School Districts Don’t Need to Manage Money “Better” – Lawmakers Need to Better Fund Schools

Today Lindsay Wagner posted an incredible piece concerning the class size mandate that Raleigh has placed on K-3 classrooms and the effects on local school systems.

In “Without action, class size mandate threatens Pre-K in some school districts” on the Public School Forum of North Carolina website, Wagner focuses on Warren County’s situation.

Without the necessary time and money to build more elementary school classrooms to satisfy the General Assembly’s requirement to lower class sizes next year in kindergarten through third grades, Warren County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Ray Spain says he’s looking at eliminating most or all of his Pre-Kindergarten classes district wide.

“It’s going to be disastrous.”

Spain says he’s forced to consider this scenario because there’s simply not enough space in Warren County’s elementary schools to give the older children more teachers and smaller classes while also giving low-income 4-year-olds an early learning environment that, a large body of research says, is critical for their success in kindergarten and beyond (https://www.ncforum.org/without-action-class-size-mandate-threatens-pre-k-in-some-school-districts/). 

Wagner makes sure to note that Warren County is a poor rural district and those districts desperately need strong pre-K programs to help combat the effects of poverty on school aged children.

prek

And now that very vital resource is about to go because of political grandstanding.

When Wake County is scrambling to even meet the mandate for class size, imagine what smaller, rural schools districts are having to do?

Apparently drastic measures such as what Warren County and other systems have to consider.

Remember what Chad Barefoot once said when the HB13 fiasco was starting. He said,

“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money? …The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request. What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (http://www.wral.com/law-reducing-class-size-has-music-art-pe-teachers-anxious-about-future-/16628678/).

That’s all he has said. There was no proof of the data. No explanation of what he had seen. No transparency. If he is to make the claim, then he needs to show us where those “misallocations” really are.

But there are none to be seen. Yet district leaders like Warren County’s Dr. Spain show that the misallocation is actually on the state’s part, not the local districts.

As Wagner relates when talking about Camden County’s forced obstacles,

Camden County in northeastern North Carolina is also looking to displace about four Pre-K classes from their elementary schools, said Camden County Board of Education Chair Christian Overton….

…Overton said there is a larger issue at play when it comes to laws that the General Assembly enacts without accompanying them with the resources necessary for their implementation.

“We’re given these mandates to comply with the law, but not getting any funds to help increase the number of classrooms or teachers. So what’s the next step? If we don’t have more funds to pay teachers, do you RIF [lay off] other personnel to hire them?” said Overton.

Overton took issue with the argument from some lawmakers in the General Assembly who say that districts simply need to do a better job managing the funds they have been allocated by the state.

“Our budgets have steadily decreased over the past several years,” said Overton. “Speaking for our own district, we have been very frugal and forthcoming in the spending of our funds to produce positive outcomes for our children—and the performance of our schools show that.”

“At what point does one more unfunded mandate added on start to have negative impacts on our ability to improve a child’s education?” Overton said.

Ironically, Mark Johnson has made comment that Pre-K services are a vital part of his agenda. He even intends to hire an assistant superintendent for early education. From an April 5th article on WRAL.com,

…the new assistant superintendent would “really focus on best practices for early childhood education,” Johnson said, and allow the state to “study it, find out what works best and present those back and really start to tackle early childhood” (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-announces-revamped-reading-program-new-early-learning-position/16623169/).

So, what does Mark Johnson have to say about what is happening to places like Warren County and Camden County?

Is he willing to go and fight for these school systems to be adequately funded to meet the almost impossible mandates with the current allotment?

Is he even willing to address the issue?

Because whether he wants to believe it or not – it’s his job.

Kids are depending on it.

Survey Monkeys and Publicly Funded Private School Basketball Teams – Mark Johnson’s Search for Wasteful Spending

Today a report from WRAL highlighted Mark Johnson’s declaration that he had found wasteful spending within the Department of Public Instruction.

In “NC superintendent slams ‘disturbing’ spending at state education agency,” Kelly Hinchcliffe begins,

State Superintendent Mark Johnson listened last week as State Board of Education members bemoaned the millions of dollars in recent budget cuts to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The cuts have harmed staff and students, one board member explained, and he urged Johnson to join them in reaching out to state lawmakers to say “enough is enough.”

But Johnson declined. Instead, he said in his 11 months as superintendent he has found excessive spending at the state education agency and said he hopes an upcoming $1 million audit he has commissioned will root out any other potential waste at the agency” (https://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-slams-disturbing-spending-at-state-education-agency/17089497/?version=amp).

