its position and even lead the world in innovation and economic development rests solely on how well our students become enmeshed with STEM curriculum and its related fields.

I disagree. Not because I teach a subject area that is not STEM, but because I believe that the teachers of STEM subjects that I work with see and value the skill sets that non-STEM teachers teach.

For a state that expends a lot of energy and money allowing for “choice” in our schools, is it not ironic that many lawmakers including our own governor seem to be favoring some of the choices above others? These same lawmakers should know that being able to take advantage of any option in life is contingent on critical thinking skills, problem solving capabilities, effective communications abilities, and an understanding of what has worked in the past. Simply put, all subject areas are vital in preparing our students to make those choices.

But with all of this emphasis on STEM, the acronym itself suggests that there is more that students need to be exposed to when it comes to creating an innovative citizenry for this new age.

Why? Because a “STEM” is only part of the larger flower or plant. And while the STEM is important, so are the roots, leaves, soil, sun, and water in creating the bloom, fruit, crop, or plant. If we are to create a vibrant citizenry, we need to make sure that we pay attention to the whole student. And that means that we need to make sure that the very students who many claim need to be immersed in STEM curriculum are also nurtured with the arts – both the liberal and the fine arts.

Think about it. Before a plant can grow it needs to have a good root system that allows it to take in nutrients from the soil and water from the ground. The more elaborate the root system is, the better chance that the plant will grow and thrive.

Much like a root system, we make sure to give our students a foundation early. Remember the three “R’s”? Two of them refer to reading and writing, which are the basis for language arts. Reading is practically the most foundational aspect for almost every other type of learning. Establishing and nurturing that root system must happen. Besides, the bigger the plant, the need for a more elaborate root system. That’s why we always need good language arts instruction. And writing (all types of writing) enhances our language abilities. It allows us to interact with the environment.

The leaves are like the social sciences and other humanities. Leaves take in the sunshine and use photosynthesis to literally feed the plant. The leaves interact with what is around the plant. Much like the leaves, the social sciences and humanities lend perspective and teach lessons about what is around us and how we can interact with those entities. History, sociology, civics, health, and other types of classes lend us a lens to see how the world works and how we can function in that world. They also teach what has worked in the past and what has worked in other climates.

There is so much evidence and research that the fine arts enhance any student’s ability to improve in all academic areas. Theater, music, visual arts, and dance help students expand themselves and develop self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and self-expression. Think of the bloom or the fruit of a plant. What makes that plant attractive or wanted? What makes the fruit of produce eye-catching? Why would we be drawn to it? The very appearance and appeal to the senses has a lot to do with just how a plant presents itself.

What many in Raleigh forget is that they control the very soil and water that is used to help plants (students) grow. By fully funding our public schools, they ensure that the soil is nutrient rich and able to help grow plants. By removing obstacles like vouchers and unregulated charter schools, they can ensure that there is enough rain falling on the plants for them to grow.

When they say we don’t need as many liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and fine arts, they are literally saying that plants are nothing but stems. And the stem cannot survive on its own. It needs the other parts.

I truly believe that good teachers in good schools not only value the skills that other teachers help students obtain, they possess an understanding that the entire faculty and staff is one giant collaborative team. Cross-curricular cooperation should be common and chances to help reinforce concepts across subject areas show students the worth of what is being taught.

It is disheartening to see lawmakers favor a set of courses over others.

Because they are all important.

The Stench of SB599 – Raleigh Knows Why We Have a Teacher Shortage. They Created It.

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”

– Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

The original bill was introduced by Sen. Chad Barefoot who has shown himself to be the most recent poster child of the privatization movement in North Carolina’s public education system.

Granados further states,

Elmore explained that the bill was intended to increase the number of teachers coming into North Carolina schools. Schools of education in the state experienced a 30 percent drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2015.

So Rep. Elmore is explaining that we have a teacher shortage as seen by the drop in teacher candidates in our teacher preparation programs in the last 5-7 years?

Whatever or whoever could have put North Carolina in a situation that would create a teacher shortage in our public schools?

The answer is easy: the GOP majority in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The shortage of teacher candidates that schools of education have experienced is a symptom of a deeper problem. A bill like SB599 is a thinly veiled attempt to further allow for-profit companies like Texas Teachers of Tomorrow to take North Carolina tax money and place pseudo-qualified candidates into our classrooms.

