“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.

But we are really never “at” the table.

Julie Kowal’s recent perspective on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina’s new approach to teacher recruitment,” praised the new version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to be launched this year.

As a veteran public school teacher, when I see BEST NC defending or lauding a piece of reform, I take it with a grain of salt.

Actually, it’s an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle rhetorical glitter throughout this piece, I could not help but think that like so many other “reforms” and “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, this one lacks a crucial and vital component: teacher input.

Kowal is the Vice-President of Policy and Research at BEST NC, a “non-partisan” business consortium for education advocacy. In the few years that it has been in existence, BEST NC has helped to craft policy and “reform” to supposedly strengthen public education in North Carolina which has waned in the past few years according to her and many others.

Kowal explains,

North Carolina has previously led the nation in education innovations, and will do it again, with new and pioneering solutions designed specifically to solve the talent challenges our schools face today (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/08/north-carolinas-new-approach-teacher-recruitment/).

Those “new and pioneering solutions” she is talking about include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When Kowal praises the new version of the Teaching Fellows Program, it is hard not to ask if BEST NC had a hand in its current rendition. Their ties to the business community are apparent, but can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who even this past year crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) currently debated in courts that would enable a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

Kowal stated in her perspective that we as a state did lead the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

EVAAS, The Iceberg Effect, and Stranger Things – The Secretive Way NC Measures Teachers and Schools

This past month the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools most are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education. That is what is being used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

In 2013, the state of North Carolina started using a value-added measurement scale to help gauge teacher effectiveness and school performance. Developed by SAS which is headquartered in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, EVAAS collects student data and creates reports that are used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.

EVAAS stands for “Education Value-Added Assessment System.” For teachers, it is supposed to give an indication of how well students are supposed to do in a given year on the tests that are used on evaluations. (Do not let it be lost on anyone that “EVAAS” scores were just released at the end of most schools’ first quarter after half of the block classes have already completed more than half of the curriculum’s work).

EVAAS has been the subject of a lot of scrutiny. It deserves every bit of that scrutiny. Why? Because the algorithms that it uses to come up with its calculations and reports are like a tightly held secret.

Think of the Colonel’s special blend of spices on Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Think of the formula for Coca-Cola Classic.

Think of the recipe for Crabby Patties.

Think of whatever is happening Hawkins National Laboratory.

Hawkins_National_Lab

If you do not know the last reference, then watch Stranger Things on Netflix especially if you grew up in the 1980’s because they nail it.

Actually, think of the iceberg and what is seen and what is under the water line.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction describes EVAAS as:

EVAAS examines the impact of teachers, schools, and districts on the learning of their students in specific courses, grades, and subjects. Users can access colorful, easy-to-understand charts and graphs via the Web, as well as produce customized reports that predict student success, show the effects of schooling at particular schools, or reveal patterns in subgroup performance (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/effectiveness-model/evaas/).

There is even a nice little video that one can go to in order to “understand how EVAAS” works (https://ncdpi.sas.com/videos/EVAAS/WhatIsEVAAS.mp4).

EVAAS pic

The whole video is an attempt to validate the use of EVAAS by the state. Except it does not tell anyone how “EVAAS performs value-added analysis.” The only people who know how that works are inside of the Hawkins National Laboratory or as we know it, SAS headquarters.

This past March, Angela Scioli wrote a powerful piece for EDNC.org entitled “EVAAS: An incomplete and painful system for me.” In it she stated,

I did not change anything else about my teaching.  I did not know what to change.  No one met with me to intervene.  No one even spoke to me about the results.  It just sat there, like a black eye I couldn’t cover up, but no one wanted to talk about it.  

The next year, I received my EVAAS results, after using the same methods, and I was now deemed “highly effective.”  I was relieved and confused.  How could that be? (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/21/evaas-incomplete-painful-system/).   

Justin Parmenter’s op-ed entitled “The cost of doing business in the education world” (August 9, 2017) was another powerful expose of a world in which EVAAS is being used to measure teachers and schools. He said,

In the years that followed, EVAAS was rolled out on a larger scale across the district and state, and similar data measuring teacher effectiveness was made available to more teachers. I was dismayed to see that, while some years I apparently had made a difference, there were other years when I did not make much of a difference at all. Some years I even made a negative difference (https://www.ednc.org/2017/08/09/cost-business-education-world/).

This criticism of EVASS is not limited to North Carolina. From the National Education Policy Center:

Education Policy Analysis Archives recently published an article by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley and Clarin Collins that effectively exposes the Houston Independent School District use of a value-added teacher evaluation system as a disaster. The Educational Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) is alleged by its creators, the European software giant SAS, to be the “the most robust and reliable” system of teacher evaluation ever invented. Amrein-Beardsley and Collins demonstrate to the contrary that EVAAS is a psychometric bad joke and a nightmare to teachers” (http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/houston-you-have-problem).

And the ambiguity of how SAS uses data within the EVAAS program is not lost on many people. From a 2014 WUNC report called “Ranking Teachers: NC Bets Big On A Complicated Stats Model,”

EVAAS is based on that student growth, not the test score itself. And the software is complicated – and some say largely secret. Teachers, principals, even administrators at the state level don’t know everything that goes into the model.

“Now the statisticians, and I’m not a statistician – I’m not the smartest guy in the world – they would say that stuff should even out, and I think they are correct, I’m sure it does even out, when you look at statewide data,” says Jim Key, an assistant superintendent in Durham. “But within a particular classroom? You could have more than a normal share of students who are going through some challenges with their personal lives” (http://wunc.org/post/ranking-teachers-nc-bets-big-complicated-stats-model#stream/0).

That last quote from Mr. Key accurately sums up the relationship between the EVAAS program and the Iceberg Effect.

Simply put, EVAAS only measures what is the tip of the iceberg that is above the water and then it tells us how to view it. It completely disregards what is under the water level.

LET ME REPEAT: EVAAS ONLY MEASURES WHAT IS TO BE SEEN, NOT WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH. IT IS ONLY CONCERNED WITH STUDENT OUTCOMES. IT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR “INEQUITY & INEQUALITY,” “STRESS & VIOLENCE,” “SUPPORT FOR SCHOOLS,” AND “SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES.”

Teachers and schools measured by EVAAS actually have to battle against all of the iceberg, not just the tip which is by far the smallest part of the iceberg.

The state pays more than three million dollars annually to SAS which was co-founded and is still run by Jim Goodnight who according to Forbes Magazine is one of the top donating executives to political campaigns. In 2016 he donated much to a PAC for Jeb Bush who while in Florida instituted the school performance grade system that North Carolina uses now – the same one that utilizes EVAAS reports to measure schools (https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/10/forbes-sas-goodnight-among-tech-execs-for-top.html).

It also is worth looking at the fact that his wife, Ann Goodnight, is a co-founder and board member of BEST NC. When BEST NC had its annual legislative meeting it brought in the toxic Michelle Rhee and her campaign for value-added measurements to discuss policy. That “closed-door” meeting was held at SAS headquarters.

The recent principal pay schedule that has garnered well-deserved criticism was spearheaded by BEST NC with legislators behind the scenes over the summer utilizes EVAAS data.

Too much is being dictated by a private entity that is privately calculating data in a secret fashion to measure a public good and how much should be spent on that public good in a state that wants to privatize that public good.

There’s too much incestuous synergy there. And all of it is purposefully ignoring the part of the iceberg that is beneath the water line.

In using EVAAS, what the state of North Carolina is doing is sending schools on expeditions in remote icy waters without the use of radar and sonar to navigate themselves. It’s like the Titanic.

