The Total Soulless Educational Eclipse of 2017

On August 21, 2017 parts of western North Carolina will be subject to a total solar eclipse. Other parts of the state will certainly witness the once in a lifetime event. Ironically, most people affected by the eclipse will be in rural areas.

eclispe

On July 25, 2017 all of North Carolina became subject to another darkening of the light – a soulless eclipse of funding for public schools.

And again, the rural areas will see the biggest effects of this shadow cast on communities that send most all of their students to traditional public schools.

But this instance is not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It will be felt for quite a while. What’s even more egregious is that it could totally be prevented.

Yet, the powers that be will hide even more funds from these same areas next year.

As reported in multiple outlets today like WRAL,

The State Board of Education approved $2.5 million in cuts to the state Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday as a result of mandated budget reductions by the General Assembly. Most of the cuts are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. An additional $737,000 in cuts are expected in the coming weeks (http://www.wral.com/state-board-of-education-approves-2-5m-in-budget-cuts-/16840289/).

This comes at a time when our officials in Raleigh are celebrating a state surplus and an expanding “rainy-day” fund.

The cuts made today will especially be felt in the rural areas. Further in the WRAL report referenced earlier,

Board Chairman Bill Cobey declined to say which positions are being cut, citing personnel laws, but said they will be revealed at a later date. He said the majority of the staff cuts will be in the District Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions. The board plans to merge the two divisions into a new one, called District Support.

“Hopefully the districts can pick up any slack that is produced by this reduction,” Cobey said. “We’re further reducing the service to the districts. Hopefully you won’t see any huge impact any place, but there’s going to be marginal impact in certain places across the state. And we’re going to try our best to mitigate that.”

Many of these affected districts are in areas that actually are worried about their local hospitals staying open because many of the same GOP members who mandated the cuts to DPI also refused to expand Medicaid which these rural hospitals rely on so that people can pay medical bills.

That particular eclipse started years ago and it appears that things are getting darker. Ask the folks in Sen. Berger’s hometown of Eden.

Perhaps most egregious is that this soulless educational eclipse comes as the NC General Assembly is shining so much sunshine on both the state superintendent and non-traditional schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

As Billy Ball reported in NC Policy Watch today:

Board members were limited in their choices for handing down the legislative funding cuts. General Assembly members forbade cuts from GOP-backed initiatives such as the teacher prep program Teach for America and the Innovative School District, formerly called the Achievement School District, which could allow for-profit charter operators to take over several low-performing schools in the coming years…

Lawmakers ordered the board to stay away from additional funds allocated to create up to 10 new positions in the department reporting directly to Johnson. The move came with Johnson, the board and the legislature mired in a court battle over the powers of the superintendent’s office (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/25/teacher-development-struggling-schools-chopping-block-state-board-ed-implements-g-mandated-cuts/).

Also worth mentioning is that the General Assembly gave Johnson $300,000 for legal fees in his defense against the State Board’s lawsuit over a transfer of power done by the GOP in a special session to prop up Johnson as a puppet official.

The state board was forbidden to use state funds in its legal actions.

As true to his nature, Johnson was not present at the actual board meeting but was linked through on a conference call.

Ball continues,

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, a Republican elected last November, has been silent on the cuts and he did not speak during the public portion of Tuesday’s conference call session, but Cobey has said his office has been sharing proposals for the cuts with board members.

There is Johnson once again not being available to the public as the leader of the public schools.

However, Johnson did release a statement afterwards, one full of pomp, circumstance, and total ambiguity.

“While these funding cuts will be challenging, I did not run for Superintendent of Public Instruction to shirk away from the challenges of leadership. The General Assembly is clearly frustrated with the lack of accountability of the State Board of Education, and I am too. The culture of a non-accountability created by the State Board is one of the reasons I sought funding for a top-to-bottom, third-party review of DPI. By studying the results from this upcoming operational review and working together with the professional staff at DPI, I believe the department will come out stronger, more efficient, and more effective at supporting public schools in NC. The Board seems to prefer to complain and instead focuses only on more of the same. I embrace the positive changes that can result from addressing this substantive challenge head-on. We can and will be a better DPI at the end of this process.”

Listening to Mark Johnson through an impersonal statement is becoming the norm, not the exception. His availability to the people of North Carolina and the educators who work with most of our students has been more sparse than the funds that DPI can now use to staff vital positions in the School Transformation and Educator Effectiveness divisions.

It is rather funny to hear Johnson talk of not “shirking away from the challenges of leadership.” He hasn’t avoided being a leader per-se. It’s more like run the other way. And his comments about accountability are humorous as well. Why? He has not done anything that would make him accountable for anything.

Studying results? Interestingly, he has never disclosed his findings. That includes his findings from the “listening tour” he is still pursuing. And the words “Mark Johnson” and “addressing challenges head-on” have never collided in the same sentence.

Maybe next year, the General Assembly can set aside some money for Johnson to get a spine to actually help stand in front of people and explain his lack of action.

 

Budget Cuts to DPI – A Case for Laying Off Mark Johnson

cuts

“I don’t think anybody’s going to like the cuts we make, because they’ll have to be in the area of services to the districts,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey.

No truer words have been spoken.

Mr. Cobey’s words are in reference to the $3.2 million dollar cuts that are part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget hit on DPI for the next two years.

