Open Letter to Sen. Bill Rabon – Be a Civil Servant and Allow House Bill 13 to Come to the Senate Floor

class size rose

Dear Senator Rabon,

I was disheartened as a public school teacher to learn that House Bill 13, which earned unanimous support in the state House, has been tabled in the state Senate, a situation that you could easily remedy.

And I am incensed as a parent of a special needs child in a public elementary school that this may very well cause local school districts to cut teacher assistant positions to fulfill a shortsighted legal statute concerning class sizes.

Last Sunday my hometown newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, reported in “Schools could cut assistants to hire more teachers, meet class size requirements,”

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district has started contingency planning in case the N.C. General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill that would give schools relief from impending class size reductions.

The district will keep any teacher assistants hired from now until the end of the school year on temporary employee rolls in an effort to avoid layoffs over the summer. If the state mandate on smaller class sizes kicks in, district leaders say they might be forced to cut some teacher assistant positions for next school year in order to keep offering art, music and physical education classes (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-could-cut-assistants-to-hire-more-teachers-meet-class/article_9440fea2-c230-5128-8cff-270cefb7d83b.html).

And today Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch reported in “School officials preparing to fire thousands of specialty teachers in order to meet K-3 classroom mandate,”

(Linda) Welborn, a Republican member of the Guilford County Board of Education, says her district—the third largest in the state—will need to find an additional $16.6 million and 242 new teaching positions to meet the state’s legislative mandate to cut class sizes for kindergarten through third grade beginning next school year.

“We would have to make such drastic cuts, we literally don’t know where we would come up with the money,” says Welborn. “You just don’t do that unless you have absolutely no choice but to do it.”

All across North Carolina, districts like Guilford County say a statutory loss of flexibility over class size may soon yield massive job losses statewide among arts, music and physical education teachers, as well as teacher assistants (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/04/06/school-officials-preparing-fire-thousands-specialty-teachers-order-meet-k-3-classroom-mandate/).

And what made that news so hard to digest was what Ball stated later.

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.

Senator, this is unacceptable, especially in light of comments and stances you have taken in the past.

Consider what was reported in the summer of 2014 in the Wilimington StarNews Online edition for July 21st.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the “jury is still out” on the final budget and he can’t give teacher assistants a “definite how it’s going to come out in the wash.” Still, Rabon said he didn’t think the final budget would result in teacher assistants being laid off.

“It would be nice if we can work out an agreement to keep them, and I’m sure we will work toward that end,” Rabon said.

Rabon argues that the state is spending too much money on Medicaid and not enough on education and said an agreement could be reached on funding teacher assistants if the House would agree to make cuts to the program that provides health care for people who are poor and disabled (http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20140721/funds-for-teacher-assistants-in-doubt).

Well, considering that NC now is bragging about a surplus and is also bragging about not having expanded Medicaid, is funding education fully still a priority in your eyes because it appears that we as a state are not spending too much on Medicaid.

In May of 2014, you gave an interview to WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly concerning your stances on state issues (http://whqr.org/post/candidate-profile-bill-rabon-r-nc-senate-district-8#stream/0). This is what you said about public education:

“I would like to see all teachers—I would like to see all state employees, for that matter—have an increase in salary. Hopefully we can get there; it’s gonna take revenue reform, or tax reform, to do that. It’s going to take a change in the way the state does business to do that. The conundrum is, where do we get the money? Fifty-six cents or so out of every dollar that is spent in Raleigh now goes to education. Maybe we’re spending that fifty-six cents in the wrong place. Maybe the legislature should step back, and look at the forest, and stop looking at the tree, and say a dedicated portion of that money must go to teacher salary. And give a little more direction, if you will, to those people that are spending the money that the taxpayers are sending to us. The legislature doesn’t spend the money; we allocate the money. Maybe we should give them a little more direction.”

I appreciate your wanting to pay teachers and state employees more. I hope that also included wanting to teach teacher assistants more.

Yet that question you asked in the above quote is what confuses me. You asked, “Where do we get the money?” That’s the same exact question that each local school district is asking right now to come into compliance with a law you and your cronies in Raleigh have put on the books. And yet you seem to complain about how much money the state is spending on education: fifty-six cents on the dollar.

Fifty-six cents out of each dollar sounds like a lot the way you put it.

But you grossly misrepresent the situation.