Johnson has been asked by the State Board of Education to address the budget cuts to DPI before, particular Greg Alcorn, who asked in October’s meeting for Johnson to address the “elephant in the room.”

That led to some rather pregnant pauses bookended with intentional silence.

This month’s meeting had yet another one of those “standoffs.”

“I brought up these cuts and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to avoid this?’ And this education leader said if the state board and the state superintendent came together to the General Assembly and said, ‘Enough is enough. We can’t serve our students and absorb another cut,’ that would have great weight in the General Assembly,” Davis said. “So I would suggest we take this education leader up on his advice.”

“I would love to talk to that education leader as well,” Johnson responded. “There are many, many different education leaders in the General Assembly that have vastly different opinions. I know that because I’ve been working very closely with all of them. And so, yes, that is a conversation we can have. I’d like to talk to who you talked to.”

Davis tried again.

“Sure. I think this particular advice was keen on that we are together in that request, that we are unified in advocating for the department, that the department can’t absorb any more cuts. It’s important for us to publicly say that,” Davis said.

“I look forward to discussing that with the education leader you discussed it with,” Johnson responded.

“So are we in agreement on avoiding future cuts?” Davis asked.

The superintendent stared straight ahead, not acknowledging Davis’ question, as others in the room laughed nervously at the awkward silence.

Awkward silence.

Johnson did come into the meeting with an example of “wasteful spending” in the form of a few thousand in Survey Monkey plans. That is all good and well, but for a superintendent who is choosing to use surveys as a means of “communicating” with teachers it would help to clarify how those surveys are to be delivered.

In a September 21, 2017 email to all teachers, Mark Johnson’s office sent out its initial survey for teachers in the state.

surveymonkey

It is administered through Survey Monkey. Irony noted.

When pressed for more items of wasteful spending Johnson’s office provided the following (per Hinchcliffe’s report):

  • Extensive conference-related costs, such as:
  • Paying excess rates for conference speakers
  • Large sums for meals and room rentals
  • $25,000 to sponsor World View Symposium held by UNC
  • $2,500 to sponsor one episode of a single-market television program.
  • Overhead charges paid to hire personnel through intergovernmental contracts rather than directly hiring personnel, which would cost DPI less.
  • Reversion of over $15 million in Excellent Public Schools Act funds that could have been used to support early childhood literacy.

And while that might sound good and well, there have been some glaringly wasteful uses of taxpayer money that Johnson has spearheaded that maybe he should also consider in this recent financial purge.

One is this item to finance legal bills for Johnson as he is being sued by his own state board for a power grab.

300

One is the money given to him to hire people when there already existed more knowledgeable education professionals who already fulfilled those roles.

432

And finally, there is the very wasteful spending in the financing of private school basketball teams with public money. Read this gem of a piece of investigative journalism by Lindsay Wagner at the Public School Forum of North Carolina called “Out of Bounds: Embezzlement and Basketball at North Carolina’s Biggest Voucher School” (https://www.ncforum.org/out-of-bounds-embezzlement-and-basketball-at-north-carolinas-biggest-voucher-school/).

Wagner highlights the story of Trinity Christian in Fayetteville who is the top recipient of voucher money in the state but has had a shady past in financial records. In fact,

“Trinity Christian isn’t the only high profile private school basketball program to receive public dollars by way of the state’s school voucher program.

In the Fayetteville Observer story about the rise of Fayetteville’s private school basketball powerhouses, four of the five private schools mentioned have received significant amounts of public funds through vouchers since the program’s inception in 2014.

Fayetteville Christian School follows Trinity Christian with the second highest total public dollars received—$1.15 million over the past three and a half years.

Altogether, the four Fayetteville private schools that house elite basketball programs—Trinity Christian, Freedom Christian, Fayetteville Christian and Northwood Temple—have taken in nearly $4 million in school vouchers since 2014.

As the state’s school voucher program continues to expand rapidly—it is slated to grow from an initial $10 million annual appropriation to $145 million annually by 2026, spending roughly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars over ten years—it is notable that five out of the top ten private school voucher recipients are big players in statewide private school basketball programs.”

What would Johnson say to this? Probably not much because it goes against his narrative.

Besides he is about to hire an associate state superintendent focused on early childhood.

On top of the 23-persson staff already in place in the Office of Early Learning.

Not wasteful at all.

