Actually Mr. Hood, NC Should Re-institute Graduate Degree Pay For Teachers For Many Reasons

The GOP-led NC legislature’s 2013 decision to end graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers entering the teaching profession was not only misguided, but another wave in the assault on public education here in the Old North State.

I confess there exist numerous studies that have shown that advanced degrees do not correlate with higher test scores and/or higher graduation rates. John Hood’s October 2015 op-Ed “Not a matter of degrees” on EdNC.org makes note of these studies. He states:

Since 1990, scholars have published more than 100 studies in academic journals that tested the relationship between teachers having graduate degrees and some measure of educational success, such as test-score gains or increases in graduation rates. In more than 80 percent of the studies, there was no statistically significant relationship. A few of the studies actually found a negative effect. Only 15 percent produced a positive association (https://www.ednc.org/2015/10/26/not-a-matter-of-degrees/).

And again, Mr. Hood brings up the teacher effectiveness versus student achievement in this week’s op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “Subject mastery produced best teaching” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/07/07/subject-mastery-produced-best-teaching/).

Hood recently stated,

In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Surveys, a team of Dutch scholars analyzed the academic research on teacher quality conducted since the 1970s by researchers across the developed world. The authors picked only high-quality studies, excluding those with inadequate statistical controls or other defects. Then they summarized the results.

One of them will be familiar to readers of this column: teachers with graduate degrees are no more effective than teachers without them. This is one of the most replicated findings in modern education research — which makes it all the more outrageous when the North Carolina legislature is attacked for getting rid of teacher bonuses for acquiring graduate degrees.

You can read that study here: www.tierweb.nl/tier/assets/files/UM/Working%20papers/TIER%20WP%2014-28.pdf.

Yet, those words still do not convince this teacher that having advanced degrees is not beneficial for teachers, students, and schools.

And his use of the word “bonus” is rather intentional. Teachers call it a salary increase. That brings up another debate on rewards versus respect – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/10/the-reward-of-having-respect/.

On the sterile surface of an antiseptic world, Hood’s argument holds a lot of weight. But it does make sense to look at the study more closely rather than just gloss over “results.”

On pages 27-28 of the Dutch study referred to by Hood this week there is a table of data labeled Table 12.

In Table 12, the main outcomes of this literature review are shown. In the first three columns, a general tentative conclusion about the results per topic is given for respectively math, reading and other subjects. In the last three columns we show the number of studies which and positive results, negative results or non-significant results for each topic. The general tentative conclusion is based on the number of studies with positive, non-significant and negative findings, combined with the strength of the evidence provided by the respective studies.

table

The first “topic” indicates that 5 studies show a positive correlation between student achievement and education level, 15 that show no correlation, and 5 that show a negative correlation. Go down the list and you see how each “topic” rates according to the meta-analysis of the Dutch researchers.

Interesting that experience is fairly one-sided in this table. Mr. Hood has made several references to studies that talk about how teacher effectiveness plateaus after a shirt number of years. It fits the narrative of the current NCGA GOP majority and reflected in their altered pay scales. But in this study that he praises, he doesn’t really explain that.

He’s too focused on the graduate degree pay bump argument.

Further in the study under the “Discussion and Conclusion” section, it states,

Although the research on teacher quality has contributed to our knowledge of which teacher characteristics improve learning outcomes of their students, there remains a gap between the estimated teacher effects on student outcomes and the extent in which underlying observable teacher characteristics can account for these effects. Apparently easily measurable characteristics like education, credentials and experience can explain only a small part in the variation of teacher quality and the resulting effects on student test scores (28-29).

The words “CAN EXPLAIN ONLY A SMALL PART IN THE VARIATION OF TEACHER QUALITY AND THE RESULTING EFFECTS ON STUDENT TEST SCORES” really resonate.

Research, especially the kind that is conducted in most controlled variable studies, tries to isolate “measurables” and compartmentalize them.

As a teacher, I can assure you that they (all of the topics in Table 12 above) are all so intertwined that it is too hard to even conceive of measuring one without having to consider the others. They are not mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, the terrain that teachers in North Carolina have to travel everyday constantly changes with all of the flux in policy coming from Raleigh. In fact, West Jones Street might be the most uncontrollable variable in the entire equation of public education in North Carolina.

