An Open Letter From a Veteran North Carolina Teacher to Young Teachers – You Are Vital

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Dear Fellow Educator,

I first want to tell you that I admire what you have chosen to do as a career. Teaching in today’s public schools is not easy. I know as I am in my 20th year of teaching. I still love my job. I still love being with the students. Outside of my family, this profession has fulfilled me like no other. I firmly believe my students would concur if asked.

And it has kept me young at heart and sharp in mind.

One of the main reasons I have adored public school teaching is I had great veteran teachers who mentored me and engaged with me, and who cared about how I progressed as an individual and professional.

But I worry about the future of our profession in North Carolina sometimes. I am afraid that we will not have as many veteran teachers in the future as we do now. That’s why I want to try and convince you to stay in the profession.

You are needed. You are vital. You can be agents of change and staunch advocates for schools and students. You can improve the profession and secure the very items that will strengthen our profession. You are beginning your career at one of the most crucial times where educational reform is at a fever pitch and schools are under constant scrutiny.

Teaching is that one “occupation” that everybody has some sort of stake in. If you are not a student, former student, parent of a student, employer of former students, then you are at least paying taxes to help support public schools. People who invest in any way, shape, or form are stakeholders and many will go out of their way to tell you what is right or wrong about our schools.

Teaching might be the most openly exposed, yet most misunderstood profession. With changes in curriculum, standards, evaluations, graduation requirements, salaries, policies, resources, laws, and personnel, it is arduous for even us veteran teachers to keep pace. Public education takes the largest part of our state budget; it probably takes up the most debate time and committee meetings in the General Assembly.

Class sizes are larger. High-stakes testing quantifies everything. Data gets crunched by outside entities. There are meetings with parents and administrators. There is the planning and grading and the revising of differentiated lesson plans.

And then there are our students, the very reasons why we do what we do. Their needs are upmost in our priorities.

Those needs are many: academic, mental, psychological, emotional, and physical. Those needs force us to “wear many hats.” Those needs force us to always learn how to best serve our students in conditions that could never be measured by standardized assessments.

When I became a teacher, my venerable uncle gave me some of his usual sage advice. A retired English teacher, he still is revered by former students. It was he who became the model for what I still strive to do in classroom. He told me when I began teaching to give it three years.

The first year would be a whirlwind simply trying to learn how to plan, execute, and instruct students. The second year would be a paper maelstrom because I was still trying to learn how to be a part of a school community and understand the inner workings of the school. The third year my immune system would get to the point where I wouldn’t catch every malady that students had and I would have familiarity with the job as a whole. My third year would be where I could see the profession holistically.

But the one thing he always stressed: enjoy the students. When the door closes for class, you can help some amazing things happen.

Students are what have kept me in this profession. With all of the flux that occurs in education, the criticism that schools receive, and the constant need for resources and support, students have been the constant and consistent foundation in my career.

Yes, the faces change from year to year, but they never disappear. Many will always want to stay in contact. All will have made an impression on you and you will impact them. If students always remain the center of what you do as an educator, those other stressors can be dealt with in proactive ways.

Having younger teachers energizes a school building. You bring in new ideas, contagious energy, and constant reminders of why we do what we do. You come in with new uses for technology and new pedagogical approaches. And it is up to us veterans to be useful mentors, good sounding boards, and constructive critics.

It is also a veteran teacher’s job to show you how to advocate for students and schools. It is that advocacy that helps keep students the focus of what we do and when we keep the focus on students we tend to stay in the profession longer, and when teachers stay in the profession longer it ensures that when new teachers come into the profession there will always be veterans there to help them and learn from them.

When I started teaching in North Carolina we had due-process rights, a salary schedule, and graduate degree pay increases. We had state-funded professional development and fewer standardized tests. We had a General Assembly that did a better job at fully-funding public schools. We had more time for each student to help “personalize” instruction.

Unfortunately, many of those conditions no longer exist. But they can again if you fight for them.

Advocating for students and schools means that you advocate for the teaching profession because schools do not work well without empowered teachers. Students need strong teachers who are supported for what they do; therefore, the more you advocate for the teaching profession, the more you are advocating for students and schools. It could mean that you make sure to vote in elections. It could mean that you join a professional organization like NCAE. It could mean that you write op-eds, visit legislators, or become involved with teacher groups. It could mean doing all of these.

Many in Raleigh will tell you that your average pay has increased as a beginning teacher an incredible amount. But if you really look at the overall picture, the removal of due-process, the removal of graduate degree pay increases, the recent mandate to keep new teachers from having state supported insurance when they retire, the stunted salary schedule, and all of the other measures enacted by the current NCGA, you will see why there are fewer teacher candidates in our colleges and universities.

