“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.

 

 

Open Letter to Dave Machado, Charter School Chief for the State of North Carolina Concerning His Words About the Annual Charter Schools Report

Dear Mr. Machado,

As the Director for the State Office of Charter Schools in North Carolina, your words concerning the annual charter schools report just recently made to the State Board of Education prove not just interesting, but rather selective and uninformed and display an attitude to make sure that charter schools in North Carolina thrive at the expense of traditional public schools here in the Old North State.

charter-school-report

A WRAL.com report from January 4, 2017 entitled “NC charter schools chief: Need to increase diversity, open more rural schools” included some rather illuminating insights on your part that not only display a shortsightedness synonymous with an attempt to stretch and spin the truth, but an intention to create more of a market for an unregulated charter school industry that is enabled by the current political structure here in North Carolina.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported,

“The report found that charters and traditional schools have about the same proportion of students who are American Indian, Asian, black and Pacific Islander. However, charters tend to have more white students and fewer Hispanic students than traditional schools.

The report also found that charter schools tend to serve fewer poor students than traditional schools. But Machado cautioned board members that some of that data may not be accurate. Schools may have under-reported how many low-income students they serve, he explained, because they must rely on parents to report income information.

Not all parents want to share that information.

“Parents would get mad when we sent those surveys out,” Machado said, referencing his time as chief administrator of Lincoln Charter School in Lincoln County (http://www.wral.com/nc-charter-schools-chief-need-to-increase-diversity-open-more-rural-schools/16400623/) .

There is a tad bit of faulty logic there. Are you suggesting that only charter school parents are unwilling to share information about income because of an assumed social stigma concerning socio-economics?

The truth is that all schools must rely on parents to report information for students – medical, past transcripts, addresses, etc. To suggest that traditional public schools do not have to struggle with having accurate measures of low-income versus high income students is ludicrous, because if that was not the case, then you just said that charter schools do a much poorer job of keeping up with records on their students.

Work in any public school and you will start to understand that many students will not report as low-income because they (or their families) do not wish to be identified as poor. And whether people in any office on the county level or on West Jones Street want to admit it, all public schools have students who face poverty, and poverty affects education.

And it is interesting that you mention Lincoln County, home of Rep. Jason Saine and Sen. David Curtis, current members of the North Carolina General Assembly who are sworn to uphold a state constitution to make sure that all children in North Carolina receive a quality public education. Yet, both champion charter school growth in Lincoln County using taxpayer money.

You may refer to the following letters that I penned to them for more information concerning their ventures.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/28/hes-back-open-letter-to-sen-david-curtis-why-do-you-not-support-public-schools/

Ironically, the very charter schools they are associated with do not show up on the Lincoln County Public Schools website.

lincoln-county

There was another assertion that you offered in the WRAL report which actually opened the story that also piqued my interest.

Hinchcliffe opens the WRAL report with,

“North Carolina charter schools need to have more diversity among their students and open more schools in rural parts of the state,” the state’s charter school chief said Wednesday.

Dave Machado made the comments while presenting the annual charter schools report to the State Board of Education. 

You directly say that you want to open more charter schools in rural areas. I assume that means in counties that may have few traditional public schools to begin with where a charter school may come in and siphon away enough students into another entity that could adversely affect those traditional schools.

Considering how schools are funded by state, local, and federal monies, even a small change in student population in a small rural school could have drastic effects in the ability for that small rural school to apply for funds to have ample resources for those who are not fortunate enough to attend the charter school.

Also, why would you want more charter schools in rural areas when you could invest those monies in the very schools that exist for the students who already attend them? Why benefit a few at the expense of many?

You may claim that you want to offer more choice for students, but how is it really choice for those who would never be able to attend the charter school?

You may claim that you want to offer citizens a chance to attend a successful school in an area where schools have been “failing.” Well, when you can show empirical evidence that charter schools do better than traditional schools overall, then you might have an argument, and even then why wouldn’t those successful ventures then be invested in the traditional public schools anyway for the benefit of all students?

And you talked of the need for diversity.