Look at the years for all of the studies in the Dutch paper. They are all over the place.

Since 1990, we as a nation have transitioned from Clinton to Bush to Obama; we have survived No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. As a state, we have gone from the Standard Course of Study all the way to Common Core (and its amorphous successor?). And we have used several versions of EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s.

The point is that we have employed so many different barometers of learning utilizing various units of measurements that to actually compare current data on student achievement to historical data becomes almost futile. Even the SAT has changed multiple times since I took it in high school.

However, there is one constant in our classrooms that has provided the glue and mortar for public schools since 1990 and well before that: experienced teachers. Again, refer back to Table 12.

If the North Carolina General Assembly thinks that abolishing the graduate degree pay increases for teachers was a good policy, then it still needs to convince North Carolinians that our state does not need veteran teachers who are seasoned with experience. Teachers who seek graduate degrees in education (and/or National Certification) are themselves making a commitment to pursue careers in public education. When the state refused to give pay bumps for graduate degrees, then the state just ensured that North Carolina will not have as many veteran, experienced teachers in our schools in the near future. Those teachers will not be able to afford to stay in the profession. Yet, we as a state cannot afford to lose them.

Some teachers do not wish to earn graduate degrees simply because of time constraints and financial barriers. Some do not need graduate degrees to feel validated as master teachers, but the choice to further one’s education to advance in a chosen occupation should always remain and be rewarded. And if a teacher believes that it is beneficial to earn an advanced degree, then it can only help the teacher’s performance. Besides, it is an investment made by teachers who wish to remain in the educational field, especially when teachers here in NC still make salaries that still rate at the bottom part of the national scale. Even former Governor McCrory called the teacher salaries “chicken feed” in an episode of NC Spin during his last campaign.

In a report published in Education Week in March, 2015 entitled “New Studies Find That, for Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter”, Stephen Sawchuck recounted findings by Brown University scholars saying:

The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions, coming up in debate after debate about pay, professional development, and teacher seniority, among other topics.

 

But findings from a handful of recently released studies are raising questions about that proposition. In fact, they suggest the average teacher’s ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career—and likely longer.

 

Moreover, teachers’ deepening experience appears to translate into other student benefits as well. One of the new studies, for example, links years on the job to declining rates of student absenteeism.

 

Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up, the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.

 

“For some reason, you hear this all the time, from all sorts of people, Bill Gates on down,” said John P. Papay, an assistant professor of education and economics at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. He is the co-author of one of two new studies on the topic. “But teacher quality is not something that’s fixed. It does develop, and if you’re making a decision about a teacher’s career, you should be looking at that dynamic.”

This reiterates that we need experienced, veteran teachers  – many of whom believe that advanced degrees or even national certification are ways to improve their performance in the classrooms. That is not to say that all teachers who have advanced degrees are better than those who do not. I work with many teachers in my school who have earned just a bachelor’s degree and are master teachers who possess traits I wish to emulate.

What many who work on West Jones Street in Raleigh do not mention is that while beginning teachers have seen a bigger increase in pay, those with more experience have not been as respected since the abolishment of graduate pay. In fact, the salary schedule for public school teachers ensures that a teacher who enters the profession today will never make over fifty –two thousand dollars ever in a year throughout his/her career. That is one major reason we are seeing fewer and fewer teaching candidates in undergraduate education schools here in North Carolina.

Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. Furthermore, the amount of money it would take to repay the cost of a master’s degree would still take a teacher many years to make on a teacher’s salary, and in most cases that tuition is being paid to public colleges and universities. In essence, many teachers are reinvesting in the very public education system that they serve.

Ironically, not many of those who agree with eliminating graduate degree pay increases argue against that veracity of National Board Certification, which also leads to a pay increase. North Carolina still leads the nation in NBCT’s (National Board Certified Teachers). National certification is defined by a portfolio process which many schools of education emulate in their graduate programs. Additionally, national certification is recognized across the country and its process of validating teacher credentials has rarely been questioned.