But you are here, and I want you to stay. Your students, schools, communities, and fellow educators want you to stay, grow, and advocate. I want you to become a better veteran teacher than I am today who is willing and ready to help any new teacher get better at what he / she does which is help students. I want you to feel empowered to take action. I want you to be able to speak up for your profession, even if it means confiding only in trusted colleagues.

I will promise you this: if students see you advocating for them and their school, they will move mountains for you because when you keep students at the center of what you do, they will notice and act in kind.

And students are the reason we are here.

“Snowbirding” on the Court of the Class Size Fix

When a player on a basketball court refuses to go and play defense and only wants easy passes for wide open shots to pad their stat sheet, that player is “snowbirding.”

Rather than doing the heavy lifting, playing hard to make a stop and secure the rebound, this player raises his hands, yells for the long pass, and celebrates making an uncontested shot (if he can actually shoot the ball) while never doing any of the very work that made the shot possible.

Metaphorically speaking, when it comes to the supposed victory in the “fix” to the unfunded class size mandate, State Superintendent Mark Johnson had the audacity to take credit for “work” done to help put off the class size mandate for a while longer with a bill laced with other harmful legislation concerning the environment and election boards for the coming elections.

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He used that possessive plural personal pronoun called “our.” He tweeted,

Happy to report that our work to be a voice for parents, students and educators has paid off. Students will benefit from smaller class sizes, pre-K programs, and our school districts will benefit from dedicated enhancement teacher funding and a longer implementation.

Forgive me if I am mistaken in any way, but when was Mark Johnson a voice for parents, students, and educators for this class size fix? While many parents, teachers, and advocates were doing all of the hard work in rallying, speaking, galvanizing, canvasing, and talking to politicians, Mark Johnson was a no-show, a no-voice, but a smile on a television camera that he chose not to share with anyone who would challenge his actions (that’s a reference to declining an invitation to debate Mark Jewell of NCAE in television about comments he himself made).

He was “snowbirding,” waiting for the issue to be resolved, screaming for the microphone, and gladly taking credit for something that he had no part in.

That video referenced in the tweet is worth the watch if just to see someone whose very job is to advocate for public schools but rather takes credit for something that so many others worked for despite his inactivity.

If anyone needed any more evidence that our state superintendent is nothing more than a puppet for the NC General Assembly powers who put together the poison-laced class-size fix called HB90, then nothing will convince you.

Players who “snowbird” are not really team players.

In fact, they almost work for the other side.

“Less Than Stellar” – The State Superintendent Is Right

Stellar

“Less than stellar.”

That’s what State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about his recent comments concerning teacher pay in rural counties.

It’s one of the first times that he has been correct in gauging his performance as the top public school official in the state. But in truth, Johnson’s entire tenure as state superintendent has been less than stellar.

The first paragraph of today’s News & Observer op-ed was nothing more than a beginning at an ill-fated attempt in damage control for an elected public official who has been anything but “public.”

A key challenge facing North Carolina today is the urban-rural divide. This probably isn’t news to you. Gov. Roy Cooper started the Hometown Strong project to focus on this issue. What is surprising is how I recently triggered a statewide partisan flare-up after my admittedly inelegant attempt to highlight how this urban-rural split causes us to see things differently (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Bridging that “urban – rural divide?” What about the move last July by Johnson to halt use of the key list-serve communications to LEA’s around the state leaving school systems, especially those in the rural counties, in the dark over DPI mandates? What about not fighting the cuts to DPI’s budget of nearly 20% over two years that would have been used to help professional development in school systems whose local budgets are strained?

“Partisan?” That’s a word Johnson uses to hopefully dismiss any notion that he is a politically motivated individual – one who is suing his own state board of education over power grabbing that occurred in a special session of the NC General Assembly that was meant to address HB2 but became a secret political coup. And the very day this op-ed comes out, arguments from lawyers that taxpayers are paying for are arguing over politics on Johnson’s behalf to the NC Supreme Court over that same power grab.

“Surprising?” Not at all. Just look at all of Johnson’s missives in the past – long on rhetoric, short on action.

Further in his “stellar” op-ed, Johnson says,

Last year, my team and I worked with the General Assembly to commit $105 million to replace clearly outdated school buildings in rural communities that cannot afford to build schools on their own.

But at any time did Johnson ever make comment on the class size mandate that will force local systems to create more class room space to accommodate an unfunded law?

No.

This op-ed was nothing but an attempt to deflect attention from Johnson’s inexperience, lack of scope, and refusal to actually engage in the conversations he says that we must have. But that does not keep him from trying to claim the high road as his own when he ends with this:

We don’t agree on everything, but the governor and I can, and do, engage in productive conversations. I want others to join us.