As reported by Billy Ball today on NC Policy Watch:

Details may not be public yet, but North Carolina K-12 leaders on the State Board of Education will look to pass down $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered budget calls in a special meeting Tuesday morning.

As reported by Policy Watch last week, the legislative spending cuts for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are likely to impact personnel in the state agency and its services for poor and rural districts across the state.

This year’s $3.2 million cut is part of a two-year reduction for the state’s top education bureaucracy, which has been under withering scrutiny from Republican legislators in recent years. The agency had already weathered roughly $20 million in funding reductions since 2009 (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/24/state-board-education-vote-dpi-budget-cuts-layoffs-tuesday/#sthash.ufZnGu0C.dpbs).

Ironically, the public has not heard the head of DPI, State Superintendent Mark Johnson, on this matter although it has been said by Comey that he has offered suggestions to where the cuts should be made.

It surely would have to do with layoffs of certain positions. And I hope Johnson was looking in a mirror when he came up with his list of cuts. If such a fiscally unsound, politically-motivated decision to cut funds to DPI is to actually be carried out, it might make a great amount of sense to layoff those people in DPI who really have not done the job.

Therefore, it makes total sense that Mark Johnson be the first to be let go in this budget cut.

Think of it. In all of DPI, he probably has the least amount of experience. Next, he has done really nothing. Name one initiative that he has put into place that has really furthered the cause of public education. And more importantly, the state has already spent an enormous amount of money on him for absolutely no return.

As the state superintendent, Mark Johnson makes $127,000 dollars a year as a salary. Add to that the budgetary lines items that allow him to travel around the state without actually being available to the public and the press at large.

He has been given $300,000 for legal fees against the state board of education whose members were appointed by many of the same people who are giving Johnson this money.

300

He has also been given over $432,000 to create positions in DPI loyal to him as DPI is having its budget cut YET ONCE AGAIN.

432

That’s already nearing a million dollars of ill-spent money on one person who has done more to not do anything as a state superintendent than anyone in history.

If this were a business, and forgive the use of a business model in the talk of educational matters (but sadly that is the way that many in Raleigh think), then Johnson would have already been gone.

Consider the costs of special sessions last year for policies and laws that were secretly crafted and had negative impacts on the state.

  • Special session regarding congressional redistricting: 02/18/16-02/19/16
  • Special session regarding LGBT nondiscrimination measures: 03/23/16
  • Special session regarding S4 and HB17 : 12/14/16 – 12/16/16
  • Special session regarding H2: 12/13/16 – 12/15/16

The redistricting sessions are really mute because the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that NC’s maps were racially gerrymandered. The HB2 law that came in the spring was economically disastrous. S4 and HB17 set up the current debacle that cripples DPI and the state board of education. H2 was about helping victims of Hurricane Matthew – people mostly in rural areas where the effects of cuts to DPI will be felt the most.

Each day for a special session costs taxpayers over $42,000.

There’s another quarter of a million at least.

Consider these tidbits:

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a “special session” that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/06/north-carolinas-anti-lgbt-law-has-cost-state-more-560-million-so-far).

AND

Law firms have billed Republican legislative leaders $9.3 million for legal services since January 2011, more than half of which comes from defending voter ID legislation struck down last week by a federal appeals court.

The total spent on private lawyers is more than 20 times the amount the legislature spent on outside counsel in the decade prior and largely covers the cost of fending off challenges to redistricting, the amendment banning gay marriage, vouchers for attending private schools and House Bill 2.

Legislative leaders contend the costs are necessary to protect laws passed by the state’s elected representatives, laws Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in November, has in several cases declined to defend. It’s a move Republicans have criticized as putting politics above his duties as the state’s top lawyer. (http://www.wral.com/legislature-s-legal-bills-top-9m-in-defense-of-state-laws/15905135/).

What has happened is that the General Assembly spent a hell of a lot of money to enact policies that cannot be defended and enabled unqualified people like Mark Johnson to assume important posts so that more money can be spent on inactivity and stupid legal fees so that people like Mark Johnson can help layoff those people in a vital department who have much more experience in helping public schools.

And our students are hurt by it.

SB599 on Steroids – The Fast Tracking of DeVos and Johnson

Teacher resume

This past month, I wrote about SB599 in a post called The Stench of SB599.

In it I stated,

“The overall premise of this bill is to ensure that we have a proper teacher pipeline going into the schools.”  – Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R- Wilkes, in response to questions about SB599 on House floor in Raleigh on June 26.

Senate Bill 599 is the bill (as Alex Granados from EdNC.org reports), that,

“allows organizations other than universities to operate educator preparation programs in North Carolina. The measure includes private, for-profit organizations. And while the bill passed the full House, it did not survive without debate” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/06/26/educator-preparation-bill-passes-house-returns-senate/).

What that means is that for-profit outfits can make money fast-tracking teacher candidates in a rather precarious preparation programs.

In actuality, we have already experienced a manifestation of SB599 here in North Carolina, but on a larger basis.

Imagine putting together a list of possible qualifications for becoming an instructional leader of a large public school system such as a state superintendent of secretary of education in a democratically controlled country.

How much experience do you think is necessary to be that instructional leader?

Does there need to be a working knowledge of the system, the curriculum, the pedagogy, the theory?

Does there need to be a perspective that is shaped by being in the classroom and serving as an administrator?

Or can you have someone lead who has never been a part of the system before?

Take a look.

