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.

best4

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.

 

 

 

“CheeBerger, CheeBerger!” -Sen. Phil Berger and the Art of Walking Contradictorily

cheeberger

Sen. Phil Berger’s words that introduced BEST NC’s fourth annual legislative meeting which featured Michelle Rhee is yet another indication that the powers that be in North Carolina are still addicted to reform ideas that not only further harm public schools but erroneously claim that schools should run more like businesses.

But at least he is consistent.

These words are featured on his website and have been widely shared, and they serve to show the deliberate ignorance that perpetuates the “reform” movement (http://www.philberger.org/berger_highlights_major_teacher_bonuses_commitment_to_raise_average_teacher_pay_to_55k).

First of all, this legislative meeting was not open to the media. BEST NC, which claims to be neutral and non-partisan, did not seem to want media coverage or even teacher attendance. Having someone like Sen. Berger open the meeting with an introduction already casts a partisan shadow over the rest of the meeting. If the purpose of the meeting was simply to be informational and an exchange of ideas, then conducting it behind closed doors would not have been needed.

Besides, aren’t we talking about a public institution that uses public money?

Ultimately, Berger’s comments are filled with claims that need to be debunked, especially when it comes to merit pay, incentives, and teacher salaries.

Berger states toward the beginning of his remarks,

“It is good to join so many business leaders, educators and policymakers all with a shared interest in the future of public education in North Carolina.”

The fact that business leaders and policy makers were in the meeting is not in question. But what educators were in the meeting, specifically teachers? Is it not ironic that the public has not heard from one teacher about what was discussed in the meeting? I would have LOVED to be in that meeting as a teacher, and if good ideas were shared, I would be the first to trumpet them.

But alas.

Berger continues,

“But we’ve also focused on ways to incentivize outstanding performance and provide financial rewards for teachers who go above and beyond to help students succeed.”

Oh, merit pay and bonuses. As a teacher, I can tell you that merit pay does not work. Allow me to refer to a letter I wrote to Rep. Skip Stam last year.

“The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?

Besides, if you think merit pay is effective, then I would question your willingness to fund that merit pay. Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. One problem with that model (and you stated it in the interview) was that it pitted teachers against each other. Another problem that you did not mention is that Raleigh decided not to fund it any longer.”

And then Berger backed his point with a singular example.

“Please take a look at what happened in one Cumberland County elementary school when the faculty learned two of their peers would be rewarded for their outstanding work with students.”

Here’s that video: https://www.dropbox.com/s/brt9glwz4razc5y/Elizabeth%20Cashwell%20Elementary.mp4?dl=0.

Only one example? That’s hardly proof. That’s almost staged. What teachers show their principal in a meeting may not be what they actually feel. And if Berger really wanted to know if teachers in North Carolina thought this bonus pay was effective, then he should have allowed each teacher to answer an anonymous questionnaire.

And I am sure that what was shown by Berger is the exception rather than the rule.

Berger’s comments also included a jab at NCAE and other teacher advocacy groups.

“Instead, what we hear from many entrenched education bureaucrats – and from the North Carolina affiliate of the national teachers’ union – is that this kind of policy creates jealousy and dissension in our schools. In fact, some even deride it as “treating teachers like assembly line workers.”

Of course he used the word “union” because he is among business leaders in a right-to-work state. But it is ironic that he does specifically point out NCAE which has successfully appealed policies made by a Berger-led constituency like the removal of due-process rights because they were deemed unconstitutional.

Besides, if BEST NC wanted to bring all stakeholders together to discuss what is best (pardon the pun), then NCAE would have been present there as well.

Berger continues:

“Instead, that policy initiative treats teachers like the professionals they are, and creates a compensation model in line with how most other professionals are paid.

“This is the kind of innovative solution – one based on business principles – that my colleagues in the General Assembly and I have worked hard to implement over the past six years in order to improve education outcomes.”

This claim that we should run public schools more as a business rather than a service is old, worn-out, and erroneous.

And I have made this argument before.

“Every one of the assertions about adopting a business model in public schools that I have encountered always places the schools in the scope of a business. Maybe that paradigm needs to be shifted. If you want to truly envision a business model in schools, you might want to view all angles of the argument.

Try and see if you could run a business like a public school. Maybe the differences between a public service and private enterprise might become more apparent because you’re not even comparing apples to oranges. You’re comparing apples to rocks.”