I do know of a few measures that you could take that would make charter school more diverse, or at least less homogenous, but it would require being measured against traditional public schools again, which seems to something that touches a nerve with you.

  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students that they may not have wanted in the first place like traditional public schools must – urban, suburban, and rural.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who have special needs whether they be developmental delays or physical disabilities like traditional public schools (even rural ones) already do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools keep teaching students with low test scores like traditional schools do.
  • You could make sure that all charter schools accept students who do not speak English as their first language as traditional schools must.

It’s very interesting to see how an idea that was very altruistic in nature as the charter school once was become a championed cause for privatization of public education. Many credit Albert Shanker, the former president of the American Federation of Teachers, with the idea of charter schools, but his idea seems so foreign to the concept that is being advocated so much here in North Carolina and the words that you say.

Shanker wanted (and I paraphrase Dr. Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System pp. 122-124) charter schools should be a decision made with school districts to focus on those students who are the hardest to teach – those who were on the verge of dropping out. He would never have imagined charter schools using the type of admissions processes being used now. And most importantly, because the charter schools would be sort of an offshoot of the public schools, they would naturally be collaborative.

And yes, there are some charter schools that are doing the work of teaching students in newer, more experimental ways in hopes to help other students in traditional schools. And those schools are working with their respective public school systems, but they seem more the exception now than the norm.

Yet, Mr. Machado, what I see your mission being is to create a situation not based on collaboration, but of competition. And if public education was meant to be competitive, then should not both charter schools and traditional schools have to play by the same rules?

Because they certainly are not here in North Carolina.

 

 

Vouchers, Charters, and Choice! Oh, My! – Dorothy, You’re Not in Public School Anymore

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!” – Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

lions-tigers-bears

“Vouchers, Charters, and Choice! Oh, my!” – Me

As the North Carolina General Assembly is about to convene for the long session here in the new year, it bears repeating that public education will again be at the center of many of the very items of the agenda.

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With a challenged bill in the court system now concerning the power of a neophyte state superintendent, a blind commitment to an ASD school district, more charter school disruptions, and a voucher system that is slated to  take almost a billion dollars of tax payer money in the next decade it is important to bring light to a couple of reports that have surfaced this week.

First is the Annual Charter Schools Report to the NCGA, of which a draft has been released (https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=10399&AID=79615&MID=2933) .  According to Billy Ball of NC Policy Watch, the report says,

“According to the report, charters’ percentage of students classified as “economically disadvantaged” remains significantly lower than their traditional public school peers (see page 9).

In 2015-2016, for instance, less than 30 percent of charter students were counted as low-income, far below the 50.2 percent counted in traditional schools.

Additionally, charters’ share of low-income children has been consistently on the decline since  it reached 39.6 percent in 2012-2013, at at time when traditional schools’ have reported fluctuations up and down.

The numbers were prepared by the state’s Office of Charter Schools, which oversees the state’s growing charter school sector” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/01/03/state-report-n-c-charter-schools-work-fewer-low-income-children/#sthash.JC3kSKYF.dpuf).

In fact, the table on that very page 9 looks like:

charter

In fact, it seems that the number of “economically disadvantaged’ children serviced by the charter schools has gone down over the years.

Remember last year when Lt. Gov. Dan Forest asked DPI to redo a report on charter school because it did not reflect so well on their servicing of students of low income? I do.

Ball concludes his report with,

“Also of note in this year’s state report, student performance in North Carolina charters varies more than it does in traditional schools. While a greater percentage of all public charters earned an A+, the highest school performance grade, a higher percentage of charters also pulled in the lowest school performance grade possible (see page 13 of the report).”

Interesting. So much for consistency.

Lindsay Wagner of the AJ Fletcher Foundation published a very interesting and insightful article on the voucher system here in North Carolina today. An experienced researcher and educational journalist, Wagner has witnessed the evolution of the “reform” movement first-hand here in North Carolina and this article deserves your reading.

It is called “North Carolina’s school voucher program: an accountability and transparency wish list for 2017” and you may find it here: http://ajf.org/north-carolinas-school-voucher-program-accountability-transparency-wish-list-2017/.