Because it seems like some leaders were fast-tracked by those who will profit by them. In DeVos’s case, she already made sure to fill the coffers of the very committee (HELP) that nominated her.

Think of it as SB599 on steroids.

Criteria Betsy DeVos Mark Johnson Veteran Public School Teachers in NC Who Have Taught For Five + Years
Has a degree in education or went through a teacher preparation program at a college or university NO NO Most all of them. Lateral Entry in most states still requires that teachers take certain preparation courses.
Has teaching experience NO YES – two school years YES –
Attended public schools NO YES – graduated from Louisiana’s equivalent of a Magnet school for math and science IF 90% of go to traditional public schools, then safe to say MOST OF THEM
Sends children to public school NO NO MOST OF THEM, if they have kids
Believes vouchers hurts traditional public schools NO NO DON’T MEET MANY WHO LIKE THEM
Supports teacher unions and teacher advocacy groups NO NO MOST DO – IF NOT WITH MEMBERSHIP, THEN DO RELY ON GROUPS TO LOBBY FOR THEM
Administrated in a school NO NO Most administrators were teachers
Been through a principal change as an educator NO NO MOST OF THEM
Been through a curriculum change NO NO YES
Seen a group of students matriculate throughout an entire school experience from beginning of high school to graduation to another level of schooling NO NO YES
Managed budgets for public funds NO Served a partial term as a local school board member but was campaigning partially during that time PROBABLY NOT
Talked to teacher advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Talked with special education advocacy groups NO AVOIDS LIKE THE PLAGUE A GREAT MANY OF THEM
Finished an entire term in elected office NO NO NOT APPLICABLE
Oversaw a budget that expanded resources for students in traditional public schools NO NO A GREAT MANY OF THEM ON A SMALL SCALE
Displayed understanding of IDEA and IEP law. NO NO YES
Led a school in a reaccreditation process NO NO MANY OF THEM – IT’s A SCHOLLWIDE INITIATIVE
Participated in a PTSA NO NO MANY OF THEM
Coached a public school sport NO UNKNOWN MANY OF THEM
Oversaw a budget for a school NO NO ADMINSTRATION DOES THIS
Had continuing certification NO NO YES
Mentored a younger teacher NO NO YES
Had a student teacher NO NO MANY OF THEM
Sponsored an extracurricular NO NO MOST OF THEM
Written curriculum standards NO NO MANY OF THEM
Led a professional development workshop NO NO MANY OF THEM
Published scholarly work on educational issues. NO NO SOME OF THEM
Knows difference between proficiency and growth for students NO DON’T KNOW MOST OF THEM
Meet With ALL Parents Who Request Conference NO NO YES
Keeps Open Channels of Communication with students, parents, administration, and community NO NO YES
Does Not Require an Entourage to Explain Concepts of Job NO NO YES

 

Results United States Secretary of Education North Carolina State Superintendent Becoming an Endangered Species

 

 

 

Betsy DeVos and Mark Johnson – Social Vegans in a Job For Omnivores

 

I came across this picture of a restaurant’s sign located in Texas, and while I am not in any way trying to criticize people’s dietary choices, I did have to chuckle.

social vegan

God knows anyone who knows me knows the dietary adventures that I have had in my life. But what this sign is saying really has more to do with how we are part of a bigger community that has some communal tables from which we eat and socialize.

Think of a food chain, yet not consuming, but rather adding and enhancing.

It is a little humorous as well that it would seem that instead of “vegan,” the sign would say “vegetarian.”

In America, we have the right to choose our friends. We have the right to not associate with certain groups. We have the right to not be a “part of” as long as we obey the law. We have the right to eat meat products. We have the right to not eat meat products. And this post is not to debate about whether or not we should judge people on that.

But if you are an elected official who claims to work for the public, you cannot be a “social vegetarian.”

Why? Because you must not eschew “meet.” You must want to devour “meet.” You need to be a social omnivore and be willing to digest whatever as given to you and must be willing to go to all of the buffets that are offered.

Especially if you are the leader of a public school system.

This past week, Betsy DeVos was invited to speak at the Office of Special Education Programs Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been invited to address the audience of an annual conference in Washington sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

The three-day OSEP Leadership Conference starts on July 17 and draws special education experts from around the country to discuss policy issues affecting students with disabilities. Her appearance would mark the first time the secretary has met with a special-education focused audience, after a bumpy introduction to the topic (http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F58%2F%3Fuuid%3D72988&cmp=soc-fb-shr).

Think she showed up or even acknowledged the invite? Nope.

She was elsewhere.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to speak in Denver next week (July 17 – ) at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that has successfully advocated for free-market principles at statehouses across the country (https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2017/07/13/betsy-devos-is-coming-to-denver-for-a-meeting-of-the-conservative-group-alec-and-protesters-are-ready/).

If you are a public school advocate, you may need no introduction to ALEC, but if you are unfamiliar with them, then research them and you might see why DeVos goes to get her “meet” there.

In essence, DeVos is an avowed social vegetarian. She refuses to come to the table unless she gets to choose the people who are sitting there and what they get to consume and digest. She willingly forgets that she is the one hosting the meal for all of the tables and that she doesn’t get to choose her guests. She has to serve all people.

In North Carolina, we have another social vegetarian running our public schools: Mark Johnson.

For someone who is responsible for the biggest portion of the state budget as far as education is concerned, he has successfully made sure not to show up for “dinner invitations” and makes reservations at private clubs where he cannot be disturbed by the very people he should be “dining” with.

