North Carolina’s Continued Passive Aggressive War on Public Education

Rep. Tim Moore’s recent missive in EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”) begins with one of the more sweeping fallacies made by many in Raleigh who champion the crippling policies surrounding public education.

TimMooreNC

He starts,

“The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/09/education-reforms-north-carolinas-future/).

Popular with parents and students? Meaningful? Focused on shared priorities?

Well, consider the following list that just highlights some of those “reform” efforts from just the last eleven months.

  1. House Bill 17 was passed and “is meant to shift more power to Johnson and deem him the ‘administrative head’ of the state education department. The current law says some of the superintendent’s duties are ‘subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education,’ but that language has been removed in several places in the proposed bill” (http://www.wral.com/bill-would-give-more-power-to-new-nc-superintendent-reduce-role-of-school-board/16341626/).
  2. A lawsuit by the state board against the superintendent over HB17 starts early in 2017. The General Assembly backs the state superintendent with taxpayer money in the case. The state board must use its own budget to finance lawsuit.
  3. The General Assembly passes a law (HB13) to limit class sizes in K-3 classrooms but does not allocate funds and resources to help hire needed teachers for new classes created in response or to help build extra classrooms.
  4. A principal pay plan that actually punishes many principals is passed without input from educators and is crafted in part by private business entities.
  5. Schools will no longer have Biology I test scores used to calculate school performance grade and school report cards when those scores have been among the highest in past years for each school.
  6. There is a new version of the N.C. Teaching Fellows that is a mere shadow of its former self.
  7. Opportunity Grants were expanded without any research backing its success to nearly a billion dollars over the next ten years.
  8. The Department of Public Instruction has its budget slashed by nearly 20% for the next two years.
  9. SB599 is passed and it allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training.
  10. An Innovative School District selects an unwilling school to turn over to a for-profit entity to “reform” it. That school system where the school resides is considering shutting down the school.
  11. Per-pupil expenditures still are one of the worst in the country.
  12. Textbook funding still lags millions behind what pre-recession levels were.
  13. There is a rash boon of a method to reformulate how monies are allocated to local school systems based political ideologies and personalities rather than principles.
  14. The state superintendent has not asserted himself as an instructional leader.

And that lawsuit between the state board of education and the state superintendent is still ongoing as it has been requested by the state board for the N.C. Supreme Court to hear the case all the while the very General Assembly that is propping the state superintendent is trying to recreate how judges in this state are elected and selected as well as drawing new judicial districts in an effort to take over the judicial system. That’s the same General Assembly that has been called out for gerrymandering districts – twice.

And Tim Moore wants to claim “The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement.”

If “implementing meaningful public school reforms” means “waging war on public education” in this context, then Tim Moore is exactly right.

NC Virtual Charters Doing Badly? Got a Solution

As reported by Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch today (Controversial virtual charter school seeks funding boost, permanent status), 

“The head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to funnel more cash into the program and clear operations beyond the 2019 sunset of its four-year pilot program.

Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, pitched his K-11 program—which is affiliated with international, for-profit education giant Pearson—to state lawmakers and charter school policymakers this week, despite lagging academic performance in the virtual school’s first two years (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/11/07/controversial-virtual-charter-school-seeks-funding-boost-permanent-status/#sthash.I8Prd1UE.dpbs). 

N.C. Connections Academy is associated with the giant company Pearson. At least it is doing a little better than the other virtual charter school in the state, N.C. Virtual Academy.

Both schools are looking to extend funding for the next few years, even when Stanford University (as Ball states) “reported serious deficiencies in student performance nationwide in like programs.”

But there may be a solution.

Recently, the Innovative School District selected one school for its initial pilot program to takeover and turn around. But that one school, Southside Ashpole Elementary School, may not even keep its doors open for the ISD to take it over. It seems that the local school board and the community in the Robeson County area do not want their school to be taken over.

So it looks like a couple of schools need to be “turned around” and there is an “innovative” entity that is supposed to do those types of things possibly without a school to work with.

See the connection?

Let the ISD take over the N.C. Charter Virtual Schools.

Hell, all of the money already invested in the ISD with nothing to show for it might be somehow used for keeping other failing schools from closing.

Even if it is virtual.

And by the way. North Carolina already has a public virtual school. Seems to be doing better than the virtual charters who are asking for more money.