Yet, if anything has become apparent with Mark Johnson, it is that he is not willing to have those conversations. If he can’t control the arena, the medium, or the audience, then he does not want to have the conversation. For a man who claims we need to be “urgent” and fight to transform public schools, Mark Johnson would rather write glittering op-eds, make videos, and only talk in controlled atmospheres. Anything else is too confrontational and fear-inducing.

Ironic that this past week, Johnson was invited to have one of those conversations with Mark Jewell from NCAE about the very comments he made that prompted this very op-ed. He declined.

So much for conversations.

But it certainly was an “inelegant attempt.”

The Silence of the NC State Superintendent on Public Schools And a Fear of Tough Questions

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I don’t get to choose my students. Whoever walks into my classroom and is on the roll I receive from the school system will get the best instruction that I can offer.

And in those classes, I do not write a script. Students are always allowed to ask questions, especially tough ones. If I know answers, then good. If I can lead them to answers, then great. If I do not know the answer, then I tell them and we search for answers together.

The tougher the question, the better. It means higher order thinking is going on. It also makes me as a teacher keep striving to learn and be more prepared. It makes me accountable and “accountable” is a word that some in Raleigh use in talking about others rather than reflecting on themselves.

In fact, I should never shy away from an inquisitive student. Nor should any public official shy away from an opportunity to offer answers, clarification, and/or insight from anyone who is affected by his/her actions or lack of actions.

When State Superintendent Mark Johnson first took office over a year ago, he embarked on what he termed as a “listening tour” as he vowed to listen directly from teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina.

But has Mark Johnson done any speaking about what he has heard? Has he come back to teachers, parents, community leaders, and other stake holders in North Carolina and shared those observations in an open forum where he could be asked pointed and direct questions?

He certainly had a chance this week.

Today, it was learned that Johnson declined an offer by Capital Tonight to debate NCAE President Mark Jewell on educator pay. Johnson turned down a chance to talk with an important public school advocate and offer explanation on his nebulous views on education.

He was not going to have any part of that. Maybe it was because of a scheduling conflict, but he could have offered an alternate date.

I believe it’s because it is a debate. He could not script all of his words and he would be forced to answer tough questions.

In the times that I have been able to glean any information from Mark Johnson about his stance on the many issues we public educators are facing now, it is from a prepared text carefully placed in chosen media.

And there has been nothing from Johnson about the class size mandate, the principal pay plan, or reductions in funding.

Interviews have been given to specific outlets. Video addresses are sent out after careful production. Op-eds are placed throughout the state without a chance for people to actively rebut. And when challenged in meetings like the state board meetings this past year, he remains vague or silent.

For a man who spends a lot of time talking about his teaching experience, Johnson should remember that teachers answer tough questions from really smart students about intricate subjects on a daily basis. Even the teachers who make 35K a year.

But the elected state superintendent who makes over 120K a year will not come on television and actively debate an educator concerning his own words about teacher pay.

Maybe it is a good thing he is not in the classroom any longer. There may be too many hard questions to answer.

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Open Letter to Rep. Chuck McGrady About His Empty Class Size Mandate Explanation

Dear Rep. Chuck McGrady,

I read with great interest your recent missive “Class Size: A Simple Explanation of the Issue.” While I appreciate your wanting to explain the issue in what you may think is a truthful manner, I must admit that it just rehashes the same argument made by many others in the General Assembly which have been debunked or severely neutralized (https://nchouse117.com/class-size-a-simple-explanation-of-the-issue/).

Particularly interesting was the section entitled “A Longer Explanation and History of Class Size Requirements” not only because it follows the “simple explanation”, but because it leaves out a rather particularly vital aspect to this class size ordeal.

You stated,

“The class size issue is not new; the legislature has been instituting class size restrictions for the past four decades. Prior to 1995, there were separate allotments for classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers. In 1995, those allotments were consolidated into one allotment that included funding for both classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers.

Over the years as the legislature changed the teacher allotment ratio, it did not always correspond with an average class size requirement change. This is best shown through this chart:”

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That graph is linked to teacher allotment. Yet if you are going to give a “longer explanation” of the class size requirements then it might need to include the removal of class size caps passed by the same NCGA that you and others in Raleigh but never seem to mention.

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom.

class size

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes and you do mention that local LEA’s have flexibility. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

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That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on previous allotment numbers. And that’s huge! As classes around the state got bigger in size, the General Assembly was funding with the same allotment table. You even give another table.