In fact, Johnson, while being a social vegetarian, is actually allowing food to be taken away from other tables when he should be advocating for bigger portions and more nutrition.

Support for needy districts and key positions within North Carolina’s top public school agency may be in jeopardy this week as the State Board of Education mulls ways to pass down millions in legislative cuts.

Officials confirmed that the State Board of Education could vote as early as Wednesday on how to dish out $3.2 million in General Assembly-ordered funding reductions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican, turned over multiple options for distributing the cuts to the state board, which has provided feedback behind closed doors, Policy Watch has learned. Neither the board nor Johnson’s office would turn over specific details given the cuts broach confidential personnel matters.

Yet programs likely on the chopping block this week include offices that provide services and support for local school districts, including intervention efforts in low-performing regions, state board Chair Bill Cobey confirmed (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/18/general-assembly-ordered-cuts-likely-hamper-services-poor-rural-schools/).

This report gets better.

Superintendent Johnson did not agree to an interview with Policy Watch for this report.

The state budget also bars school board members from making up the lost cash with transfers from various GOP-backed education initiatives, including the controversial Innovation School District—which provides for charter takeovers of low-performing schools—and other programs such as Teach for America, Read to Achieve, and positions in the superintendent’s office.

The budget reduction, which slashes operational funds for the department by 6 percent this year and another 13.9 percent (about $7.3 million) next year, comes amid years of criticisms and similar budget reductions led by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Notice which programs are not getting “less food” on the table.

It seems that when you are in public office, you need to be more than willing to “meet” with the public.

DeVos and Johnson’s choices to avoid the “meet” are not for health reasons, but rather for political motives and to hide the fact that they do not have the teeth, the stomach, and the ability to digest all that encompasses leading public schools.

The Most Enabled Man in Raleigh – North Carolina’s State Superintendent

gavel

The July 14th ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of State Supt. Mark Johnson may have been a huge victory on the surface for Johnson’s supporters and those who seek to exert their influence through him and his inexperience.

But it is not a real victory for Johnson himself.

While the office of the state superintendent now has more executive power than at any time, Johnson himself lost more power as an individual in elected office. Why?

Because Mark Johnson just became the most enabled man in all of North Carolina.

Not empowered. Enabled. And that’s not good for public schools.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He then spent the first six months of his term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

Lawmakers included about $700,000 in the state budget for Johnson to hire several staffers without the approval of the state board. The budget also provided him with money for his legal expenses while barring the state board from using taxpayer money to fund its lawsuit (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

The man who “won” the lawsuit was financed by the same General Assembly with taxpayer money while the very people who were appointed by the lawmakers in Raleigh had to use other means to finance their legal fees.

Talk about enabling. And “enabling” is not a good word here.

Johnson’s statement on the ruling was certainly sprinkled with pyrite.

“For too long, the lack of clarity about DPI leadership has fostered a system of non-accountability,” Johnson said in a statement. “While this system is great for shifting blame and avoiding responsibility, non-accountability at DPI hurts North Carolina students. Last December, the General Assembly addressed this problem by clarifying the parameters set forth in the NC Constitution. Their efforts offered greater transparency to educators and parents across the state seeking to engage with DPI and greater accountability at DPI.

“Today, the Superior Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the General Assembly’s actions and I look forward to, belatedly, working for more and better change at DPI” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article161450393.html).

It’s rather odd to hear of Johnson talking about “lack of clarity.” Considering that this might be one of the longest quotes attributed to him in his tenure and his press-unfriendly “listening tour” along with no sign of the promised item list of proposals he prophesized this past January, he certainly correct about there being some sort of lack of clarity.

As far as “shifting blame?” No one has been slinging blame as much as the very people who are enabling Johnson.

That “transparency” comment? Halting communication at DPI through the most commonly used listserv to all of the LEA’s in the state is not an act of transparency. That’s an act of muddying the waters.

And that “belatedly” remark? Funny how that word is almost the precise antonym of the word Johnson used in January as he took office – “urgency.”

The man who now controls the Department of Public Instruction which has been further downsized by the very people who financed his lawsuit and who champion the very reforms that hurt the schools he is supposed to protect did not really win.

The people who enable him really won.

Listen to what Phil Berger had to say.

“Voters elected Superintendent Mark Johnson based on his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools, and I’m pleased the court recognized the constitutionality of the law and that our superintendent should be able to execute the platform voters elected him to do” (http://www.wral.com/judges-rule-for-nc-superintendent-in-battle-with-state-education-board/16820368/).

There’s a tremendous amount of smug irony in that statement. Why? Because what voters elected Johnson to do was based on the job description that at the time was associated with the state superintendent’s job. What power Johnson now has was augmented by Berger and his cronies after Johnson was elected in a wave of conservative electoral victory.

If it was so important for the state superintendent to have new power over the public school system that was originally in the hands of the state board of education, then should not have each preceding state superintendent been given the same power?

Apparently not. Because each preceding state superintendent was much more qualified to be such than Johnson is. Each preceding state superintendent would have fought against the measures that have been enabled, enacted, and empowered by the current NCGA because that would have been in the best interests of the traditional public school system.

Especially June Atkinson.

When Berger stated that Johnson was elected on “his platform of strengthening our state’s public schools,” what he really inferred was that Johnson was going to allow “reformers” like Berger to strengthen charter schools and voucher programs – initiatives that actually hurt traditional public schools.