Actually, the state is supposed to finance public education at that level because the North Carolina State Constitution stipulates it. That’s the same constitution you’re sworn to uphold.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education.

The state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks. To say that the state spends 56%of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before your tenure in the NC Senate began, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this General Assembly. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering.

Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting thousands of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?

In 2015, you became fairly well-known for a supposed “hit list” of 56 DOT jobs on the principle that more and more government jobs should be moved to the private sector. Never mind that a recent investigative report by WBTV out of Raleigh entitled “Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash” talked about how you possibly benefitted from privatizing former government jobs (http://www.wbtv.com/story/34548894/senator-steers-millions-in-ncdot-contracts-while-taking-campaign-cash) .

What is ironic is that the three counties you fully represent (Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender) actually rely on the public school system to educate over 85% of the school aged children who reside there if numbers from the EdNC.org Data Dashboard for 2014-2015 are still consistent.

If you investigate the EdNC.org Data Dashboard even further, you may recognize that the three counties you represent also have very high levels of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Bladen County alone has over 90% who qualify. Certainly the refusal to expand Medicaid has affected people in your district as well.

Poverty, health, hunger all have effects on education.

What is more ironic is that in both Brunswick and Pender counties, the local LEA (public school district) is the NUMBER 1 EMPLOYER in the county. In Bladen County, the LEA is the second largest employer.

So the very entities that educate the vast majority of your constituents’ children and employ more people than any other entity may be compromised even further because of your unwillingness to put forth a bill that could do nothing but help?

All in the name of smaller class sizes and smaller government while we are experiencing an economic upswing?

If Guilford and Forsyth counties are having to consider letting go of teacher assistants, then I can only imagine what might happen in rural counties like the ones you represent.

Even just last week, DPI and retired Congresswoman Eva Clayton hosted an “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority in North Carolina.” They called together leaders, educators, and policy makers to discuss issues that affect rural school districts – districts like Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender counties. Don’t complicate their situation by forcing them to make cuts to vital resources and personnel.

Allowing House Bill 13 to come to the floor would be a great step in the right direction. However, your lack of action would be a giant leap backwards.

 

 

For Once I May Have Liked What Lt. Gov. Dan Forest Said – But Not For the Reasons He Would Like

Rural Center county classifications

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s recent comments concerning “bridging the digital divide” at the “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority” event were actually very heartening to hear – for more than one reason.

If you have followed the North Carolina public school funding discussion, disparities between affluent metropolitan areas and economically depressed rural areas are hard to ignore, especially when it comes to getting local funds to help subsidize teacher salary supplements and resources. It might be one of the reasons that charter schools and voucher advocates have has so much traction in the rural parts of the Tarheel state.

But Lt. Gov. Forest said something that was very encouraging. Refer to Alex Granados’s article in EdNC.org entitled “State leaders speak out on education at rural advocacy day” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/03/30/state-leaders-speak-education-rural-advocacy-day/).

He said that five years ago, before he was in his current position, he thought the state could lead the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms. Now, North Carolina is on the verge of achieving that goal. That will help “students in poor rural North Carolina have the same hope and opportunity for an excellent education as students in wealthier parts of our state that have had for years,” he said.  

He also decried the fact that even with all the technological advances, the education field still is not level. 

“Shame on us in this day and age that we still have schools that are not at par with one another across our state,” he said. 

There are two operative words here: “poor” and “shame.” However, the reasons for the propagation of poverty in North Carolina and our need to feel shame for that is more than a single post could ever handle. But it is something that the Lt. Gov. could do a much better job of addressing on West Jones Street. Instead of using poverty and shame as fuel for privatizing education, he should listen to what he said very closely and then read this op-ed that appeared in The New York Times this past Sunday entitled “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” by David Kirp (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/who-needs-charters-when-you-have-public-schools-like-these.html).

Kirp is a professor at UC-Berkley which is considered by many to be the finest public university in the nation. California’s public university system is also a leading world-class system. Ironically, so is North Carolina’s, despite what the current administration in the General Assembly and the past administration in the governor’s mansion have done to weaken it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has been a part of both of both of those.

In this op-ed, Kirp talks about the use of technology in poor rural areas for public schools that are helping students bridge achievement gaps that people have been touting charter schools and vouchers as being the solutions for –people like Lt. Dan Forest and another recent visitor to North Carolina, Betsy DeVos.