The State Superintendent, Robeson County, and the Innovative School District

The special session of the GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly that convened last December was nothing but a power-grab for a party that had lost control of the governor’s mansion. One of the most egregious acts was HB17 which transferred significant powers from the State Board of Education to the newly elected state superintendent Mark Johnson.

It was called HB17.

Granted, Johnson was elected with the understanding that his powers and scope of office would be the same as stipulated for previous state superintendents. But what HB17 did was seismic.

Two of the items in the HB17 power grab involved the Achievement School District. As WRAL reported after HB17 was passed:

The power struggle between the State Board and Johnson is still locked up in court, but Johnson has commented that he believes that what HB17 gives him is rightful and just.

Just a few days ago in response to the recent continuance of the stay of power in the court battle, Johnson stated,

“Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers,” Johnson said. “I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago” (http://www.wral.com/the-latest-judges-weigh-control-of-north-carolina-schools/16947881/).

Apparently, Johnson welcomes a chance to lead the ASD (now the Innovative School District). That “ISD” has actually chosen its first school in Robeson County. While Johnson himself did not choose the new superintendent, Eric Hall, he did endorse his hiring and he certainly has endorsed the ISD.

robeson

However, the people in Robeson County seem to be against a takeover of their school. Billy Ball’s recent report in NC Policy Watch gives voice to many in Robeson County who are not very welcoming to the idea of a takeover. Some excerpts of Ball’s report include:

Members of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education unanimously approved a joint resolution Monday night opposing Southside-Ashpole’s selection for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD), which could allow charter or education management organizations—including, possibly, for-profit groups—to seize control of operations and staffing in hopes of turning around lagging test scores…

District leaders say they plan to spend more than $50 million on construction after Hurricane Matthew left extensive damage to seven Robeson schools and flooded the district’s central office in 2016.

Wilkins-Chavis said state leaders were not considering the district’s hardships when they chose Southside-Ashpole for the ISD…

Southside-Ashpole earned “F” scores in reading and math and did not meet growth expectations in 2016-2017, according to state data, although, like many of those schools eyed for the takeover district, it’s located in a high-poverty community.

Roughly 30 percent of the county’s population is considered impoverished, according to Census data. Children from low-income families tend to lag their more affluent peers in academic performance (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/10/17/facing-charter-takeover-robeson-county-leaders-tell-state-stay/).

Johnson has more than implicitly and explicitly indicated that he champions what the ISD stands for and is doing. He also wants to be in charge of its overall function. Johnson has also preached transparency and open communication.

Maybe Mark Johnson should be willing to go down to Lumberton and “convince” them to accept the ISD takeover. If he is going to be the leader of the public schools and lead them in new innovative directions, he should not only have to defend those measures but explain them well to the very people who had no choice in being selected for the ISD.

Maybe Johnson should stand up in front of all of those and explain how an ISD will help their school when other models of the ASD have proven to be absolutely horrific like it is explained here: https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/10/19/in-tennessees-turnaround-district-9-in-10-young-students-fall-short-on-their-first-tnready-exams/.

Maybe Johnson should stand up on front of those people and try to explain to them that in an area that is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, has a high poverty rate, and experiences higher than average transient rates, people should trust bureaucrats in Raleigh who have not been of great help so far with their children’s well-being outside of the classroom.

Then afterwards, Johnson should explain how a state takeover with the potential of a for-profit charter chain to seize control of a local school aligns with his mantra of local control during his campaign.

But it might be worth just witnessing this chance meeting between the man who wants to control the entire public school system without any real checks or balances and be asked a question from a parent which requires the very things that Johnson never offers: specifics and details.

Keep fighting, Robeson.

A Thank You to North Carolina’s Educational Journalists – But Not on Rob Bryan or Darrell Allison’s Behalf

I am sure that former state legislator Rob Bryan and current PEFNC leader Darrell Allison are not very happy with some of the educational journalists in NC who dedicate themselves to uncovering and exposing things hidden which affect so many openly. That is especially true in the world of public education and the “reforms” that have been surreptitiously crafted to purposefully benefit a chosen few.

I am forever grateful to all of these educational journalists. They are helping save a public good.

635898975639098870-576976519_journalism

The News & Observer out of Raleigh has published three separate, yet related articles this week that have been nothing short of superior. The work of Lynn Bonner, Jane Stancill, David Raynor, and T. Keung Hui has shed much needed light on the actions of a greedy minority. They should be thanked and supported.