And it is a little sadistically humorous that a man (Berger) who has championed a variety of policies that have been ruled unconstitutional (gerrymandered districts, Voter ID law, etc.) would brag about upholding the constitutionality of the law. That same man also pushed to not extend Medicaid in this state when so many people needed it and now the very hospital in his hometown of Eden has filed for bankruptcy (http://myfox8.com/2017/07/11/morehead-memorial-hospital-files-for-bankruptcy/).

And that is not to mention what all is being done by this General Assembly to alter the court system in the state to become more politically aligned with its agenda.

What really happened on July 14th was that Mark Johnson showed how controlled he is as the state superintendent. He showed that he is now more than ever beholden to the very General Assembly that will opaquely exert its will on public education by controlling the very person whose only transparency comes in the form of his credentials for being state superintendent because they are so paper thin.

That is no victory for public schools.

There still is hope. There is still an injunction and a sure appeal to a higher court.

I would be remiss if I did not flat out state that if the General Assembly empowered public school teachers one-tenth the amount that they enable Mark Johnson, then I would have no need for this blog.

However, whatever power Johnson has been given, he still does not have enough to keep me from wanting to be a public school teacher in North Carolina.

The UnFAIR VANITY of Betsy DeVos

I have never read the William Makepeace Thackery Victorian novel Vanity Fair.

Never will. But I would like to meet someone whose middle name is Makepeace.

My understanding is that it is a somewhat satirical look at English society, but when I look at the title, I immediately think of the iconic magazine Vanity Fair which comes out monthly and has some of the best covers a magazine rack can hold.

And it has a good reputation for journalistic integrity.

Image result for vanity fair cover

This month’s issue has a small feature in it’s “Hive” section which is a nice little title for what is “buzzing” in the country.

On Betsy DeVos. It is entitled “IN SEARCH OF THE ELUSIVE BETSY DEVOS – The Education Secretary seems be ducking the press.”

In keeping with holding public figures accountable to the public (i.e. Mark Johnson – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/07/13/when-the-leader-of-the-public-schools-refuses-to-be-part-of-the-public/) , this offers a very good look into the purposeful reluctance to be seen with members of the press by DeVos.

It’s worth the read.

devos2devos

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/07/in-search-of-the-elusive-betsy-devos

 

 

 

 

 

When the Leader of the Public Schools Refuses to be Part of the Public

Imagine you are an official of the state elected by the public. Your job is to lead the state’s public school system. You are the head of the Department of Public Instruction. You are the lead public school instructor. You control public information. You oversee taxpayer money that comes from the public.

Should you not be publicly available?

Because that’s a lot of public involved – six “publics” in the first paragraph alone.

From the “Organization” page of DPI’s website (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/organization/):

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is charged with implementing the state’s public school laws and the State Board of Education’s policies and procedures governing pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education. The elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction leads the Department and functions under the policy direction of the State Board of Education.

The agency provides leadership and service to the 115 local public school districts and 2,500+ traditional public schools, 150+ charter schools, and the three residential schools for students with hearing and visual impairments. The areas of support include curriculum and instruction, accountability, finance, teacher and administrator preparation and licensing, professional development and school business support and operations.

The NCDPI develops the Standard Course of Study, which describes the subjects and course content that is taught in North Carolina public schools, and the assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success. In 2016-2017 Department staff are developing North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. This work is being informed by public comments collected in 12 regional meetings and through feedback collected from educators and others. The states ESSA plan will be submitted to the US Department of Education in September 2017.

The NCDPI administers annual state and federal public school funds totaling approximately $9.2 billion and licenses the approximately 117,000 teachers and administrators who serve public schools. The NCDPI’s primary offices are in Raleigh, with four regional alternative licensing centers in Concord, Fayetteville, Elm City and Catawba. Approximately 30,000 new teacher and administrator licenses are issued annually from these centers. The NCDPI’s work extends to the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching with locations in Cullowhee and Ocracoke, and the NC Virtual Public School – the second largest virtual public school in the nation. The state agency also works closely with nine Regional Education Service Alliances/ Consortia and six regional accountability offices.

There’s a lot of duties in that job description. But is it not ironic that many of those duties seemed to have been ignored? Look at the job description again (first three paragraphs) with what is known to have happened and what is still happening.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is charged with implementing the state’s public school laws (in a state that is controlled by a GOP majority who has had many “policies” declared unconstitutional) and the State Board of Education’s policies and procedures governing pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education. The elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction leads the Department and functions under the policy direction of the State Board of Education (that he is currently embroiled with in a lawsuit over power).

The agency provides leadership and service to the 115 local public school districts and 2,500+ traditional public schools (many of which are suffering because Johnson halted key list serv communications from DPI), 150+ charter schools, and the three residential schools for students with hearing and visual impairments. The areas of support include curriculum and instruction (nothing has occurred), accountability (nothing has occurred), finance (DPI budget slashed without him commenting), teacher and administrator preparation and licensing (SB599?), professional development (where are those funds?) and school business support and operations (who will build the extra classroom space needed to fulfill the class size quotas?).