What if businesses had to:

  • Be prepared to open up every book and have everything audited. We don’t even do that with private schools that receive Opportunity Grants.
  • Be prepared to publicize all of the salaries of the people who work for you. ALL OF THEM. And those salries are stipulated by the government, not the market.
  • Know that you must 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.
  • You will not get to advertise or market yourself.
  • Even though you are supposedly “fully” funded, you will have to raise funds because you are not really fully funded.
  • Be prepared to work hours, schedule, and calendar will be 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 understand that YOU WILL NOT MAKE A MONETARY PROFIT. Why? Because you are not a business. You are a public service.

Berger ended his manufactured resume of “improving” public education by offering a string of “accomplishments” which are more contradictory than literally true.

  1. “Improve(d) graduation rates” – Graduation rates are one of the easiest statistics to manipulate. Create a statewide 10-point grading system and have school systems dictate that a “50” is the lowest grade possible for a student, then it would be hard for a student who chooses not apply himself to actually NOT graduate.
  2. “Better inform(ed) parents of what our public schools are doing and how well they are doing it (transparent school grades)” – And that Jeb Bush style of school performance grading shows exactly how poverty affects school systems which is ironic for Berger to say considering that he boasts of a state surplus while nearly 25% of children in our state suffer from poverty and are still serviced by the underfunded public schools.
  3. “Empower(ed) parents with greater choice and greater innovation in their kids’ education (charter schools, opportunity scholarships)” – The word “choice” is very interesting. Charter schools have not shown to improve outcomes, but have been shown to be most selective in whom they allow to attend. And when over 75% of the vouchers go to religious schools that can discriminate based on religious beliefs, the word “choice” doesn’t carry the same meaning. It also does not take much research to find charter schools that fail in their purpose and see monies pouring into schools that do not even teach viable curriculums.

    Sometimes there can be embezzling (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/local/fayetteville-man-accused-of-embezzling-more-than-from-church-withholding/article_c75b83cc-3cd1-59fb-a002-bd240e46858c.html). Ironically, the school where this occurred, Trinity Christian, is located in Fayetteville. That’s in Cumberland County – the same county where the two teachers highlighted earlier in Berger’s remarks hail from. Apparently, having these fantastic teachers in the public school system in Cumberland County did not deter the allowance of Trinity Christian to receive more money ($990k+) in Opportunity Grant scholarships (vouchers) than any other school in THE STATE!

  4. “And attract, retain and reward the highest quality teachers in our classrooms” – Actually that’s laughable. The same General Assembly eliminated due-process rights, graduate degree pay bumps, and the Teaching Fellows program as well as put a vice on the NC university system. That’s driving potential teachers away and forcing other teachers to leave NC or the profession altogether. One simply needs to see the seismic drop in teacher candidates in our schools of education and see how well we are “attracting” people.

    Oh, and that HB2 debacle that has cost our state millions in lost revenue and even more in reputation still looms while Berger blames others for its effect even though he helped to craft it and pass it with a supermajority during a “special” session of the NCGA. That’s quality!

But the most egregious misrepresentation offered was saved for last and it deals with teacher salaries.

“Most of you have probably heard me talk about the average 15.5 percent pay raise that we’ve provided teachers since 2013.
“And you’ve heard me explain that, prior to 2011, public schools were struggling with declining state support; that thousands of state-funded teaching positions had been eliminated, teachers had been furloughed, and teacher pay had been frozen.
“And all too often, the people most critical of what this Republican-led General Assembly has done are the same people who were directly responsible for those cuts and furloughs.
“But under Republican leadership, state funding for our public schools has reached record levels.
“Beginning teacher pay is at an all-time high, and average teacher pay has climbed to $50,000 for the first time in state history.
“And this General Assembly has already publicly committed in our last budget to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years. It is encouraging that our new governor has committed to partnering with us to continue increasing average teacher pay.
“But there is one data point – one significant fact – that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and that is how much more teachers will earn over the course of a career thanks to our pay reforms.
“The old pay scale was a ball and chain – it took teachers 30 years to reach the top. I can’t think of any other professionals who have to wait three decades to get to the top.
“I cannot believe that the policymakers who designed such a system could honestly contend it was done in an effort to treat teachers as professionals – on the contrary, a 30-year trek to maximum pay is what assembly line compensation looks like.
“Under the new scale for the 2018-19 school year, teachers will reach a base salary of $50,000 in half the time – or 15 years in the classroom.”