But instead of being surprised at the fact that the “unsinkable” actually succumbed to a lonely iceberg, the state has already made a hole in the hull for water to leak in, so even if the “ships” avoid hitting icebergs, they would already have a hard time reaching port. As the “unsinkable” ships begin to sink, the state says we must invest in other alternatives like charter school reform and vouchers, so the money starts going to other modes of “transportation.”

The problem is that the icebergs in our state are getting bigger and more are breaking off. As the income gap widens and as segregationist tendencies begin to take firmer root, systems like EVAAS will still serve as a façade of the actual truth which lies beneath the water.

Of course, SAS could release how it uses data and calculates its reports but that would require transparency.

But icebergs work best in cold, murky, choppy waters. And people in Raleigh like having big icebergs.

Our Schools Are Not Failing; Our Policy Makers Are – On Raleigh’s New Way of Measuring Schools

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to stop a string of court decisions that have declared your unconstitutional acts “unconstitutional,” then you change the judicial system in your favor. Or at least try.

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to remain in power on West Jones Street even when a majority of the political landscape does not favor your policies, then you create gerrymandered districts and discriminatory Voter ID laws.

And when you are the North Carolina General Assembly that is trying to privatize the public school system, you undertake a series of actions that weaken public schools such as school performance grades aligned with achievement, intentionally not fully fund schools, create class size caps with no funding of new classrooms, and throw millions of dollars into vouchers.

You try and disenchant the teaching profession by removing due-process rights and graduate degree pay from new teachers to a point where state education programs have experienced a significant drop in candidates.

And yet public schools are still doing the job.

So what do you do now? You change the rules. You change the criteria of measurements.

You simply change the playing field – all to create the illusion that public schools are failing.

For the last three years, schools in our state have been measured with school performance grades, a system adopted from Florida developed by the Jeb Bush administration with the intent on creating a false situation that public schools are failing.

Much of a school’s performance grade is determined by a school’s “achievement score:” a series of indicators put into an algorithmic formula to calculate a score that is then put into another formula to then determine a school performance grade.

For high schools the following was used to define a school’s achievement score this past year:

High schools will use the following indicators to calculate the achievement score:

  • End-of-Course Math I
  • End-of-Course English II
  • End-of-Course Biology
  • The ACT (percent of students who score 17 or above – UNC System’s minimum composite score requirement)
  • ACT WorkKeys (percent of students who achieve a Silver Certificate or better)
  • Math Course Rigor (percent of students who successfully complete Math III)
  • 4-year Graduation Rate (percent of students who graduate in four years)

Again, when calculating the achievement score for each indicator, the percent of students who meet the standard is divided by the total number of students for that indicator. To get the total School Achievement Score, the total number of scores or benchmarks meeting the standard for all indicators is added and then divided by the total number of scores or benchmarks for all indicators (from 2014 READY ACCOUNTABILITY BACKGROUND BRIEF SUPPLEMENT: North Carolina School Performance Grades – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/reporting/spgbckgrndpack15.pdf).

Of course, it does not consider the socio-economics that students live in, but the scores certainly reflect it.

school grades

So, to guarantee that this school year’s scores will not be as good as last year’s, the North Carolina General Assembly is changing the rules, or rather the indicators. Since science departments have been doing so well with preparing students for the Biology EOC, that indicator will no longer be used.

That’s right. A state that is pushing STEM education to a point that “specials” are being threatened, the Biology EOC is not considered a “good” indication of school achievement.

Why drop Biology from the indicator list? Because that’s the one we as a state do best on. Simply check out the NC School Report Card Site. Look at your own district and it will be compared to the state averages. My school system from 2015-2016 is below.

EOC

To be proficient, a student must reach Level 3 at a minimum. Look at the state figures.

Those who scored 3,4,5 in Reading (English) was %67.2.

For Math – 54.7

For Biology – 72.7. That’s the highest one.

They are taking out the highest score and then using the rest.

Try telling a student that you will not be using the highest test grade in teh final average. Well, that’s what the state is doing.

It’s almost as if the NCGA saw that schools were doing too well and being too successful that it necessitated some sort of action to counteract that “growth” to help substantiate the need for all of the unregulated reforms.

With the removal of the BIOLOGY EOC indicator, school achievement scores will go down; therefore, school report cards will go down as well as school performance grades.

Add to that, the increased reliance on ACT scores. As relayed in an earlier post:

But now in the coming year, the ACT is about to become the most “important test” that will be given in all of North Carolina high schools. That is thanks to CCRGAP, or the Career and College Ready Graduate Alignment Partnership.

It cannot be helped that taking out a “C” and the “G” from the acronym gives us “CRAP” was not noticed.

According to Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241 (and a presentation found created by the NC Community Colleges),

What this is saying is that if any high school junior does not make a certain score on the ACT (or its particular subject areas), then they must go through remediation during their senior year using a curriculum chosen/designed by a local community college but delivered by the high school teachers within already prescribed core courses.

In short, teachers would have to take time in their already crowded and time-constrained classes to deliver more curriculum.  No extra time will be given. Curriculum standards for the actual classes still have to be met. Why? Because there will be a test for them.

Debate over what scores will be the threshold for whether a student must be remediated maybe just starting. What was reported to this teacher in a professional development workshop was the following:

GPA of 2.6 -or- 18 on English and 22 on Reading (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/10/01/we-should-not-allow-the-act-to-have-this-much-power-over-our-schools/).

However, that last sentence needs to be changed, because what was communicated recently was that it was not an “OR” situation, but an “AND” situation. To repeat, students would have to make a certain threshold score on the ACT portions of the test AND have a certain GPA. As of this post, it was a 2.7.

Let’s add to that. School report cards will now not only have one grade. It will have a multitude of them: a grade for each student population break down. It would take a textbook to show how that alone would allow the NCGA and DPI to use cursory grades to confuse the public about the effectiveness of a school. Imagine if there are 10 students identified within a certain “subset.” One student did not show up for the test and two students do not meet proficiency even though the students are identified by an IEP which highlights particular learning disabilities that are exacerbated by standardized tests. Seven out of ten of those students passed, but the report card for the school may reflect a letter grade lower than a “B” for that “subset.”

The state seems unwilling to explain why the sudden change in how schools are now measured, so the state probably will not go out of its way to explain fully what each subset report card score actually communicates.

Actually, the state is being willingly unwilling to explain.

Is it not also interesting that the new principal pay system is now linked to school performance? These new parameters to ensure lower school achievement scores will translate into lower school performance scores, hence a more “controlled” way of paying principals. If BESTNC, who brokered this new flawed principal pay system, did not know about this change in how schools are to be graded, then every school in North Carolina will be receiving a “B” or higher.

But we know better.

In a day when our General Assembly wants to use performance incentives and merit-based pay scales, it is rather obvious that they will also redefine what performance is and what merits actually receive the most “reward.”

So, what has our State School Superintendent said about all of this?

Nothing.

At least his “performance score” will not get any lower.

But teachers will continue to do the very job of educating students DESPITE what lawmakers do. They understand that the constant change in measuring public schools does not reflect that schools are failing.

It reflects that lawmakers are failing.

Every Principal in NC Has The Right to Speak Out Against This New Principal Pay Plan – It’s “Political Crap”

“Legislation is not an exact science. We do things that we think will help solve an issue.”

– Craig Horn in EdNC.org on Sept. 21, 2017.

Rep. Craig Horn’s quote was in response to what he called “overblown fears” concerning the new principal pay plan newly implemented this school year (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/principal-pay-situation/).

