Using the Public School System as a Scapegoat – Mark Johnson’s Latest Erroneous Op-ed

Scapegoating – “Unfairly blaming an unpopular person or group of people for a problem or a person or group that is an easy target for such blame.”

(From http://www.logicallyfallacious.com)

This past week, North Carolina lost out as a site for a new Toyota-Mazda mega plant that would have been worth over 1.6 billion dollars. According to WRAL,

North Carolina’s search for an automotive plant to call its own will continue, as Toyota and Mazda officials announced Wednesday that they will build a $1.6 billion factory in Huntsville, Ala.

The plant is expected to employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 vehicles a year for the two companies when it opens in 2021. Toyota plans to assemble the Corolla sedan there, while Mazda said it will use the factory to produce new crossover vehicles for the U.S. market (http://www.wral.com/reports-nc-loses-toyota-mazda-car-plant-to-alabama/17247853/).

Let it be known that NC was a finalist – one of two states that made the final cut.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary said such a decision came down to “logistics.” He stated in the same WRAL report,

“North Carolina has a robust automotive parts industry, but they’re not necessarily where the sweet spot is for Toyota suppliers. Toyota has a plant in Alabama. They have an established supply chain that’s in Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, and also the proximity to Mexico for suppliers of parts.

“We can’t move North Carolina southwest. [With Alabama’s] geography, they’re proximally located in that corner where the supply chain is tended to locate.

However, State Superintendent Mark Johnson claimed a different reason: North Carolina’s education system. In a recent perspective in EdNC.org entitled “The talent pipeline is the key to bringing jobs to North Carolina,” Johnson offered the following:

We must offer a talent pipeline unmatched by our competitors and eliminate one of the biggest challenges companies currently face — recruiting skilled workers.

Supplying a skilled workforce that companies can’t get elsewhere starts in our public schools. North Carolina must demonstrate to students that we support multiple paths to success after graduation (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/talent-pipeline-key-bringing-jobs-north-carolina/).

Johnson, in his “vast experience” as an economic planner and commerce analyst made a brief mention of the “auto parts supply” that Copeland talks about, but the premise of his op-ed seems to be relying on his “vast experience” as a teacher and “leader” of the public school system of a state that is in the top ten in population.

Johnson blamed (yes, that is essentially what he did) NC’s loss of a potential mega-plant on the lack of a “talent pipeline” and the current inability of our school systems to produce a workforce that could have worked the jobs that Toyota and Mazda could have brought.

Johnson scapegoated our public school system. Pure and simple.

It not the lack of talent; it was the fact that Alabama is geographically more positioned to work well for Toyota and Mazda. If NC’s talent pipeline was not good enough, then NC would not have been one of the two finalists.

Furthermore, Copeland has a lot more ethos, credibility, and experience to explain how Alabama landed the mega-plant. He’s been working on that much longer than Johnson has. A LOT MORE.

But if Johnson wants to make the claim that NC lost to Alabama because of its ability to create a talent pool, then maybe he should compare how both states treat their public school systems.

Simply refer to the NEA’s Rankings and Estimates Report where 2016 was ranked and 2017 statistics were projected. The NEA does the report every year and it is considered very reliable (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/2017_Rankings_and_Estimates_Report-FINAL-SECURED.pdf).

NEA rankings

  • In 2016, Alabama had 4,863,300 people compared to North Carolina’s 10,146,788. That makes NC over twice as large as Alabama population-wise. That’s twice as much “talent” to choose from just looking at the numbers (Table A-1).
  • In 2016, AL had 137 school districts; NC had 115 (Table B-1). That means AL had more districts to monitor.
  • In 2016, AL enrolled about one-half the number of students in public schools as North Carolina (Table B-2). Again, NC has about double the students in school.
  • In 2016, NC had a higher rank of graduation rate from high schools (Table B-4).
  • In 2016, AL had an average teacher salary of $48,518; NC had $47,941 (C-5). That is not adjusted for cost of living. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, AL is a little more affordable than NC in terms of cost of living in the third quarter of last year (https://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/).
  • In 2016, NC had 30,755 total instructional staff members in public institutions of higher learning to AL’s 12,705 (Table C-7). That means we have more institutes of higher learning – lots more. That’s not even considering the private institutions.
  • Total personal income for AL in 2016 ranked 26th; NC ranked 13th (Table D-1 and D-3). People in NC on average made more money.