This is the same BS offered by former governor Pat McCrory who became the first incumbent governor to not get reelected in a year that saw 20k more North Carolinians vote for Trump than Clinton. In response to McCrory, I countered last summer with:

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

Any veteran teacher who is making above 50K based on seniority, graduate pay, and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the CURRENT average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay, and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a “burden” on the educational budget leave the system.

In actuality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. If the top salary that any teacher could make is barely over 50K (some will have higher as National Board Certified Teachers, but not a high percentage), then how can you really tout that average salaries will be higher?”

But remember that this meeting was closed and the audience was not there to question. They were there to reaffirm the very myths that guide the actions of the current powers in Raleigh to further dismantle public education.

So much for transparency.

 

 

The Dramatis Personae in the Privatization of Public Schools in North Carolina – or Who is Trying to “Reform” Education Through Deformation

Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th)) with lawmakers in the current climate of public education in this country and in the state should not sit well with public school advocates.

In fact, this meeting that was brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos) should serve as an ominous omen of what will be attempted in North Carolina.

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.

Despite what they claim, the intentions 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 BEST NC.

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.

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above were in that closed door meeting which started literally four hours after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting may just be another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with Rhee’s StudentsFirst.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

How does this link into BEST NC? Well, 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 DFER to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures. It shows something interesting.

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP 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.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just last year merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers.

Also consider:

  • Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation.
  • Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. That means that the dialogue between what happens at the meeting and other teachers will be brokered by BEST NC because if HOPE Street can’t go, then other teachers can’t go.

It could also mean that there might be an altered script that is read to these teachers.

And one other thing – the vice-president of BEST NC (Julie Kowal), the Director of the North Carolina Teachers Network for Hope Street Group (Katharine Correll), and the NC state superintendent (Mark Johnson) all have law degrees. Johnson practiced corporate law. Kowal and Correll worked with non-profits.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Achievement School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

Mark Johnson has only three to four more years (as a teacher and local school board member) of experience with public schools than DeVos, and DeVos has no experience with public schools.

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s selection for secretary of education, is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

civitas

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Furthermore, on February  8th, the NC GOP which holds a supermajority in both chambers of the NC General Assembly issued a formal invitation to Betsy DeVos to come and “share ideas” according the 2/9/17 edition of the News & Observer (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article131486504.html).

Now look at the graphic again:

privatizers

The NC GOP (where many of the very same lawmakers and policymakers in this Feb. 7th meeting with Rhee caucus together) were very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Also look at the timeline in which BEST NC came into existence – 2013

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants – 2014
  • Hope Street Group in NC – 2015

And one last thing – the Feb. 7th meeting with Rhee and Harris does have a connection with SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

“Decision-making” is an interesting term in this discussion, because isn’t this meeting with Rhee just about asking questions?

Because it seems to have raised more questions.

But what this all really means is that public school advocates should and must hold our officials accountable and do everything they can within legal limits to counter the trends that are privatizing our public schools.

Part of that started today with the Moral March in Raleigh. The tens of thousands of people who came to show solidarity in overturning suffocating government policies is just a sampling of the strength that resides within the citizens of our state – 90% percent of whom are affiliated with the public schools either as a student, graduate, parent, or a combination.

An Open Letter to BEST NC Concerning Meeting With Michelle Rhee -Every Public School Teacher Needs To Be Aware Of This

Dear Mrs. Berg,

As the CEO of BEST NC, you and your team have led a coalition of business leaders who have helped steer the conversation surrounding public education in North Carolina. While many times as a public school teacher I have disagreed with your interpretation and analysis of the variables, causes, and effects that have shaped the public school system, I have appreciated your willingness to converse and exchange viewpoints.

I also have not only read, but studied the materials that BEST NC has released, and I did it with the thought that your coalition’s purpose was to remain non-partisan and open to all sides of the discussion.

As soon as one visits the “About Us” page of your website, best-nc.org, the following appears:

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.

The word “non-partisan” really stands out to me, especially in a state where the public education system has been rather manipulated by partisan ideologies.

And then one can view the “Our Approach” tab and read:

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 work to…

  • Convene a broad constituency of education stakeholders,
  • Inform an engaged business community, and
  • Advocate for policies, research, programs, and awareness that will move the needle…
  • …toward a shared, bold vision for education.

The words that resonate most in this are “convene,” “broad constituency,”” advocate,” and “shared vision.”

