UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation, Part 5 -It Isn’t About Just Funding Schools Dr. Stoops. It’s About FULLY Funding Schools.

The latest op-ed by Dr. Terry Stoops for EdNC.org’s website (“Debates about funding miss the point”) is another glowing example of glittering generalities that seem to define the talking points of the John Locke Foundation concerning public education in North Carolina.

At least they are consistent.

It is interesting to see the number of shares that his op-eds (and John Hood’s for that matter) do not garner from readers of EdNC.org. And Dr. Stoops and Mr. Hood have written as many as anyone on the site.

Why is that a big deal? Because while the op-ed may be viewed, it is not shared and brought to the attention of others who have some stake other than paying taxes when it comes to public education.

The success of an op-ed doesn’t necessarily rest on the number of shares that it has on social media and other electronic media, but it does serve as an indication of how much of the conversation that op-ed is helping to drive. And when an op-ed uses a lot of words to say really nothing at all, then people will not use it to help fuel more thought and conversation.

Just like this one.

The very first line throws out a strawman so invisible that it barely gets noticed.

“The mainstream media and pundits on both sides of the aisle focus an extraordinary amount of time and energy examining public school funding.”

Of course they do. It matters. It is the number one social service expenditure in the state.

Dr. Stoops then spends the next three paragraphs explaining why the media pays attention to such “trivial” matters. Throw out a bunch of stats, make it sound informative, and then you establish some sort of credibility. Then this happens.

Unfortunately, the media, as well as those in the punditry or advocacy business, often decide how much is “enough” based on who is in charge. Regardless of the actual change in the state budget, education budget increases by Democrats are called “sound investments,” while Republican efforts to boost the education budget are tagged “insufficient” or, more recently, an “election-year ploy.”

Dr. Stoops then makes it more politically charged. To come across a neutral party in such a discussion considering who is writing this op-ed is ludicrous.

Simply put, Dr. Stoops is one of many mouthpieces for the libertarian-leaning John Locke Foundation. In fact, he is their educational expert. His boss, while not on paper, but in funding and ideology, is Art Pope. In essence, Dr. Stoops is paid to say what he says. His boss also is the very person who wrote the first budget under the McCrory administration that helped to frame the funding dynamic that exists today for public education. And Art Pope is still crafting policy.

Ironically, Dr. Stoops pretty much told his readers (however many there were besides me) that the current Republican efforts have boosted the education budget, a budget that is still lagging in per-pupil expenditure compared to those before the Great Recession.

Please remember that funding public education also involves salaries of teachers. And with graduate pay, longevity, and due-process rights taken away to say that things have been boosted is rather false.

Much has been written about the insufficient “boost” to education. One is the op-ed that literally is next in the “Perspectives” tab of the EdNC.org site. It is Billy Ball’s article entitled “Budget cuts take a bite out of DPI’s ability to support local school districts.” Go into the history of the “Perspectives” tab and you will see Rep. Graig Meyer’s op-ed “Does the budget do enough for teachers?” Both of those op-eds seem to totally contradict the claims you make concerning the “boost” to educational budgets.

But I really was amazed by the brief paragraph in the middle of Dr. Stoops’s op-ed which read,

The truth is that the endless debate over “appropriate” funding increases is bootless. (I am trying to revive the word “bootless,” which means “ineffectual” or “useless.” Try it out on a friend today!)

That’s rich. While Dr. Stoops may be splitting hairs over the word “appropriate” he seems to intentionally avoid the difference between fully funding public education and looking at a bunch of stats that appear to barely measure what is happening.

Ironically, Dr. Stoops starts using terms that a corporate reformer would use when looking at public education. “Educational productivity”, “return on investment”, “bang for the buck” are business terms and while it may be effective to talk about inputs versus outputs, it cannot always be measured in quantitative methods because public education is not a marketable business and the very variables that affect student performance cannot be simply quantified and given a dollar amount.

Public education is a constitutionally protected public service. You certainly know when it is not fully funded. It is not fully funded now.

The same people who control the funding of public schools are also the people who can affect change in the elements outside of the classroom that help educational outcomes inside of the classroom – Medicaid expansion and poverty to name a couple.

In only one paragraph does Dr. Stoops even attempt to offer any data to his claims.