Our Schools Are Not Failing; Our Policy Makers Are – On Raleigh’s New Way of Measuring Schools

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to stop a string of court decisions that have declared your unconstitutional acts “unconstitutional,” then you change the judicial system in your favor. Or at least try.

When you are the North Carolina General Assembly and you want to remain in power on West Jones Street even when a majority of the political landscape does not favor your policies, then you create gerrymandered districts and discriminatory Voter ID laws.

And when you are the North Carolina General Assembly that is trying to privatize the public school system, you undertake a series of actions that weaken public schools such as school performance grades aligned with achievement, intentionally not fully fund schools, create class size caps with no funding of new classrooms, and throw millions of dollars into vouchers.

You try and disenchant the teaching profession by removing due-process rights and graduate degree pay from new teachers to a point where state education programs have experienced a significant drop in candidates.

And yet public schools are still doing the job.

So what do you do now? You change the rules. You change the criteria of measurements.

You simply change the playing field – all to create the illusion that public schools are failing.

For the last three years, schools in our state have been measured with school performance grades, a system adopted from Florida developed by the Jeb Bush administration with the intent on creating a false situation that public schools are failing.

Much of a school’s performance grade is determined by a school’s “achievement score:” a series of indicators put into an algorithmic formula to calculate a score that is then put into another formula to then determine a school performance grade.

For high schools the following was used to define a school’s achievement score this past year:

High schools will use the following indicators to calculate the achievement score:

  • End-of-Course Math I
  • End-of-Course English II
  • End-of-Course Biology
  • The ACT (percent of students who score 17 or above – UNC System’s minimum composite score requirement)
  • ACT WorkKeys (percent of students who achieve a Silver Certificate or better)
  • Math Course Rigor (percent of students who successfully complete Math III)
  • 4-year Graduation Rate (percent of students who graduate in four years)

Again, when calculating the achievement score for each indicator, the percent of students who meet the standard is divided by the total number of students for that indicator. To get the total School Achievement Score, the total number of scores or benchmarks meeting the standard for all indicators is added and then divided by the total number of scores or benchmarks for all indicators (from 2014 READY ACCOUNTABILITY BACKGROUND BRIEF SUPPLEMENT: North Carolina School Performance Grades – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/reporting/spgbckgrndpack15.pdf).

Of course, it does not consider the socio-economics that students live in, but the scores certainly reflect it.

school grades

So, to guarantee that this school year’s scores will not be as good as last year’s, the North Carolina General Assembly is changing the rules, or rather the indicators. Since science departments have been doing so well with preparing students for the Biology EOC, that indicator will no longer be used.

That’s right. A state that is pushing STEM education to a point that “specials” are being threatened, the Biology EOC is not considered a “good” indication of school achievement.

Why drop Biology from the indicator list? Because that’s the one we as a state do best on. Simply check out the NC School Report Card Site. Look at your own district and it will be compared to the state averages. My school system from 2015-2016 is below.

EOC

To be proficient, a student must reach Level 3 at a minimum. Look at the state figures.

Those who scored 3,4,5 in Reading (English) was %67.2.

For Math – 54.7

For Biology – 72.7. That’s the highest one.

They are taking out the highest score and then using the rest.

Try telling a student that you will not be using the highest test grade in teh final average. Well, that’s what the state is doing.

It’s almost as if the NCGA saw that schools were doing too well and being too successful that it necessitated some sort of action to counteract that “growth” to help substantiate the need for all of the unregulated reforms.

With the removal of the BIOLOGY EOC indicator, school achievement scores will go down; therefore, school report cards will go down as well as school performance grades.

Add to that, the increased reliance on ACT scores. As relayed in an earlier post:

But now in the coming year, the ACT is about to become the most “important test” that will be given in all of North Carolina high schools. That is thanks to CCRGAP, or the Career and College Ready Graduate Alignment Partnership.

It cannot be helped that taking out a “C” and the “G” from the acronym gives us “CRAP” was not noticed.

According to Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241 (and a presentation found created by the NC Community Colleges),

What this is saying is that if any high school junior does not make a certain score on the ACT (or its particular subject areas), then they must go through remediation during their senior year using a curriculum chosen/designed by a local community college but delivered by the high school teachers within already prescribed core courses.

In short, teachers would have to take time in their already crowded and time-constrained classes to deliver more curriculum.  No extra time will be given. Curriculum standards for the actual classes still have to be met. Why? Because there will be a test for them.

