Our Schools Should Be The Most Colorful of Places

Schools should be places that should show some of the greatest amounts of color.

Imagine if you as a teacher had to visually represent the wide array of talents, learning styles, abilities, skills, interests, and intangibles that each student displayed just inside of your classroom in a given period. For many teachers, that is a lot of students.

Extend that to representing all of the students a teacher comes into contact with in the school setting outside of the classroom. Remember, there are schools in this state with over three thousand high-schoolers.

Imagine the amount of color that would be needed. One could use the widest palette of color and it still would not encompass the width and breadth of what I would want to convey. But it is a start.

pallette

And yet, that would not be the same palette that those who quantifiably measure schools would use. How schools and students are measured on a state level rarely takes into account that so much more defines the intellectual and social terrain of a school, its students, and its culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not such a person as a “standardized” student.

Measuring schools in quantified manners through surreptitious algorithms and standardized tests limits in what ways the public can see how successful our schools really are. It mutes the colors significantly.

In fact, it seems as if Raleigh wants to make sure that the only palette we can use to define the “color” of our schools is limited to a few options.

gray pallette

When schools are measured in terms of “pass / fail” or with “proficiency” instead of “growth” or with bottom lines instead of processes, then there is no room for color, just shades of gray.

Each student brings so much to a classroom. They each have presence and gifts. They bring in an expertise of their lives. They bring color. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. They see the colors and they look for more to add to the palette.

And imagine what could be accomplished when the vision of a teacher is supported by the very resources to make those colors appear on a dynamic, organic canvas that is the educational experience. What if each teacher could have this at his or her disposal?

1115_art_supplies_1200

Yet the reality with underfunded public schools is that teachers do not have enough at their disposal. Textbooks are outdated, professional development funds are nonexistent; per –pupil expenditures are still low; teacher salaries are grossly misrepresented. It’s as if what teachers only supplied to them is this:

palette empty

Too many times teachers must pay from their own pockets for the supplies to fund basic needs and enrich educational experiences. It’s like that they have to not only buy the paints and the brushes, but the very easels as well.

That should never be the case in North Carolina or anywhere that is supposed to offer a good sound basic public education.

Interestingly enough, the word “color” not only deals with something visual, but extends to other senses like sound.

The word “color” on Merriam-Webster.com has fifteen definitions for its use as a noun.

  • The sky can appear a certain color because of the “hue, lightness, and saturation.”
  • There is a certain color to his cheeks based on his “complexion.”
  • Chopin’s prose shows a lot of “local color” in that it uses “a variety of effects of language.”
  • Some people associate themselves with certain groups by wearing the “colors” of a group.
  • A musical instrument can emit a “colorful” sound.
  • We need more “persons of color” as teachers in our public schools here in North Carolina and should as a state encourage more ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in our teacher force.

“Color” is a big, vibrant, vivid, lively, energetic word.

Yes, schools should be immensely colorful.

Thank You North Carolina General Assembly! We Are Now Ranked 40th!

This past week, Education Week released its “Quality Counts Report” for 2018. It is a yearly report that ranks each state (and D.C.) with a report card that measures a variety of variables.

As reported by T. Keung Hui of the News & Observer:

Issues with school funding and student achievement dropped North Carolina to 40th in the country in a new report card on public education, continuing a downward trend in the rankings for the Tar Heel state.

North Carolina received a C- grade and a score of 70.6 out of a possible 100 in the 2018 Quality Counts report released this week by Education Week. That’s below the national grade of C and score of 74.5

North Carolina’s score put it 40th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article195365259.html).

map

You can find the report here: https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/quality-counts-2018-state-grades/index.html.

In 2011, NC was ranked 19th.
In 2015, NC was ranked 34th.
In 2016, NC was ranked 37th.
In 2017, NC was ranked 40th.

This is a disturbing trend to say the least especially when Hui quotes Sterling Lloyd of Education Week as saying, “School finance is really the area where North Carolina struggles. It’s 45th in the nation for its school finance grade.”

45th. In financing schools.

That’s 45th in funding of schools.

The most egregious parts of Hui’s report came when both Mark Johnson and Dr. Terry Stoops were asked for comments.

From Johnson:

“Since I began my campaign for this office, I have consistently said that great work is occurring in our schools, led by hard-working teachers and local school leaders, but also that our state needs to approach education with more urgency and innovation,” state Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, said in a written statement.

“I’ll always put much more stock in my conversations with educators, parents, and students than some national magazine’s idea of quality. That being said, I have never shied away from pointing out stubborn concerns caused by the status quo while we work to implement innovations that will transform incremental progress into real success for all educators and students.”

That’s not a rebuttal. That’s a non-answer. A year into his tenure, the only innovation Johnson has shown is how to get into a costly court case with his own state board over control of the public school system. Furthermore, he is the status quo for North Carolina as he a proponent of “school choice,” vouchers, charter schools, and lower per pupil expenditures that have been championed by the NC General Assembly since it was taken over by the GOP in 2010.

