Mo(o)re Misguided Missives – A Response to Rep. Tim Moore’s Words on NCGA’s Education “Reforms”

Dear Rep. Moore,

I read with great frustration and yet great amusement your op-ed that appeared on November 9, 2017 on EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”).

You begin your farce of an attempted explanation of what has happened to public education in NC with.

“The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/09/education-reforms-north-carolinas-future/).

As the Speaker of the House in the NC General Assembly, the arguments that you make to boost this current crop of lawmakers as advocates for public education have been long overused and are cursory at best. As a teacher in North Carolina for almost the last 13 years (and 15 of my 20 years as a teacher), I can with certainty state that your arguments only highlight a faint bloom of success, but not the toxic soil that feeds it.

And I use the term “toxic soil” in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense because not only have you helped shape the educational terrain here in the state, but also the environmental topography as well (Duke coal ash, GenX, etc.).

You make several “spun” assertions in your recent missive. Please allow me to respond in hopes that the positives you attempt to point out can actually be shown to be the opposite and that they are essentially real problems that you helped implement and foster.

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  1. Concerning “Higher Teacher and Principal Pay,” you stated,

Thanks to four consecutive pay raises for North Carolina teachers, the statewide average salary is $50,000 while starting teachers earn $35,000.

This year, we had the fastest growing teacher pay in the nation since 2014.

We enacted teacher bonus opportunities, reestablished the N.C. Teaching Fellows program and expanded the Teacher Assistant Tuition Reimbursement Program to recruit and retain our state’s best educators.

North Carolina’s principals and assistant principals will also see their salaries go up by 8.6% and 13.4%, respectively, over the next two years.

Those are a lot of empty claims that require full explanation that you seem unwilling to give. But I will do so here.

You use that word – “average”. What you neglect to explain is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you 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%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

“Average” does not mean “actual”. Actually it’s like an average of the average. But it sounds great to those who don’t understand the math or choose not to explain it.

That average $50,000 salary? That’s spinning as well. Gov. McCrory made that claim as well when he was running for reelection. And I will tell you the same thing as I did him in one of my earlier posts.

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in NC there is no longer any graduate degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for anyone), and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher to top out on the salary schedule within 15 years without really any raise for the last fifteen years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over 50K. So how can that be the average pay in NC be over 50K when no one can really make much over 50K as a new teacher in his/her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to start)?

Easy. He is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to “lower” them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/comment-page-1/).”

You make reference to bonus pay. Bonus pay is more like merit pay. It had never worked. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.

And that principal pay increase? Then explain why many principals have spoken out against this plan and have specifically stated that they under this initiative would actually see a decrease in salary.

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

With a balanced budget process in place, North Carolina increased education spending substantially this decade. We’ve invested more than a billion additional dollars into public schools, including tens of millions of additional dollars for textbooks and digital resources.

We’re working to streamline those additional tax dollars directly into classrooms and provide budget flexibility for local school systems to help meet their students’ needs.

One billion more dollars. Really? It should have been way more than that. How can you say that we are spending more on education but the per pupil expenditures have gone down and stagnated? Easy. You don’t talk about the fact that North Carolina’s population is growing rapidly. That population increase and the need to educate more students actually means that we as a state should have spent much more than a billion dollars to keep pace with previous expenditures that earlier GOP governors made paramount.

Let me use an analogy I have made in past posts.

“Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your analysis, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per pupil expenditure has gone down, significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf).

  1. Concerning “More Options” for families you claimed,

Through opportunity scholarships and increased education options like charter schools and virtual schools, North Carolina is building dynamic school systems with diverse choices for families who need them most.  

When you can present empirical data and research that shows that charters are outperforming traditional schools while serving students without admission requirements, then I will begin to entertain this assertion more.

Virtual schools? Really? Those two virtual charter schools that are begging for more money to stay open to profit out-of-state entities? Have you not read about their apparent lack of success?

And our voucher system? That has not shown any empirical results that prove they are actually giving kids better choices. As I have mentioned many times in the past, “you can argue that the Opportunity Grants can help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants are targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices” (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

 

  1. Concerning “Lower Class Sizes,” you commented,

Today, the North Carolina legislature is working with local school systems to lower class sizes. Like most parents, we believe reducing student-teacher ratios is essential to education success.

First, I would invite you to step out of your office on West Jones Street and visit the offices of Wake County Schools and say this out loud.

It’s legislation (HB13) that is holding school systems hostage. And you are doing it in such a way that it forces schools to drop certain valuable classes and “specials.” And you are doing it without the extra aid in hiring the needed teachers and the funds to build the extra classrooms to meet the “standard.”.

In fact, HB13 has been one of the most contentious pieces of legislation to come out of Raleigh in the last year. And that is saying something considering what you and your cronies have passed.

 

  1. Concerning the “Innovative School District,” you said,

Another example of North Carolina’s dedication to meaningful reform is the Innovative School District (ISD).

This program seeks to help schools that consistently rank near the bottom of the state in academic performance better serve students who are being denied our state’s promise of a quality education.

And how big is this district right now? What cheers do we see out of Robeson County that are applauding this innovation?

 

  1. And finally under the heading of “Prioritizing Success,” you conclude,

As education leaders, we have a duty to pursue innovative policies like the Read to Achieve literacy program to improve performance and provide a path to success for all students.

Read to Achieve is something that really was established under Dr. Atkinson but is being “owned” by Mark Johnson in an attempt to show he has actually done something in his ten months on the job besides stay silent and spend taxpayer money in court. If the state wasn’t forcing school systems and LEA’s to front more money to help schools, then maybe they could help more with this “Read to Achieve” program such as maybe building more libraries.