The NCDPI develops the Standard Course of Study, which describes the subjects and course content that is taught in North Carolina public schools (nothing has occurred), and the assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success (ASW just got cancelled and the school performance grades are about to get more constricting). In 2016-2017 Department staff are developing North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. This work is being informed by public comments collected in 12 regional meetings and through feedback collected from educators and others (have not heard anything). The states ESSA plan will be submitted to the US Department of Education in September 2017 (that’s two months away and Johnson still has not talked about his “findings” from his listening tour).

There is no other office in the state of North Carolina that has the word “public” associated with it more. The job description alone has the word “public” in it TWELVE times. And the web address has the word “public” in it – http://www.ncPUBLICschools.org.

That’s unacceptable. As the head of DPI and as the overseer of the “assessments and accountability model used to evaluate student, school and district success,” Johnson would be familiar with the distinct standards that teachers and educators like himself would have to show at least proficiency in.

One of them is communication with stakeholders – students, parents, administration, others.

If you were to look at the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Rubric (easily found in .pdf form on the web), you could do a “find” for the word “communicate.”

rubric

It occurs over 20 times.

Add the word “communication” to the search.

You get over 40 hits.

Communication means being “public” with those who are stakeholders. For Johnson that’s everybody in the state of North Carolina, but if he were being measured by the rubric that he actually is responsible for and should model as the instructional leader of the PUBLIC school system, then he may not be proficient.

When a teacher is evaluated, there are certain pieces of evidence that can be introduced to verify and validate rubric scores.

Imagine how Johnson should be scored. Consider the following pieces of evidence.

  1. Mark Johnson, the state superintendent of public instruction, may be violating state law by failing to respond to a public records request, according to an articleby N.C. Policy Watch’s Billy Ball, a former INDY staff writer (https://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2017/06/06/nc-policy-watch-state-superintendent-of-public-instruction-may-be-violating-the-law-by-ignoring-records-requests).
  2. WRAL News requested an interview with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to discuss the Senate’s budget. Instead, he emailed a statement, saying he looks forward to “continuing our work with the NC House and Senate as they transform education in North Carolina” (http://www.wral.com/senate-proposes-cutting-8-state-education-staffers-including-42-year-employee/16707728/).
  3. Johnson has declined multiple interviews with Policy Watch since January, although he has spoken to a handful of other media organizations in the first six months of his term. He also did not respond to Policy Watch communications regarding this report (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/06/06/state-superintendent-may-violating-law-ignoring-public-records-request/).
  4. The tour will begin at a Winston-Salem high school, although press will reportedly not be allowed to join. Prior to his election as state superintendent, Johnson was a corporate attorney in Winston-Salem and a local school board member (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/02/02/state-superintendent-mark-johnson-begin-listening-tour-winston-salem/#sthash.YoYxJcaT.dpbs).
  5. In an interview with WRAL News last week, Johnson declined to say what other positions he would like to hire if the bill passes (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-hopes-to-hire-chief-innovation-officer-other-positions-with-help-from-lawmakers/16684497/).
  6. Johnson isn’t sharing what those ideas are just yet (http://www.wral.com/ousted-nc-superintendent-on-successor-how-do-i-help-an-infant-in-public-education-/16236296/).
  7. Johnson did not agree to an interview this week, but the superintendent—a Republican who defeated  Atkinson in November’s election—said in a statement Tuesday other exceptions have been allowed in the days since. Johnson did not provide specifics, but those exceptions apparently include updates from the department’s finance office, which has continued to post reports (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/12/state-school-superintendent-muzzles-communication-dpi/).

That’s not being very public.

 

DPI, 1984, Oceania, and Mark Johnson’s Big Brother – Another Communications Coup in North Carolina

From Orwell’s 1984:

And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” (Book 1).

News today that state superintendent Mark Johnson halted key “listserv” communications from the Department of Public Instruction may not seem like the full explosion of a dystopian novel just yet, the idea that a rather reclusive government official is regulating key communicative avenues to those who need the information to make important decisions does sound a little like government control over what the masses can see.

1984_poster

From NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball today in “State School Superintendent muzzles communication from DPI”:

A directive from Superintendent Mark Johnson to temporarily halt key listserv communications from the Department of Public Instruction has some concerned the order will chill the flow of information from North Carolina’s top public school agency.

Policy Watch learned last week of Johnson’s command, which comes at a particularly busy time for central office personnel as they prep for the coming school year, which will include myriad legislative changes, including 24 new reporting requirements for DPI.

In Johnson’s message, recently obtained by Policy Watch, the superintendent wrote the department would “take a break in the distribution of information to the field and to other lists for stakeholders” following last month’s retirement of the agency’s longtime communications chief.

The superintendent said staff should stop use of their GovDelivery email lists—which provides for mass distribution of agency information across the state—for the month of July, and Johnson would notify staff when communications could resume (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/07/12/state-school-superintendent-muzzles-communication-dpi/).

Johnson’s directive was to “take a break” in communicating with “stakeholders.”

At a time when the state superintendent has really been nothing more than a shadow figure who seems more afraid of communicating with the public, it is ironic that he stops this “communication” chain for school systems that he should be enabling and removing obstacles.

It’s also ironic that Ball’s report comes right when Johnson has just been in court trying to wrestle more power from the State Board of Education for himself when the very General Assembly that is propping hi up just cut the budget for DPI nearly %20 over the next two years.

Johnson did release a statement concerning the “break” and Ball relates,

The department “has not shut down communications with the field, only temporarily paused listserv communications for the month of July, with certain exceptions,” Johnson wrote. “Since this is summer break for our educators, this pause is appropriate while we search for a new communications director and to enable the Department to thoughtfully review the many communications that come from our agency.”