One very poignant statement observes,

“Our voucher program is one of the least accountable and transparent when comparing program participation standards to that of other states…”

Wagner then gives a realistic “wish list” and explains why lawmakers who enable the voucher programs to work so surreptitiously should be more transparent with taxpayer money. That’s especially important when much of that voucher money goes to religious schools that can alter both curricular standards and admission policies.

And then we have school choice, one of the most nebulous terms of the current school reform movement. Books are being written about school choice and we have a president elect who is in favor of school choice who has nominated a woman who herself is a champion of school choice, charters, and vouchers by the name of Betsy DeVos.

Dr. Diane Ravitch on her iconic blog which to date has almost 30 million hits responded to a recent Washington Post editorial concerning school choice, vouchers, and charters by kindy referring to places where school systems have literally been destroyed by “reform” (https://dianeravitch.net/2017/01/02/a-wake-up-call-for-fred-hiatt-editorial-page-editor-of-the-washington-post/).

Places like New Orleans.

Places like Milwaukee.

Places like Detroit (in DeVos’s home state).

And now there is news out of Tennessee that their Achievement School District is having some “problems.”

wizard-of-oz-flying-monkey-tattoo-2

Are those flying monkeys I see on the horizon?

Mark Twain and the Fight Against “Eduperialism” in North Carolina

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”
– Mark Twain

The above quote by Mark Twain was delivered on November 23, 1900 in a speech to the Public Education Association at a meeting of the Berkley Lyceum, New York. It is sometimes called his “Boxer Speech” as Twain makes reference to the Boxer Rebellion in China that was initiated in response to imperialistic influences from other countries entering China.

If one was to read the entire speech within today’s political construct (http://mrholbrookbc.weebly.com/uploads/7/7/5/2/7752425/i_am_a_boxer.pdf), one might fall victim to the nationalistic, patriotic, anti-foreign gloss that may shine on the surface of the speech and automatically relate it to the rhetoric that came from the xenophobic verbiage of the past presidential election.

That is not what Twain is saying. What he is saying is that a country should be free to be its own without outside influences controlling it for profit. He was making a statement on imperialism.

twain

At the turn of the 20th century, the imperialistic endeavors by many advanced countries through places like Africa, India, and the Far East were violent ventures in capitalistic greed: seizing the resources of a defenseless but asset-rich country and selling manufactured products to boost your country’s economy at the expense of the violated country. Some countries sent in missionaries to “convert” the natives first with organized religion, then they conquered, enslaved, and raped the land.

Read Achebe. Read Conrad. That history is not that long ago.

And Twain said a lot about organized religion. He certainly said a lot about slavery.

Just read Twain.

But imperialism still is happening today, even within our own country – even within our own public services.

Take for instance, public education.

At least in the state of North Carolina (and I am sure in most other states), the top expenditure is the public education system, whether just K-12 or public university system or both. All of that tax payer money going to allow for an educated citizenry that will then make decisions through a democratic process in a representative republic for the advancement of our country.

Sounds great. Sounds fundamental. Sounds American. It’s even in the state constitution of North Carolina and most every state constitution I have read through.

However, the resources that public education has, mainly funds, have become targets for many people who want to capitalize from those ventures: privatizers, “re-formers”, advocates for choice, charter school advocates, voucher supporters, etc.

Maybe they could be called “eduperialists” who practice “eduperialism.”

“Ed u pe ri al ism” – the policy of extending the rule or authority of a lawmaking body or private entity over public funds set aside for public education to promote privatization of education for a select few.

Think of vouchers. That’s public money being used to allow for people to send students to private schools and religious schools that can alter their admissions policies to ensure that all who may want to attend may not have that opportunity. Eduperialists in North Carolina even call their vouchers the “Opportunity Grants.”

Think of unregulated charter school growth. Especially in rural areas, public money that could be used to strengthen the very public schools for the local students is being used to help fund charter schools that will serve a fraction of the students but without the regulatory constructions placed upon traditional public schools.