The same technology that Kirp talks about in his op-ed is easily facilitated in the scenario that Forest claims North Carolina has put into place, so much that we as a state are “on the verge” of “lead(ing) the nation in high speed broadband access to classrooms.”

Here are some of Professor Kirp’s observations:

“Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform. She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. But Union shows what can be achieved when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.”

Investment? Recruitment of high-quality teachers? Retaining those teachers? Allow for ties between schools and communities? Wow! Novel ideas.

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest seem to be too busy protecting us from nonexistent transgender sexual assaults in school locker rooms, clouding up any transparency for charter school growth, and funneling untold amounts of money into a voucher system that is inappropriately named “Opportunity Grants.”

Kirp further discusses,

“The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.”

Again, wow!

Supporting the arts and a holistic approach to curriculum? Health care clinics? Job training?

But lawmakers like Lt. Dan Forest have been too busy in the last few years suffocating public school systems to the point where they have to meet demands for class sizes that force them to sacrifice these very same programs. And health care? Just look at the hardened reluctance to expand Medicaid for these “poor” rural people.

That’s real “shame.”

Kirp concludes his op-ed,

“Under the radar, from Union City, N.J., and Montgomery County, Md., to Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., school systems with sizable numbers of students from poor families are doing great work. These ordinary districts took the time they needed to lay the groundwork for extraordinary results.

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?”

Ironically, you would only have to substitute LT. Dan Forest’s name in that op-ed for Betsy DeVos as Forest is an avid supporter of DeVos’s policies. He was one of 70 leaders and organizations to sign an open letter of support for DeVos during her contentious confirmation process (http://www.excelined.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017.01.27-OpenLetterEndorsementforBetsyDeVos-FINAL.pdf?utm_source=ExcelinEd&utm_campaign=50bf72e4fa-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_01_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0473a80b81-50bf72e4fa-).

“Betsy DeVos is an undisputed champion of families and students. For nearly 30 years she has devoted time and resources to improving education options for our nation’s children. Yet millions still languish in failing schools in an education system more than a century old. It’s time for a new vision.

Betsy DeVos provides that vision. She embraces innovation, endorses accountability and—most especially—trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests. She also believes in providing every parent with the resources and choices to pursue those decisions.

On this week, National School Choice Week, we the undersigned endorse this champion of choice and the education reforms needed to improve the future of every child in America. And we strongly advocate for her confirmation as our next U.S. Secretary of Education. “

Remember that last year, Forest admonished DPI for its report on charter schools because it was not “positive” enough. He also is one of the most ardent supporters of HB2 because of his strident cause of protecting women and children from a nonexistent threat. And in a recent visit to Texas during their push for a bathroom law, he was keen to point out that there has been no economic fallout from HB2 in North Carolina contrary to multiple reports including a recent one from the Associated Press.

He called it “another attempt to mislead and confuse the public through a bogus headline.” The he added, “Our economy is doing well. Don’t be fooled by the media.”

But that internet thing and getting the rural areas connected? He’s totally right about that.

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

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

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

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

As stated in her perspective,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the following chart:

privatizers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam’s Ridiculously Below “Average” Op-Ed on Teacher Pay – I Mean, It’s Not Even Average

Rep. Paul Stam’s recent op-ed in EdNC.org entitled “Teacher Pay: Rhetoric vs. Reality” is yet another example of the strong confirmation bias that the senior Wake County representative suffers from in his explanation of teacher pay.

And there are many different aspects of his meandering argument that could be rebutted with ease.

Such as the claim that there was a “cumulative average pay raise of about 13.8 percent” for teachers in the last three years that is wildly misleading.  Any person following the teacher pay debate can see that most every teacher did not see a 13.8 percent raise in salary, but a fraction of that, especially veteran teachers. Those raises were reserved mainly for beginning teachers at the lower rungs of the pay scale.

Or that he used selective figures for rise in cost of living to substantiate arguing that “from 2013 to 2016, the cumulative increase in cost of living was about 3.02 percent.” Most people would just look at the consumer price index conversion calculator to see what the effect of inflation has been.

Or that he used a Koch Brothers funded think tank like the 1889 Institute to argue that teacher pay really ranks at 29th in the nation. So many other trusted outlets show North Carolina still lags behind most all states like the NEA report that focuses solely only education and teacher pay.