According to a 2014 study published by the liberal Center for American Progress, Union County, Davie County, Mooresville City, and Surry County school districts had the highest return on investment in the state. In general, these districts had below-average per-pupil expenditures but above-average test scores.  Schools in Hertford, Anson, Washington, and Halifax counties had the lowest return on investment. Per-pupil expenditures in these districts were relatively high, but their test scores were disappointingly low.

He made sure to tell readers that it was a left-leaning study, but he never explains how his rudimentary use of data backs up his claims. He never tells you what test scores were used and how valid they are. He doesn’t tell you how local districts use their monies when Raleigh is giving them less. He doesn’t tell you the why’s. He tells you the bottom lines that are void of any of the socio-economic variables that affect students.

And then Dr. Stoops turns around and contradicts himself.

Productivity research cannot identify specific causes of unproductive schooling, which obviously complicates the turnaround process. School districts are complex organizations embedded in messy social, cultural, and political institutions. What works well in Union County may not work at all in Hertford County. On the other hand, productive school districts may have policies or practices that could benefit their struggling counterparts.

And here is where he actually gets it right. Each school district IS a “complex organization embedded in messy social, cultural, and political institutions.” In the preceding paragraph, Dr. Stoops relied on bottom lines. In this paragraph he actually shed light on the very truth – each school district is different. But he doesn’t admit that unproductive schooling could be a manifestation of other problems like unproductive governing and unproductive funding.

So, who is to decide what each school district needs? Maybe that should be determined by the people in that school district. To say “what works well in Union County may not work at all in Hertford County” is really saying that there are really no standardized school systems, yet Dr. Stoops spent an entire op-ed talking about how standardized measurements should be used to avoid superfluous debate on issues like public school funding.

And not once did he mention the for-profit charter school boom in North Carolina.
Not once did he mention the funding of Opportunity Grants.
Not once did he mention the virtual high schools.
Not once did he mention the Achievement School District.
Not once did he talk about his boss’s work to dismantle NCAE.
Not once did he mention removal of graduate degree pay, or due-process rights for newer teachers.
Not once did he mention removal of longevity pay.
Not once did he try and talk about student growth versus test scores.
Why? It would create too much “debate” probably. And it would force people like Dr. Stoops to explain how these measures are actually boosting public education.
Doesn’t sound so “bootless” now does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation – Dr. Terry Stoops and Charter Schools

This open letter is written to Dr. Terry Stoops, the Director of Research and Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation, particularly in reference to his March 3, 2016 perspective in EdNC.org entitled “Charter schools are here to stay, so deal with it.”

 

 

Dr, Stoops,
Again, public education is a focal issue in this election cycle, and like you, I am very vigilant in investigating the claims and plans that each candidate and influential body makes concerning the teaching profession.

 

 

I tend to read education op-eds produced by the John Locke Foundation (and its many associated entities) regarding education with great interest because those writings do spur discussion and thought. I also read those same op-eds with great concern, because I find the reasoning and rationale behind many of the arguments to be weak, politically motivated, and built on platitudes.

 

 

However, I read your March 3, 2016 perspective on EdNC.org (“Charter schools are here to stay, so deal with it”) not with just great interest or concern; I read it with great confusion.

 

 

Considering what happened in Haywood County and the closing of Central Elementary School and the reports of fiscal mismanagement coming out of the Charter School Advisory Board meetings, I would have expected more concrete evidence to buttress your claims about charter schools.

 

 

Throughout your perspective you claim that “there is greater knowledge and acceptance of charter schools among North Carolina families, most of whom welcome educational options.” With all of the numbers and statistics you sprinkle throughout your op-ed, you neglect to really show how that could be true. You simply state it and rest on that.

 

 

If you are speaking of options and choices, there are other possibilities that are utilized far more in NC than charter schools. There are private schools, many of which have received taxpayer funds from the Opportunity Grants (that’s a whole other issue), and homeschooling, which encompasses more students in our state than private and charter schools.

 

 

And then there are our traditional public schools, the very institutions our state constitution stipulates that our GOP-led General Assembly must maintain and protect.

 

 

You claim that charter schools create choice for those families who believe that public schools are not servicing their students well. Ironically, your chairman at the John Locke Foundation, John Hood, recently touted our public schools’ success in his February 15th op-ed on EdNC.org (“North Carolina schools ranked seventh”). If our schools are doing so well under these criteria, then why would so many charters need to be created? Just for choice’s sake?