The three articles are:

“A rich donor’s money backed NC’s charter takeover law, and his school network expands” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

“Why NC charter schools are richer and whiter” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178022436.html).

“Group tied to rich donor who backed NC school takeover law now wants to run those schools” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article178169451.html).

With an impending selection of a school or schools to be taken over by the Innovative School District, these three articles highlight the incestuous nature of what is deliberately happening in the world of education reform here in NC, especially the last one listed which profiles a particular group that is proposing to be the charter group that will take over the ISD school(s).

Per Bonner and Hui:

A company tied to a wealthy Libertarian donor who helped pass a state law allowing takeover of low-performing North Carolina schools is trying to win approval to operate those schools.

Achievement For All Children was among the groups who applied for state approval to run struggling schools that will be chosen for the Innovative School District. Achievement For All Children is heavily connected to Oregon resident John Bryan, who is a generous contributor to political campaigns and school-choice causes in North Carolina.

The company was formed in February and registered by Tony Helton, the chief executive officer of TeamCFA, a charter network that Bryan founded. The board of directors for Achievement for All Children includes former Rep. Rob Bryan, a Republican from Mecklenburg County who introduced the bill creating the new district, and Darrell Allison, who heads the pro-school choice group Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

That’s beyond disturbing. Rob Bryan is the legislator who literally constructed the ISD (then ASD) initiative behind closed doors while representing Mecklenburg County. He has a rich benefactor from Oregon who ironically shares his last name helping him become the very recipient of a governmental contract he established.

Rob Bryan’s background in education was outlined on his  website, http://www.friendsofrob.com/about. It stated,

“Raised by a teacher and an engineer, Rob spent his first two years after college participating in the Teach for America program. In a low-income school in inner-city Los Angeles, he saw firsthand the problems created by non-innovative, bureaucratic districts unwilling or unable to change. Red tape and politics prevented teachers, principals, and parents from choosing the creative solutions that would work for their students.”

There is a lot of information there. Bryan’s tenure in the classroom, while admirable, was not long at all. Most teachers in NC went through more time training to become a teacher than he spent in the actual classroom. He worked in a poverty-stricken inner-city school, the same kind of schools he helped label as failing with a Jeb Bush style grading system that he helped create. Furthermore, while in office, he actually helped foster an environment that keeps those poverty-stricken schools under the foot of government by lowering per pupil expenditures and vilifying veteran educators.

And then he created a bill and with the help of a loaded committee became willing to siphon money to charter schools run by out-of-state private entities for which he now works and may potentially profit from.

That is a pile of manure of the most putrid stench.

To further add to the incestuous nature of the proposal by Achievement for All Children, it includes on its board of directors Darrell Allison of PEFNC. He is the megaphone for “school choice” advocates in the state and a strong proponent of the Opportunity Grants.

If this becomes a reality, Allison will literally be taking money away from public education through multiple avenues: vouchers for private schools and money to finance an ISD district that will be paying his company to run a school that is probably unwilling to be taken over. And Allison, like Bryan has cloaked himself with ambiguity: Bryan hasn’t spoken to the press yet and when Allison speaks he seems to not be clear. Consider this post on the use of vouchers – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/31/a-third-person-open-letter-to-darrell-allison-and-the-pefnc-why-hide-behind-the-ambiguity/.

In that post, the work of Lindsay Wagner is referenced and shows how a great journalist can ask the very question that deserves an open answer. It also shows that a “non-answer” screams louder than one that is straightforwardly given.

In a political climate that often screams “FAKE NEWS!” and constantly berates the freedom of the press, it just might be the journalists who save the day. Those who report on the educational terrain here in North Carolina are doing great work and providing an invaluable service.

Even if people like Rob Bryan and Darrell Allison don’t think so.

A Failing Charter School, An ISD, and a Rich Privatizer in Oregon – The Ingredients for “Innovation” in NC

Mark Johnson has been preaching “urgency, ownership, and innovation.”

Well, we have an urgent matter that someone needs to own very quickly and show some innovation and we seem to have all of the ingredients for a solution already in place.

Consider:

  1. The new NC Innovative School District “needs” to take over failing schools in order to turn them over to a privately-run charter company (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).
  2. John Bryan, the Oregonian founder of the TeamCFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).
  3. Heritage Collegiate Charter in Bertie County, NC just had its charter revoked for poor performance (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/09/charter-advisory-board-recommends-revocation-heritage-collegiates-charter/).