However, considering what this current slew of lawmakers, including Horn, has done to “reform” public education here in North Carolina, it is rather ironic that he says that educators should not have “fears.” Anyone who has been an advocate for public schools in North Carolina knows full well that this state has every reason to fear what is brewing in Raleigh concerning educational reforms.

Horn mentions that legislation is not an exact science, but it is odd that he refers to it as a science because if it is then we have some lousy “scientists” in Raleigh. Consider the need for scientists to thoroughly investigate all possible scenarios and constantly experiment before declaring something a “law.” Consider that scientists usually have their work peer-reviewed before publishing.

But that would go against the special sessions of Horn’s constituents and their use of secret midnight meetings. Furthermore, if Horn is claiming to be practicing a science, then why not listen to actual scientists when it concerns matters like coal ash spills, GenX, and fracking?

The problem with Horn’s comments found in response to criticism of the principal pay plan is that those comments are simply weak and do not even pass the basic tenants of the scientific process. In fact, they are insulting to educators and those looking to see past the smoke and mirrors which have come to define the political process in Raleigh.

Horn continues (as Granados explains),

“Did we intend to get it done perfectly? Well, we would have liked to have, but we don’t kid ourselves,” Horn said. “Did we intend to screw somebody? No. Period.” 

Intentions can be debated all day, but actions speak truly. This principal pay plan simply does “screw” people, both literally and figuratively.

But for Horn to say that “screwing” somebody with this principal pay plan was not intentional? The “we” he refers to must mean the GOP establishment in power on West Jones Street. And frankly, those people do not have a good track record with having good actions backing up their intentions.

Maybe the representative should explain how HB2 did not intentionally target transgender citizens of North Carolina. Maybe he should explain how the unconstitutional Voter ID law did not intentionally target lower-income minorities. Maybe Horn should explain how the racially-gerrymandered redistricting plan that his own party enacted was not intentionally constructed to screw people over.

To continue with Horn’s scientifically unsound comments:

Horn also expresses frustration with some of the critics who he said have unfairly used the hold harmless provision to demonize Republicans. He said their fears are theoretical. 

“That may happen. This may happen. The Earth may explode. To use that as a bludgeon is patently ridiculous,” he said. “It’s fear mongering and political crap at its worst.” 

It’s funny that someone like Horn talk about frustration. Ask any veteran public school teacher or administrator about how Raleigh has totally changed the landscape of public education in North Carolina morphing it from a once nation-leading progressive system to a playground for privatizing, then you will hear some scientifically supported frustration.

The irony is not lost on Horn’s use of the word “theoretical” since he and his cronies will pass a hint of a baseless hypothesis into law within the matter of a day – like HB2. Or HB14. Or SB4. Without any experimenting! Yet, the people who actually are practicing the scientific method and have advanced degrees and conducting research are telling us that we are doing everything in our power to make the Earth explode. People in Houston, Puerto Rico, and Mexico have sure seen things explode.

Horn would call that last statement “fear mongering” and “political crap,” but what he is actually selling is “crap mongering” because of “political fear.” Why? Because the principal pay plan is so shallow and thin that it shows the lack of “scientific process” used by lawmakers to pass it. And people immediately recognize it.

If one looks at the actual steps of the scientific process as taught in our high schools based on the curriculum that the state prescribes, then one can see the steps real scientists use to explore. The steps listed below actually come from DPI’s K-12 Standards page for science (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/curriculum/science/).

  1. Asking questions and defining problems
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

Except in this instance the problem defined was how to make principals and schools do more with less. The model came from some political playbook used by ALEC-leaning bodies. The planning occurred behind doors without actual educators. The data that was analyzed involved monetary bottom lines. The math and the computational thinking come from entities that benefit from this pay plan like SAS. Given explanations have been broad and nebulous. There is no evidence. And lastly, a body of lawmakers that uses special sessions and secret meetings which shut out other points of view does not practice communication well.

Horn’s comments still do not explain why the principal pay plan simply assumes that principals were not already focused on helping students achieve. He never explains why their getting advanced degrees to become more qualified to handle tasks and duties of an educational leader who has to navigate the terrain of today’s educational reality is not important. And he sure as hell does not explain how the same lawmakers who champion this plan resolve to help alleviate poverty’s effects on student performance.

Until he does that, then all he is giving us is a lesson in political scatology.

Open Letter to BEST NC About Their Principal Pay Plan (and Their Shallow Response to the Push-back).

Dear. Mrs. Berg and BESTNC,

Today I read your reactionary response on EdNC.org concerning BESTNC’s explanation of the new principal pay plan that has received some much well-deserved criticism. It was nice to finally see BEST NC take responsibility for this absolutely detrimental policy.

Without taking the time to mince words, I want to thank you for further proving what many of us public school advocates have known for a while concerning BESTNC and its principal members – that you and BESTNC are a special interest group who claim to represent a non-partisan, non-profit coalition that actually is helping usher in an agenda here in North Carolina which benefits those who wish to profit from the privatization of public schools.

One only has to read your latest attempt at amelioration entitled “North Carolina’s new principal pay schedule, explained by BEST NC” to understand that it is nothing more than damage control for an ill-conceived yet purposeful plan (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/21/north-carolinas-new-principal-pay-schedule-explained-best-nc/).

You start it by stating,

“This year, North Carolina made the largest investment in state history in principal salaries through an updated salary schedule and bonus opportunities.”

That sounds great, but when you say the word “bonus,” you already have aroused suspicion. The words “bonus” and “public education” have never really collided successfully in North Carolina. Remember the ABC’s? or the 25% of top teachers get a raise concept? Probably not, because you are not an educator or administrator. Rather, you are a mouthpiece for a special-interest group without an authentic understanding of public education but a clear understanding of profit.

When many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary, you come back with the horribly safe “average bear” concept.

“The new principal salary schedule provides the average North Carolina principal a 10 percent raise, built on a student-focused, nation-leading foundation.”

There is a seismic difference between “average” and “actual.” Just ask a veteran teacher to explain “average” teacher salary raises in the last five years. And that “built on a student focused, nation-leading foundation” comment? What “nation-leading” foundation are you referring to? I have a hunch.

Your VP at BESTNC is the former executive director for Carolina CAN, the state affiliate for 50CAN which is partnered with an outfit named Students First.

Students First was founded and is run by Michelle Rhee who I have stated in the past in a letter to you as someone who is “the antithesis of how to approach helping public schools. In every endeavor she has undertaken in ‘improving’ educational outcomes, she has left disunity, damage, and a large void in her wake” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/29/an-open-letter-to-best-nc-concerning-meeting-with-michelle-rhee-every-public-school-teacher-needs-to-be-aware-of-this/).

You invited her to speak at BESTNC’s Legislative Gathering for 2017 in which no teachers, education advocacy groups, or even press were allowed to attend. There was only a press-conference in which you offered “soft” questions in hopes that it would ameliorate the concerns people had with Rhee’s coming to talk to the very legislators who passed the principal pay plan you praise.

Michelle Rhee had once instituted a plan for bonus pay with performance “carrot-sticks” called Project IMPACT in Washington D.C. that has been widely scrutinized. This new principal pay plan that you are having to defend in this op-ed makes that Rhee visit come into a lot more focus. That is unless you are willing to share the nature of Rhee’s visit with the legislators that evening and prove the opposite.

But back to your recent missive:

“BEST NC is committed to working with state leaders to build on the state’s new plan and correct unintended consequences.”