Or that he ignores that North Carolina’s state constitution stipulates that the state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, and even textbooks. Rep. Stam simply says it is the biggest expense and does not explain that in the past we have even spent a bigger percentage of the budget on public education.

Or that he relies on older U.S. Census numbers to substantiate his argument. Most people in education look at more recent information like the National Education Association to get a more current view.

Or that he says all teachers get $16,000 in benefits when most of the teachers are now paying more to have the “benefits” they receive. Many teachers do not even get their health insurance from the state as it is not very competitive with spousal plans. Also with salaries topping out at $51K for new teachers, the state’s commitment to retirement funds is now lowered.

However, it is Stam’s raging addiction to the word “average” which he uses throughout his unfocused and meagerly developed op-ed that really needs rebutting.

Rep. Stam states,

“Now WRAL, the News & Observer, and others are trying to deny the obvious – that there was a significant pay raise this year for teachers. They apparently don’t know what the word “average” means. They find someone who received less money than the “average” and claim that the “average” pay raise is irrelevant. Someone at these media giants should read the dictionary and learn what the term “average” means.

The 2014-15 pay raise was oriented towards beginning teachers, some of whom received pay raises as high as 18 percent. This year’s raise targeted middle and more experienced teachers, some of whom received raises as high as 13 percent. It would not be proper to use these high outliers in ads. Neither is it proper to use outliers on the other side of “average.”

That’s a whopping five times that the word “average” was used in those two paragraphs. That is an average of 2.5 times per paragraph just quoted above. In fact, Stam uses the word “average” a dozen times in his entire op-ed for an average of 1.3 times per paragraph.

He used the word “average” so many times that he made “average” just an average word.

But it is his insistence that media giants should read the dictionary to learn what the word “average” means that was so out of place, because the Average Jane or Average Joe knows that “average” does not necessarily mean “actual” and while dictionaries offer denotations, there are many connotations associated to words like “average.”

Teachers know a little bit more about the spun rhetoric surrounding teacher pay than the average bear would. Teachers know that while Stam claims that teacher salaries are above average, the really are below average.

On the average, a GOP politician like Stam would tout “average” teacher raises in an election year to hopefully persuade voters to still vote republican in November in order to average out negative publicity surrounding HB2 and Voter ID laws.

However, while Stam may believe that his op-ed is a cut above the average in terms of hailing his party’s accomplishments, it cannot defy the law of averages because his argument does not hold even an average amount of water.

In this case, Stam’s rhetoric and the reality of the situation do not average out.

And in a complex issue like teach compensation it is very hard to try and average something up and expect the average teacher to just accept it as gospel.

Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • 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

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help—not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

Open Letter to Phil Kirk, Chairman Emeritus for the NC State Board of Education

Dear Mr. Kirk,

I read with great interest your op-Ed for EdNC.org posted on September7, 2016 entitled “Outlandish myths about NC Republicans and education” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/outlandish-myths-nc-republicans-education/ )  It originally appeared in The News and Observer on September 6th .

Your initial paragraph in which you recount your unparalleled service and experience with education both in public schools and private universities more than qualifies you to speak about our current politically charged educational climate.  However, I also believe that it binds you to present your information in the entire context in which it resides.

As I read through your list of myths and their subsequent debunking, I could not help but think that you are presenting these myths with a lamp that does not fully shed light on the entire reality of the situation. It’s as if you defined the context of the claims and myths that many make in order to validate your explanations and allow them to fit within a politically motivated narrative that gives the current administration and legislature more credit than they deserve.

What you claim in the framework you present it in is totally correct. I am saying that you have said nothing that is incorrect within the context you present your points in. But there are so many other variables that affect the climate of public education that if investigated really show that you are doing more “cherry-picking” with numbers rather than presenting a complete outlook.

And with your background and understanding of public education, that’s simply outlandish.

  1. “Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.”

Those numbers are correct. But it is how you are phrasing the first sentence that builds a different construct than what many have been worried about which is teacher turnover. The numbers you present are only what people are allowing you to know. You are assuming that all teachers who leave the profession “self-report”.

I would invite you to look at the report to the North Carolina General Assembly about the state of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. It is more comprehensive and shows many more variables than you present (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf ).