Debate over what scores will be the threshold for whether a student must be remediated maybe just starting. What was reported to this teacher in a professional development workshop was the following:

GPA of 2.6 -or- 18 on English and 22 on Reading (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/10/01/we-should-not-allow-the-act-to-have-this-much-power-over-our-schools/).

However, that last sentence needs to be changed, because what was communicated recently was that it was not an “OR” situation, but an “AND” situation. To repeat, students would have to make a certain threshold score on the ACT portions of the test AND have a certain GPA. As of this post, it was a 2.7.

Let’s add to that. School report cards will now not only have one grade. It will have a multitude of them: a grade for each student population break down. It would take a textbook to show how that alone would allow the NCGA and DPI to use cursory grades to confuse the public about the effectiveness of a school. Imagine if there are 10 students identified within a certain “subset.” One student did not show up for the test and two students do not meet proficiency even though the students are identified by an IEP which highlights particular learning disabilities that are exacerbated by standardized tests. Seven out of ten of those students passed, but the report card for the school may reflect a letter grade lower than a “B” for that “subset.”

The state seems unwilling to explain why the sudden change in how schools are now measured, so the state probably will not go out of its way to explain fully what each subset report card score actually communicates.

Actually, the state is being willingly unwilling to explain.

Is it not also interesting that the new principal pay system is now linked to school performance? These new parameters to ensure lower school achievement scores will translate into lower school performance scores, hence a more “controlled” way of paying principals. If BESTNC, who brokered this new flawed principal pay system, did not know about this change in how schools are to be graded, then every school in North Carolina will be receiving a “B” or higher.

But we know better.

In a day when our General Assembly wants to use performance incentives and merit-based pay scales, it is rather obvious that they will also redefine what performance is and what merits actually receive the most “reward.”

So, what has our State School Superintendent said about all of this?

Nothing.

At least his “performance score” will not get any lower.

But teachers will continue to do the very job of educating students DESPITE what lawmakers do. They understand that the constant change in measuring public schools does not reflect that schools are failing.

It reflects that lawmakers are failing.

The State Superintendent Needs Someone to Speak For Him – Someone Who Speaks With Details Is Preferred

State Superintendent Mark Johnson has begun to use the $700,000 of tax payer money given to him by the NC General Assembly to begin hiring people who can help carry out his nebulous, amorphous, and ambiguous agenda that has been long in the making but short in the doing.

That $700,000 dollars is specifically for Johnson to fill positions that report only to him as he seems to have a hard time collaborating with others on the state board to make sure schools have what they need.

As WRAL reported late last week,

North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has begun hiring new staff for his office, using $700,000 in taxpayer money given to him by the General Assembly this year.

Johnson can create up to 10 full-time positions and hire staff without approval of the State Board of Education, a key provision lawmakers granted him as he battles the state board in court over control of the public school system.

He recently received budget approval from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to create three positions, and more are expected later. According to OSBM, the three positions and budgeted amounts approved for the salaries (excluding benefits) are:

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly which slashed the Department of Public Instruction’s budget by over 20% in the latest two-year budget.

Remember that that $700,000 is a special budgetary gift from the same NC General Assembly that financed Johnson’s lawsuit against the State Board of Education which has called into question Johnson’s need to be enabled just to produce results in his job.

And that second job listed above? The Information and Communication Specialist who will make more than almost every teacher with the highest credentials and most advanced degrees and certification who has been working in schools for longer than Johnson has been alive? That job is for a spokesperson.

That’s right. Johnson is hiring someone to speak for him. Just him.

Do not let it be lost on anyone that the Department of Public Instruction, which Johnson “leads,” already has a communication specialist. The problem is that that spokesperson would speak for the entirety of DPI, not just Johnson alone. As WRAL relates,

Johnson also plans to hire a communications specialist who will work directly for him. DPI recently hired a new communications director, Drew Elliot, but he serves both the superintendent and state board. In a phone interview Thursday, Elliot said the superintendent wants his own communications specialist because he has a “renewed focus on communication.”

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating things like details and direct answers.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating directly with all school systems throughout the entire year unlike over the summer when Johnson ordered a vital list serve portal to be shut down.

Hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve actually communicating direct answers instead of giving ambiguous responses like he did in the last state school board meeting when he was asked about his views on the cuts to DPI and the new principal pay plan.

And hopefully that “renewed focus on communication” will involve finding someone who has more experience in being a spokesperson than Johnson has in being an educator and instructional leader.

That shouldn’t be too hard. There’s probably another person from McCrory’s administration ready to take on the task.