And by all appearances, that “national magazine” seems to know more about education than Johnson does when you consider his limited experience.

From Dr. Stoops:

Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the conservative John Locke Foundation, focused on how the report didn’t include the latest school funding data.

“The data used for the report are from 2015, so it does not include recent efforts by the North Carolina General Assembly to raise teacher compensation and support programs designed to raise student achievement,” he said. “I suspect that these changes will improve our grade in future editions of Quality Counts.”

What Dr. Stoops decided not to mention here is that many of the initiatives that the North Carolina General Assembly placed on public education actually happened before 2015 such as:

  • adjustment of average teacher pay (remember in 2014, it was “historic”)
  • removal of teacher due-process rights for new hires
  • removal of graduate pay bumps for new hires
  • Standard 6
  • push for merit pay
  • revolving door of standardized tests
  • attacks on advocacy groups
  • removal of class size caps
  • vouchers
  • unregulated charter school growth
  • school performance grades
  • eliminating Teaching Fellows

All of those had something to do with NC’s fall in the rankings from above average (19th) to the bottom tier (40th). Dr. Stoops’s comment is weak and baseless at best.

Hui also references Kris Nordstrom’s report “The Unraveling” . That is more than worth the read. It is a very concise explanation of what the very NCGA that Dr. Stoops’s defends actually has done to make NC rank so low.

From 2011 to 2017, NC has fallen 21 spaces in the rankings.

The GOP has controlled the General Assembly since 2010.

Maybe it might be good for our rankings if that control ended in 2018.

 

 

 

Can Berger, Moore, or Barefoot Explain This? Concerning School Funding Levels Pre and Post Recession

Today the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report on school funding in states that compared current funding with pre-recession levels.

Entitled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding”, the authors begin with this:

“Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity — has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.  Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools. 

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels.  In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008” (https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding).

Yes, North Carolina was one of those states.

In fact, North Carolina was mentioned in several instances.

“As of the current 2017-18 school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey we conducted using state budget documents.”

North Carolina was one of those states.

“Seven of those 12 — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding.” 

There we are again.

“Not only did many states avoid raising new revenue after the recession hit, but some enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues. Seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma ― have also cut income tax rates in recent years.”

And, again.

“In order to accurately compare past and current education spending, North Carolina’s numbers do not include funding for one-time bonuses and increases for salaries and benefits for education personnel.”

For those who may argue that there were bonuses and “salary increases,” there is a lot more to that.  Consider the following:

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/14/open-letter-to-gov-mccrory-and-the-ncga-concerning-bonus-pay-for-teachers/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/

And from the footnotes:

“This analysis examines the 12 states with the deepest cuts in “formula” or general K-12 education funding as identified in CBPP’s 2016 paper “After a Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States.” These states are Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.  While Wisconsin appeared among the 12 deepest-cutting states in our 2016 paper, that state has been providing school districts with an increasingly large amount of general funding outside of the state formula.  Including this non-formula general aid, Wisconsin’s cuts since 2007-08 are not in the top 12.”

And for good measure, there’s a nice chart.

11-29-17sfp-f8

Won’t take long to see North Carolina in that list.

In the red.

Almost 20%.

Wow.

Raleigh, Buy Us Some Damn Textbooks!

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks. With real pages and hard covers.

Yes, technology in the classroom can be a great avenue for learning. However, technology for technology’s sake can block many roads for students. And if technology is to be looked at as a simple substitution for other resources to save time and money, then leaders need to be sure that nothing is being sacrificed that may harm our students’ abilities to succeed.

It is important to have all classrooms digitally linked. No doubt about that. It is important that students have technological resources that allow them to easily assimilate information and data and also disseminate findings. Again, no doubt about that.

But we still need the printed texts. We need the textbooks. We need the kinetic and tactile exposure to the text.

We need the textbooks.

Business Insider recently published an article that reports on a research study about how students learn “way” more from printed texts than they do from digital texts. Entitled “A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens,” Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer convincingly speak to this dynamic. From the article:

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it (http://www.businessinsider.com/students-learning-education-print-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10?platform=hootsuite).

“Prefer” is the operative word here.

Further in the report:

Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Think about the state of North Carolina and its failing commitment to fully fund schools. One just needs to look at the textbook funding numbers to see that we as a state do not place a high value on textbooks. And it’s not as if we don’t have the money to do so; the North Carolina General Assembly has been gloating about a budgetary surplus that it has “created” for the last couple of years.

Actually, it’s a matter of priority. This graphic was posted to Twitter this week.

textbooks

If that doesn’t show a deliberate disparity, then climate change isn’t real.

Ask any teacher in public schools about the textbook situation and you will receive an answer that talks about the lack of funds, how outdated they are, or the terrible condition they are in.

When research shows that students achieve more when they have the printed text, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in textbooks?