But what really seems to be the most incongruous aspect of the argument against graduate degree pay increases is that it totally contradicts the message we send to students in a college and career ready curriculum. If we want students to be life-long learners and contribute to our communities, then where else to better witness that than with our teachers who want to get better at what they do. When students witness a teacher actually going to school (or knowing he/she went back to school), then the impact can be incredible because it means that teachers still “walk the walk” when it comes to furthering an education.

Besides, most all students know that public school teachers do not get into the profession to get rich.

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

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

At least they are consistent.

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

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

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

Just like this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Dr. Stoops turns around and contradicts himself.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation – 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.

When a Tourniquet Is Put On The State’s Core Services, It Leads To Amputation and Privatization

Think of a tourniquet, a device that constricts blood flow to a limb or extremity. Only in times of medical emergency should a tourniquet be used. Maybe for a poisonous snakebite or a bloody wound. Sometimes one is used to allow for blood to be taken for testing and health purposes.

But one does not place a tourniquet on an arm or leg for kicks and giggles. There are consequences because blood is the very life force that carries oxygen and nutrients to the very parts of the body that need them. Cutting off blood flow has deleterious effects. Bones weaken and muscles atrophy.

That’s not good for a growing body.

Now think of a metaphorical tourniquet, one in which a constricting element is placed on a part of society that cuts off resources and funding for those who are most invested.

GOP leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly are pushing for a proposal to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would cap the income tax rate a 5.5% (currently it is 10%).

That proposal is a political tourniquet, pure and simple. And just as limited blood flow would cause harm to the skeletal system in a body, this measure would cause our state’s infrastructure to slowly disintegrate.

Chris Fitzsimon puts it very bluntly in his latest “The Follies” from June 17, 2016 (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/06/17/the-follies-253/).  He states,

“As the N.C Budget & Tax Center points out, that cap would cut off a vital source of revenue that the state needs and make it virtually impossible for future lawmakers to use the income tax to increase state investments, even in times of emergencies.

It also locks in place the massive tax cuts for the wealthy passed in 2013 that will cost more than $2 billion a year when fully in effect, more than the entire budget of the community college system and early childhood programs combined.

The new lower tax cap could threaten the state’s coveted AAA bond rating and force increases in the state sales tax and could lead local governments to raise property taxes and fees.  It’s a terrible idea that threatens funding for public schools, health care, and environmental protections and makes decisions for future members of the General Assembly that will be elected by the voters just like the current members were.”

That’s scary to think about. The very fabric, the very sinews of society like schools, healthcare, and environmental protections would be instantly jeopardized and it would take years to recover as part of the GOP’s plan is to change the constitution of the state.

Remember that all three of those areas (schools, healthcare, and environment) have already been hazardously affected in the last three years here in North Carolina.

Per pupil expenditures are lower, charter school growth is uncontrolled, and teacher pay is still low despite what the current administration wants to boast.

Medicaid expansion was denied and we as a state are still paying into a system that benefits other states but not ours because of political ideology and a dislike for the current president.

The fracking industry is being given an open door and permission to do whatever it wants. Duke Energy’s coal ash spills have still gone relatively unpunished.

Those three areas alone form a large part of our state’s infrastructure, or rather the skeleton of the state’s body. When these areas are harmed, then the need to help them heal is paramount. When bones and muscles have been damaged in a body, then one does not place a tourniquet on the wounded limb. You make sure that blood is flowing amply into the affected area.

It promotes healing. It promotes health.

That is unless those who want to place the tourniquet on those parts of society want to create a situation where amputation is the only option in the end. And while we could not literally amputate the public school system or the environment, we can do the political equivalent – privatize them. It would allow a few select people to profit over the very institutions that our state is supposed to provide.

Think about the effects on K-12 public education, community colleges, the public university system, public assistance programs, health care, correctional facilities, transportation, economic development, parks and recreation, environmental projects, state police forces, and aid to local governments.

You place a tourniquet on those items and you stagnate the growth of a state whose population is growing. And when the bone structure cannot handle the weight of a growing body, then… well you can imagine.