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Actually, you are saying that the NCGA thinks that bigger classes should be the norm. From 2010-2011 to 2017-2018, the average class size for the allotment is bigger. That means fewer teachers being allotted for more students.

Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students. I mention the sizes for high school and middle school classrooms because to create a class size mandate for early grades affects the class sizes for all grades in a school system. If you say that there is already funding, then shrinking some classes to fit a requirement cause other classes to balloon and subjects to be dropped.

Plus you NEVER SHOW where the funding came in for the class size mandate. You just make a blanket statement in your “longer explanation.”

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher. But it seems that you are making an argument that funding is fantastically high now.

You also say,

“School building and other capital needs, may also be an issue. If a school is at capacity and suddenly has to have smaller class sizes, then it will need additional classrooms. This is a cost that is borne by the school system, not the state.”

Is that how you would explain it to local LEA’s and superintendents? Because according to the numbers, all of that funding that you imply was to go to “class size restrictions” actually is going to teacher salaries just to fill classrooms that already were getting bigger in size, were defined by DPI as viable classes, and already existed.

Kris Nordstrom, a well-known education finance and policy analyst, published a rather epic article on the class-size mandate and the lies that people like Barefoot and Moore have used in explaining their lack of action to fully fund the mandate (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/15/cant-general-assembly-leadership-stop-lying-unfunded-class-size-mandate/#sthash.UcohVyIb.dpbs). It is very much worth the read.

Within that article, Nordstrom states,

DPI publishes data showing whether a school district has transferred their classroom teacher money for other uses. It’s a bit complicated to find. But in FY 2016-17, just four districts transferred any money out of their classroom teacher allotment. The transfers totaled just $1.1 million. In that same year, districts received $4.1 billion of classroom teacher money. In other words, districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes.

That bears repeating:

“Districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year.” 

Nordstrom shows the numbers. You make blanket statements under headers such as “A Simple Explanation” which are then followed up by even more blankets statements in sections like “A Longer Explanation.”

Rep. McGrady, until you explain how your funding for the class size mandate has actually been made when you yourself helped to remove class size caps but not made corresponding changes to teacher allotments then I will take your words with more merit.

And until you explain how local LEA’s have been not using those funds already on teachers in still overcrowded classrooms, then I will consider your explanation empty.

10 Minutes of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum” – Sen. Barefoot on Class Size Chaos

Watching a politician try to explain with circular reasoning, strawmen, and other logical fallacies the reason why he should not be faulted for something he intentionally did can be entertaining. Or painful. Or in this case, maddening.

This past weekend, Education Matters aired an episode on the class size mandate. The show is produced by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. It is hosted by Keith Poston.

For a little over ten excruciating minutes, Mr. Poston interviewed Sen. Chad Barefoot. And, it must be said that Poston did a fantastic job of interviewing. He asked pointed questions and redirected when needed. And it exposed the intentional quagmire that the NC General Assembly has placed local school districts in with the class-size mandate.

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People in NC need to watch this interview. It can be viewed here: http://www.wral.com/news/education/video/17277352/. And it need to be shared.

Consider it ten-plus minutes of “Pathologia Boven Excrementum.”

Barefoot comes on screen after about three minutes.

Highlighted below are specific items he addresses, but when taken as a whole, it maps an argument that goes nowhere very quickly and intentionally shifts blame when it really resides in Raleigh.

3:27 – When asked if it was true that there was no funding in place for the next school year (2018-2019) for the class size mandate and for “specials” teachers, Sen. Barefoot said “That’s right.”

That’s an admission that it is not funded. He even went on to refer to a “compromise” in both chambers that passed almost unanimously

3:45 – “There was an acknowledgment by the General Assembly… that to keep going with the classroom size, there would have to be additional funding for program enhancement teachers.”

So, it’s unfunded. Or it is funded, but schools would have to stop doing other services to keep within the law.

Sen Barefoot then goes into a long-winded explanation of the need to get data. That data deals with how “The classroom teacher situation.” That’s a weird way of asking how many teachers does each system have and what do they teach.

4:14 – “So when we ask questions to DPI and say, ‘How many of these people exist?’ we don’t know the answer, the exact answer to that question.”

That’s bullsh**, I mean bovum excrementum. Literally this month a report on teacher attrition came out for the state and told us how many teachers left positions and for what reasons. It’s called the “State of the Teaching Profession in Carolina.” It breaks down the data in the following ways:

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What Barefoot is claiming is that while DPI can tell you who has left for where for whatever reason, DPI can’t tell the NCGA how many teachers there were in the first place.

Either DPI has the worst data collection in the known world (look who runs it now) or the NCGA already knows. It’s the latter.