Johnson’s statement would seem to contradict his order, which specifically nixed listserv communications with “the field.” The superintendent later clarified that the directive was intended to only halt field communications using the GovDelivery system, although DPI sources say the system is the simplest and most effective means of communicating across North Carolina school districts.

Temporarily paused?

Summer break for educators?

Enable department to thoughtfully review?

Really?

Ball says stipulates “DPI sources say the system is the simplest and most effective means of communicating across North Carolina school districts.” Things that don’t get communicated can get lost and fade. Things can get uncertain.

This seems more like a politically charged, government controlled means to further weaken a public good and it makes the next statement by Johnson a little humorous.

“NC DPI has not shut down all communications with the field, and staff is regularly engaged in supporting the field and responding to questions,” Johnson added.

Why is it humorous? Because Mark Johnson and “responding to questions” have never really collided in the same truthful instance.

It is interesting that 1984 was Pat McCrory’s favorite book.

And it is rather fortuitous that CNN publish a report on a study that talks about cities will be flooded by rising sea waters in the near future: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/12/us/weather-cities-inundated-climate-change/index.html.

Talk about your Oceania.

But CNN is fake. So is climate change.

The Elimination of ASW and the Intentions of the NCGA’s Budget Cuts to DPI

What follows in this post is another manifestation of the how the NC General Assembly is trying to weaken the Department of Public Instruction in such a way so that it can control as many aspects of teacher and school evaluation to validate its actions on what it perceives as school reform.

For the past three school years, there has been a nebulous cloud of ambiguous of evaluation for many of us teachers that resides within Standard 6 of the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation System as set forth by DPI within the North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards.

If you are a public school teacher in NC, you know of STANDARD 6.

Within the NC Professional Teaching Standards document ,

ASW

STANDARD 6 Teachers Contribute to the Academic Success of Students

The work of the teacher results in acceptable, measurable progress for students based on established performance expectations using appropriate data to demonstrate growth.

A teacher’s rating on the sixth standard is determined by a student growth value as calculated by the statewide growth model for educator effectiveness. The End-of-Course assessments, End-of-Grade assessments, Career and Technical Education Post-Assessments, and the Measures of Student Learning provide the student data used to calculate the growth value.

The student growth value places a teacher into one of three rating categories:

  • Does not meet expected growth: the student growth value for the teacher is lower than what was expected per the statewide growth model.
  • Meets expected growth: the student growth value for the teacher is what was expected per the statewide growth model.
  • Exceeds expected growth: the student growth value for the teacher exceeds what was expected per the statewide growth model.

The “Measure of Student Learning” was used for my Standard 6 evaluation for the last three years. It was actually called “Assessment of Student Learning” or ASW.

For an AP instructor who teaches a certain number of AP courses, I had to submit a rather large amount of evidence to satisfy this requirement. It required selecting five different objectives from the AP English Language and Composition curriculum (components) and show growth in arbitrarily selected students (by the state) within the context of the school year.

That means that I had to make sure to collect, organize, decipher, explain, offer supporting materials, provide working samples with explanations, digitize all materials, and upload in a certain window of time while as administrator approved all of my steps. It’s like putting together a professional portfolio to prove that I am doing what I am supposed to do but do not have the ability to verbally defend or seek clarification.

Then I get back a notice through a computer program of how it was perceived months after the fact.

The first year I had to perform the ASW component, I uploaded all of my materials in June of the school year. In November of the next school year, I received the feedback. Here is what I wrote about that in an earlier blog posting.

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

Alignment

  • Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.
  • Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

Growth

  • Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.
  • Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.
  • Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.
  • Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.
  • Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible
  • Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

Narrative Context

  • NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.
  • NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

In June of 2016, I intentionally chose many of the same objectives to measure and used the same assignments as AP English Language and Composition does not really change in what is measured – students need to earn how to read closely and write effectively.

In November of 2016, I received positive feedback, but nothing specific. I actually thought that my 2015 material was just as good. And in that previous year’s experience, I realized that there may not have been much in the way of professional development to help evaluators to accurately measure artifacts. Maybe the program was not field tested enough to work out all of the bugs and errors.

I also realized that my best evaluator were actually the students who took my classes all year long, the people I worked with in the school, and the administrative team that allowed me to ask questions and discuss what was seen.

So, this year (June 16, 2017), I uploaded on the very last day of the school year for me (post-planning week) my ASW portfolio.

Let me reiterate. That was June 16. I intentionally made this the last thing I did officially for the school year. June 16 was the deadline.

On July 11, 2017, I received notification that the ASW has been eliminated for the 2017-2018 school year.

That means that what I turned in for June 16th will probably never be looked at. The contents of the email message I received is below and is being printed because it is under the North Carolina Public Records Law.

“I’m writing to inform you that the Analysis of Student Work Process to assess growth for Advanced Placement, Arts Education, Healthful Living, International Baccalaureate, and World Language courses has been eliminated by legislative action (Session Law 2017-57. Section 7.23E.(a)) beginning with the 2017-18 school year.

This notification will likely come as bittersweet news to many of you. While much of your feedback indicates that the ASW process allowed many teachers to dig more deeply into their standards, engage in more reflective teaching practices, and receive the same “validation” as tested subject areas, I recognize that participating in the ASW process also pushed the boundaries of some individuals’ technological comfort zones and was a time-intensive endeavor.