Proponents of the amendment to cap income taxes will tout that it means more money for people to spend on their own. It would allow for people to have more choices within their power. But unless you can send your students to private schools, have your own libraries and media outlets, pay for all out of pocket medical expenditures, hire your own security team, have your own environmental control, or set up your own recreational facilities, then you may be out of luck.

Even John Hood of the John Locke Foundation, a self-professed “conservatarian,” expounds on the role of the state in keeping a strong infrastructure. He says in his op-ed “How to read this column” printed in the June 19th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/john-hood-how-to-read-this-column/article_1b7789ac-1fcf-5389-a6be-eca653d233bc.html) ,

“So I believe government should (and always will) exist to protect individual rights and to finance certain core services that, because of collective-action problems, will not be adequately provided through purely voluntary means. At the state and local level, those services include public safety and health, education and some infrastructure.”

And to place a cap on state income tax as being proposed would hurt the ability for the state to finance those “core services”.

Ironic that people who are pushing for this cap like Sen. Tom Apodaca, Sen. Jerry Tillman, Sen. Bob Rucho, and Sen. Bill Rabon are public officials elected by the public who seem more interested in placing a tourniquet on the very services that they are sworn to protect and provide the public.

Actually, it isn’t ironic, but rather consistent and predictable.

Just look at what has happened in the last three years here in North Carolina.

Open Letter to John Hood – UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation, Part 3

Dear Mr. Hood,

Your op-ed in The Carolina Journal (later reposted on EdNC.org.) entitled “How to Pay Teachers More” is another example of the deliberate disconnect from the reality of the teaching profession that many in Raleigh seem to not only revel in, but share as gospel.

And this column is just another attempt to broadly describe the condition of state education reform in North Carolina with glossy rhetoric as a way to present the current administration as champions of public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You are printed widely and read by many in the Old North State. As the former president (and current chariman)of the John Locke Foundation and the current president of the John William Pope Foundation, you have enjoyed the financial backing of one of the most powerful people in the state, Art Pope. No doubt that financial backing comes with its share of ideological mentoring, meaning that whatever is printed by the John Locke Foundation or the Carolina Journal (part of the Pope Foundation) by you has a certain slant to it pleasing to the people who fund its creation.

This op-ed makes many claims, provides little details to lend evidence and never really explains how your claims are verifiable.

Consider the following:

  1. You state, “Well, North Carolina is projected to run a substantial budget surplus this year. That, in turn, reflects the benefits of a growing economy, overall spending restraint during the past five years, and lower-than-expected growth in enrollments in other programs and institutions.”

Interestingly enough, that budget surplus was created by a tax revenue overhaul crafted by none other than Art Pope, who not only serves your mentor and boss, but also served as Gov. McCrory’s first budget director. You may claim that we have had lower tax rates than we did before McCrory took office, but there’s more to it.

While tax cuts did come for many, standard deductions were greatly affected. Many of the standard deductions and exemptions that were once available to citizens like teachers no longer exist. In fact, most people who make the salaries commensurate of teachers ended up paying out more of their money to the state, even when “taxes” went down. Why? Because we could not declare tax breaks any longer. Who designed that? The budget director.

Furthermore, there is now a rise in sales tax revenue because many services like auto repairs are now taxed. So to say that the surplus just appeared because of spending limitations is a little bit of a spun claim. In fact, most of those spending limitations in public schools came when we saw increased enrollment and costs of resources rise.

  1. You make another faulty claim when you say, “They’ve (Raleigh) junked forms of compensation that didn’t produce better instruction, such as the foolish practice of paying teachers to get largely irrelevant graduate degrees, while focusing legislative attention on starting salaries and pay raises for teachers in their early careers, which is when most improvement in teacher effectiveness occurs.”

You have made this claim before in an op-ed called “Not a matter of degrees” that was posted on EdNC.org last fall. I also made a rebuttal to this op-ed entitled “Why teachers believe advanced degrees matter”. Anyone can read the two and make his/her own decision.

But the assertion that teacher effectiveness mostly occurs in the early part of the career is misleading. With as many curriculum changes, standardized test changes, and teacher evaluation models that have evolved, and the growth of duties, class sizes and more classes to teach, it would be foolish to say that rising teacher effectiveness is only relegated to the first few years.