Think of the Achievement School Districts. The one in North Carolina is about to start and it is being run by a “foreign” entity.

Someone is making a profit in all of those ventures with public resources.

And what’s happening in North Carolina is by far not the only example in the country. Michigan with the work of Betsy DeVos already displayed, Ohio with its charter school debacle, and Tennessee with its ASD troubles just begin the list.

Just like the old imperialistic handbook states, people with power came in and took away local control, dehumanized the system, and placed in authority puppets to prolong the partisan policy. Here in North Carolina, they put in nearly impossible accountability measures, school performance grade protocols, took away teacher due process and other benefits, and then egregiously placed incredible amounts of power in the hands of a new political ally elected as a state superintendent in a rather contentious election season.

Sounds about right.

Now that is not to say that all ventures in charter schools are bad. Originally, they were constructed as experimental labs to help instruct students not serviced well in traditional schools, but they would than share those methods and styles with traditional public schools to help bring more pedagogical diversity to public schooling. Those do exist. Some are very good.

Some students need financial help to attend very specialized schools if they happen to have developmental delays, learning disabilities, or physical impairments. But when “school choice” and vouchers are being touted as measures to help low income families maybe government needs to look more at how neighborhood schools can be helped to help low income families.

Maybe state governments like North Carolina’s can look more at helping communities where low income families live. With nearly 25% of NC school children living in poverty, efforts to take public money for vouchers, unregulated charter schools, and other privatization efforts simply take more away from those in need.

Later in his speech Twain exclaims,

“It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”

And again, history is repeating history. It also makes a case for the liberal arts.

“It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. He’ll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.”

I wonder what Twain would say today.

Probably not much different.

Especially here in North Carolina.

North Carolina – FULLY FUND YOUR SCHOOLS!

This article should be talked about more than it has been especially in North Carolina whose state government has been entertaining ideas of revamping how it allocates its k-12 funding per LEA. It appeared in the New York Times’ “The Upshot” on Dec. 12th and is entitled “It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/12/nyregion/it-turns-out-spending-more-probably-does-improve-education.html).

The article centers on a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted by two economists from the University of California at Berkley and one from Northwestern University.

The names of those two institutions carries enough ethos to lend more than enough credibility to the findings. Cal-Berkley is considered the top public university in the country if not the world. Northwestern is a top fifteen institution in most rankings.

Here is the abstract of the study (http://www.nber.org/papers/w22011):

“We study the impact of post-1990 school finance reforms, during the so-called “adequacy” era, on absolute and relative spending and achievement in low-income school districts. Using an event study research design that exploits the apparent randomness of reform timing, we show that reforms lead to sharp, immediate, and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts. Using representative samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we find that reforms cause increases in the achievement of students in these districts, phasing in gradually over the years following the reform. The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large.”

Notice that it says “reforms.” But please do not let the word encompass all reforms with which you may be familiar. The study is talking about specific reforms that focus on funding public schools adequately. These are not reforms that include vouchers, charter schools, or other silver bullet “solutions” that actually re-form rather than improve.

What adequately funding schools really means is that schools are fully funded.

The New York Times article also stated the following:

“They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades.”

That well-known experiment is the one performed by Dr. Frederick Mosteller from Harvard in 1995 which concluded that “Compelling evidence that smaller classes help, at least in early grades, and that the benefits derived from these smaller classes persist leaves open the possibility that additional or different educational devices could lead to still further gains” (http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/05_02_08.pdf).

And the NEBR study says the positive effect of adequately funding low income school districts was “twice as much” as decreased class size.

How the money is spent is just as important as having the money to spend and one of the researchers makes that point clearly. And he should.

In a “reform-addicted” state that North Carolina has become in these last few years, the argument has been made by many that “throwing” money at public education has not yielded positive results. But who has been making the decisions on how those monies should be spent? Lawmakers or actual educators? When state lawmakers make monies available to local districts but attach certain strings to those funds as to how they must be spent, then something might be amiss.