Or maybe Sean Spicer or even Anthony Scaramucci?

scaramucci

 

 

 

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.

When the State Superintendent Starts Following Your Twitter Account

This week I received confirmation that Mark Johnson, the state school superintendent, is now following my personal twitter feed through his office’s official twitter account.

Even have the proof.

twitter

And I absolutely welcome it.

There are around 100,000 teachers in this state. Mark Johnson’s official twitter account currently follows 442 people (as of this post), mostly political leaders and pundits. There may be between 50-100 educational professionals he may be following. Not all of them are teachers.

That seems to put me in select company, but I imagine it may not be for my glowing reviews of his term. In fact, anyone who has read this blog knows that I have been very critical of his performance or rather lack of performance in an almost ten-month tenure that has produced platitudes, nondescript “reforms,” and refusals to offer details.

This blog has been an act of advocacy for public education here in North Carolina. I teach in a public school. My children attend public school. My son requires additional help because of a developmental delay. Public schools are woven into almost every fabric of my life.

As a veteran teacher I have what many may call “tenure,” but rather it is what should be called due-process rights. It allows me to advocate loudly for students, teachers, and schools against what I consider atrocious actions taken to weaken the state’s public school system, a system that was considered not long ago the most progressive in this part of the country.

Those very powers that are engaging in these “reformation” projects have a propped-up representative in the office of DPI, and that person is Mark Johnson.

So, I hope that he truly follows this twitter account and consider following the actual twitter account of the blog that I write – @ragecaffeinated.

In fact, I hope he tries to follow the twitter account of every teacher willing to allow him to follow him. Simply send his account a request for him to follow you. For someone who wants to infuse as much technology into schools as well as conduct “listening tours,” this would be accomplishing two “goals” with one action.

I also hope that the state superintendent reads the posts that question his lack of action in the face of the very many policies that weaken our schools such as:

  • Budget cuts
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Vouchers
  • HB17’s power grab
  • The Innovative School District
  • SB599
  • Principal Pay Plan

And that’s just a few.

I wish he not only read them, but he responds to them fully explaining why he has taken or not taken action or clarifying his stance and the reasons behind them.

The ten months that Johnson has been in office is equivalent to the length of the yearly contract that teachers have in schools. The state superintendent’s insistence that he has been handcuffed by the state board with this lawsuit over power of the state school system seems to have been his only excuse for inaction.

Within ten months, the average teacher has delivered content, taught skills, nurtured young people, differentiated instruction, planned lessons, developed curriculum, organized preparation, managed conduct, assessed, professionally developed, provided feedback, remediated, tutored, meet with all parents and students who request it, set expectations, been consistent, coached, and mentored among many other things.

All of that is done as lawmakers continue to “redefine” what powers teachers have in classrooms and what teachers are responsible for. Maybe some people could say that teachers still do the job despite being “handcuffed” by bureaucracy.

But even if the superintendent does not respond to anything on the blog, I do hope he checks my twitter feed. The main profile picture is of my son, Malcolm. He happens to have special needs and needs his teacher assistant to help him succeed.

Maybe each time the state superintendent sees Malcolm’s face, he could imagine Malcolm asking him what he is doing to ensure that all elementary grades still have teacher assistants.

Maybe even provide some details.

Mark Johnson and the Word “No” – Following the Money

“I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.” – Betsy DeVos, 1997.

“These are things I have learned from my own experience. If I disagree with the policy, I’m not afraid to say ‘no’ to anyone who gave me money.” –Mark Johnson, 2017.

“Bulls*%$t” – Me, 2017 after I read the previous statement by Mark Johnson.

A recent article in the Raleigh News & Record has shed some more light on the power that money plays in buying influence within the now lucrative business that privatizing public education has become.

In “Here’s how much charter school backers have spent on NC campaigns,” Lynn Bonner, Jane Stancill, and David Raynor wonderfully “follow the money” that has been pouring into the coffers of lawmakers and officials who make decisions on charter school funding.

DeVos’s quote above has become rather famous since her contentious confirmation as secretary of education. And it is rather blunt and honest. But apparently Mark Johnson is in a little denial as he takes a “little offense” at the thought that his influence is being bought.

Why? Because if he was not afraid to say “no” to anyone, then we as a state would have heard many more “no’s” coming from him.

  • When DPI’s budget was cut by the very General Assembly that is extending him unchecked power over the public school system, did Mark Johnson say, “No?”

    No, he did not.