The report also includes information on:

  • “Teachers who left the LEA but remained in education (31%) (Includes individuals resigning to teach in another NC LEA or charter school, individuals resigning to teach in a non-public school in NC, and individuals who moved to non-teaching positions in education)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for personal reasons (40%) (Includes individuals retiring with reduced benefits, individuals resigning to teach in another state, individuals dissatisfied with teaching, individuals who resigned for health reasons, individuals who resigned due to family responsibilities and/or childcare, death, and individuals who resigned due to family relocation, individuals seeking a career change)
  • Teachers who were terminated by the LEA (7%) (Includes individuals who were non-renewed, dismissed, or resigned in lieu of dismissal)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for reasons beyond the LEA’s control (15%) (Includes individuals who retired with full benefits, deceased, movement required by Military Orders, end of TFA or VIF term)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for other reasons not listed above (7%) (Includes teachers resigning or leaving teaching for reasons not listed or those who resigned for unknown and other reasons) (p.10) .”

The same report also shows that teacher turnover has actually risen during the current administration’s tenure (p.8).

kirk1

You state,

  1. “Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.”

First, the current administration is not the first to try and get all classrooms in all schools plugged in digitally. Gov. Perdue was and still is very proactive in advocating for technological advances to be married to schooling. But let’s turn to textbooks. Below is a list of textbook expenditures over the last nine budgets that was presented by DPI. These numbers can be found on http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/ .

  • 07-08 – $99,490,211
  • 08-09 – $100,652,409
  • 09-10 – $111,162,790
  • 10-11 – $2,500,000
  • 11-12 – $23,431,227
  • 12-13 – $22,816,039
  • 13-14 – $23,169,585
  • 14-15 – $24,265,721
  • 15-16 – $52,384,390

I find it interesting that you concentrate on the 10-11 figures. And two words may be able to explain this expenditure – Great Recession. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles. Blaming the meager amount of money spent on textbooks in this year would be like blaming the entire recession on NC democrats.

But what is more telling is in that particular year more conservative Republicans were coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you had is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Look at what was spent for textbooks in the three previous “democrat” years. Now look at the years that republicans have been in control. Furthermore, this is in real dollars which are not adjusted for inflation through the consumer price index.

Again, you are viewing what happened with selective vision. In this case, rather egregiously.

  1. “Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!”

Sen. Jim Davis made the same claims in a Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting this past summer. A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

And what he claimed and what you claimed are really padded points made by many in the current administration. I will rebut to you with what I wrote the senator.

“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.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 Great Recession. million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

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 in inflation and those numbers become more startling.

  1. “Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between six and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!”

Are you sure about that? My paycheck doesn’t really reflect all that you say. Why? Because you use the word “average.”  Saying that North Carolina raised teacher salaries more than any other state in the nation in 2014 is misleading. One can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

I invite you to read James Hogan’s recent posting about teacher pay on his blog entitled “No, NC Republicans Have Not Fixed Teacher Pay” (http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2016/09/no-nc-republicans-havent-fixed-teacher.html ). It’s devastatingly accurate and it doesn’t even talk about the removal of longevity pay.

  1. “Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted two percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.”

We are 50 out 51 in principal pay. You can’t really take credit for identifying a gaping wound now when everybody else has been seeing it for years.

  1. “Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.”

The words “projected” and “reality” are very different.  You said earlier in your op-Ed that we had the largest increase in teacher pay in 2014 and look what it got us. We are still near the bottom. Either the numbers are skewed somewhat or your claim lacks adequate explanation.

You are also assuming that we will rise in rankings without considering that other states will be increasing their own salaries and benefits packages.

Furthermore, you will need to convince me that we only do ten months of work. The budget now requires us to seek more certification renewal on our own time and schools do not prepare themselves over the summer. No school is ever really closed. Besides, there are a lot of coaches out there who work more in the summers than people really ever know.

  1. “Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16, and second and third grades at no more than 17.”

What about 4th grade?  5th?  6th?  7th?  8th?  9th?  10th?  11th?  12th?

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.

kirk2

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

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 the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

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.

You end your op-Ed with a semi-rhetorical question that begs even more explanation – “Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?”

Well, yes. Because there are more truthful “myths” that I need you to address in the full light of reality such as how the following are moves to help our schools and its teachers.

  • 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

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, especially if you consider my claims in this letter outlandish.