Yes, it does.

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks.

And don’t take our lunch money to pay for them.

Go Fund Me! – The Lengths That Teachers Go To In Order To Supply Classrooms

gofundme

Last month I wrote a post referencing a rather ignorant claim by someone who claimed that schools should not be asking for money from the general public to help outfit and supply classrooms or help students in need (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/02/about-the-civitas-institute-post-on-a-middle-school-asking-for-donations-for-supplies/).

In it the writer stated,

“If HGMS or WCPSS does not have on hand any of the suggested supplies that they are asking parents to buy, what school supplies does the school buy with its approximately $71 per child budget?

Asking parents to pitch in is one thing. It’s quite another to ask because taxpayer money is not being spent wisely.”

It was a purposefully antagonistic missive.

Ask any teacher who has been around in public school for a few years and it you will probably never hear the words, “We are totally funded to get supplies.”

So what happens when the need for technology and updating ways for students to engage with the ever changing curriculum becomes so apparent that teachers have to raise money to help students achieve more efficiently?

Consider the number of students in classes now and the number of classes that teachers teach as compared to when there were class size caps. Consider how evaluations for schools and teachers rely on test scores and student achievement.

What happens is that schools lag behind in technology, but many in the reform movement (vouchers and charters) seem to criticize public schools for being outdated.

I received this comment recently on a post from a good friend of mine who has been teaching for many years.

“I found that the only way to acquire a Chromebook Cart for my students was to fund raise from my family, friends, and school parents. The good news is that we raised $5,730 in five days. How many times can we, as teachers, go to that well? Not too often. In reality, we shouldn’t have to.

This teacher is grateful to his supporters. Why should he have to be? And what do I say to my fellow faculty members this fall when they look at my cart filled with thirty brand new Chromebooks and ask what they should do?”

I know of many teachers who have used grants and other measures to experiment with teacher methods or explore new avenues of pedagogy. Great teachers do that. However, what this teacher did was fund raise from family, friends, and parents for materials  that other schools have that his students did not.

Why should he?’

He should not have to, but he does.

And it would not take long to figure out why when you consider our North Carolina General Assembly.

It almost makes me want to start a GoFundMe campaign within the General Assembly for school resources and see what is raised.

 

 

 

Open Letter to the Registered Voter Who Believes in Public Schools

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

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

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educate yourself, then please vote.

vote

Buy The Damn Cookies! And Other Thoughts About School Fundraising

If you live in a neighborhood with children, you may have experienced receiving a knock on the door or the ringing of a doorbell by a school aged child inquiring if you may want to buy some sort of product or consumable as part of a fundraiser.

I want to encourage you to buy it. Actually, buy two of them. Even if you do not plan on using them or eating them.

It is no mystery that all public schools are in need of money to help finance worthwhile activities and resources. Our public schools are not fully funded to ensure prime educational opportunities for all inside and outside of the classroom.

Consequently, our students, their families, and their advocates must seek ways to help alleviate the deficit. And along the way meaningful lessons are learned by all that are not covered by the Common Core.

Students gain funds to help pay for trips, supplies, uniforms for sports, instruments for band, art supplies, science materials, computers, books, props for theatre, etc. They also learn how to be part of the community.

You as a patron invest in something much more than a disposable good or memento. You invest in an ongoing, dynamic process in helping build a thoughtful, hard-working citizenry who will provide a return on investment that far exceeds your original payment.

So,

  • Buy the cookies, even if you do not eat sweets.
  • Buy the candles. The electricity will go out one day and you may need them.
  • Buy the cups with the school mascot on it. Rooting for a local sports team is good for the soul.
  • Buy the cookie dough. You eat it raw anyways.
  • Buy the opportunity to get your car washed. It’s been dirty for weeks.
  • But a magazine subscription. Trust me. I am an English teacher. Reading is good for you.
  • Buy an awareness bracelet. Kids will think you’re cool.
  • Buy a raffle ticket. You may win.
  • Buy the discount cards. You frequent those places anyway.
  • Buy tickets for the pancake breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day.
  • Buy a ticket for the winter carnival. You may have fun.
  • Buy an opportunity to run in the Fun Run. You can work off the calories from the cookies and the pancakes.
  • Buy a ticket to the talent show. Live vicariously through others.
  • Buy a ticket to a concert or a performance. You will probably enjoy it.
  • Buy a chance to sponsor a student in an activity. You just told someone you value what he/she does.
  • Buy a school related clothing item. The school gets money and you promote the school.
  • Buy a craft or piece of art from a student. You may be amazed at the quality.
  • Buy the popcorn. It’s already popped and ready to eat.
  • Buy the chicken pot pie or the ham. There will be a day when you need something already prepared for supper.

Think of it this way – nothing validates a school’s mission more than supporting its endeavors in creating opportunities for our kids.

fundraising

Plus, you get something tangible and intangible in return.