 

 

This past February, I wrote an op-ed for the Winston-Salem Journal (“Defending Public Education”) concerning school choice and the uncontrolled rise of charter schools in North Carolina. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (who homeschools his children) had just attempted to stop a DPI report on charter schools that did not shed a favorable light on the very entities that you (and Lt. Gov. Forest) claim are doing wonderfully. That op-ed stated,

 

 

“The original idea for charter schools was a noble one. Diane Ravitch in Reign of Error states that these schools were designed to seek “out the lowest-performing students, the dropouts, and the disengaged, then ignite their interest in education” in order “to collaborate and share what they had learned with their colleagues and existing schools” (p.13).

 

 

But those noble intentions have been replaced with profit-minded schemes. Many charters abused the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and did not benefit students. If you followed the debacle surrounding the DPI charter school report this past month and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s effort to squelch it, you might know that the charter schools in North Carolina overall have not performed as advertised. Furthermore, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC is staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.”

 

 

There are charter schools that do work well within the scope of providing alternate educational approaches not used in public schools. Perhaps a couple you highlighted in your op-ed fit that description. There is one in my hometown of Winston-Salem, the Arts-Based School, which does exactly what charter schools were originally intended to do. But those tend to be more of the exception than the norm.

 

 

The withdrawal of students from NC virtual schools has also been very much in the news of late. Look at the Pilot Virtual Charter Schools Student Information Update published this month. It seems that more and more families are not choosing that option. Yet, Dr. Stoops, in your op-ed, you praise having virtual schools here in NC because they offer options despite their results.

 

 

You define “charter school deserts” as areas that do not have many students serviced by charter schools. Ironically you use a term, “desert”, that many use to describe socio-economic conditions, the most common being “food desert”.

 

 

A desert itself connotes that something is lacking. You do make a great correlation between lack of choices and deserts because a desert may be indicative of a more pressing problem in the regions you talk about, like a symptom of a deeper problem. I would be more concerned with food deserts or economic deserts or cultural deserts than charter deserts. I would be more concerned with the physical, mental, and emotional health of the students and the economic health of those very regions rather than how many charter schools they have.

 

 

And the GOP-led General Assembly can do something about people’s quality of life because that has an impact on student achievement in any school. Just refer back to Mr. Hood’s aforementioned op-ed. He stated,

 

 

“Whenever test scores come out for schools, districts, or states, officials hasten to explain that there are many factors known to shape the results. They are right to do so. The characteristics of the families within which students grow up — household income, parental education, marital status, etc. — clearly affect student performance. Race and ethnicity exhibit statistical correlations with performance, as well, perhaps reflecting not only those family-background variables but also factors such as neighborhood effects, cultural norms, or discrimination.”

 

 

I actually agree with that. Ironically, Mr. Hood retracts a bit from that statement later in his op-ed.

 

 

If the means to obtain the basic needs for families in these “deserts” were provided, then the health of the local public school district may not even be an issue unless there is just a profit-minded motive behind charter school construction. And even if the construction of charter schools in these rural “deserts” were just to create choice, then why do many charter schools detrimentally affect traditional public schools? That’s not creating a choice; that’s removing choice by monopolizing resources.

 

 

Just refer back to the situation in Haywood County and Central Elementary School. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds; the financial impact can be overwhelming. That creates an even bigger desert. Talk about your man-made “climate” change.

 

 

And speaking of financial impact, the Summary of Charter School Financial Noncompliance issued on January 28, 2016 lists over 25 charter schools as not complying with laws and regulations concerning finances. Those finances are tax-payer funded and have been taken away from traditional public schools.

 

You conclude your argument with a glossy and baseless claim that the numbers of charter school proponents vastly outnumber those who defend public schools. You state,

 

 

“Without a doubt, school district officials and public school advocacy groups will continue to grouse about the number of students enrolled in charters and the funding that goes with them. But charter school parents, students, employees, and advocates vastly outnumber them and are beginning to find the voice to champion and defend their schools of choice.”

 

 

If that voice to champion their cause has to be enabled with shadowy deregulation, political intervention, and profit minded groups, then that does not represent the true voice of the people. In fact, the withdrawal rates from some of those charter schools listed in the Summary of Charter School Financial Noncompliance report are quite eye-opening. That itself speaks volumes.

 

 

If advocating for public schools (like our state constitution does) in light of this educational landscape is in your view “grousing,” then will I proudly continue to complain, grumble, quibble, bemoan, protest, and quarrel on behalf of our public schools because they are here to stay.
Deal with that.