Another jab at de-professionalizing a profession that the GOP majority in the NCGA has already de-professionalized to a large extent.

There are so many actions to deter teacher candidates taken by the current powers-that-be in a gerrymandered legislation that it would take Sen. Jerry Tillman’s two tracks of math curriculum to begin to count them, but here’s a flavor:

  1. Teacher Pay – We are still nowhere near the national average and when adjusted for inflation, salaries really have not risen for veteran teachers who are the glue of public education.
  2. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers – Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.
  3. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – 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
  4. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness.
  5. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?
  6. “Average” Raises –If you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably surprise people. Those raises were funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay.
  7. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. Legislation just took away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession after 2020.
  8. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools.
  9. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many.
  10. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.
  11. Removal of Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.
  12. Sacrificing of Specialties in Elementary Schools – To fulfill “class size” requirements that are now being talked about, many schools are having to decide if they will be able to offer arts and physical education classes.
  13. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility.
  14. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

  1. Opportunity Grants – These are vouchers. Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring because there is no oversight. Read the report from the Children’s Law Center at Duke University and then take a look at the recent plea from an administrator at Trinity Christian in Fayetteville.
  2. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Just ask Jason Saine. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.
  3. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  4. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus and former Rep. Rob Bryan crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of needy schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  5. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

If Rep. Elmore wants to really help alleviate the teacher shortage, he might want to consider reversing course on the many policies and bills enacted in his three-term tenure before explaining how SB599 might be used to get more teacher candidates into our schools of education.

But he already knows that. Why?

Because Rep. Elmore is a public school teacher who was trained at a state supported school that at one time was the state’s “Teacher College” – Appalachian State University. He should know better.

Rep. Elmore was also a North Carolina Teaching Fellow. He should know better.

He was a past president of the Professional Educators of North Carolina. He should know better.

Just look at his website – http://www.jeffreyelmore.com/aboutjeffrey/.

But he’s also part of a political establishment. That’s Rep. Elmore standing next to Sen. Chad Barefoot.

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Our state does not have the Teaching Fellows Program any longer.

It costs more for students to go to state supported universities because the state has not funded them to the same extent that they used to and the same lawmakers claim that spending less money on per pupil expenditures in traditional k-12 schools will not hurt students?

And they claim that they are wondering why North Carolina has a teacher shortage? And they want someone to profit from “fixing” it at the expense of tax payers and the over 90% of students in North Carolina who still attend traditional public schools and their magnets.

They know exactly why we have a teacher shortage. They created the teacher shortage.

Another Reason the North Carolina General Assembly Should Fund Specialties in Elementary Schools

The recent budget that will surely be vetoed by Gov. Cooper did nothing to address specialties in elementary schools in next year’s budget. The fight over class size restriction and keeping the arts in elementary schools will heat up again.

Many GOP state lawmakers seem quick to point out that classes such as art, dance, physical education, and drama may not be of “academic” benefit to our students.

To those legislators, I would like to direct the following report: Lynn Felder’s June 22 front page article form the Winston-Salem Journal entitled “Art and culture spending up $20 million from 2010” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/art-and-culture-spending-up-million-from/article_42ef908a-3a52-599a-8ad9-bd04f496d2ca.html).

The figures were absolutely encouraging when you put in perspective that they account for years affected by the Great Recession.

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A new study by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization, shows that spending on arts and culture in Forsyth County is up $20 million since 2010 when the last similar study was done. The results of the study were announced Wednesday at a meeting of local arts leaders.

Using budgetary figures from 2015 and cultural audience surveys in 2016, the study shows that combined spending by the nonprofit art and cultural sector in Forsyth County was nearly twice that of other similar areas in the national study.

Full-time jobs in the nonprofit arts and culture sector in Forsyth County rose from 4,769 in 2010 to 5,559 in 2015. Those organizations paid $13.7 million in state and local taxes in 2010 and $14.8 million in 2015. The median state and local taxes in similar study regions was $7.8 million in 2015.

The total economic impact of these sectors doubled from 2000 to 2015, going from $76.6 million to $156.8 million. The median total impact in similar study regions was $88.27 million in 2015.

Felder also talked about the effects on local businesses like restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. because of people going out to enjoy the arts.