Those numbers do not help Johnson’s argument that we lack a talent pipeline. We have the human capital and obviously many more places post-secondary education opportunities. We definitely have the talent.

Look at the actual dollars spent reveals a common theme.

  • Pages 60 – 68 chronicle school revenue. In looking at the tables in this section, AL and NC actually align fairly closely. Alabama uses more local funding than North Carolina as NC has a state constitution that is by law supposed to fund at certain levels. But Tables F-7 and F-8 that show something rather startling. Frankly they show that Alabama invests more of its revenue in its schools than North Carolina.
  • And in Table H-5, it shows that AL ranked 21 states (in 2014) ahead of NC when it pertains to “State And Local Govt. Expenditures For All Education As % Of Direct General Expenditures, All Functions.”
  • Table H-8 has AL spending more per-capita for public education in K-12 than NC.
  • Table H-9 shows that AL spent more in 2014 per pupil NC.

Alabama invests more in public schools. They have less money to invest, but still invest more. They invest more in their students, teachers, and “pipelines.”

If Johnson wants to dispute these numbers then he would have to deal with the NEA, and he does not want to do that. He won’t even talk to its North Carolina affiliate, NCAE.

The perspective on EdNC.org that was published directly before Johnson’s was by Ferrel Guillory, a professor of journalism at UNC-CH. It is entitled “A map that colors North Carolina pale.” In it he deftly talks about per-pupil expenditures and what it has done to our state’s ability to service students (https://www.ednc.org/2018/01/12/map-colors-north-carolina-pale/). He shares a map:

nces-image-final-1024x682

Yep, Alabama is a shade darker. Says a lot.

Ironically, Johnson lauds a grant program for “career coaching.”

“We recently awarded $700,000 in Education Workforce Innovation grants. These state funds are supporting career coaches in school districts around the state who will better guide students to find the best post-graduation choice for them.”

$700,000? It could be twice as much if the NC General Assembly didn’t cover Johnson’s court costs in his battle to take more control of the public schools from the state board or hire people only loyal to him who duplicate work already being done.

432

300

More career coaches? How about fighting for more money to hire more GUIDANCE COUNSELORS in public schools. The numbers those warriors deal with are absolutely astronomical. In my school alone, each counselor has nearly 500 students in his/her case load.

If Mark Johnson wants to make the argument that NC lost the Toyota-Mazda mega-plant because of the lack of preparing a talent pipeline, then maybe he should read Guillory’s op-ed first.

Maybe he should fight against a reduction in DPI’s budget.

Maybe he should have helped rally to fund the class size mandate that is being rammed down school systems’ throats.

Maybe he should not advocate for “reforms” that are actually hurting the ability for public schools to even help the “talent pipeline” it already nurtures like unproven vouchers and unregulated charter school growth.

Maybe he should actually do his job and not use public schools as a scapegoat.

Why We Need the North Carolina Association of Educators

Do any of you remember this billboard sprinkled around the state a few years ago?

civitas

It was one of the many times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken NCAE.  In this instance the Civitas Institute tried to lure teachers to “buy” back their membership through a website. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership from NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

 

Why would some people who support the gerrymandered powers that be in Raleigh do this?

Because they are scared of what a group of public school teachers can do when they come together and act to protect public education – organizations just like NCAE.

That alone tells me that North Carolina desperately needs the North Carolina Association of Educators. Yet there are so many other reasons.

When it came to fighting for due-process rights, against unfair evaluation systems, for better pay, for resources in schools, against vouchers, and for fully funded schools, NCAE has been a tireless leader.

And the North Carolina Association of Educators is needed now more than ever.

There’s a task force in Raleigh trying to blindly reformulate how public schools are funded.

There are more studies coming out suggesting that charter schools are increasing segregation amongst students.

There is an unfunded class size mandate that the state senate refuses to deal with.

There’s a court case in which the mostly GOP-appointed state board of education is suing the current state superintendent who is from the same party.

There’s a reduction in the budget for the Department of Public Instruction in a state that has had significant population growth.

And we need to keep fighting because if there is any voice that the North Carolina General Assembly is trying to silence, it is the collective voice of educators in our public schools. NCAE will not let that happen.