  • When he said that “local leaders know what we need” for their local schools, did Mark Johnson tell the people pushing for charter takeover with an ISD, “No?”

    No, he did not.

  • When a lobbying group like BEST NC and lawmakers covertly produced a new principal pay program that is obviously flawed and punishes veteran school administrators, did Mark Johnson say “No!” to them?

    No, he did not.

  • When promoting saying that he would curb the use of testing in the state, did Mark Johnson change the amount of testing in the state’s ESSA report or the rampant rise of the ACT in measuring student achievement by saying “No!” to lawmakers?

    No, he did not.

  • When the state released its school performance grades, did Mark Johnson challenge the use of the grades because they do nothing but report how poverty has stricken schools by saying “No!” to their use?

    No, he did not.

  • When the DACA was undercut by Trump and Sessions, di Mark Johnson defend NC’s “Dreamers” and say, “No!” to its potential effects?

    No, he did not.

  • Has there ever been a time where Mark Johnson has openly said “No!” to any of the very lawmakers whom he says he might have a disagreement with?

    No, there has not been.

  • Has Mark Johnson ever told the General Assembly “No!” to taking more money out of the budget for public schools to place in a voucher program that has not yielded a positive outcome?

    No, he has not.

  • When the state “fired” several public education officials with a wealth of experience like Martez Hill, did Mark Johnson say “No!” or even ask “Why?”

    No, he did not.

  • Has Mark Johnson ever publicly questioned the actions against teachers and the education profession by Phil Berger or Tim Moore?

    No, he has not.

In fact, in looking at all of the “special interests” represented by the very people who have made the contributions to people like Johnson, Dan Forest, and Jason Saine in promoting NC’s investment into for-profit charter schools, there has not been one time where Mark Johnson has said “No” to whatever they were seeking.

But that doesn’t mean that Mark Johnson has not said “No” to people.

When pressed for details about how he would “innovatively” change NC education, Mark Johnson did not give any. That’s like saying, “No.”

When asked by Greg Alcorn to comment on DPI’s budget cuts in a state board meeting, Mark Johnson deliberately skirted the question. He in so many words said, “No.”

When teacher advocacy groups like NCAE have asked Johnson to come and clarify his positions, he has refused. He said, “No.”

With a record of compliance and non-action that Mark Johnson has displayed in his tenure that has already lasted the equivalent of a school year, his claim that he is not afraid to say “no” to anyone who has given him money is rather weak.

In fact, if anyone asked this educator if he believes what the state superintendent says in his statement in the article in the N&O, I would say, “No.”

And I would say it publicly.

A Failing Charter School, An ISD, and a Rich Privatizer in Oregon – The Ingredients for “Innovation” in NC

Mark Johnson has been preaching “urgency, ownership, and innovation.”

Well, we have an urgent matter that someone needs to own very quickly and show some innovation and we seem to have all of the ingredients for a solution already in place.

Consider:

  1. The new NC Innovative School District “needs” to take over failing schools in order to turn them over to a privately-run charter company (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).
  2. John Bryan, the Oregonian founder of the TeamCFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).
  3. Heritage Collegiate Charter in Bertie County, NC just had its charter revoked for poor performance (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/09/charter-advisory-board-recommends-revocation-heritage-collegiates-charter/).

While some may see a school about to close its doors, an ISD about to take over an unwilling public school, and someone in Oregon continue to spend a lot of money to own schools in NC, “innovative” people see an opportunity being granted (pun intended).

Let the Innovative School District take over the Heritage Collegiate Charter and let John Bryan finance it all.

HCBC

The ISD district will have its school to start with that is obviously failing; a charter school will not have to go under and disappoint the reformists, especially those who are financed by PACS donated to by John Bryan; and, finally, John Bryn will own more schools that are charters in North Carolina.

But what might be most beneficial in this “innovative” is that it will not cost taxpayers money.

Wonder what the State Superintendent of Public Instruction would say about that.

(I)ntruding on (S)chools (D)eliberately – Why There is Nothing Innovative About NC’s ISD Reform

Last week’s State Board of Education meeting saw a potential list of schools to be considered for the new NC Innovation School District whittled down to four.

The ISD Superintendent, Dr. Eric Hall, made his presentation to the SBOE answering questions and doing what he is expected to do: his job. And to all accounts that favor the use of the ISD, he has been doing well.

But no matter how “well” he is doing his job, it still does not cover the grossly intrusive nature and the glaring apparent contradiction that is North Carolina’s version of the “Achievement School District.”