Do those state leaders include actual teachers and teacher advocacy groups? If they do, please identify and explain how that was part of the collaboration to come up with this proposal for a principal pay plan in the first place.

“Since this summer, we have worked in consultation with state associations and educator groups on technical corrections to ensure that no principal sees a loss in pay this year, and to create greater stability for all principals by extending the provision into future years.”

What state associations and educator groups are you referring to? And I am not asking as a way of pressing the issue as much as I am genuinely asking whom you are collaborating with who fits those descriptions because I have not heard a word from other groups praising this plan.

I am also referring to your own words when it comes to having discourse with all parties involved. You even explained the need for “open discourse” in another EdNC.org op-ed called “(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

You said,

“Choosing to listen to other perspectives; especially ideas that may challenge our own beliefs – requires us to recognize that no one is perfect or has a monopoly on the best ideas – and this is hard. But when it comes to our students, it’s the right thing to do.”

So, when you help to craft this pay plan and push it through legislation, did you have those conversations with actual principals, public school administrators, and superintendents who have to hire principals to help lead schools, especially the hard-to-staff ones? And if you did, were they enthusiastic about the plan that was released this fall because BESTNC sure was.

On July 17th the same VP for BESTNC, Julie Kowal, who once was with Carolina Can penned an opinion piece that praised the very plan that you seem to be gingerly defending now. She even said,

“Not only is principal pay too low, but for years North Carolina – like other states – has paid school leaders based on school size, along with their level of education and years of experience, with no accounting for the difficulty of the job or the principals’ effectiveness in their role. This structure and level of principals’ compensation have made recruitment and retention increasingly difficult, particularly in high-needs and smaller schools.

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years” (http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/).

That letter seems to be a rousing approval of a plan that has in a short time done more to disturb high school principals than empower them. Reports given on the pay plan by educational groups have said that this plan will actually hurt “recruitment and retention… in high needs and smaller schools.”

And that removal for advanced-degree pay bumps is rather ironic when looking at the profiles of the staff of BESTNC on their website as they list all of the graduate degrees they have obtained to help validate their position.

And when you talked about helping “struggling schools” did you or BESTNC ever lobby for programs and initiatives to combat the very poverty that seems to go hand-in-hand with schools who receive chronically low school performance grades. You can easily see that correlation if you explore EdNC’s Data Dashboard.

But it is the last paragraph that shows your and BESTNC’s total disconnect with public education. You say,

“These corrections and improvements are critical. It is unfortunate, though, that they overshadow such a significant investment and important step forward to pay North Carolina’s principals as the executives they are.”

Of course they overshadow what you think is a great plan because you have not really improved the situation. You have rammed a business model down the throats of something that cannot be run like a business.

Furthermore, PRINCIPALS ARE NOT EXECUTIVES! THEY ARE EDCUCATIONAL LEADERS!

There is a massive difference. And to think that principals are executives only further proves your disconnect. If you really wanted principals to be executives, then let them operate without the need for complete transparency, or having to publicize salaries, or run on protocols established by outside entities, or even having a limit on what they can spend on the resources they think they need.

Oh, and let them choose their customers and set a price point.

But that will never happen because public schools are a public good, not a private business. And principals are educators by trade, not business executives.

If there is one thing that BESTNC’s involvement in the new principal pay plan has shed light upon, it is that being fully financed does allow for groups to take action and have influence, especially behind closed doors in Raleigh.

Now, just imagine if public schools were fully funded and fully staffed.

Fight for that.

Why BEST NC is Not “Best” for NC

A recent WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 19th on WRAL.com attested that the inflated rhetoric surrounding the North Carolina General Assembly’s so-called support of public education was nothing more than partisan hot air.

“Editorial: N.C. school budget’s defects emerge as students settle in” highlights two specifically glaring shortcomings to come out of the legislative sessions of the past summer: class size restrictions which have been rather publicized of late and the new principal pay plan (http://www.wral.com/editorial-reality-of-n-c-school-budget-s-defects-emerge-as-students-settle-in/16957746/).

That new principal pay plan has just come into light and has received some rather harsh but deserved criticism. Why? Because it was poorly planned and seems to have been implemented behind closed doors without thorough vetting and an understanding of what works in schools.

On Sept. 8th, Lindsay Wagner reported on a State Board of Education meeting that discussed the initial feedback from principals about the new pay plan (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/). In it she quoted one of the board members who seemed rather perplexed as to who designed the new plan.

Board member Tricia Willoughby repeatedly questioned who designed the principal pay plan.

“When I get the phone call from our local superintendent about this, or from some of my friends who are principals, I want to know specifically who designed this [principal pay plan] and who I can tell them to call,” said Willoughby. “I want to know who designed it, and we may not get that answer today, but I’d like an email in the next day or two [explaining] to whom I refer these questions.”

If the State Board doesn’t know who designed the pay plan, then one of two things has happened – either there has been an extreme case of amnesia or the plan was crafted behind closed doors on West Jones Street without the input of the State Board, DPI, or other educational leaders, especially those who talk closely local superintendents and principals.

It turns out that it was the latter with the help of a supposedly “non-profit,” “non-partisan” group called BESTNC.

BESTNC stands for Business for Educational Success and Transformation North Carolina. Their legal name is North Carolina Business Leaders for Education. They tout a very impressive list of business leaders among their ranks, but their name is in direct contradiction to what they have practiced in helping shape policy like the principal pay plan.

The WRAL op-ed actually calls them out on their role in the plan.

One of the top priorities of BEST NC, a coalition of business leaders focused on improving education, was bettering public school principal pay – which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Following the session, the group praised legislators for “what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure” in the nation.

However last week the state Board of Education was told that the new pay plan may end up discouraging good principals from working at the schools that need the most help and could force the most experienced principals to opt for retirement.

While building in pay incentives for increased performance of students, the pay structure eliminated the additional money principals received for advanced degrees and years of experience (longevity). In some scenarios, some experienced principals would see their pay drop $20,000.

That link in the story referencing the praise heaped upon legislators by BESTNC leads readers to July 17, 2017 op-ed by Julie Kowal (VP for BESTNC) on BESTNC’s website – http://best-nc.org/raising-and-transforming-principal-pay-north-carolina-leading-the-nation/. It is worth the read, but particularly enlightening is:

State investments in school leaders have been one of BEST NC’s top priorities since our founding. As business leaders, our members know the value of great leadership. We believe principals are the superheroes of our public schools. They are responsible for establishing and maintaining a positive school culture focused on student success; they lead teams averaging 50 adults – recruiting, developing and retaining outstanding teachers and staff; they manage an operating budget averaging $5M, and they serve as the glue between the school and its surrounding community…

That is why BEST NC’s top legislative goal for this year was to build on the 2016 recommendation by the Legislative Study Committee on School-Based Administrator’s Pay “to make meaningful, sustained and strategic investments in school leader compensation.”

The legislature followed through. This year’s budget completely restructures the salary schedule for principals in what may be the most innovative and student-focused pay structure in the country. The 2017-18 budget also invests more than $40 million in principal pay raises over the next two years.

BESTNC was founded in 2014. If principal pay has been a priority since its founding, then this principal pay plan has been in the works for years and the amount of publicity that the process has received has been rather miniscule.

That is purposeful. And it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

For public school advocates, BESTNC is not unfamiliar. There was a rather interesting op-ed written by BESTNC President Brenda Berg in 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well in 2015 was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. That deliberate disconnect is still evident with the principal pay plan of 2017.