While some may see a school about to close its doors, an ISD about to take over an unwilling public school, and someone in Oregon continue to spend a lot of money to own schools in NC, “innovative” people see an opportunity being granted (pun intended).

Let the Innovative School District take over the Heritage Collegiate Charter and let John Bryan finance it all.

HCBC

The ISD district will have its school to start with that is obviously failing; a charter school will not have to go under and disappoint the reformists, especially those who are financed by PACS donated to by John Bryan; and, finally, John Bryn will own more schools that are charters in North Carolina.

But what might be most beneficial in this “innovative” is that it will not cost taxpayers money.

Wonder what the State Superintendent of Public Instruction would say about that.

(I)ntruding on (S)chools (D)eliberately – Why There is Nothing Innovative About NC’s ISD Reform

Last week’s State Board of Education meeting saw a potential list of schools to be considered for the new NC Innovation School District whittled down to four.

The ISD Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, made his presentation to the SBOE answering questions and doing what he is expected to do: his job. And to all accounts that favor the use of the ISD, he has been doing well.

But no matter how “well” he is doing his job, it still does not cover the grossly intrusive nature and the glaring apparent contradiction that is North Carolina’s version of the “Achievement School District.”

This has been tried before in other states, most recently and most notably in Tennessee. Simply “google” Tennessee’s experiment to quickly find how unsuccessful that initiative was. State leaders who championed the use of the ASD here promised that it would be different in our state because, well, because….

If one looks at the time-line, the care, the money, and the soft kid gloves used to handle the selection of schools, then one can easily see that NC’s version of instituting an ASD really shows how North Carolina’s General Assembly and SBOE have weakened public schools. It almost seems that if any institution needs to be taken over because of its performance, then it would be a certain building on West Jones Street.

Consider the following:

  1. The word “innovative.”

Shakespeare had his famous Juliet say, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Simply changing the name from ASD to ISD does not automatically alter the outcome. It still smells as “sweet” or in this case, pungent.

Handing over community schools to charter control is simply not innovative. It’s privatization. Looking to “for-profit” charter chains to bring “new ideas” when the very constraints that are holding back many of these “low-achieving” schools could be remedied by better treatment from Raleigh to the very populations that feed these schools is not innovative. It’s creating a situation that gives the appearance of a need from outside sources so that someone may profit.

  1. The State Superintendent’s mantra of “local control.”

If the control for power for NC’s public schools goes in favor of the NCGA and Mark Johnson, then Johnson will have control over the ISD. Yet, is it not Johnson who ran a platform that emphasized local control of schools? From an interview with WUNC in May of this year (http://wunc.org/post/qa-nc-superintendent-wants-give-schools-flexibility#stream/0):

“ But there is the distrust between people in Raleigh and out in the local school districts of whether or not that may be happening.”

“This department in Raleigh needs to be a place that is seen as a department that supports schools in the local districts, not tells schools what to do. “

With this particular “innovation,” what Raleigh is actually doing is telling systems what to do. Leaders may be saying that schools have a say in whether they want to be a part of the ISD, but look what happens if schools who are chosen for the ISD refuse to become part of the ISD – close down.

From WRAL on Sept. 18th:

“Once the state board selects a school for inclusion in the ISD, the local board of education that runs the school has two options – agree to relinquish control of the school or close it down” (http://www.wral.com/durham-johnston-schools-ask-to-be-excluded-from-nc-s-new-innovative-school-district/16948299/).

That’s not local control. That’s overreach.

  1. No one wants to be a part of it.

There is no indication that any single school on the list of prospective schools to be taken over by the Innovative School District wants to be a part of it.

Not one.

Again, not one – even after meeting with officials representing the ISD.

  1. Possible one school district?

After last week’s meeting with the State Board, it became apparent that it might be possible that the NC ISD has for the first year only one-school.

That’s a one-school district with one superintendent making $150,000 to run it with the unwavering support of the state superintendent, the state board, and the General Assembly. That school district will get every resource possible to make it work.

Imagine if every school in the state got that kind of support.

  1. Proving that poverty affects schools.

Alex Granados from EdNC.org this past Thursday published a report entitled “List of schools eligible for ISD cut to four.”

In it he articulated the selection process for the ISD school list.