One, it is a way of foolishly validating why raises were given only to new teachers during this administration. Two, most new teachers look to veteran teachers for mentoring and growth. Three, most people cannot decide how to really measure teacher effectiveness because of so many changing parameters.

Furthermore, if veteran teachers have stopped improving, then how would you explain graduation rates increasing? (Actually, that is a whole other subject worth discussing).

  1. You further claim, “Still, policymakers seem inclined to continue reforming the way teachers are compensated, including differentiation by demonstrable need and pilot programs for performance pay. Given the petty politics and irresponsible rhetoric employed by their left-wing critics, this qualifies as courageous leadership deserving of conservative support.”

This is called “merit pay”. There is not one example of a merit pay model that has been successful in my memory. If you could offer any examples, your op-ed would have been a great place to list them.

Rep. Skip Stam has championed this idea. I wrote him an open letter this year explaining that his idea of merit pay and differentiated pay was faulty (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/02/03/a-public-school-teachers-open-letter-to-state-rep-paul-stam/). Some of the points I made included:

  • “The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money.”
  • “The GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores.”
  • “Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. It was never financed.”

If there is no explanation of what this merit plan would look like, then it is nothing but a baseless claim.

  1. You then bring in the latest NEA report and claim, “As the latest NEA report makes clear, North Carolina has raised teacher pay more than any other state in the nation since McCrory took office in 2013. The state still ranks relatively low in average salaries expressed in nominal dollars, but the NEA itself cautions readers of its teacher-salary report not to treat such a ranking as meaningful… For example, variations in the cost of living may go a long way toward explaining (and, in practice, offsetting) differences in salary levels from one area of the country to another.”

You are correct. Cost of living does vary greatly among the states. In fact, it varies greatly among counties in North Carolina. The Triangle versus the Triad versus Asheville, or Wilmington, or even the Outer Banks could show dramatic differences in terms of cost of living just within our boundaries.

However, when quoting Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and his “preliminary analysis” is asking a biased individual to affirm a claim. You and Dr. Stoops practically work for the same organization. It’s like a pharmaceutical company funding its own study to show that the latest drug it is marketing works better than the competition’s. It’s simply loaded. A “preliminary analysis” from a non-biased third party would be more believable.

Also the NEA report that you refer to is a 130 page .pdf. It also includes many nuggets of info that do not show such “growth” in NC’s educational condition. One really sticks out when talking about teacher salaries. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.

Furthermore, those “raises in teacher pay” included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.

  1. You claim, “In fast-growing states such as North Carolina where schools must hire new teachers every year just to keep up with enrollment, the teacher population tends to be disproportionately young. Ranking salaries by years of experience would bring North Carolina even closer to the national median.”

If that is not a rousing endorsement of keeping veteran teachers who have been through population shifts and constant flux to help new teachers, then I do not know what is.

Furthermore, if we have a rising population, then we as a state better be doing more to cater to the very teacher preparation programs that have served our schools in the past. Mr. Hood’s assertion that veteran teachers are somewhat stagnant in effectiveness and that graduate degrees do not matter is possibly alluding to a tendency to contract alternate teacher training programs like Teach For America. Just ask other metropolitan areas how that has worked for them. San Francisco just terminated their contract with TFA this past week.

  1. Finally you state, “Instead of chasing headlines or poorly measured statistical goals, McCrory and legislative leaders are boosting and reforming teacher compensation in order to attract and retain high-performing educators to some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.”

Concentrate on the phrase “some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.” That describes teaching in public schools fairly well. But has it always been that essential and challenging? Yes, it has.

Mr. Hood, why are you so clearly endorsing policies that will not adequately pay for teachers to do this essential and challenging service? Maybe because when you see the word investment, you look for a monetary return that profits you. When you see the word investment, it is always a cash transaction?

McCrory’s claim to want to raise teacher pay looks more like pure electioneering. It is synonymous to a deadbeat dad who shows up at Christmas with extravagant gifts so that he can buy the love (or votes) of his children.

Public education is an investment in people in all years, not just every four years.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.