The only positive aspect about this op-ed is that it is at least consistent with what other legislators and policy makers in Raleigh have said in shallow ways.

Otherwise, it’s just the same BS you have been forcing into reality with a group that has not only tried to limit people’s voting rights, but gerrymandered the districts to ensure a GOP majority in order to pass legislation that profits a few.

“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.

But we are really never “at” the table.

Julie Kowal’s recent perspective on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina’s new approach to teacher recruitment,” praised the new version of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to be launched this year.

As a veteran public school teacher, when I see BEST NC defending or lauding a piece of reform, I take it with a grain of salt.

Actually, it’s an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle rhetorical glitter throughout this piece, I could not help but think that like so many other “reforms” and “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, this one lacks a crucial and vital component: teacher input.

Kowal is the Vice-President of Policy and Research at BEST NC, a “non-partisan” business consortium for education advocacy. In the few years that it has been in existence, BEST NC has helped to craft policy and “reform” to supposedly strengthen public education in North Carolina which has waned in the past few years according to her and many others.

Kowal explains,

North Carolina has previously led the nation in education innovations, and will do it again, with new and pioneering solutions designed specifically to solve the talent challenges our schools face today (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/08/north-carolinas-new-approach-teacher-recruitment/).

Those “new and pioneering solutions” she is talking about include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When Kowal praises the new version of the Teaching Fellows Program, it is hard not to ask if BEST NC had a hand in its current rendition. Their ties to the business community are apparent, but can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who even this past year crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) currently debated in courts that would enable a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

Kowal stated in her perspective that we as a state did lead the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

The State Superintendent, Robeson County, and the Innovative School District

The special session of the GOP-controlled North Carolina General Assembly that convened last December was nothing but a power-grab for a party that had lost control of the governor’s mansion. One of the most egregious acts was HB17 which transferred significant powers from the State Board of Education to the newly elected state superintendent Mark Johnson.

It was called HB17.

Granted, Johnson was elected with the understanding that his powers and scope of office would be the same as stipulated for previous state superintendents. But what HB17 did was seismic.

Two of the items in the HB17 power grab involved the Achievement School District. As WRAL reported after HB17 was passed:

The power struggle between the State Board and Johnson is still locked up in court, but Johnson has commented that he believes that what HB17 gives him is rightful and just.

Just a few days ago in response to the recent continuance of the stay of power in the court battle, Johnson stated,

“Chairman Cobey and Vice Chair Collins are vigorously defending the status quo for our education system at the expense of students, educators, and taxpayers,” Johnson said. “I am confident I will eventually be able to lead the positive transformation for our schools that the people of North Carolina voted for over 10 months ago” (http://www.wral.com/the-latest-judges-weigh-control-of-north-carolina-schools/16947881/).

Apparently, Johnson welcomes a chance to lead the ASD (now the Innovative School District). That “ISD” has actually chosen its first school in Robeson County. While Johnson himself did not choose the new superintendent, Eric Hall, he did endorse his hiring and he certainly has endorsed the ISD.

robeson

However, the people in Robeson County seem to be against a takeover of their school. Billy Ball’s recent report in NC Policy Watch gives voice to many in Robeson County who are not very welcoming to the idea of a takeover. Some excerpts of Ball’s report include:

Members of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education unanimously approved a joint resolution Monday night opposing Southside-Ashpole’s selection for the state’s Innovative School District (ISD), which could allow charter or education management organizations—including, possibly, for-profit groups—to seize control of operations and staffing in hopes of turning around lagging test scores…

District leaders say they plan to spend more than $50 million on construction after Hurricane Matthew left extensive damage to seven Robeson schools and flooded the district’s central office in 2016.

Wilkins-Chavis said state leaders were not considering the district’s hardships when they chose Southside-Ashpole for the ISD…

Southside-Ashpole earned “F” scores in reading and math and did not meet growth expectations in 2016-2017, according to state data, although, like many of those schools eyed for the takeover district, it’s located in a high-poverty community.

Roughly 30 percent of the county’s population is considered impoverished, according to Census data. Children from low-income families tend to lag their more affluent peers in academic performance (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/10/17/facing-charter-takeover-robeson-county-leaders-tell-state-stay/).

Johnson has more than implicitly and explicitly indicated that he champions what the ISD stands for and is doing. He also wants to be in charge of its overall function. Johnson has also preached transparency and open communication.

Maybe Mark Johnson should be willing to go down to Lumberton and “convince” them to accept the ISD takeover. If he is going to be the leader of the public schools and lead them in new innovative directions, he should not only have to defend those measures but explain them well to the very people who had no choice in being selected for the ISD.

Maybe Johnson should stand up in front of all of those and explain how an ISD will help their school when other models of the ASD have proven to be absolutely horrific like it is explained here: https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/10/19/in-tennessees-turnaround-district-9-in-10-young-students-fall-short-on-their-first-tnready-exams/.

Maybe Johnson should stand up on front of those people and try to explain to them that in an area that is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, has a high poverty rate, and experiences higher than average transient rates, people should trust bureaucrats in Raleigh who have not been of great help so far with their children’s well-being outside of the classroom.

Then afterwards, Johnson should explain how a state takeover with the potential of a for-profit charter chain to seize control of a local school aligns with his mantra of local control during his campaign.

But it might be worth just witnessing this chance meeting between the man who wants to control the entire public school system without any real checks or balances and be asked a question from a parent which requires the very things that Johnson never offers: specifics and details.

Keep fighting, Robeson.