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 That’s because when the Voter ID law was recently repealed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the subsequent appeal to that decision by the governor  was dismissed by the Supreme Court, the courts specifically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.