It seems a little disingenuous for a legislator who commands so much power to be unknowing of how many teachers teach what subjects when PowerSchool houses all of the data centrally in the first place. And who runs PowerSchool? People in Raleigh contracted by the NCGA ad DPI.

Poston went on the ask if the General Assembly was going to go through and create a separate budget to fund “specials” teachers.

4:53 – “Yeah, that is still our intention.”

Does that sound like another admission that there has not been proper funding? Yep.

4:58 – Barefoot then went through another explanation of this “collection of data on what the price tag on that expenditure is going to be” in order to “solve that problem.”

So now it is a problem? An unfunded problem that the General Assembly already knew about?

Barefoot then gave a history of having two allotments for teachers that separated core-subject teachers from others like for music, arts, and P.E. He intimated that that was the system the General Assembly wanted to get back to. Funny how that is trying to emulate what the NCGA did before the GOP took over both chambers.

Poston then rightfully pushed the question about timing and the need to get a solution done quickly as budgets for the next school year are being made for each LEA. He simply asked if funds will be allocated to the local school districts to cover the costs?

5:55 – “I think it’s certainly the Senate’s intent to fund the program… enhancement teachers and to create a separate allotment.”

So the Senate knew it was a problem. The Senate knew it was unfunded. And now Barefoot says there was already an intent to solve it.

What that says is that the class size mandate debacle was actually carefully planned to be a – fiasco. It is a meticulously drawn out disaster. And it has grown in mass so much that Sen. Barefoot cannot actually explain it without contradicting himself.

At about 6:30, Barefoot comes back to the idea that reducing class sizes for reading and math classes is a good thing.

Whoever said that it was not? And Poston nails him on that strawman argument. That’s’ why Poston says, “No one has ever argued that lower class size couldn’t have a positive benefit.” What Poston comes back to is the actual funding and the timing.

Then Barefoot goes back to calendars and “data” collection.

7:46 – “We feel like we have enough time to ultimately solve this problem.”

We did last year too. It was called HB13, the original bill. The Senate did not even bring it to the floor. Ask Sen. Bill Rabon.

Around 7:58, Sen. Barefoot delivers what he ultimately has been saying all along: “…the General Assembly was giving local school districts money every single year to reduce class room sizes and they didn’t do it.”

Poston challenges him again. “Do you think the superintendents have sort of squandered this money and not spent it on things that were important?”

8:24 – “Well, I….”

That’s right. Here’s comes the qualification.

8:26 – “I don’t know if I would call it ‘squandering’ or wasting, but when the state gives you money to lower classroom sizes and you spend it on something else, that’s a problem.”

Damn right it’s a problem.

That’s like chiding a dependent for spending money on food because he/she was starving and having none left to pay the rent when you as the state are responsible for both. That’s like punishing someone for getting the flat tire fixed instead of getting a tank of gas when you were responsible for their transportation.

To think that Sen. Barefoot could make the claim that funds have been given to school systems to “fund” something as per-pupil spending has actually decreased over the past ten years (adjusted for inflation) is purposefully erroneous. Furthermore, this same GOP-controlled legislature removed class-size caps in classes to fit more kids inside of classrooms.

Think about all of the school systems in the past six years that have gone from a 7-period day to a block-schedule that made teachers teach more classes and more students in a given year. And Barefoot says that they were wasting money?

Poston says at 8:50, “They were spending it on teachers. “He then asked if this was a question of underfunding overall.

Barefoot pivots as if that was a different problem. Three minutes earlier, he was literally talking about underfunding. He doesn’t want to talk about underfunding schools because that’s a different topic than what he was talking about which is…wait for it…oh!…underfunding schools.

9:24 – Barefoot even says that superintendents who did not use the money earlier allocated for class size changes should be held “accountable.” He even lauded schools in Wake County that had used those “allocated funds” (remember that it is still one big chunk of many because Barefoot says they no longer have separate funds) to reduce class sizes in K-3.

Wake County is most vocal about the effects if the unfunded class size mandate.

Barefoot represents Wake County.

At 9:49, Poston gets to a factor not even broached by Barefoot – classroom space.

Just start listening to how Barefoot starts to blame the local school systems for not making the class size reduction a priority years ago.

Like during the recovery from the Great Recession.

Remember that textbooks were literally not funded. Remember that new teachers were not allowed to have due-process rights and graduate degree pay bumps. Remember that there is barely any more state-funded professional development. Remember that the state does not pay for national certification fees any longer. Why? The economy.

But Barefoot spends the next few minutes talking about how it was the local school systems fault for not having the space available when they had to foot the bill on textbooks, facilities, professional development, technology, teacher supplements, transportation, etc.