Originally, he said he had a list of 48 schools based on the criteria set out in legislation. First, his team removed all schools that had school improvement grants which might be affected by joining the ISD. 

“We removed those schools because we know that they’re on a path, and they have additional resources, and we don’t want to see anything happen to those resources,” he said. 

That brought the number down to 41. Then his team removed all D schools, leaving them with only the F schools. Then they removed all F schools that met academic growth last year. 

“If they met growth, the hope is that the needle is going to start moving in the right direction,” he said. 

That left him with only F schools that did not meet growth last year. Then his team looked at the two years prior to last year. If the schools had met growth in those two years and also had a D, he said his team gave them the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, they looked at the schools in the districts where 35 percent or more of the schools qualify as low performing. Those are the districts where all the schools could join the innovation zone if a school was chosen for the ISD. That brought the list down to six schools, two of which were removed at the meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).

If ever there was a correlation to poverty and student achievement, this list shows it because these schools were measured by the Jeb-Bush style grading system that literally shows that most every school which has an “F” school performance grade is one that services a population with high levels of poverty.

Even DPI’s recent report on school report cards grades and poverty yielded the following graph:

poverty table

DPI is run by Mark Johnson who is controlled by the General Assembly and may soon have control over the ISD process. That’s the same General Assembly which brags about a state surplus while lowering per pupil expenditure, expanding vouchers, and refusing to expand Medicaid. Oh, and they cut DPI’s budget drastically without the state superintendent fighting it.

That’s not innovation. It’s proof that the Innovative School District is yet another attempt at weakening the ties between the community and its schools to create a veiled appearance that the state needs to step in and do something that will profit someone else.

What if Schools Could Operate Like the NC General Assembly – A 10-Point Lesson Plan

As the North Carolina General Assembly comes together in Raleigh for another of its patented “special sessions,” public school advocates are looking for lawmakers to make several “fixes” to rather ill-conceived initiatives like principal pay, class-size mandates, and the Innovative School District.

However, as leaders were trying to gather members into their caucuses to go over hidden agendas, it struck this teacher how inefficient schools would be if they were operated in the manner that the General Assembly has allowed itself to be run.

In fact, if schools operated the way this particular special session has operated so far, then there truly would be need for “reform.”

  1. What if schools could meet whenever teachers felt the need? Forget the stipulation that public schools are budgeted for a 180-day school year and most every state assessment and measurement tool is already set in stone on a calendar. But if teachers could call their own “special sessions” or “special classes,” then we could meet outside of the allotted school calendar and not even worry about the extra costs to taxpayers.
  2. What if teachers did not have to disclose a syllabus or a lesson plan to administrators or other school stakeholders? That would mean that teachers could go into “sessions” with ulterior motives that would never be known to those who attend class.
  3. What if teachers could just teach to the students they favored and leave the others devoid of the opportunity to learn? Considering that many in Raleigh’s GOP establishment would rather craft law and policy behind closed doors without open debate and collaboration from all representatives and senators, this would be widely used in schools.
  4. What if schools didn’t have science classes and environmental studies? It would seem appropriate in this scenario because the GOP-majority has literally ignored the effects of fracking, coal ash spills, and GenX in the environment.
  5. What if schools did not have to communicate to parents and guardians on the progress of the students? No need for progress or report cards or those pesky conferences. It isn’t as if the current GOP establishment is actually being transparent.
  6. What if schools could at any time redraw its zones to make sure that the “right” people were slated to go to that school? The gerrymandering of districts would be a great model for this. And those parents who wanted to challenge those boundaries at the school board meeting? That’s no big deal. The gerrymandering of the judicial system happening in Raleigh could be duplicated on a local level.
  7. What if schools did not have to disclose financial records or be transparent on monies spent? There are a couple of lawmakers in Raleigh under investigation (rather weak investigation at that) for not disclosing financial reports.
  8. What if schools could enact reform measures that did not have any real research and vetting done beforehand? All one would have to do is look at the ISD initiative that mimics the failed Achievement School District in Tennessee and see that is not just a possibility but a real pattern.
  9. And what if schools could have spokespeople to deliver erroneous information to cover up blatant ineptitude and partisan schemes such as the statement below?

    classize

  10. And what if schools could decide how much money they should receive and use for resources? No need to expound on that.

These are just ten. There are surely more.