While BESTNC seemed to praise its own good works at the annual America Succeeds EduVenture convention last week, it had to quickly defend itself for actions that no one really knew happened because instead of being that non-profit and non-partisan group they showed themselves to be a rather well-funded lobbying group – for businesses.

BestNCtweetBestNCtweet2

Again, it’s not what is “best” for NC’s schools.

And again, it is all deliberate.

Consider that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians and business leaders, it only makes sense that teachers and principals not only come to the defense of public education but loudly question the powers that be.

Yet, those same teachers and administrators are having to fulfill their teaching and leadership duties in schools that receive less resources and less support from a harshly partisan legislation that supports a puppet state superintendent, gerrymanders districts, discriminates against portions of the population (Voter ID and HB2), and works behind closed doors with lobbying groups like BESTNC to craft dangerous reforms.

It shows that what is really BEST in NC are the people working in public schools like teachers, students, volunteers, teacher assistants, students, and parents – not those who try and wear the mantle of “BEST”.

Maybe before BESTNC starts another initiative that seemingly is clothed with good intentions but in reality benefits a few, it should look closely at that business / education nonparallel.

Maybe BESTNC should consider running the businesses they represent under the same construct that schools are forced to work under by the same NCGA that BESTNC has surreptitiously worked with, but as a small warning, they should:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you.
  • Be prepared to allow every stockholder to have equal power on how your run your business even if they own just one share.
  • Be prepared to abide by protocols and procedures established by people outside of the business.
  • Be prepared to not get to choose your raw materials.
  • Be prepared to have everything open to the press.
  • Be prepared to not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, be prepared to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to have your work hours, schedule, and calendar dictated by those who do not even work for your business.
  • Be prepared to have to communicate with all of your clients’ parents and guardians.
  • And finally be prepared to not MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Until BESTNC realizes that running education like a business does not work, all of their initiatives will have the same effect as their principal pay plan.

That is why they are not “best” for NC.

About That New Horrible Principal Pay Plan? Ask BEST NC. They Seem to Love It.

This past February, Michelle Rhee came to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in a visit that did not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC.

This meeting with Rhee was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – educators.

And while the media did have a chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders. In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 which are still being debated in courts months later after an entirely new school year has begun.

BEST NC also has had an initiative to reinvent how principals in North Carolina are compensated. Until now, we as a state rank 50th in principal pay. Of course that needs to change, but would it not make sense for principals and educators to have a say in that process?

This month, the state released its new principal pay plan and if anything, it was not well received.

From Lindsay Wagner’s piece for the Public School Forum on 9/7,

State Board of Education members expressed shock this week upon learning just how seriously the General Assembly’s newly enacted principal pay plan could hurt school leaders, particularly those who have devoted decades of service to the state’s public schools (https://www.ncforum.org/new-principal-pay-plan-could-result-in-steep-salary-reductions-for-veteran-principals/).

Keung Hui from Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on 9/15,

Supporters say the new plan provides a needed increase for underpaid principals while putting a focus on improving how students perform. But critics worry the change will discourage principals from working at struggling schools and lead to veteran principals retiring.

Lawmakers agreed to make sure that no principals saw pay cuts this school year. But that “hold harmless” budget provision expires at the end of June (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article173533601.html).

The backlash from actual veteran principals concerning this new pay plan was swift and fierce. Diane Ravitch even included it on her widely read blog referencing Wagner’s report while adding,

The North Carolina legislature will go down in history as the most anti-education lawmakers in the history of the state. I would say the nation, but Wisconsin’s hostility to educators is tough to beat.

The legislature enacted a principal pay plan that cuts principal pay and drives out veteran principal. In North Carolina, this is called “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/09/15/north-carolina-new-principal-pay-plan-cuts-pay-drives-out-veteran-leaders/).

The traffic for this post quickly made it one of the more read that day and Ravitch’s blog gets a lot of readers. In fact, it just passed 31 million hits this past week.

But BESTNC seems to love the new plan. They even praised it behind closed doors half a country away.

Last week, America Succeeds (the parent of BESTNC) held its annual convention in Boise, ID. It’s called EdVenture. On opening night there is a session for affiliates only. But a tweet did make it out for advocates to see. BESTNC even retweeted it.

BestNCtweet

It says, “Brilliant policy by @BESTNC.org: pay principals by size + complexity of schools AND results w/kids.”

For an organization that seems to only meet with lawmakers about education rather than educators and explains their policies only to like-minded groups, it is hard to look at their description as a “non-partisan group” seriously.

So how does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning? Have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

Despite what they claim, the intention of BEST NC to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other, including BESTNC.

Look at the graphic below:

privatizers

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. The box at the bottom represents the state of North Carolina. All of the other listed players are national.

Consider the following groups:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Civitas Institute
  • SAS Software
  • CarolinaCan
  • North Carolina General Assembly
  • BEST NC

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC.

If you want a full explanation on how all of these entities are involved then please refer to my post last February – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/. But for this post, I will stay with America Succeeds and its direct links.

BEST NC is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for Democrats For Educational Reform (DFER) to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures.

Actually, Teach For America, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee’s outfit), DFER, and KIPP Charters are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

In essence, this principal pay plan seems to have been in the works for a while by a whole consortium.

So, it needs to be asked again:

How does BESTNC respond to all of the backlash of this principal pay plan that this tweet seems to show them owning and have they come out into the open and explained to principal groups why they seem to have the ability to transform policy while principals and other educators seem to have no say?

I think I already know the answers, but to get a full explanation you need to be part of a private group that is molding public education.

BESTNC says on its website intro,

“BEST NC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of business leaders committed to improving North Carolina’s education system through policy and advocacy. We do this by convening a broad constituency; encouraging collaboration around a shared, bold vision for education; and advocating for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will significantly improve education in North Carolina.”

But that brings up many other questions and doubts? Like

  • Non-partisan? Really?
  • Advocacy for whom?
  • Broad constituency? Really?
  • Collaboration? With whom?

The actions don’t match the claims and the benefits don’t help schools as much as they help certain individuals.

So much for transparency and including all stakeholders.

Trying to Own What Is Not Yours – BEST NC, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, and Opportunity Culture

When it pertains to academics, it is not a good practice to not cite sources or to claim credit for ideas and concepts that are not yours.

The same applies to the business world especially when it is relates to a business consortium talking about academics.

Simply put, Brenda Berg and BEST NC attempted to take credit where credit was not due to them. In fact, what happened on July 17th when as the CEO and President of BEST NC, she wrote a perspective piece for EdNC.org entitled “Shamrock Gardens Elementary School: A Blueprint for Educator Innovation,” Berg seemed to claim that the ideas used by a unique transformative school  (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/17/shamrock-gardens-elementary-school-blueprint-educator-innovation/) validates what BEST NC does.

In reality, she inadvertently validated the power of teachers when they are allowed to be agents of change and given the professional freedom that reform-minded individuals in Raleigh do not respect – the same reform-minded individuals who claim to be using business models.

Mrs. Berg attempted to crudely explain how the transformation of Shamrock Gardens was made possible because of a model that engages “core business principles.” She made statements such as:

  • “That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation.”
  • “In fact, the BEST NC Board and Team was recently extended the privilege to visit this school so that we could better understand how educators utilize many of the core business principles that we believe are critical for empowering great educators and improving student success.”
  • “However, the rest of their recipe for success revolves around sound design principles that private sector employers strive for every day: supporting developing employees, creating clear career paths for leaders, and adapting their delivery of services based on data to meet ever-changing needs.”

There are numerous references to “we” (BEST NC) before the name of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is even mentioned at the end of the second paragraph. It establishes a scenario that what enabled Shamrock Gardens Elementary to change were the very ideas that BEST NC has been championing and sharing.