Many who ran for reelection this year, particularly Pat McCrory and other GOP stalwarts, padded their resumes and campaign jargon with talk of how they actually increased spending for public schools. Most of them point to the fact that North Carolina spends nearly one billion dollars more now than it did before the Great Recession. One only has to read op-eds like the one by Phil Kirk, the chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education in the News & Observer this past September (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article100215677.html). In my rebuttal to him I simply offered,

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession. Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add to that the amazingly spastic targets that schools must hit to even be considered successful in the eyes of the state government when the very tests that are used to measure school effectiveness change frequently. Just take a look at the school performance grades for the state of North Carolina from the past year and what you find is an almost pinpoint representation of where poverty hits our state the hardest. In fact, if you superimpose a map that plots the state’s school performance grades over a map that shows county levels of free and reduced lunches you will see a rather strong correlation. In fact, take a look at another post from this blog – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Counties with lower incomes have schools that suffer more.

If it comes to a decision on how any additional funding is to be spent, then maybe it would make sense to look at who has made those decisions in the first place. In most cases, I would argue that they were made by non-educators – people who do not know what specific essentials are in the greatest need to help their students.

What may work for a school in Hoke County may not be the solution for a school in Alleghany County. It takes people who are in the situation to identify what needs to be done, not a bureaucrat in Raleigh who may never have set foot in a public school as a teacher, administrator, volunteer, or even as a parent.

It is time for North Carolina to fully fund its schools because the other “reforms” that follow have not worked to help our public school system:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Most all of those “reforms” are cost-cutting measures that actually remove money from public education. Ironically the very reform that the study which opens this posting talks about as having the greatest effect on lower income counties is completely antithetical to the reforms championed by the state.

Imagine what could be done if our schools were fully funded because it is apparent what happens when they are not fully funded.

Welcome to Betsy DeVos’s BLACKWATER CHARTER SCHOOL, Home of the “Mercenaries” and Pioneers of the Pyramid Scheme Curriculum

Welcome to Blackwater Charter School, Home of the Mercenaries and pioneers of the “Pyramid Scheme Curriculum.”

Considering that the new Secretary of Education appointee is married to the heir of the Amway fortune, a pyramid selling scheme, and sister of the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince , the idea of such a school is not that far-fetched.

If you do not remember what Blackwater was (as it is defunct), you can see that it is still on the radar of many in the federal government. Just take a look at this –

“Mr. Prince, who founded Blackwater — since renamed Academi — in 1997, gained notoriety when security contractors employed by his company killed 17 Iraqi civilians during a 2007 assault in Baghdad. Four of his guards were later convicted in U.S. court of either murder or manslaughter charges as a result of that incident.

More recently, Mr. Prince has “sought to secretly rebuild his private CIA and special operations enterprise by setting up foreign shell companies and offering paramilitary services,” The Intercept reported http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/24/erik-prince-former-blackwater-chief-under-investig/.”

Academi? How appropriate is it now that his sister is about to become the mother of public schools?

But think about it. Blackwater Charter School just might be the perfect school for pro-charter GOP legislators to establish in North Carolina. Why?

Well,

  1. It would be supported on a federal level by DeVos. That wouldn’t hurt.
  2. It would be funded by tax payer money. Even Blackwater was funded with taxpayer money during the Iraq War.
  3. There would be no need to contract security from local police officials. The school would have Academi. It might be the safest place in the state. But don’t worry, their bill will be footed by the taxpayers.
  4. It would have a hidden curriculum and a grade distribution system that would mimic the pyramid selling scheme that is manifested in Amway which means that…
  5. All health and beauty supplies needed by the school already have a supplier – Amway. In fact, when the taxpayers buy the products for the school to use, then it actually is pocketing money for people like DeVos because she is at the top of the Amway Pyramid.
  6. Considering that North Carolina has in place HB2, a piece of legislation that discriminates against the LGBTQ community, it makes since to have a charter school crafted in DeVos’s image as she is considered one of the more anti-LGBT individuals in the country with her contributions to organizations that oppose LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
  7. As a devout conservative Christian she surely would agree with the religious freedom bills that many in the NC General Assembly so religiously embrace.
  8. And as seen with schools that use public money through the Opportunity Grants, the Blackwater Charter School could also maintain an admission standard that allows it to exclude a number of potential students whose religious backgrounds and sexual orientations might come in conflict with the school’s vision.
  9. With HB2 and the ability to funnel money into a strong security presence, Blackwater Charter will also have a person at the door of all bathrooms to check birth certificates to assure that HB2 is being followed,

And just imagine the athletic teams all decked out in desert-camo uniforms with black trim. Even the mascot, the Mercenaries, would strike fear in any opposing teams.