But if schools could run themselves like the North Carolina General Assembly operates, then we would never “fail” in our own eyes.

Just in the eyes in of the very people we are supposed to serve.

Mess With The Bull, You Get The Horns – Defending Durham Schools

“Local leaders know what we need.” – Mark Johnson, Sept. 29th, 2016 in debate with Dr. June Atkinson.

Mess with the bull, you get the horns.” – Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar

Hit Bull, Win Steak.”  – Sign in the greatest minor league park in the country, the DBAP.

When Mark Johnson said his words, he was trying to get elected to an office that he has proven very ill-fitted for. Despite attempts to qualify himself, Johnson has chosen to be rather more “private” than public in his short, court-dominated tenure as the leader of DPI.

Apparently, claiming to trust local leaders to know best was only a political maneuver because right down the road in Durham are two schools which are on the final list to be taken over by the ISD (Achievement School District). Those schools are slated to be placed in the hands of a charter school chain that is privately held and more than likely an out-of-state entity.

That does not sound like allowing “local leaders” being allowed to do what they need.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported for WRAL in an article entitled “Durham school board prepared to ‘fight,’ won’t let state ‘take away our schools’,”

Durham Public Schools’ leaders said Thursday they are prepared to “fight” if the state tries to take control of any of their schools and hand them over to charter school operators. But state leaders say they don’t want a fight, they want to partner with the schools and communities.

Two of Durham’s schools – Glenn Elementary and Lakewood Elementary – are on the state’s shortlist of low-performing schools being considered for North Carolina’s new Innovative School District. They are being considered because their performance scores are among the lowest 5 percent in the state (http://www.wral.com/durham-school-board-prepared-to-fight-won-t-let-state-take-away-our-schools-/16981246/).

Reading reports from Durham about their fierce determination to defend keeping their schools in their local control seems to be what exactly Johnson would have praised on the campaign trail. But that was then.

In May (according to another Hinchcliffe article in collaboration with EdNC’s Alex Granados), Johnson actually communicated that one of his priorities was “Achievement School District startup funds” (http://www.wral.com/-fighting-the-status-quo-inside-the-combative-world-of-nc-s-new-public-schools-chief/16918014/).

Durham can change those schools around. And it does need some time. But even Mark Johnson has seemed to change the definition of urgency. Just look at the interview attached to the aforementioned article.

Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bill Cobey, said ,

“There is reason to believe that they’ve had plenty of time to deal with these failing schools. I would hope that, as we go through the process, they would be willing to accept the fact that maybe we need to try to something different (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/25/state-board-ed-chair-potential-charter-takeover-schools-plenty-time-make-improvements/#sthash.mnTgti87.DIjG0x4p.dpbs).

What time frame does he mean? Is he referring to the time frame of the last five years with the seismic change in how our General Assembly has treated our public schools, especially the ones affected by high rates of poverty? If Cobey was writing an argumentative paper, he would need to clarify himself more with evidence and analysis.

If you have lived in North Carolina for any amount of time and visited the Triangle region, you might be aware of the absolutely beautiful revitalization of downtown Durham. Go to a Bull’s game. Go to a performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or stroll through the American Tobacco Historic District or even Duke Gardens and you will see how a community rejuvenated itself without redefining its roots and core values.

They can do the same for their schools if the powers that be get out of their way and do what they are supposed to do like fully fund schools and help communities.

In Sept. of 2016, Mark Johnson actually said the same thing, but with different words.

And a totally different intent.

There is a group called Defend Durham Schools that is gaining traction and support. They need more. You can read about them here – http://defenddurhamschools.org/. The website says,

The “Innovation” (formerly “Achievement”) School District leadership is claiming that “we had our chance to fix these schools.”  But we know better.

The General Assembly has repeatedly underfunded and sabotaged public schools and based the majority of their agenda on heavily flawed standardized test scores. We need to focus our efforts and money on strengthening public schools, not forcing our neighborhood schools into private hands with no local accountability.

Defend-durham-schools-logo-1-768x768

There are also links to many resources that are worth the read, the study, and the digesting. Please consider visiting the sight and helping in any way. And visit Durham.

If Johnson stands by his comments, he would actually support what Defend Durham Schools is trying to accomplish.

A leader stands by his/her words.

 

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.

That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,

A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.

“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).

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Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.

So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.

Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.

But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.

Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.

Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.

It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.

And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.

Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.

Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?

Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.

Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.