Two days later, Pamela Grundy, a Charlotte historian, writer, Shamrock Garden parent and public school advocate, penned another piece that clarified what really happened at Shamrock Gardens. She talked of a transformation that took years and was community-driven, not catalyzed by business (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/19/charlotte-parent-sending-son-failing-school-importance-integration/).

A version of Grundy’s response was recently printed in “The Answer Sheet,” part of The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/25/the-real-story-of-how-a-failing-north-carolina-school-became-a-success-story/?utm_term=.46983b3426b3#comments).

That version is entitled “The real story of how a failing North Carolina school became a success story” and it begins with this statement.

“Back in May, trustees of the business group BEST NC paid a visit to Shamrock Gardens, my son’s elementary school. They came for a presentation on a new staffing structure called “opportunity culture,” which has been quite successful at Shamrock. The report written by BEST NC’s president, however, overlooked a key reason for Shamrock’s success. This was my response.”

Grundy explained the use of a model called “Opportunity Structure” developed by Public Impact (PI). In fact, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has used that model for years in some of their schools like Shamrock Gardens Elementary (http://cmssuccessbydesign.weebly.com/).

Grundy1

Clicking on the link for Public Impact, one comes to the opportunityculture.org website that explains the model and gives clarity for what was used by Shamrock Gardens Elementary.

Grundy2

Ironically, the word “business” shows up on this webpage exactly zero times.

In Berg’s op-ed perspective, she mentions “Opportunity Culture” exactly zero times.

In fact, Berg’s piece highlights BEST NC’s “Educator Innovation Plan” before she even mentions Shamrock Gardens when it had nothing to do with anything that happened with Shamrock Gardens.

Grundy’s perspective in The Washington Post has received lots of reads and while comments are sometimes overlooked, one really stands out because it came from the people who created the Opportunity Culture model. It reads,

“As the chief architects of the Opportunity Culture school models, we appreciate the positive words about Opportunity Culture.

We just want to clarify that Opportunity Culture is not an initiative of any business group. While we appreciate and laud philanthropic support from business leaders for schools, we did not consult any business leaders from BEST NC or elsewhere about the design or implementation of Opportunity Culture.

Instead, our hardworking team consulted dozens of teachers to design the initial Opportunity Culture school models and have improved them with input of hundreds of teachers, principals and other school staff. Teachers, principals and other staff in schools are ultimately responsible for the successes that many OC schools, Shamrock included, have achieved for students. The OC models simply give educators the roles and collaboration time to ensure learning success for more students — and pay teachers more for this.

As you note, at Shamrock, and elsewhere, Opportunity Culture does not stand alone. We very much respect, and count on, the many complimentary efforts of teachers, staff, parents, and communities to serve children and improve schools.”

Respectfully, Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

Read it again. Among other things, it states that what happened was the use of a model that was created by teachers, principals, and other staff members.

Also they make perfectly clear:

  • Opportunity Culture is not an initiative of any business group.
  • …we did not consult any business leaders from BEST NC or elsewhere about the design or implementation of Opportunity Culture…
  • …our hardworking team consulted dozens of teachers to design the initial Opportunity Culture.
  • The OC models simply give educators the roles and collaboration time to ensure learning success for more students…

What Mrs. Berg saw as an opportunity to tout the business model reform structure championed by BEST NC for public education was really an attempt to steal credit for something that educators and community members did.

Taking credit for something that is not yours in academic classrooms is called “plagiarism.” It happens in the business world when using concepts, ideas, and branding from another entity and not giving credit.

Not once did Berg talk about the very model used by Shamrock Gardens Elementary when it was clearly identified by Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools and people at Shamrock Gardens.

The chief architects of the Opportunity Culture model went out of their way to explain how they never consulted BEST NC or the business community in creating this model. They gave credit to teachers as they view teachers as the catalysts for change.

But Berg did go out of her way to promote BEST NC and how what is in its “Educator Innovation Plan” had obviously been in good practice at Shamrock Elementary.

What Berg did and what she purposes as the goals of BEST NC are not what is needed in North Carolina. We have the teachers. We have the communities.

What we need is for people to get out of the way and for legislature to remove obstacles instead of being one.

This North Carolina General Assembly has already gone out of its way to ram a business model into public education with non-innovative ideas like unregulated charter schools, vouchers, and Achievement School Districts with nothing to show for it except elevated language, unproven claims, and fatter pockets for for-profit companies.

It seems that if BEST NC really wanted to improve public education in North Carolina, it would help remove those obstacles instead of trying to garner credit for something it did not do.

It would also help if BEST NC and Mrs. Berg did more background research like examining what Shamrock Gardens Elementary and Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools did to create such positive changes.

It wouldn’t take long for them to find out about Public Impact and the Opportunity Culture Model which is trademarked. They are literally right down the road from BEST NC’s Raleigh headquarters.

In Chapel Hill.

 

About That BEST NC Perspective on Shamrock Gardens Elementary – It Was the Community, Not the Model

This past week, BestNC’s president and CEO Brenda Berg published an op-ed on EdNC.org focusing on Charlotte’s Shamrock Gardens Elementary School and its success at transforming itself into a school where all teachers are high-performing and student proficiency has risen “by 15 points – from 42% to 57% – an achievement reached by fewer than 5% of schools in North Carolina during the same time period.”

That op-ed can be read here: https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/17/shamrock-gardens-elementary-school-blueprint-educator-innovation/.

It is worth the read. There are some good points to be made, but this piece is also indicative of the cursory nature of investigation that many use to make claims about what happens in schools and what affects school culture in positive ways.

More precisely, it is another example of how corporate reformers try and frame a situation to fit a profitable narrative when the truth is much more involved and resides on a much deeper plane.

Mrs. Berg begins her perspective with the following introductory paragraph:

For several years, a primary focus of BEST NC’s student-focused advocacy work has been around the importance of having strong, well-supported educators in every classroom from; pre-K to higher education. Without great educators, anything else we advocate for is unlikely to work. That’s why we developed our primary advocacy priority, which we call Educator Innovation. It is based on the premise that the status quo systems and structures for recruiting and supporting educators are dangerously outdated, and, most importantly, cannot adequately prepare students for a new economy.

From the very beginning, it is not really about Shamrock Gardens Elementary. It is about BEST NC.

There are numerous references to “we” (BEST NC) before the name of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is even mentioned at the end of the second paragraph. It establishes a scenario that what enabled Shamrock Gardens Elementary to change were the very ideas that BEST NC has been championing and sharing.

If you are a public school advocate who works inside of schools and has weathered the reform-oriented agendas of many in the business community here in North Carolina, it was refreshing to see that EdNC.org published a piece a couple of days later about Shamrock Gardens Elementary’ amazing transformation from the perspective of someone who was actually a part of the process – a member of the school’s community.

Pamela Grundy in “Charlotte parent on sending son to failing school, importance of integration” went beyond the surface of what Berg discussed and exposed what really helps to transform schools – not a top-down model, but rather a foundational shift in priorities that can be most enabled by the removal of societal obstacles.

The first few paragraphs of Ms. Grundy’s op-ed are enough to show the very focus on transforming schools is not the instilling of “core-business principles” like Berg suggests, but rather the vast wealth that resides in the school’s indigenous community and the human capital that no test or metric can truly measure.

But this next paragraph near the start of the piece stands out as a most insightful observation for anyone who wants to improve public schools and one that Mrs. Berg seems to downplay.