Randy Cohen, the vice president of strategy and research at Americans for the Arts, said that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, which spent almost $105 million during 2015, leveraged $52 million in additional spending by their audiences for restaurants, hotels, retail stores, parking garages and other local businesses.

Oddly enough, or maybe not oddly enough, that appreciation of arts and culture may stem from exposure in early grades in school. For a legislature that is hell-bent on expanding vouchers so that students can go to private schools, it would be a great exercise to see how many private schools in the state do use arts in the curriculum, including the religious-based schools which receive the overwhelming majority of voucher money in this state. Even the religious schools based on Judeo-Christian ethics can’t ignore the arts and PE. Why?

The Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

So, for people like Sen. Chad Barefoot – fund the specialties.

Apparently, it stimulates the economy.

 

Something Those Lawmakers in Raleigh Fail to See About Our Schools

I teach in a school of nearly 2400 students and am completing my twelfth year there.

My daughter is about to finish her freshman year. She lets me ride to school with her because it makes me cool. I thank her everyday for that.

Of course I follow our school’s sports teams. It is a source of pride for our school, our community, but more importantly, those are my students out there competing and learning about teamwork and perseverance.

But I also go to games to see other students support their peers, their friends, their siblings, their neighbors, their fellow Titans. And I went to one last night. We won. I looked forward to reading about it in the paper the next day.

My family gets an actual copy of the Winston-Salem Journal every day. It’s our newspaper. Journalism is important to us. It supports the community.

And a particular clause from the lead sports story caught my eye this morning (http://www.journalnow.com/sports/prepzone/west-forsyth-girls-soccer-beats-myers-park-in-ot-advances/article_b8b65ee9-e569-541b-b64e-82f0b738d139.html) :

“who was mobbed on the field after the game by the large student section in attendance” 

The game was a girls soccer game, specifically a fourth round state playoff game against a team that had surrendered only three goals the entire year up to that game and had only lost one time all year.

Aside from the high level of play on the field, the amount of students at the game was amazing.  The cheering, the chanting, the urging, the encouragement. A victory in overtime.

Students jumping on the field to celebrate the accomplishment of a team representing a school.

I wish some folks in Raleigh could have seen that and tried to measure what that could actually mean.

But there was so much more involved.

What if I told you the number of AP tests taken by the ladies on the team that just won a chance to play in the final four of the state?

What if I told you the amount of academic scholarship money the seniors on that team had won already?

What if I told you that some of the students who rushed the field do not even play a sport but are involved in other ways at school that are just as celebrated?

What if I told you that 500 yards away in the Performing Arts Center a dance concert was being performed at the same time that included over 350 students dancing to a sold-out theater of 800 where just as many students were attending supporting their peers and friends as parents and family members?

What if I told you that at that very moment the boys track and field team was literally finishing winning their first ever state championship in Greensboro by the slimmest of margins?

What if I told you that one of the head coaches of the state championship track team is also the head of the art department that consistently has multiple students win gold key awards each year? What if I told you that the other head coach was our school’s teacher of the year? Or that one of the assistant coaches is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow? Or that the other assistant coach works with special needs students?

What if I told you that the head girls soccer coach on the day of the third round playoff game turned in all of his materials for National Board Certification, one of the more rigorous processes a teacher can undergo? His assistant happens to be the AP Calculus teacher and his students just took their exam a few days ago. Some were on that soccer field. The other assistant coach happens to have a son in one of my AP classes.

And earlier that day before the soccer game, I was putting together some background templates for the literary magazine for this year that will include the best art and literary work of our students. And like every other year, that track coach will send me amazing work, except his finger will be heavier with a new ring.

And after I post this, I will read a draft of an article by a student writing for the school newspaper about how Governor’s School has been defunded in the new NC Senate budget. She went to Governor’s School this past summer. She’s also the editor of the school newspaper.

She was also on that soccer field last night.

As a player.

One of two on the team who went to Governor’s School.

And by the way, my daughter was in that dance concert that occurred at the same time as the soccer game.

But I saw it Wednesday. They “packed the house” for three nights in a row.

Measure that Raleigh.

immeasurable

Go Titans.