The same local school districts that overall have over 20 percent of students in poverty, deal with funds siphoned off to vouchers and charter schools, have seen Medicaid not expanded that would help students.

And Barefoot blames them for something that he already says was not funded by the General Assembly.

Then Barefoot has the audacity to talk about “mistrust” (10:52).

Then we go back to the “data” (11:00). And blaming superintendents for not “wasting” money, but for not using it correctly.

By the end of the interview, Sen. Chad Barefoot simply reaffirms that it is a problem.

Wow.

We all knew that last year when the NCGA did nothing about it.

If there is one thing that needs to be reiterated, it is that come November, people need to vote for candidates who are committed to funding public education. Because Sen.  Barefoot just spent ten minutes telling you in his stream-of-unconscious manner that he is not.

Sen. Bill Rabon’s Commitment to Not Fully Fund NC’s Public Schools

From Rep. Craig Horn on January 4, 2018:

“The gap is closing. There are folks that are working on a reasonable solution with the session coming as quickly as it is next week” ((http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/01/04/chairman-house-education-committee-solution-class-size-crisis-imminent/).

From Sen. John Alexander on January 17, 2018:

“We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state, to ensure that any fix is amiable to all. Please know that I share in your concerns, as do all the members of the General Assembly, and we have heard you. We are working diligently towards a solution that will benefit all” (https://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/01/17/gop-senators-email-promises-relief-class-size-crisis-march/).

From Sen. Bill Rabon January 19, 2018:

“We appreciate and share Sen. Alexander’s strong commitment to find a resolution that will ensure the smaller class sizes we’ve already paid for while funding enhancement teachers beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, but we have not yet determined a specific timeline. Last year, school districts began raising concerns that they would no longer be able to fund enhancement teachers in subject areas like art, music, drama and P.E. We asked them to share their calculations with lawmakers so we could understand how much, if any, additional funding was needed and are in the process of analyzing the data” (http://www.wral.com/rabon-not-so-fast-on-that-march-class-size-session/17274023/).

Days after a glimmer of sunlight started to possibly peek its way through the partisan clouds hovering over the class size mandate, Sen. Bill Rabon made sure to keep the skies overcast. And there are so many self-revealing aspects about his statement today that should not only madden public school advocates but also reinforce the notion that many in Raleigh do not want to see public schools fully funded.

First, Sen. Rabon would do well to actually prove that the mandate has been funded. If he claims that he is awaiting data to ascertain whether additional funding is needed, then his repeated assurances that is has already been funded should actually have data ready to validate that claim.

Additionally, he said that districts had begun to “raise concerns” LAST YEAR. Actually, that was last spring. For Rabon to say that the NCGA does not have the data in hand is ridiculous. One only needs to see how tightly audited each school in the state is each year and one can see that districts could supply that information in a matter of days. Rabon’s claiming that it takes months.

And above all, to actually fund the mandate would go against everything that Rabon has stood for in his tenure as a lawmaker – at least when looking at his actions.

This is the man who did not let HB13 even come to a vote in the North Carolina Senate after the House unanimously passed it in its original form. From April 6, 2017:

One bipartisan-supported reprieve to the looming class size order, House Bill 13, gained unanimous approval in the state House in February, but despite advocates’ calls for urgent action this spring, the legislation has lingered in the Senate Rules Committee with little indication it will be taken up soon.

Sen. Bill Rabon, the influential eastern North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, did not respond to Policy Watch interview requests, but his legislative assistant said this week that Rabon’s committee will not consider any House bills until the General Assembly’s April 27 crossover deadline (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/04/06/school-officials-preparing-fire-thousands-specialty-teachers-order-meet-k-3-classroom-mandate/).

This is also a man who has taken money from a well-known charter school mogul named Jonathan Hage who runs Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

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  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well and now is the president of ALEC.
  • There’s Rep. Bryan who helped to bring in the ASD district now known as the Innovative School District and is a major player in one to of the private companies trying to get the contract.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations.
  • And there’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate.

But possibly what really shows Sen. Rabon’s reluctance to even consider fully funding public schools is his primary sponsorship of a bill in June of 2016 that mimics what many erroneously call the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or TABOR.

The constitutional amendment wouldn’t affect the current rate – which will drop from 5.75 percent to 5.499 percent next year – but would effectively prevent the legislature from raising income taxes. The constitution now includes a maximum rate of 10 percent (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article83773162.html).

That version of TABOR would have capped a vital source of revenue that the state would need in times of crises. That’s scary to think about. The very fabric, the very sinews of society like schools, healthcare, and environmental protections would be instantly jeopardized and it would take years to recover as a result of this bill.