Due to budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, “.  A small cadre of reviewers are reviewing the remaining Evidence Collections for CEU credit.  We will review as many 2016-17 Evidence Collections as possible this summer.  If we are not able to review collections at the same level as previous years, the final decision as to whether we release the 2016-17 results will be made by DPI leadership.  

At this time, there are no plans to replace the ASW process.  Teachers who formerly participated in the ASW process or locally developed plans will not have a growth measure moving forward.  Teachers who participated in the ASW process will not receive school-level growth.

Thank you for your dedication in learning and implementing the ASW process over the past 4 years. The ASW process was one of continuous improvement, driven by your feedback and rigorous expectations for yourselves and your peers.  To support you in continuing professional learning, many of the current ASW resources will remain available to you or be adapted and posted either on the ASW wikispace or specific content area wikispaces.  ASW training materials are, at their core, about excellent instructional practices in our performance-based classrooms and we want to ensure your access to these helpful materials in the future.”

There are a few things that need to special attention in this email and I know that the person who sent it is just a messenger.

  1. “Due to budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction…” – As soon as I read that, I immediately began to think of what the North Carolina General Assembly just did in its recent budget: cut DPI by %20 within the next two years and do everything that it could to oust anyone associated with the previous state superintendent so that a puppet of an elected official like Mark Johnson could do the bidding of politicians bent on weakening public education.
  2. “…the paid component of the 2016-17 review process ended on June 23.” – That’s literally one week after I uploaded everything and over two weeks before anyone told me or other teachers that this was ending without any review of my material. That’s like my never grading my students’ work to let them know what needs to be worked on in the future. In fact, it’s like my students doing lots of work, but never receiving feedback or a grade.
  3. If we are not able to review collections at the same level as previous years, the final decision as to whether we release the 2016-17 results will be made by DPI leadership.  “ – With the political climate that we have now the words “final decision to be made by DPI” is the equivalent to “final decision to be made by select GOP lawmakers who want to weaken public education so that they can take the budget cuts from DPI and put it into vouchers, ESA’s, and charter school growth.”
  4. At this time, there are no plans to replace the ASW process.” – With the number of special sessions done by this NCGA and the back-door, secretive meetings that constructed the very budget that literally caused DPI to drop this, forgive me if I say that there are plans – just not publically announced ones.
  5. driven by your feedback and rigorous expectations.” – Teacher and school feedback is the kryptonite of those who made the budget cuts in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that there is a better way of being evaluated than this. I don’t like the impersonal manner of this evaluation. But the instant removal of this is yet another symptom of a bigger problem. So I repeat,

This is another manifestation of the how the NC General Assembly is trying to weaken the Department of Public Instruction in such a way so that it can control as many aspects of teacher and school evaluation to validate its actions on what it perceives as school reform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Months Into Office – An Open Letter to Supt. Mark Johnson

“The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state’s public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.”http://www.dpi.state.nc.us

Dear Supt. Johnson,

When you assumed the office of state school superintendent over six months ago, you gave some initial remarks to at a state board of education meeting that talked about your sense of urgency in transforming our schools. In fact, you said,

“Today is Jan. 5, 2017. There will never be another Jan. 5, 2017 ever again. No matter how we use this day, if we make the most of it, if we waste it, it’s gone. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day we lose. Every day we don’t take bold actions for our teachers, is a day they lose.”

Today is July 9, 2017. There will never be another July 9th, 2017 ever again.  Since January 5th, there have been 186 days with unique dates attached to them that will never occur again – days that could be filled with bold actions for students and teachers and schools.

I have two students in my house, a rising tenth grader who aspires to go to college and a rising fourth grader who has an IEP and needs his teaching assistant as much as his regular teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for them?

I am a public school teacher. In those 186 days, what bold actions have you taken for me and my fellow educators?

Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are valid questions.

Shortly after you made your statement of “urgency” you launched a listening tour called “The NC Education & Innovation Tour” that “pledged to conduct a listening tour to hear directly from educators, parents, and community leaders across North Carolina” (http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/newsroom/news/2016-17/20170202-01). Each stop seems to have been held behind closed doors without public input.

You said that you would come back in the summer and return with action items hopefully still with that since of “urgency.”

Once that tour is completed, Johnson said, he promised to return with action items. In the meantime, he lobbied school leaders to act with urgency to improve conditions in some of North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/01/05/new-superintendent-public-instruction-highlights-urgent-need-transform-outdated-school-system/).

  • Summer is here.
  • School year has been over for weeks. Graduation was a month ago.
  • Summer school has been in session for a while.
  • Sports physicals for fall sports are already due and teams have been to camps.
  • PTSA’s are working on help next year’s budgets.
  • Schedules have already been made for students and teachers.
  • Supplies have been ordered.
  • Professional development has been taken.
  • DPI has received a budget that is less than what it has been.
  • AP scores have been sent out.

And where are you? Where is your item list? What have you learned? What do you have to say for what has happened in the state since you took office? When do you plan on addressing the state board of education? When do you plan on addressing the 115 local public school districts, 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students, their parents and communities, as well as the taxpayers and the thousands of teachers?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Because every day that you do not take action to show leadership for our schools as an elected official is a day we all lose.Seal_of_the_North_Carolina_Board_of_Education