Excuse Me, Elected Officials? It’s Okay to Listen to Others

It’s OK to listen to others.

On November 8th North Carolina elected/reelected to serve in the NCGA, and while I may bemoan the fact that there still exists a supermajority in the General Assembly for the GOP, I hope that the actions seen in other states’ races and ballot items might allow for some perspective as to how our representatives might handle our public education system.

The first comes out of Massachusetts. On election night, over sixty percent of voters cast their votes to not allow for the removal of the charter school cap that would have permitted for more charter schools to be created. Many of the parents interviewed (according to various reports) about “Question #2” simply said that they did not want public money to help fund charter schools.

And Massachusetts has a good public school system – like North Carolina once did before all of this “reformation.”

Our neighbors to the south in Georgia voted against Amendment 1, which would have allowed the state to take over low-performing schools and in essence allow them to become privately managed charter schools. In essence, they defeated a bill that would have allowed the state to create its own version of the Achievement School District.

And Georgia is a “redder” state than North Carolina. Much redder. Even the clay there is red. I know. I grew up there.

However, North Carolina removed the cap on the number of charter schools and even created its own version of the Achievement School District without either being on a ballot to allow for the very people who finance such measures with tax dollars to have any say in those matters.

Why?

That is not a rhetorical question. It deserves an explanation.

When my home county (Forsyth) overwhelmingly voted for bond measures to finance projects for the public school system and the local community college, they made a big statement on the importance of traditional public schools. These citizens were willing to spend money and resources on improving their schools, and every precinct in the county voted in favor of the bonds. The support for the public schools spanned all socio-economic boundaries.

And when the NCGA decided to remove the cap on charter school creation that takes siphon money and resources traditional schools did they not think to put it to a public vote?

When the NCGA decided to create an ASD district, did they not take into account that the citizens might want to have a say in how their money should be spent?

Again, these are not rhetorical questions. They deserve answers.

Considering that the same people who passed HB2 and the Voter ID bill through fairly surreptitious and opaque methods championed these very educational “initiatives,” it is not surprising to see that none of these was put to a public vote.

HB2 is being reviewed in the higher courts because it is being challenged, as it should be. The Voter ID law was overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The fact that the constitutionality of measures like these were already in question shows the shortsightedness of those who pushed these laws through. Now, tax payer money has had to finance the feeble defense for these laws.

And when you ask for the input of the citizens and ultimately receive it, heed it. THAT’S DEMOCRACY.

If rumor serves true, the governor and members of the General Assembly are considering a rather rare and highly partisan action of appointing two additional state Supreme Court justices to help flip the partisan affiliation of the state’s highest judicial body back to the GOP. This would be after the citizens of North Carolina elected Michael Morgan, a registered democrat over incumbent Robert Edmunds, a registered republican.

When representatives were elected, they took an oath to represent people and respect their opinions. They were not elected to alter policy to fit a political script that benefits a few.

When representatives were elected, they took an oath to communicate with your constituents, especially those who needed the most help from government. They were not elected to skirt questions and not ask for feedback.

And when representatives were elected, they were to not just hear the concerns of the people you serve, they are to listen to them and take them into account.

 

Open Letter to the Registered Voter Who Believes in Public Schools

Note: I have combed through all of my op-eds, posts, rants, and lists and compiled from them what follows as a last posting to help get people to vote next Tuesday for pro-public education candidates.