 

 

The Hypocritical Time Machine – Reflecting on Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Rob Bryan’s 2014 Op-Ed About Teacher Pay

On February 8th, 2014, the Charlotte Observer posted a special op-ed on its website and published it the next day in the actual paper. It was a viewpoint penned by two political figures whose actions have helped shape the policies that confine public education in North Carolina today.

Those two people were Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Rob Bryan.

Three years later, Sen. Barefoot sits on a powerful education committee. Bryan was defeated in his last election, but his brainchild of reform, North Carolina’s Achievement School District, is still slated to take over five schools in 2018-2019.

In their piece entitled “How to Upgrade Teacher Pay,” both men begin an outline of “reform” that they have spent coloring these last three years.

Maybe it is worth revisiting their words and determining through reflection whether they have made progress on their goals to upgrade teacher pay and other needs for public education.

Or if they have not.

The text of the op-ed can be found here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article9095660.html. However, it will be referenced throughout this posting.

Barefoot and Bryan begin,

“In the book “That Used To Be Us,” Thomas L. Friedman, a liberal columnist for the New York Times, and Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of American foreign policy at John Hopkins University, argue that America has fallen behind in the world it invented. And although many of the book’s proposals have turned out to be stumbling blocks rather than solutions, the authors are right about one thing – we are falling behind in the world we invented – especially in education.”

It must be noted that it was very hard to not simply summarize Barefoot and Bryan’s op-ed by almost using the same exact wording they did. Consider this possibility.

“In the op-ed “How to Upgrade Teacher Pay,” Sen. Chad Barefoot, a conservative state senator, and Rep. Rob Bryan, another state lawmaker, argue that North Carolina has fallen behind in the country. And although many of the op-ed’s claims have turned out to be stumbling blocks rather than solutions, the authors are right about one thing – we are falling behind in the country – especially in teacher pay.”

First, it is interesting that Barefoot and Bryan reference Friedman who actually argued in his book The World is Flat that America still has a lot of vitality in the world economy because it still leads the world in patents and patent applications. That is a sign of innovation and creativity and curiosity, the very skills that students can learn in a variety of classes, especially the arts which seem to be something that Barefoot holds in contempt considering his recent HB13 maneuvers.

Secondly, it is odd that they refer to Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book to begin their own argument. They seem to only agree with one thing about the claims of the book and dismiss the rest. But that is not totally surprising considering that identifying Friedman as a liberal already puts anything that Friedman says in a “false” light.

Carrying on,

“Today, the status quo has become a dangerous position. Technology and industry are changing more quickly than ever, and large government bureaucracy has prevented our public policy from being able to keep up.”

Large government bureaucracy preventing public policy? Really? And who were the two authors of this op-ed? Those would be two people in government who helped to push so much reform down the throats of North Carolina including a law called HB2 which took away local powers of the very city that published the op-ed like passing LGBTQ protections and setting its own minimum wage for work done for the city government.

“We are aware of North Carolina’s national teacher pay ranking and agree that it is a problem. But we would like to argue that behind the low ranking are structural concerns with our statewide base salary schedule that are more significant to individual teachers than our ranking against the national average. Making it our goal to reach the national average in teacher pay is just that – an average goal. What we need is a new salary schedule aligned with a comprehensive vision for the future.”

Now three years later with the abolishment of graduate degree pay bumps for newer teachers, no due-process laws for newer teachers, school grading systems that are more arbitrary, low average per pupil expenditures, uncontrolled charter school growth, unproven vouchers, and a myriad of other “reforms,” it might be worth relooking over those words again because what has happened over the three years since this op-ed has been anything but a “comprehensive vision for the future.”

It’s really been more of an attack on the public school system to justify some of the privatization efforts that the NC General Assembly is allowing to happen.

“Studies show that teachers improve most dramatically during their first five years. But under the current salary schedule, teachers do not see their first step increase until year seven. That means for six years they improve without any reward. This is a problem.”

Which studies? And nothing says that they still do not improve after six years. That argument almost dismisses the worth of veteran teachers. However, it is easy to see that beginning teachers did need to see increases in salaries earlier to remain in the profession. But that’s all the new salary schedule did. Barefoot and Bryan never talk about retaining veteran teachers. The new salary schedule surely does not encourage veteran teachers to stay.