This is a crucial concept for those who wish to improve struggling schools. A school is not a business — it is a community that reaches well beyond its walls. Building schools that reflect the society we want our children to live in is a more daunting task than simply reorganizing internal operations and monitoring test scores. But it is a necessary one (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/19/charlotte-parent-sending-son-failing-school-importance-integration/).

Pamela Grundy’s piece is a must-read because it does not talk about the appearances of schools and how they measure on random tests. It talks about changing the foundational fabric of the community that the school serves and the removal of obstacles that stand in the way of school success that could be easily be tackled by better legislation – issues like poverty, healthcare, and economic disparities.

In Mrs. Berg’s piece she references BEST NC’s “Educator Innovation” plan. Click on it and you get this.

best1

That’s a top-down reform model based on business practices and full of redundancies.

Again, with a copious amount of “we’s,” this “plan” seems to celebrate the act of incentives and rewards. In fact, this is not the entire “Educator Innovation Plan.” There is actually another page.

best2

There is no argument that “elevation” of educators is a great thing coming from any public school advocate. But there are some glaring glittering platitudes in this “plan.”

  • “Educators are not treated as professionals.”
  • “School leaders are inadequately supported.”
  • “Teacher recruitment is inconsistent.”
  • “Economically disadvantages students” exist and are in schools that are harder to staff.
  • “The teaching profession is outdated, negatively impacting recruitment, development and retention.”

This is simply another example of claiming to identify problems that teachers in North Carolina have been screaming about for years and that the current lawmaking powers and those who influence policy (some of whom are on the board of BEST NC) have fostered.

If “educators are not treated as professionals,” then it might be the fact that they are not respected.

“Inadequate support?” That’s not new. Look at the budget priorities of the NC General Assembly and you see how much support is not there. Vouchers, unregulated charter growth, and less per-pupil spending might be part of the problem.

Teacher recruitment is hard because the NC General Assembly has de-professionalized the teaching profession. In fact, there has not really been a statement by BEST NC on SB599 which fast-tracks “teacher preparation” to provide teacher candidates.

When over %20 of students in NC public schools live in poverty and rural hospitals are declaring bankruptcy and having to close because of a business model stipulating profits makes GOP lawmakers decide not to expand Medicaid, then poverty and health will remain obstacles in schools.

Teaching profession is “outdated”? No, the way that West Jones Street views the teaching profession is outdated.

Take a closer look at this part of the “plan” by BEST NC.

best3

This is nice proposal for differentiated pay. What Berg’s op-ed seems to miss is that “advanced roles” for teachers already exist. Mentors, supervising teachers, committee chairs, PLT leaders, and department chairs already are working in schools. Successful schools have been using this approach for years. What this fails to show is that in the time that BEST NC has been working “to advocate for teachers and schools,” legislators have removed caps for classroom size, many teachers are now teaching more classes in a school day, and more public tax-payer money is being funneled to private schools and charter schools that can set their own admission standards.

Add to that, monies for professional development really do not exist, so any training that teachers need to help keep up with new research and best practices has to be done during planning periods or summers at the expense of schools. Time is not a malleable variable and time to plan and grade is always needed. In fact, collaboration amongst teachers has to occur at some time.

AND TEACHERS ARE STILL DOING THE JOB! Why? Because improving outcomes for schools is an “inside-out” job. It is a community-driven initiative that talks about relationships and looking at students as more than a product, but as individuals and members of a community.

Besides, NC has a horrible history of funding initiatives to “reward” and “incentivize.” Remember the ABC bonuses? Teaching Fellows? What about funding the ASW evaluation?

It’s also funny that Berg highlight this “innovation” plan right after the current NC General Assembly cut the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by nearly a fifth over the next two years and is about to force class size restrictions on elementary schools in the state forcing each LEA to prioritize limited amounts of monies. Just look at Wake County’s predicament.

Furthermore, considering the invitation to Michelle Rhee this past winter to a legislative retreat without either educators and or the press involved does not bode well for the civil discourse that BEST NC claims to foster.

Now, if you go back to the entire “plan”…

The word “incentive” occurs four times. The word “recruit” occurs nine times. The word “reward” appears three times.

“Poverty” never appears (except in a table).

“Community” never appears.

“Respect” never appears.

It is ironic that many of the very people Grundy talks about in Shamrock Gardens Elementary’s transformation were not incentivized by titles or bonuses, overtly recruited, or rewarded monetarily. In fact, they did not receive monetary recompense. Grundy was not paid to write that op-ed.

Berg is paid to write them as part of her duties to BEST NC.

Those parents and community members respected the school, the teachers, and most of all the students in such a way to remove obstacles that may stand in the way of the community’s school from prospering.

BEST NC often talks about engagement with teachers and communities. Selecting schools whose appearance helps them further their “business reform” narrative seems to be more of a public relations activity.

That’s not what our public schools need.

They need obstacles removed, not models placed over them.

To conclude the “Educator Innovation Plan for North Carolina,” BEST NC quotes Eli Broad.

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When it comes to privatizing public schools, no one is more well-known than Eli Broad. He does not preach innovation. He preaches an agenda, which seems to be what this Educator Innovation Plan is.

Don’t Call a One-Sided Conversation “Civil Discourse” – A Reaction to BEST NC’s Perspective in EdNC.org

Brenda Berg’s recent perspective posted on EdNC.org’s website this past Friday is another example that appearance and reality are not always the same when it pertains to “reforming” the public education system here in North Carolina.

“(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” appears as an open missive from the CEO of BEST NC that attempts to invite us all as stakeholders in public education into a conversation to build understanding and possible common ground (https://www.ednc.org/2017/02/17/not-taking-sides-civil-discourse-michelle-rhee-george-parker/).

What probably precipitated this op-ed was a very publicized backlash from public school advocates about the invitation to have Michelle Rhee and George Parker speak at a closed-door legislative meeting that did not allow the media or teacher advocate groups to attend. I myself wrote an open letter to Ms. Berg and BEST NC decrying this session with Rhee, whose reputation alone mixed with the ideologies of the supermajority in the NC General Assembly do not sit well with public school educators, especially when teachers were not part of the meeting.

As stated in her perspective,

“And yet, some people told us to shut the door on them. I couldn’t believe it.”

That alone shows the very disconnect that BEST NC has with public education because in this whole conversation the one group that affects the most positive force in public education is not engaged: teachers.

The perspective used a copious amount of collective pronouns as a way of creating some sort of common ground and common purpose. The “we’s” and the “our’s” along with loaded rhetorical questions throughout the op-ed almost feel like a commercial with a slow playing piano. But when considering the history of “reform” here in North Carolina in public schools, there really has been no invitation to teachers and groups that represent teachers from BEST NC except for maybe the Hope Street Group and that is a small number.

Furthermore, Mrs. Berg herself wrote an EdNC op-ed in the summer of 2015 called “The real war on education in North Carolina,” a rebuttal to a piece written by a former teacher and public school advocate (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/12/the-real-war-on-education-in-north-carolina/). What that article did not do well was realistically portray the state of education. Many of the statistics used were incorrect and the conclusions derived were easily debunked.

But what Berg’s article did do well was to show that there was a “war” and how out of touch many in the reform movement are when examining the classroom. And considering that most, if not all, of the “reforms” instituted within the last four years in NC have come from politicians, it only makes sense that teachers come to the defense of public education.

This recent perspective seemed a light admonishment to all of those who spoke against having Rhee come to talk about her ideas and initiatives. Yet it shows how short-sighted many can be when they claim to take the ethical high road. While BEST NC was telling teachers and educators that it was just an exchange of ideas, the action and timing of such a meeting spoke volumes about possible agendas.