The current General Assembly and governor are very scared of public school teachers and those who support them. Without their support in this next election cycle, many candidates for office simply cannot win. That’s why the governor and NCGA have touted so many “band-aid” style electioneering schemes to make them appear pro-public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

  • Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.
  • Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best
  • Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.
  • “Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.
  • Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.
  • Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.
  • Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.
  • Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that “profits” only those who take taxpayer money and has no successful track record no matter what state they have been established (lookout Georgia!).
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

So what can be done? Actually lots. And it all starts in the ballot boxes.

Remember, North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in over 65. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. Add to that their supporters. The numbers get bigger.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly and governor have done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight.” If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

Do your homework and see which candidates truly support our public schools.

Educate yourself, then please vote.

vote

Willful Ignorance Is Not Bliss, But Rather Mean – McCrory’s Orwellian Contradiction

News that Gov. McCrory’s office asked public school leaders this past summer to find ways to cut their budget by as much as 2 percent should come as a surprise in an election year where he has touted his commitment to public education and a creation of a surplus in our current budget.

But it is not really a surprise. It’s actually consistent with the McCrory doctrine.

Billy Ball from NC Policy Watch released a report on Oct. 11th entitled “McCrory administration asks schools to submit plans for $173 million budget cut” that outlines the governor’s request. It is a very illuminating piece of journalism – http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/10/11/mccrory-administration-asks-schools-submit-plans-173-million-budget-cut/.

Ball also includes a copy of the memo that makes the original request. It is complete with annotating highlights that show the rather “benign” fashion McCrory’s office makes the entreaty. Here is a link – http://ncdp.org/wp-content/uploads/mccrory-budget-cuts.pdf.

budget.png

In a year where Opportunity Grants have been further financed to the tune of almost $900 million dollars over the next ten years, an educational endowment fund set up by the lieutenant governor for an amorphous plan, an expansion of unregulated charter schools, and the creation of an ASD district that pays an out-of-state company to run schools, news of this “budget request” is like a kick in the groin of a person already compromised.

This request for cuts is tantamount to asking a starving person to share his food with someone who just ate at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Some of the more disturbing parts of Ball’s report comes here:

“Among the choices, school board members could confine the cuts to a single spending category or spread it across the department’s spending plan. Either would have major ramifications for the state’s educators, forcing the state to possibly shed thousands of teaching positions, career and technical educators or teacher assistants.

Both proposals would also drain millions from funds designated to benefit at-risk students, special needs children and low-wealth counties in the state, according to Price.”

When the terms “at-risk students”, “special needs children”, and “low-wealth counties” are used in a proposal that involves budget cuts, then serious ramifications are certainly about to take place.

Does the governor not choose to understand if he is to be a champion for public education he does not continue to siphon money away from the very students who need the funds for resources? Ironically the very charter schools that he allows to grow and the very private schools that receive vouchers do not have to take these “at-risk” of “special needs” students.

Does the governor not choose to look at the school performance grades that his administration has rubber-stamped and see how schools in low-wealth counties suffer from poverty? If McCrory is touting a “Carolina Comeback” this election year, does that allow him to selectively forget that nearly 1 in 4 children in NC live in poverty?

Apparently the answer to these questions is a “Yes!”

I am reminded of a poem by Thomas Gray entitled “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” written in 1642. The last stanza reads,

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another’s pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.

The next to last line contains that very famous saying “Ignorance is bliss.” While people may quibble over the true meaning of the poem, I have taken it to mean that there is a time in our lives (youth) where we are not cognizant of many deleterious forces in the world. We are ignorant to them; therefore, they do not bother us or cast a cloud in our reality.

But what McCrory is practicing here seems to be feigned and willful ignorance. That is a completely different matter. That denotes a willful disassociation with the consequences of his actions.

In a year where he is touting a budget surplus, Gov. McCrory is being willfully ignorant of how he seems to be financing that surplus – by taking away from the very people he should be serving.

In a year where he suggests that we take money from the disaster fund to finance fighting for an unconstitutional law like HB2, he is practicing willful ignorance – http://fusion.net/story/332612/mccrory-transfers-disaster-funds-to-defend-hb2/.