And while you tout that your group is pro-public education and seeks to “collaborate” with others, news that BEST NC will be holding a “legislative gathering” on February 7th makes me rather suspicious that the non-partisan approach you claim BEST NC maintains is not real.

My suspicion is not caused by the fact you are meeting. It arises because of whom you are meeting with.

In my 18 years of teaching in public schools and in my active advocacy for fully-funded public schools, I have never encountered a more polarizing figure than Michelle Rhee. In fact, I (and many others) consider Ms. Rhee 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.

No one really needs to exert much energy to see that her tenure in Washington D. C. was disastrous. She clearly endorses high-stakes testing, elimination of due-process rights, and the closing of schools she deems unsuccessful because she values a test grade over student growth.

No one really needs to dig deep and realize that her Project IMPACT initiative in Washington DC has been widely scrutinized because of the use of a “carrot and stick” mentality and its adherence to “teaching toward a test,” both of which run counter to the very premise of having a “skilled citizenry.” Michelle Rhee simply champions efforts to make teachers “jump” through hoops to get students to do well on arbitrary tests rather than empowering students to grow in their skills. It pays no attention to other factors that affect student achievement like poverty, lack of funding, overcrowding, all of which exist widely in North Carolina.

However, it is what she stands for now that is even more frightening considering current trends in North Carolina. As a strong advocate for charter school growth and vouchers for private schools, Ms. Rhee represents efforts to privatize public institutions which runs counter to our state’s constitution which your site quotes.

The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools… wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.– Article IX, Section 2(1), North Carolina Constitution

The invitation to include George Parker only reinforces that BEST NC is uniting champions of school choice and value added measurements with lawmakers and business leaders who can further those causes. You claim in Billy Ball’s article in NC Policy Watch (1/27),

“The legislative gathering is always closed to media, always has and always will be as a promise to members. Because they want to feel comfortable asking elected officials and experts candid questions off the record.” – See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/01/27/public-education-advocates-cry-foul-legislators-private-meeting-controversial-school-reformer-michelle-rhee/#sthash.Zn4WUvda.vHutAkcx.dpuf

So much for open dialogue and collaboration. In fact, it makes it all appear that it is part of a larger agenda.

Consider the timing. The election cycle has just passed. Gerrymandering has enabled the GOP to maintain majorities in the NC General Assembly. We have a president who champions school choice and vouchers. North Carolina already has been infected with several “reforms” and our state is a “right-to-work” state which has no unions, contrary to what Mr. Ball reported.

And the two groups that will not be involved in your “candid” discussion are the two groups who have the biggest stake in public education: public school teachers and the public.

Ball’s article later reports,

“Still, Berg said there’s nothing secretive or inappropriate about BEST N.C.’s gathering with Rhee and lawmakers, which she described as a reception with a guest speaker, followed by a brief Q&A session. No state policies will be on the table; nor will legislators be holding a discussion of state public policy.

“The beauty of this is we want our members to ask really blunt questions,” said Berg. She acknowledged, however, that she’s not surprised, given the press attention surrounding Rhee’s education reforms, that some would be anxious over her attendance.

“I don’t have concern with people being upset about the national speaker,” Berg said. “She shut down schools. That made some people mad.”

When it comes to public education, “blunt” questions do need to be asked, but those discussions need to involve all parties.

  • Why is this “legislative gathering” about public institutions and public monies so secretive?
  • Why allow someone who clearly does not have a good track record with actually improving schools come and educate selected people who can make critical decisions about our public schools?
  • Why not have these discussions with actual scholars in educational research? Have they been invited?
  • Why are there not any teachers or teacher groups involved in this?

 

There are very concrete reasons why people would be “upset about the national speaker.”

But I am more upset that a group that supposedly celebrates open discussion and collaboration would broker a meeting such as this when what will be discussed are most certainly reform ideas that run counter to really improving public schools and still profit a selected few.

That is the reason that I am writing you. And that is the reason that I am making this an open letter in hopes that all public school teachers can learn more about what might be happening when a known privatizer who devalues teachers is coming to speak with the very lawmaking group that crafts how well public schools are resourced and how teachers are treated.

That is the reason I am also asking that you reconsider actually having this meeting with Michelle Rhee or make it more open to other stakeholders because BEST NC’s credibility as being “non-partisan” will suffer.

It certainly has changed my opinion of BEST NC.