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher

Map It And It Becomes Very Apparent That Poverty Affects Schools

Political leanings and lenses aside, sometimes data can create a picture so vivid that it is really hard to argue against the conclusions.

Last week, the state of North Carolina released its school performance grades for the 2015-2016 school year. With pretty much the same parameters kept in place, the results really did nothing but reconfirm that the majority of schools which receive low or failing grades are usually schools with high poverty rates in their respective student bodies.

But there’s another correlation in the data that needs to be made note of – how it aligns to the gerrymandered districts recently struck down by the court system.

If you have not visited EdNC.org, then take the time to do so. They have been kind to post some of my op-eds and they do try and show / represent all sides of the educational debate. And there are many viewpoints passionately defended.

They also have a feature that is invaluable. It’s the Data Dashboard. You can find it here – https://www.ednc.org/data/.  Take the time to peruse this resource if public education is a top issue for you.

Here is a dot map of the 2014-2015 school performance grade map for the state (https://www.ednc.org/2015/08/03/consider-it-mapped-and-school-grades/) .

map1

Take notice of the pink and burgundy dots. Those are schools in the “D” and “F” category.

Now look at a map from the dashboard for Free and Reduced lunch eligibility for the same year.

map2

If you could somehow superimpose those two images, you might some frighteningly congruent correlations.

Now look at a map that shows the percentage of African-American students in each county’s population. It is also from the EdNC.org dashboard.

map3

If I could superimpose all three maps then I could show readers how confident I am that the correlation between the population of African-Americans, poverty, and school performance grades is incredibly strong.

And there is a reason that I have not included other minority groups. That’s because when the Voter ID law was recently repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the governor  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically pointed to the “surgical precision” that the law targeted African-Americans and poorer people.

And here is a map of our current congressional districts, two of which were considered to be “gerrymandered” districts by federal courts, specifically districts 1 and 12. Images come from The News & Observer report  from Feb 6, 2016 entitled “Federal court ruling corrects gerrymandered NC  districts”   (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article58911173.html).

districtmap1

congressmap01

See any correlation to the maps above with the data that appears in the maps concerning school performance grades, numbers of free and reduced eligible students, and percentages of African-American students? I do.

Wow! Do I ever.

 

 

UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation – Part 4, The Empire Strikes Back With a Menacing Phantom Study Report

I look forward to reading John Hood’s perspectives on education in North Carolina. They reaffirm my stances on what is happening in the Old North State and its public schools.

I do not have his bandwidth. As the president of the John William Pope Foundation and the past chairman (still on Board of Directors) for the John Locke Foundation, Hood serves as the mouthpiece of Art Pope, the leader of the Civitas Group and considered by many to be the biggest financier in North Carolina of ultra-conservative politics.

John Hood will be heard. Too many microphones have been bought to be placed near his mouth.

But I have my blog and a teacher voice.

I find most everything that Hood writes about public education to be extremely slanted (not surprising), yet smugly conciliatory, as if he is appeasing the more liberal people into thinking he wants what they want from our state government. In his recent op-ed posted on EdNC.org entitled “School reform is good economics”, Hood begins,

“Although the debate about education policy is robust, complicated, and sometimes vitriolic, there is actually broad agreement about the bottom line:

If our students were better prepared for college, careers, and the responsibilities of citizenship, North Carolina would reap tremendous benefits.

Liberals and conservatives disagree about means, not about the ultimate ends — and often, even our disagreements on the means of school improvement are more about priorities and details, not about basic concepts. I know these policy debates will continue for years to come. I welcome them.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth devoting more attention to those ultimate ends.”

It’s as if he is saying, “Hey, I want what you want!” but then is thinking, “But I just want to help my cronies make money from it all.”

It is also not uncommon for Hood to start throwing out cherry-picked numbers to show that current reform movements in North Carolina are helping our state regain prominence in the country. I have written about his assertions before and those of his contemporary, Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation, on this blog before. These following are links to those posts, and please note that they were written in response to something written by Hood and Stoops.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/13/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-dr-terry-stoops-and-charter-schools/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/04/16/unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-teachers-and-advanced-degrees/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/17/open-letter-to-john-hood-unlockeing-the-john-locke-foundation-part-3/

If you read these posts and the pieces written by Hood and Stoops that inspired these posts, you will see that both Hood and Stoops reside in the gray nebula of lack of explanation and platitudes. Their love of broad statements and sweeping assertions really are a smokescreen for a political agenda that wants to further priviatize public education here in North Carolina.