So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.

But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?

If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.

And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.

Shakespeare and the Achievement School District Staged in North Carolina

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

-Juliet, Romeo & Juliet, II, ii

“A turd by any other name will still smell the same.”

-some t-shirt I saw on the internet

Although the North Carolina House presented a more palatable budget proposal for education, it bears repeating that almost anything presented in proximity to the senate’s disastrous pitch would sound better. But there are some particular peculiarities obvious in the House’s budget.

One such convenient action involves the Achievement School District (ASD), a reform initiative that was passed last year.

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A recent WRAL report stated,

“The Achievement School District bill was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. At the heart of the legislation is the creation of a district which will include five low-performing schools from around the state. The schools, which are yet to be named, could be turned over to for-profit charter operators” (http://www.wral.com/nc-house-unveils-portions-of-two-year-education-budget/16725640/).

The model for the ASD is based on what the state of Tennessee implemented about six years ago with Race to the Top initiative monies, and the results of that experiment have not yielded great dividends.

In fact, last August the Tennessee ASD was reported to have failed an audit and be forced to go under control of the Department of Education out of Nashville. From an August 17, 2016 Times Free Press report:

“Even as Division of State Audit accountants’ examination was still underway this spring, the state Department of Education, which had allowed the ASD to operate independently, informed the Comptroller’s office in April that it had staged an intervention and seized control over the ASD’s “fiscal and federal processes.”

As a result, the functions were transferred from Memphis to Nashville with a turnover of the ASD’s financial staff. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s staff told auditors they were hiring a fiscal director, fiscal manager, accountant, account tech, federal programs director and federal programs manager” (http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2016/aug/17/state-audit-documents-chaotic-financial-operation-tennessees-achievement-school-district/381759/).

And now there is news that there are enrollment problems as well – http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/02/28/the-enrollment-problems-that-plagued-asd-schools-in-turmoil-theyre-not-unique/.

And don’t forget that there has been a major slashing of staff for the ASD in Tennessee – http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/05/04/tennessees-achievement-school-district-cuts-team-overseeing-direct-run-schools/.

Cutting staff should not be a surprise with many school initiatives if they were initially funded by Race to the Top monies; however, if there was success with the ASD, then would Tennessee not continue to budget it fully?

But here in North Carolina, we have lawmakers so bent on re-forming schools that learning from the mistakes of the past with others is not part of the West Jones Street curriculum. In fact, without even having really seen any results of the North Carolina version, we have near-sighted legislators willing to invest more into it because it will work in their minds.

Reality is far different.

But as Sen. Chad Barefoot said in January of last year (2016), “Our state is totally different than other states. Not every state is organized like we are” (http://wunc.org/post/nc-senate-passes-charter-school-takeover-bill#stream/0).

And North Carolina is very organized. It takes a lot of planning, structure, and preparation to create gerrymandered districts with “surgical precision” according to the courts and an unconstitutional voter ID law that still affected outcomes in 2016.

One of the ways that North Carolina is making sure that it does not repeat the mistakes of Tennessee is to simply rename it.

Consider the aforementioned WRAL report from this past Friday. It states that the recent house budget proposal:

“The legislation also gave districts that participate in the ASD the opportunity to pick up to three other low-performing schools in their districts to join an Innovation Zone. Schools in this zone would have charter-like flexibility but would continue to be managed by the school district.

The House budget changes the name of the Achievement School District to the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD). It also adds a provision that says, if a district participating in the ISD has more than 35 percent of its schools identified as low-performing, then all of those schools could become part of an Innovation Zone should the district elect that option.1

However, another provision initially said that, if a low-performing school in an Innovation Zone does not exceed growth for two continuous years, it will be forced to join the ISD. That means those schools would no longer be under the control of the district and could be turned over to for-profit charter operators. Those provisions together could end up increasing the number of schools that become part of the ISD” (http://www.wral.com/nc-house-unveils-portions-of-two-year-education-budget/16725640/).

Not Achievement, but Innovative.

Not ASD, but ISD.

Not Datsun, but Nissan.

Not Time Warner, but Spectrum.

Oddly, a change in name does not mean a change in the product. In fact, the use of the word “Innovative” in the new name is neither innovative or accurate.

It is still a borrowed failed idea that will take public money and put it into the hands of for-profit charter companies by people who have found many ways to force public schools to survive on less.

New name. Same stench.