This has been tried before in other states, most recently and most notably in Tennessee. Simply “google” Tennessee’s experiment to quickly find how unsuccessful that initiative was. State leaders who championed the use of the ASD here promised that it would be different in our state because, well, because….

If one looks at the time-line, the care, the money, and the soft kid gloves used to handle the selection of schools, then one can easily see that NC’s version of instituting an ASD really shows how North Carolina’s General Assembly and SBOE have weakened public schools. It almost seems that if any institution needs to be taken over because of its performance, then it would be a certain building on West Jones Street.

Consider the following:

  1. The word “innovative.”

Shakespeare had his famous Juliet say, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Simply changing the name from ASD to ISD does not automatically alter the outcome. It still smells as “sweet” or in this case, pungent.

Handing over community schools to charter control is simply not innovative. It’s privatization. Looking to “for-profit” charter chains to bring “new ideas” when the very constraints that are holding back many of these “low-achieving” schools could be remedied by better treatment from Raleigh to the very populations that feed these schools is not innovative. It’s creating a situation that gives the appearance of a need from outside sources so that someone may profit.

  1. The State Superintendent’s mantra of “local control.”

If the control for power for NC’s public schools goes in favor of the NCGA and Mark Johnson, then Johnson will have control over the ISD. Yet, is it not Johnson who ran a platform that emphasized local control of schools? From an interview with WUNC in May of this year (http://wunc.org/post/qa-nc-superintendent-wants-give-schools-flexibility#stream/0):

“ But there is the distrust between people in Raleigh and out in the local school districts of whether or not that may be happening.”

“This department in Raleigh needs to be a place that is seen as a department that supports schools in the local districts, not tells schools what to do. “

With this particular “innovation,” what Raleigh is actually doing is telling systems what to do. Leaders may be saying that schools have a say in whether they want to be a part of the ISD, but look what happens if schools who are chosen for the ISD refuse to become part of the ISD – close down.

From WRAL on Sept. 18th:

“Once the state board selects a school for inclusion in the ISD, the local board of education that runs the school has two options – agree to relinquish control of the school or close it down” (http://www.wral.com/durham-johnston-schools-ask-to-be-excluded-from-nc-s-new-innovative-school-district/16948299/).

That’s not local control. That’s overreach.

  1. No one wants to be a part of it.

There is no indication that any single school on the list of prospective schools to be taken over by the Innovative School District wants to be a part of it.

Not one.

Again, not one – even after meeting with officials representing the ISD.

  1. Possible one school district?

After last week’s meeting with the State Board, it became apparent that it might be possible that the NC ISD has for the first year only one-school.

That’s a one-school district with one superintendent making $150,000 to run it with the unwavering support of the state superintendent, the state board, and the General Assembly. That school district will get every resource possible to make it work.

Imagine if every school in the state got that kind of support.

  1. Proving that poverty affects schools.

Alex Granados from EdNC.org this past Thursday published a report entitled “List of schools eligible for ISD cut to four.”

In it he articulated the selection process for the ISD school list.

Originally, he said he had a list of 48 schools based on the criteria set out in legislation. First, his team removed all schools that had school improvement grants which might be affected by joining the ISD. 

“We removed those schools because we know that they’re on a path, and they have additional resources, and we don’t want to see anything happen to those resources,” he said. 

That brought the number down to 41. Then his team removed all D schools, leaving them with only the F schools. Then they removed all F schools that met academic growth last year. 

“If they met growth, the hope is that the needle is going to start moving in the right direction,” he said. 

That left him with only F schools that did not meet growth last year. Then his team looked at the two years prior to last year. If the schools had met growth in those two years and also had a D, he said his team gave them the benefit of the doubt. 

Finally, they looked at the schools in the districts where 35 percent or more of the schools qualify as low performing. Those are the districts where all the schools could join the innovation zone if a school was chosen for the ISD. That brought the list down to six schools, two of which were removed at the meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2017/10/05/list-schools-eligible-isd-cut-four/).

If ever there was a correlation to poverty and student achievement, this list shows it because these schools were measured by the Jeb-Bush style grading system that literally shows that most every school which has an “F” school performance grade is one that services a population with high levels of poverty.

Even DPI’s recent report on school report cards grades and poverty yielded the following graph:

poverty table

DPI is run by Mark Johnson who is controlled by the General Assembly and may soon have control over the ISD process. That’s the same General Assembly which brags about a state surplus while lowering per pupil expenditure, expanding vouchers, and refusing to expand Medicaid. Oh, and they cut DPI’s budget drastically without the state superintendent fighting it.