In this latest op-ed on school reform, Hood cites work from three scholars who “reported the findings of a study they recently conducted of student performance and economic growth across all 50 states. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, Jens Ruhose of Leibnitz University, and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich” did the study.

Hood claims,

“They assert that because the level of education and skill in the labor force is associated with economic growth, more government spending on education and training will lead to more economic growth. That doesn’t logically follow, and isn’t confirmed by empirical research. Over the past 25 years, there have been some 119 academic studies probing potential relationships between state education spending and subsequent economic growth. Only 32 percent found a positive correlation.”

But what Hood doesn’t acknowledge is that North Carolina has actually proven that the converse is true. If Hood claims that spending more on state public education does not translate to subsequent economic growth, then does he claim that lowering spending would not hurt economic growth? I believe it does.

Because that is what has happened in North Carolina.

We are spending less per pupil now than we did years ago, and years ago we in North Carolina had what was considered the strongest public school system in the Southeast. Our teacher pay (no it is not better as the GOP claims for veteran teachers) is still in the lowest tier of the nation. Politicians have created grading systems that repeatedly cast public schools in a bad light to create the excuse for the very reforms that Hood champions.

Do not forget that John Hood works for Art Pope, who was the architect of the first Pat McCrory budget and campaigned to remove due-process rights from veteran teachers. He succeeded in removing them from newer teachers as well as removing graduate pay bumps – things that Hood has made hollow arguments for in the past (see referenced posts above).

But I digress. Hood then states toward the end,

“And what if we focused on low-performing students rather than average scores? If North Carolina raised all of our students to at least a “basic” level of competence in reading and math, the study found, our economy would be nearly $800 billion larger by 2095 than the baseline, an increase of 12 percent.”

Well colored me surprised or paint me green with envy because I didn’t say it first. Actually neither, because I am not as concerned about 2095.

I am concerned about 2016, 2017, 2018, and all the other years in between.

I’ll be dead in 2095. And if people like Art Pope have their way, there won’t be a public education system in North Carolina in 2095.

But our state constitution says we must have a quality one and that we must fully fund it, so we may as well fund it properly.

Oddly enough, John Hood uses Eric Hanushek of Stanford University as a buttress for his argument.

Hanushek was one of the people who wrote essays in a companion book for the documentary Waiting For Superman. I myself do not agree with the findings of that Gates-financed piece of propaganda, and in his essay “The Difference is Great Teachers” Hanushek does say that the biggest influence on a student’s performance is the teacher.

Anyone in education should read that essay, especially if you are a teacher. Hanushek claims that lowering class-size doesn’t affect student performance. That having graduate degrees doesn’t help teachers teach. He claims that if “we could simply eliminate the bottom 5 to 10 percent of teachers (two or three teachers in a school with thirty) and replace them with average teachers, we could dramatically change student outcomes” (p. 98).

I think that is pure bullshit.

If you know anything about what has happened in North Carolina in the last four years with teacher evaluation protocols, teacher salaries, removal of due-process, unregulated charter school growth, vouchers, and ideas for merit pay, then look at this essay by Hanushek and see a blue print for what people like Art Pope have financed and John Hood has vocally championed.

And then ask, are these “re-forms” really working? In a state where over 20% of children live in poverty?

By the way, people like Eric Hanushek are constantly spoken of in the same breath as Bill and Melinda Gates. It would be interesting to see how much financing the Gates Foundation has given to create studies that would show favorable results to their agenda.

Furthermore, Hanushek has been debunked quite frequently. Diane Ravitch wrote an essay in the The New York Review of Books on November 11, 2010 entitled “The Myth of charter Schools”.  In two paragraphs Dr. Ravitch pretty much squelches Hanushek’s claims about teacher effectiveness, even with some of Hanushek’s own research.

 “But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.”

So if Mr. Hood wants to tout people like Hanushek as reasons to continue traveling down the road of reform that North Carolina is on now, then so be it. It fits Mr. Hood’s agenda.

But for a state that is gutting public schools, denying Medicaid expansion, and allowing environmental concerns to not be heard, 2095 is simply a stupid date to see if these reforms are working because they are not.

What reforms Mr. Hood is praising actually seem to creating more obstacles for many in NC, and we don’t need to wait another 80 years to prove that.