Remember that all three of those areas (schools, healthcare, and environment) have already been hazardously affected in the last few years here in North Carolina. We have just been ranked 40th in the latest Education Week Report Card, Medicaid expansion was not allowed by the lawmakers in Raleigh (like Rabon), and just look at what is still happening with Duke’s coal ash spills and GenX.

A commitment to TABOR is a commitment to limiting how public schools get funded. To sponsor a bill like TABOR is saying out loud that you do not want to fully fund public goods and services in times where people need them most.

Also, do not let it be lost that Rabon also serves on the committee for redistricting. Most of America is very familiar with NC’s drawing of districts.

Therefore, Sen. Rabon’s words about the class size mandate are simply his way of saying that he does not want to fully fund it and he does not want to tell you that he already knows what the data says.

 

Tommy Boy and the Class Size Crisis – Concerning Sen. John Alexander’s Empty Words

I miss Chris Farley.

Tommy Boy Quote Butcher 1000 Images About Tommy Boy On Pinterest Tommy Boy Chris

His stint on Saturday Night Live is still memorable. There’s that opening number with Patrick Swayze where he and Swayze were competing for a spot in the Chippendale dancers. Then there’s Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river.”

But my favorite Chris Farley performance was not on SNL; it was in the iconic comedic movie Tommy Boy. I know, not classical cinema, but it was funny. And the one-liners!

One particular quote stands out more than others. It’s when Tommy Boy is trying to sell enough brake pads to save his family’s business. A potential contract hinges on his ability to convince the client he himself has faith in the quality of the product. Tommy Boy says,

“I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it.”

Tommy Boy wins the contract because the client takes his word for it. The client listens to someone who knows more about the situation, albeit in a comical way. Everything turns out well. Tommy Boy saves the family business from the corporate takeover from Dan Ackroyd’s character, Zalinski.

It is also an apropos way to describe the class size mandate debacle that has palgued our school systems and their ability to budget allocations for the coming year. Rather than trust teachers and professional educators concerning how to solve this problem, legislators like Sen. John Alexander chose to push an agenda that hurts public education in North Carolina that includes vouchers, unregulated charters, and an Innovative School district that could be run by a  profit-minded, impersonal company like Zalinski’s.

One of the most frustrating moments of this class size debate came recently when Sen. Alexander ignorantly stated in an email (from Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch today),

“We are still trying to gather information from all 100 counties of the state, to ensure that any fix is amiable to all,” Sen. John Alexander wrote in an email last week. 

Alexander—who co-chairs a key Senate budget committee—was responding to pleas for the state legislature to provide additional funds or flexibility to local school districts in advance of a pending mandate that they slash class sizes in grades K-3.

The Wake County senator wrote that the relief comes after “much discussion, research and hard work over the last several months,” although he offered no specifics on any plan.

“Please know that I share in your concerns, as do all the members of the General Assembly, and we have heard you,” said Alexander. “We are working diligently towards a solution that will benefit all.”

 

Where’s that research? Where is the proof that you have the data? Where is the proof of gathering the input of all 100 counties?

It took several months to get to a place where Sen. Alexander could make a claim that there might be some relief for the class size mandate coming in the next session without giving any specifics.  That’s pretty bad.

It’s an inexcusable excuse.

And that bit about “a solution that will benefit all”? Impossible.

Why? Because what Sen. Alexander feels is beneficial for his party and its partisan education reforms is completely antithetical to the health of the state’s public school system.

People like Barefoot, Berger, and Lee (and Alexander) don’t take a butcher’s, I mean a teacher’s, word for it. They refuse to repeal bad mandates or even try to fully fund public schools.

Now consider the aforementioned Tommy Boy quote again but with a twist.

“You can stick your head up the bad legislation’s ass, but I’ll take the teachers’ word for it.”

For that matter, they can take the students’, the parents’, and the financial analysts’ words for it.

But if they would rather have their heads up an ass, then….

Hallelujah, and Pass the Lard! – Sen Joyce Krawiec’s Uneducated Assertion on the Class Size Mandate

“If brains were lard, you couldn’t grease a small skillet.”

– Sen. Joyce Krawiec, Jan. 20, 2017 in reference to the people participating in the Women’s March.

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Not Sen. Krawiec’s best moment.

One would think that since the senator equated lard with brains and the fact that much lard was actually sent to her directly in response, she would have kept some on hand “to grease a pan” and look at the actual facts of the very budget she helped to craft and pass in North Carolina before making baseless claims.

In this particular instance, it is about public education and the class size mandate, a law that will very much hurt the very county she represents, Forsyth County.