McCrory has stated that one of his favorite books is George Orwell’s 1984, the dystopian novel that eerily depicts the power of an authoritarian government. One of the most iconic quotes from the book says,

“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”

Antithetical? Contradictory? Paradoxical? Propaganda? You can have great discussions in an English, civics, or social studies class about the meaning of this quote.

But those types of discussions will be harder to have when $173 million dollars is cut from the public school system that already has been stripped bare.

Maybe ignorance really is not bliss, but a reason to teach more awareness. But willful ignorance is pure neglect.

And Orwell surely was not saying that ignorance really is strength. What he was saying is that feigned ignorance is a sign of weakness.

North Carolina’s Man-Made Educational Climate Change

 

NASA’s Global Climate Change website is dedicated to educating people about human influence on the environment. Under the “Scientific Consensus” tab it states,

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities” (http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/).

When 97% of publishing climate scientists make the same observation, it should not only cause people to take notice, but spur them into action.  Global warming is theorized to be behind the rise in catastrophic weather like hurricanes, extreme heat, excessive cold spells, floods, and erratic patterns of rain and drought.

global-warming1

An astounding number of educators in our traditional schools here in North Carolina would assert that there has been a significant change in the climate of the public school system whose terrain has also been victimized by floods of standardized tests, droughts of legitimate support from governing bodies, catastrophic storms of baseless criticism, the heat of reform efforts, and the freeze of privatization attempts.

In short, public education has been metaphorically altered by man-made climate change. And just like actual climate change, we as a state and as a nation are approaching a tipping point where the effects of climate change will be irreversible and our citizens will suffer.

Just like the many deniers of climate change and others who do not believe that humans have interfered with the health of the Earth, many people in North Carolina cannot conceive that what has happened to our public school system in the last four years has been detrimental to our schools and/or directly caused by uninformed politicians.

Simply look at the many claims coming from the governor’s office concerning his “Carolina Comeback” that includes assertions about teacher pay, graduation rate, funding, and college tuition and one can see a singular manufactured picture of what the governor wants you to believe North Carolina is at all times (https://www.patmccrory.com/results/). However, saying that we just experienced a day of mild temperatures and blue skies does not erase the fact that certain patterns have been put into place that erode both our physical environment and the public educational situation.

Man-made climate change in our public schools has included giving huge raises to a select few and claiming an erroneous average salary increase for all while ignoring veteran teachers.

It has included removal of due-process rights and graduate degree pay bumps.

It has included arbitrary evaluations systems and a push for merit pay where merit is based on standardized tests that do not measure growth.

It has included attacks on advocacy groups and the removal of class size caps.

It has included a revolving door of standardized tests constructed by for-profit entities and graded by outside institutions.

It has included a money-siphoning voucher system, unregulated charter school growth, and the creation of an Achievement School District, all of which have no history of success in other implementations.

It has included the use of a school grading system that literally displays the effects of poverty on public school children and the schools that service them.

The climate has severely suffered. Fewer students are entering the education field. Too many school systems have vacancies that still need to be filled. Veteran teachers are moving to other states, moving to other school systems, or beginning new careers.

And students are the victims. Not only do we leave them with a physical world that is rapidly losing its health, but we leave them unprepared because their public schools are not being properly funded.

We in North Carolina have just been witness to Hurricane Matthew. It wreaked havoc on our state and dumped tremendous amounts of rain on our towns and cities causing damage and flooding in places like Kinston and Lumberton.  Even the Triad area experienced flooding. The governor to his credit declared a state of emergency for these areas opening monies and resources to be used so that all affected citizens can receive the help needed to rebuild and reclaim.

Has he and those in power on West Jones Street in Raleigh done the same for our public schools? Have they released the funds necessary for our teachers and staffs to make sure that we have a strong foundation of public education? They say they have, but they have not. The climate of public education is proof of that.

And we are reaching a point of no return. Therefore, it is incumbent that we combat the sources of educational climate change and it begins on November 8th. We have the power to place people in office who can stop this man-made climate change in our public schools.

So get out and vote.