I see it in 2016.

Teach For ‘Merica!

There was a very disconcerting report from Arika Herron in April 28th’s edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. In an article entitled “School district could partner with Teach for America to fill persistent vacancies”, Herron describes that the WSFCS system is looking at trying to fill persistently hard-to-staff job vacancies through alternative means.

There are many who look at Teach For America as fulfilling a need. Bright, young, energetic recent college graduates can devote two years (sometimes more) to educating students in hard-to-staff schools. According to Herron’s article, there are studies that show these teachers having effectiveness like their “counterparts” in the schools where they are placed.

However there are many, many critics of TFA. Sometimes referred to as “Temps For America”, TFA only requires candidates to complete a summer “crash” course in teaching before placed in schools. Critics look at this as bringing in ill-equipped teachers into schools who will only stay for a couple of years at most. In essence, it only puts a Band-Aid over a gaping wound.

Dana Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars spends some time exploring the rise of TFA and other “corps” driven ways to counter teacher shortages. While attempting to treat the subject of the reform movement in education with objectivity, Goldstein shares what are perceived as positives and negatives of Teach For America, but one quote really seems to garner the most attention from me. It is from Catherine Michna, a TFA alumna, who states,

“They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran-teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges” (p.196).

That’s not flattering coming from someone who was a part of the program.

Michelle Rhee, the former firebrand chancellor of the Washington D.C., made national headlines with her method of “house-cleaning” in the D.C. schools firing many principals and teachers immediately. She is a TFA alumna who is now championing the charter school movement in California. She expounds on TFA’s credentials quite often.

Diane Ravitch is well-known for voicing her opinions about TFA and opposing the ideology of reformers like Rhee. She even devotes a chapter in her bestselling book Reign of Error to dissecting Teach For America. She opens Chapter 14 with a claim made by proponents of TFA and then immediately follows it with a statement on the “Reality” of TFA.

CLAIM Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.

REALITY Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

In a recent March 21st, 2016  post on her iconic blog entitled “Insider:Big Trouble Inside TFA”, Ravitch posted an anonymous letter from an employee at TFA chronicling layoffs and improprieties (https://dianeravitch.net/2016/03/21/insider-big-trouble-inside-tfa/). That post nearly coincided with news that San Francisco was terminating its relationship with TFA due to poor results.

Yet, I am not simply wanting to debate TFA’s merits. There are some great teachers who naturally possess qualities and a drive to succeed that allows them to be successful in teaching. But I do have a concern over the length that many TFA’s serve in classrooms because if teaching is a professional endeavor, then does that not denote some sort of commitment beyond two years?

I would argue that it takes almost three years to even get a handle on the teaching profession. Dealing with actually developing a craft, much less get a handle on the curriculum takes time. Most teachers student-teach longer than TFA “graduates” actually train, and that is not even talking about the course work and observations beforehand.

Two to three years may not afford one person an idea of what it is like to undergo a curriculum change, a change in leadership, a new evaluation system, or a new round of standardized tests. Gosh, it took me over two years to just develop an immune system that had come into enough contact with students to not get sick every week with some malady.

Maybe it is just that fact that some teachers spend more time preparing to become teachers than many TFA’s actually serve in schools that makes me wonder.

But I believe the real issue is why would these people need to be recruited? What would make the teaching profession so hard to staff in a state that once boasted one of the best teacher education systems in its colleges and universities? How could conditions become such that school systems like WSFCS even need to look at alternative paths for teachers to become “certified” to place in a school?

Kevin Bastian of the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) wrote an interesting piece for EdNC.org on May 22nd entitled “Staffing North Carolina’s classrooms”. In it, he highlighted the decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs while a teacher shortage is continuing. It is very much worth the read, not that I agree with all that he says.

What I truly feel is the root of this need for teacher recruitment through programs like TFA is a simple lack of respect for the teaching profession that many state governments have made commonplace. With stagnating salaries, more students in more classrooms, VAM evaluations, and an emphasis on singular test scores, many teachers do not feel supported and respected. Potential teachers stop even considering becoming career teachers.

In my youth, the teacher was respected he/she was the teacher. In fact, my mother believed a teacher over me when it came to academic progress. Simply put, the teacher was respected because the occupation was valued.

Is that the case today?

Sorry, that is not a rhetorical question.

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.