They go on to state,

“The current salary schedule also fails to enable schools to compete in our region. Surrounding states have surpassed North Carolina’s starting salaries, enabling them to recruit our graduates with higher starting pay. Most also increase teachers’ salaries earlier in their career, while under the current salary schedule it can take a North Carolina teacher 16 years to reach $40,000. That’s crazy. This encourages high turnover. It is not attractive.”

What is even crazier is that the new salary schedule that Barefoot and Bryan helped to fashion in these last three years not only does get beginning teachers to the maximum salary more quickly, it creates a lower ceiling for maximum salary.

Once those teachers get to that level in year 16, they may never see another pay bump on the salary schedule.

Ever.

This past election, Pat McCrory ran on the platform of having raised teacher pay to an average of $50,000. He was using very distorted logic. You can read this posting and see if what McCrory claims was real or if it was fake because Barefoot and Bryan are using the same argument (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/).

And like Bryan, McCrory lost his reelection bid.

“We also know that the top indicator of a child’s academic success is having an excellent teacher. But under the current salary schedule our teachers receive no reward for their excellence and taking on more responsibility.”

And under the current system we as a state are seeing a seismic drop in teacher candidates in our university system. In fact, NC’s ability to recruit and retain teachers has gotten so bad even with this new salary schedule that Barefoot and Bryan helped to establish that this past month five bills were introduced in the NCGA which are aimed at getting more teachers to come to North Carolina.

All five of them are sponsored by Sen. Chad Barefoot (http://www.wral.com/barefoot-backs-bills-to-boost-teacher-recruitment/16638866/).

Apparently the new salary structure that was to discourage high turnover and make things more attractive simply did not work.

Then here comes the ethos,

“You see, we were both raised by N.C. educators. Chad’s mom is a former public school teacher who has dedicated her life to early childhood development and currently teaches in our state’s Pre-K program. His younger sister is a second grade teacher in her third year (who has never seen a step increase). Rob’s mom was a public school 4th grade teacher for 12 years and is now the Educational Director for DARE America. His sister also taught in North Carolina’s public school system. Rob even taught in the classroom for two years with Teach for America.”

If Barefoot and Bryan had such roots in public education, then why have their actions for the last three years since the printing of this op-ed done more harm to public education than help? Barefoot’s mother and sister teach/taught young students as did Bryan’s mother. If they were so in tune with helping teachers of these students, then why are things like the following happening?

“RALEIGH – Durham elementary school students took over Sen. Chad Barefoot’s office on Wednesday for an art lesson and protest designed to urge state lawmakers to increase education funding (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article148484449.html#storylink=cpy).

barefoots office

The pool of irony is getting deeper. And murkier.

But how Barefoot and Bryan end their op-ed from 2014 really frames their hypocrisy because it talks about rewarding teachers without really paying them respect.

“Recruiting great teachers means paying teachers better at the beginning of their career. Retaining great teachers means getting them to a professional and competitive wage as quickly as possible while allowing them to grow in their careers. Rewarding great teachers means recognizing their excellence and value to the classroom and compensating them for it.

We acknowledge that being able to say that we pay our teachers at the national average will make politicians everywhere feel good. But what we risk is leaving in place the status quo – structural problems that prevent us from treating our teachers with respect. We should want a salary schedule that attracts the best and brightest and reenergizes our educators who have been neglected by the existing salary schedule.”

It would be a lesson worthwhile for Barefoot and Bryan to realize that there is a very sharp difference between rewarding teachers and respecting teachers. Why? Because…

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

Ironically, Barefoot and Bryan use the term “status quo” twice as a premise on which to build their sanctimonious claims and give themselves permission to pursue the policies they have since the publication of this op-ed.

If anything, they are the status quo.

Open Letter to NC Lawmakers Concerning HB13 and Funding the Arts & PE

Dear Senator Chad Barefoot, Senator Bill Rabon, and other lawmakers concerning the amended HB13 law,

This week marks the beginning of Advanced Placement testing in schools around the country (and world), and while the validity of AP classes and testing results has become the subject of much debate, I have a multitude of students working hard to do well on those exams.

The state of North Carolina seems to put a lot of emphasis on AP tests. In fact, the General Assembly actually pays for each administration of an AP test (over $90 per) in public schools. It’s a measure of success apparently to see how many students are actually taking the tests in the state. And if it is increasing success overall for students, then that is good.