Consider the following chart:

privatizers

While it may be hard to actualize all of the relationships that are represented here, one can see that in the bottom right-hand side of the chart is the one entity that seems to not have a stake in the current reform movement: public school teachers. (All of the relationships depicted above are explained here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/02/11/the-dramatis-personae-in-the-privatization-of-public-schools-in-north-carolina-or-who-is-trying-to-reform-education-through-deformation/).

When considering all that has occurred and considering all who have joined forces to enact “reform” how am I as a public school teacher supposed to believe that a Teach For America alumna who at one time commanded a speaking fee larger than the average NC teacher’s salary, who has direct connections with both charter school development and voucher use, who left an entire school district in a state of absolute confusion amid a testing scandal, who has been linked to the funneling of money from “unknown” investors into efforts to privatize school systems around the country, and who champions high stakes testing as a means of evaluating teachers while neglecting actual student growth in a country that just confirmed Betsy DeVos as secretary of education is coming to a right-to-work state as the guest of a business coalition whose vice-president actually worked for a group aligned with the guest speaker to talk to a body of lawmakers and decision makers who already have shown a proclivity to spending public money on charters and vouchers and giving unwarranted power to a neophyte TFA alumnus of a state superintendent, who have removed due-process rights, stunted salary schedules, and created ambiguous evaluation systems just to talk about career pathways in a secret meeting when the leader of the hosting group says, “Why should we shut people out?” and  “We love to have a lot of diverse perspectives come to the table” and yet the leader leaves out teachers and other teacher advocacy groups that she claims to “elevate?”

That’s not civil discourse. That’s monopolizing the conversation. That’s drawing lines and creating sides.

Berg’s perspective did mention that a press conference was held.

“With that in mind, we moved ahead with the event and even offered an opportunity for the media and public to engage in the conversation.”

But it bears repeating that press conferences are controlled conversations and the supposedly frank, direct questions were reserved for the other side of the wall. In fact, this press conference seemed more like a preemptive move to satiate demands for more transparency without sacrificing the main purpose of the meeting itself.

Interestingly enough, what gets mentioned in the perspective about Rhee’s accomplishments in her current endeavor with the Washington D.C. schools is not presented in the full context of what surrounds those accomplishments. Berg states,

“Didn’t they understand that according to NAEP – the nation’s report card – Washington, D.C. is the fastest improving education system in the nation?  Perhaps they didn’t realize that recent policies in support of educators have been widely credited with the continuing successes there. Why would we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to learn from what has happened in Washington, D.C. over the last decade?”

And indeed a lot can be learned from the last ten years in Washington D.C.

Those who praise what Rhee and Parker have done with Project Impact and the D.C. schools may point to a study by Thomas Dee and James Wyckoff from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis entitled “Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT.” A link to that study can be found here: https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/w19529.pdf.

Yes, it does show that the performance of teachers is on the rise. But many have found wrinkles in the study because it focuses solely on certain teachers and does not seem to acknowledge that the demographics of the student population has changed in the past ten years based on socio-economic factors such as income and class. It also did not talk about how student performance improved because of “rising” performance of teachers.

John Merrow, the veteran education reporter for PBS, NPR, and dozens of other national publications, has a blog where he discusses trends in public education called Taking Notes. His posting “A Rash of Studies” explored Rhee’s Project Impact and is worth the read (http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6617).

But what Merrow posted before that really puts Rhee’s Project Impact into perspective. In “A Story About Michelle Rhee That No One Will Print,” Merrow provides the content of an unpublished op-ed that looks at the context of what actually happened behind the scenes. The op-ed is entitled “Caveat Emptor: Michelle Rhee’s Education Reform Campaign.” It can be found here: (http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6490).

  • It talks about the fact that the successive chancellor of D.C. schools, Kaya Henderson, was Rhee’s deputy while she was chancellor.
  • It talks about how “when USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s (Henderson) reluctance to investigate.” And “with subsequent tightened test security, Rhee’s dramatic test scores gains have all but disappeared.”
  • It talks about how “DCPS has become a revolving door. Half of all newly hired teachers (both rookies and experienced teachers) leave within two years.”
  • It talks about the lack of stability in schools when there is so much principal turnover.
  • It talks about how “enrollment declined on Ms. Rhee’s watch and has continued under Ms. Henderson, as families continue to enroll their children in charter schools or move to the suburbs.  The year before she arrived, DCPS had 52,191 students. In school year 2012-13 it enrolled about 45,000, a loss of roughly 13%.” That’s seismic.
  • It talks about those NAEP scores referenced by Berg stating, “And while NAEP scores did go up, they rose in roughly the same amount as they had under her (Rhee’s) two immediate predecessors, and Washington remains at or near the bottom on that national measure.”
  • It talks about the widening gap between low-income students and high income students on testing.
  • And it states that Washington D.C., while “improving” is still one of the lowest achieving districts in the country.

And while the NAEP is given every two years to a small representative segment of the school population, D.C. does have the PARCC tests. Pulitzer prize winning columnist Colbert I. King in the Jan 1, 2016 edition of the Washington Post reported,

“The final page has been turned on D.C. Public Schools’ 2015 calendar. But 2016 begins with the same uncompromising problem: the school system’s huge racial achievement gap.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson called the results of last year’s standardized tests “sobering.” How about painful?

The tests, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams, or PARCCshowed that just 25 percent of D.C. students in the third through eighth grades met or exceeded expectations on new standardized tests in English. Only 24 percent met a new math benchmark” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-dc-schools-the-racial-gap-is-a-chasm-not-a-crack/2016/01/01/7cfc33e6-afe9-11e5-b711-1998289ffcea_story.html?utm_term=.0345c00dd1ab).

What Rhee seems to be praised for is the appearance of success, an end product of a singular statistic. And as Mrs. Berg said in her article, “We cherry-pick the facts that validate our suspicions.”

Apparently that is true for this episode as well. The fact that “Washington, D.C. is the fastest improving education system in the nation” according to NAEP scores does not explain the continuing achievement gap, the disparity between low-income and higher-income students, and the enabling of charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools that still occur in D.C.

What real “civil discourse” would really show is that education reform cannot be instituted from the top down. It must come from the roots, from the people in the trenches like teachers and administrators, and from the empowering of communities. What Rhee’s accomplishments in D.C. and what North Carolina’s use of bottom-line evaluations show is that what really affects student achievement more than anything is poverty and other issues that students face in their lives outside of the classroom.

In a state whose General Assembly brags about budget surpluses while nearly a quarter of our state’s children live in poverty, continues to take away teachers’ freedom to be professionals to make them test facilitators, enables an unregulated charter school industry and siphons vouchers to religious schools while giving enormous tax breaks to the very people and businesses who are involved in the reform movement, it is no wonder that Rhee was invited for “discourse.”

Ironically, the very people involved in that “legislative session” with Michelle Rhee could have a greater impact on overall student achievement and growth if they focused more on their investments in the communities themselves – the communities that look to the public schools as a foundational piece of their cities and towns.

But with all the talk of overhauling the Affordable Care Act which covers many more North Carolinians than people realize, the economic impact of stupid laws like HB2 which hurt our communities, and the current tax structure that puts more burden on those who make less, what North Carolina is doing is actually attacking the public school system from both sides.

One side is trickle-down reform. The other side is stagnating social mobility.

And all of this “civil discourse” amongst reformers is nothing more than talking with people who share their false beliefs about how bad teachers are.