The Winston-Salem / Forsyth County school system has over 50,000 students and over 80 schools. The class size mandate will severely alter the county budget because it is unfunded and ill-conceived.

Kris Nordstrom, policy analyst and budget guru who worked in the NCGA much longer than Krawiec has been a lawmaker has more than proven that it is an unfunded mandate. Yet, Krawiec in a rather “lardless” way trumpets the purposefully false assertion that the state has put forth the money.

She said in an email that was printed by NC Policy Watch,

“So what’s the big deal with the Senate?  Why all this confusion?  The General Assembly believes reducing class size in K-3 will increase positive outcomes for our young people.  We have dedicated approximately $70 million of your tax dollars annually for this goal.  Any good steward of other people’s money should be expected to ask, ‘How it was spent?’
How many K-3 teachers should $70 million buy?   The average state cost of a classroom teacher, including benefits, is about $63,000, (salary x 1.26).  That works out to approximately 1,100 new K-3 teachers for our children.  Simple enough.
What does DPI report in their Highlights of the NC Public School Budget? (Summary attached)  Before additional funding began in 2013 there were 26,158 allotted K-3 teachers.  This year 2017-18 DPI reports funding 26,671.5 positions.  A net change of 513.5 new K-3 teachers and this includes any funded through growth in ADM (Average Dailey Membership).   Our children are missing about 600 K-3 teachers for which you payed.   That is a problem” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2018/01/15/rest-assured-senator-know-teachers/#sthash.pDj5KOyd.V4v8LvKl.dpbs).

So Nordstrom does what he does best – show the truth in the numbers. Check out his recent post in response in to Krawiec’s assertion.

Nordstrom ends with his post with this:

It is inexcusable that General Assembly members continue to get the basic facts of this class-size issue so incredibly wrong. General Assembly members have access to the impressive analytical skills of the Fiscal Research Division staff, who are there to help General Assembly members understand the basic facts of often complex policy issues. It displays incredible hubris for members to send out error-filled emails or make inaccurate statements to the press without first checking with staff to make sure they have their facts straight.

Maybe it’s just a lack of lard.

When Your State Superintendent Won’t “Rally”‘ For Public Schools

Rally (noun)
1a : a mustering of scattered forces to renew an effort
2: a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm (merriam-webster.com)

It is the right of every American to come together and peacefully speak out for an issue. What someone rallies for speaks for their interests and values.

When a lawmaker or an elected official attends a rally, it can show his priorities and his loyalties.

Take North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson for instance.

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to “rally” for the public school system and the students in the public school system.

This past weekend a rally was held in Raleigh at the Halifax Mall of public school advocates calling for a fix to the class size mandate that threatens most public school systems. This unfunded dictate will cause LEA’s to make decisions on what classes must be eliminated and how to navigate certain obstacles on classroom space and teacher allotment.

That rally was to petition Raleigh’s lawmakers to do the right thing. FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Mark Johnson was not there. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

Other rallies have been held in recent years for public education dealing with funding and keeping teacher assistants. Mark Johnson was not there for any of those as there are no indications of his attendance. On his personal webpage as state superintendent, Johnson remarks,

…having served as a teacher, an education leader, and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/statesuperintendent/).

It seems that with this assumed pedigree of public school commitment, Johnson would be the first to rally for public schools – as a teacher, a “leader,” and as a parent.

Yet it has been documented that Mark Johnson has refused to answer inquiries in state board meetings about public school policy which is in essence a chance to “rally” for public schools.

But that does not mean he will not “rally” for people. Take for instance an event on January 23rd.

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Johnson will be there. He’s even the keynote speaker. He will rally for charter schools in a state that has gone out of its way to deregulate charter schools, ramp up vouchers, and use taxpayer money to fund those endeavors when no empirical data shows an overall increase in student achievement.

That’s the same taxpayer money that is not now being used for public schools and not being used to actually fund the class size mandate.

Interesting that a man “elected” by the people would rally for school choice but not for traditional public schools where around 90% of the state’s students “choose” to attend school. But it is not surprising.

Why? Because Mark Johnson does not really seem to stand for public schools as much as he “rallies” for private interests and GOP stalwarts in the NC General Assembly. If he disagrees with that statement, then he can come to a rally for public schools and explain himself. He can be more “public” to the “public.” However, his unavailability and his unwillingness to speak up for public schools are becoming more of the rule rather than the exception.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson said in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is implying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

He indicated that he only goes to “rallies” that he is told to go to. Even the rally he will attend for school choice is in the legislative building where the General Assembly meets.

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

School choice is part of the ALEC agenda.

Of course Mark Johnson would rally for them.

Now, what North Carolina needs to do is rally to change the people in Raleigh in the next election.