When business leaders can literally craft legislation concerning principal pay without input from educators, then we need NCAE.

When per pupil expenditures are lower now than before the recession when adjusted for inflation, then we need NCAE.

When legislators can call special sessions to craft surreptitious policies like HB13 that affect public schools, then we need NCAE.

When we have politicians bent on using vouchers and unregulated charter school growth to promote privatization, then we need NCAE.

When schools are being measured by amorphous standardized tests, then we need NCAE.

When we have a school performance grading system that does nothing more than show how poverty affects schools, then we need NCAE.

When teachers feel like they cannot speak up for schools and students because of fear of professional retribution, then we need NCAE.

It’s also nice to have the headquarters on South Salisbury Street in Raleigh.

Just a short walk to West Jones Street.

north carolina association of educators

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Rodney Ellis – He Would Tell Us to Keep Fighting For Public Schools

I believe Rodney Ellis would be proud of us.

While it has almost been a year to the day that we lost this leader, father, and tireless public school advocate, there is still his unmistakable presence among us here in North Carolina.

Think of all that has occurred in this last year with the continued assault on traditional public schools led by a General Assembly bent on privatizing a public good.

  • Think of the struggle to get rid of gerrymandered legislative districts.
  • Think of the unconstitutional Voter ID laws.
  • Think of the discriminatory HB2 law and the fallout.
  • Think of the recent decision by the president to end DACA for many of our students.
  • Think of passive nature of the current state superintendent.
  • Think of less money for students in public schools.
  • Think of the manipulation of funding vouchers and unregulated charter schools.
  • Think of the de-professionalizing of the teaching profession by lawmakers.

Rodney Ellis would be in the thick of those battles because he would make sure to focus on the students who are affected by these actions. And he would tell us to keep fighting the good fight.

There is no doubt in my mind that we public school advocates will continue to confront these issues head-on. There is no doubt that we have great leaders like Mark Jewell now in place to help guide our actions and efforts and remove obstacles.

I would like to think that those who leave us still are among us in spirit. While it doesn’t take away all of the sorrow or pain, what we do as public school advocates is bigger than just us. Rodney knew that; he knew that the collective strength of our communities is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

On Friday, I believe I will wear this shirt. Rodney gave it to me one time before a rally in Raleigh. I think of him every time I put it on. The more I wear it, the more comfortable it is.

we-love-public-schools-shirt

Yes, I think Rodney would be proud of us.

Actually, I think he is proud of us.

 

 

A Small Memoriam For Rodney Ellis

I was very saddened to hear of the shocking passing of a man much too young to be taken.

Rodney Ellis was the immediate past President of NCAE, and I considered him a friend who helped me professionally and personally.

I met Rodney through email. He had kindly read and responded to a couple of op-eds I had written. He invited me to a workshop and asked that I speak at a press conference and a teacher rally in front of the capitol building. It was there that I met the Rev. William Barber.

Since then, I have seen Rodney on a couple of more occasions, most recently at the Network for Public Education Convention this past spring in Raleigh. He presented on the workings of ALEC and other interests who seek to privatize public education.

Throughout his tenure as NCAE President, he always responded to my emails with encouragement and strength.

But I will always remember Rodney as a fearless leader for public schools. He led NCAE through some of the most turbulent assaults on public education by a state government bent on weakening it. Rodney stared down those on West Jones Street and stood up for our public schools. He helped protect teacher rights in the court of law and he advocated tirelessly for equity for all students.

Even if you are a teacher who is not a member of NCAE, Rodney Ellis fought for you as a comrade in arms.

People who know me are familiar with a black t-shirt that I wear often. It says, “I (heart) Public Schools.” In the heart is the NCAE logo. Rodney gave it to me. We wore them for a march in Raleigh to peacefully protest lack of funding for public education.

And when I woke up this morning, before I heard the terrible news of his passing, I put on that shirt to begin the day’s adventures with my family.

image

And then I heard the news.

I was glad to have had that shirt on today. Actually, I will wear more often because it has a powerful message, especially in this election year. Rodney worked incredibly hard to put people in a position to affect positive change, and I would like to think that he would keep telling us to educate people about what is happening in public education and then encourage them to vote.

God speed, Rodney Ellis.