That’s not innovation. It’s proof that the Innovative School District is yet another attempt at weakening the ties between the community and its schools to create a veiled appearance that the state needs to step in and do something that will profit someone else.

Mess With The Bull, You Get The Horns – Defending Durham Schools

“Local leaders know what we need.” – Mark Johnson, Sept. 29th, 2016 in debate with Dr. June Atkinson.

Mess with the bull, you get the horns.” – Skipper from The Penguins of Madagascar

Hit Bull, Win Steak.”  – Sign in the greatest minor league park in the country, the DBAP.

When Mark Johnson said his words, he was trying to get elected to an office that he has proven very ill-fitted for. Despite attempts to qualify himself, Johnson has chosen to be rather more “private” than public in his short, court-dominated tenure as the leader of DPI.

Apparently, claiming to trust local leaders to know best was only a political maneuver because right down the road in Durham are two schools which are on the final list to be taken over by the ISD (Achievement School District). Those schools are slated to be placed in the hands of a charter school chain that is privately held and more than likely an out-of-state entity.

That does not sound like allowing “local leaders” being allowed to do what they need.

Kelly Hinchcliffe reported for WRAL in an article entitled “Durham school board prepared to ‘fight,’ won’t let state ‘take away our schools’,”

Durham Public Schools’ leaders said Thursday they are prepared to “fight” if the state tries to take control of any of their schools and hand them over to charter school operators. But state leaders say they don’t want a fight, they want to partner with the schools and communities.

Two of Durham’s schools – Glenn Elementary and Lakewood Elementary – are on the state’s shortlist of low-performing schools being considered for North Carolina’s new Innovative School District. They are being considered because their performance scores are among the lowest 5 percent in the state (http://www.wral.com/durham-school-board-prepared-to-fight-won-t-let-state-take-away-our-schools-/16981246/).

Reading reports from Durham about their fierce determination to defend keeping their schools in their local control seems to be what exactly Johnson would have praised on the campaign trail. But that was then.

In May (according to another Hinchcliffe article in collaboration with EdNC’s Alex Granados), Johnson actually communicated that one of his priorities was “Achievement School District startup funds” (http://www.wral.com/-fighting-the-status-quo-inside-the-combative-world-of-nc-s-new-public-schools-chief/16918014/).

Durham can change those schools around. And it does need some time. But even Mark Johnson has seemed to change the definition of urgency. Just look at the interview attached to the aforementioned article.

Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bill Cobey, said ,

“There is reason to believe that they’ve had plenty of time to deal with these failing schools. I would hope that, as we go through the process, they would be willing to accept the fact that maybe we need to try to something different (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/09/25/state-board-ed-chair-potential-charter-takeover-schools-plenty-time-make-improvements/#sthash.mnTgti87.DIjG0x4p.dpbs).

What time frame does he mean? Is he referring to the time frame of the last five years with the seismic change in how our General Assembly has treated our public schools, especially the ones affected by high rates of poverty? If Cobey was writing an argumentative paper, he would need to clarify himself more with evidence and analysis.

If you have lived in North Carolina for any amount of time and visited the Triangle region, you might be aware of the absolutely beautiful revitalization of downtown Durham. Go to a Bull’s game. Go to a performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center, or stroll through the American Tobacco Historic District or even Duke Gardens and you will see how a community rejuvenated itself without redefining its roots and core values.

They can do the same for their schools if the powers that be get out of their way and do what they are supposed to do like fully fund schools and help communities.

In Sept. of 2016, Mark Johnson actually said the same thing, but with different words.

And a totally different intent.

There is a group called Defend Durham Schools that is gaining traction and support. They need more. You can read about them here – http://defenddurhamschools.org/. The website says,

The “Innovation” (formerly “Achievement”) School District leadership is claiming that “we had our chance to fix these schools.”  But we know better.

The General Assembly has repeatedly underfunded and sabotaged public schools and based the majority of their agenda on heavily flawed standardized test scores. We need to focus our efforts and money on strengthening public schools, not forcing our neighborhood schools into private hands with no local accountability.

Defend-durham-schools-logo-1-768x768

There are also links to many resources that are worth the read, the study, and the digesting. Please consider visiting the sight and helping in any way. And visit Durham.

If Johnson stands by his comments, he would actually support what Defend Durham Schools is trying to accomplish.

A leader stands by his/her words.