Maybe that’s the same reasoning that goes into the forced administration of the ACT in North Carolina public schools. Making every student in public schools, whether they are invested in the test or whether they have no inclination of entering college, take a test that gives really no more feedback than a score point has become another source of measurement that lawmakers use to judge the public school system.

Either way, some company is making of a lot of money from the tax payers to create a measure to arbitrarily see how well our North Carolinian students are performing. And decision makers like yourselves seem to take a lot of stock in arbitrary test results, especially in comparison with the results of other countries.

But there are many variables that a test cannot measure which are vital to student success and our state’s health – variables like creativity, inventiveness, collaboration, teamwork, and innovation whose ingredients are found in classes like visual arts, music, physical education. Ironically, those are the very classes in jeopardy next year with the porous version of HB13 passed this past week.

Valerie Strauss writes and publishes an educational blog called “The Answer Sheet”. It is published primarily through the Washington Post and is widely read. The following is from a February 13, 2017 posting entitled “Three global indexes show that U.S. public schools must be doing something right.”

It starts,

Nancy Truitt Pierce is a member of the Monroe School Board in Washington state who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to his STEM Alliance Advisory Board. In her day job, she is a consultant who convenes monthly peer group meetings of top executives in Seattle and hears what they are looking for when recruiting new employees. What do they want?

 Here’s what she wrote in an email:

 What I hear from the key corporate leaders I meet monthly with is that they want candidates coming out of our public schools who are creative, innovative, collaborative problem solvers. Yes, the candidates must also have strong foundational skills of math, science and language arts but I suggest we are putting too much emphasis on the PISA math score as a key indicator of public school quality. I suggest there are other indicators that would serve us in much better ways (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/13/three-global-indexes-show-that-u-s-public-schools-must-be-doing-something-right/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.40a032ddd1c3).

I chose this particular part of the posting because of Ms. Pierce’s job as a consultant with business executives and as a STEM proponent. Interestingly, her words about creativity reminded me of the recent debate that you and others simply avoided when it concerned the arts and its funding in our elementary schools when HB13 was front and center.

Later in the posting there is a reference to three specific indicators that measure the very elements of creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

 We win where it matters. If you look at other indicators more related to innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, the USA does very well.

To be clear, the Global Creativity Index “ is a broad-based measure for advanced economic growth and sustainable prosperity based on the 3Ts of economic development — talent, technology, and tolerance” (http://martinprosperity.org/content/the-global-creativity-index-2015/).

The Global Innovation Index? Look at some of the indicators (https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2016-report).

AP2

The Global Entrepreneurship Index utilizes the “Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index’s (GEDI) 14 Pillars of Entrepreneurship as its primary measurement.

  • Pillar 1: OPPORTUNITY PERCEPTION
  • Pillar 3: NONFEAR OF FAILURE
  • Pillar 4: NETWORKING
  • Pillar 5: CULTURAL SUPPORT
  • Pillar 8: HUMAN RESOURCES
  • Pillar 13: INTERNATIONALIZATION

All of those variables are directly attributable to skills learned in classes like visual art, music, and physical education. The items listed under the Global Innovation Index concerning investment in education brings to mind the very heart of the discussion of bills like HB13 and HB800 and other initiatives that take monies away from public schools and put them into unproven methods of education that actually segregate rather than allow for us to collaborate.

And Nancy Pruitt Pierce says we need more people who collaborate. More people who are creative. More people who are innovative.

Does the ACT measure those elements? Do the EOCT’s? Maybe to a very small, small degree.

One could make an argument that the AP tests could measure for those items, because students are often asked to elaborate or be required to show their thought processes or support their arguments. In fact, here is a prompt from the 2014 administration of the AP English Language and Composition Test.

AP1

The part of the prompt that states, “the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade” has the decline that is the “most serious” really seems to fit into the dialogue here in North Carolina.

I would very much like to see how many of you would respond to this prompt. Actually, I would like to see you make a coherent argument for your actions to jeopardize funding for the very classes that essentially foster those very skills that others testify are crucial to building stable economic futures in our state and country.

If you do offer that argument, make sure to back up your claims with hard evidence and verifiable data as well as explain how that evidence and data support your claims – out loud and clearly.

Not behind closed doors or in secret sessions.