Dear State Supt. Johnson: Are You Actually Going To Take A Stand or Continue Rubber-Stamping?

What happened this past week with the state superintendent’s office is yet another example of the redundant walking contradiction that is the tenure of Mark Johnson.

On Friday it was announced that State Superintendent Mark Johnson hired two new staff members: an associate state superintendent for early childhood education and a leader for the school business modernization project.

As reported by Kelly Hinchcliffe on WRAL.com,

“State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced Friday that he has added two people to his leadership team at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Michael Spano, who started this week and will be paid $110,000 annually, is leading the school business modernization program. Pamela Shue, who begins later this month and will be paid $126,000 annually, will be associate superintendent for early childhood education. Both are newly created positions” (http://www.wral.com/nc-superintendent-hires-staff-for-new-early-education-school-business-positions/17122706/).

This is all part of the “budget” of taxpayer money that the state has given Johnson to hire people only beholden to him.

432

Actually, it’s more than $432,644.

Hinchcliffe states,

“Johnson also plans to hire an information and communications specialist. The position is part of $700,000 in taxpayer money lawmakers gave the superintendent to hire new staff for his office. The money allows Johnson to 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.”

That battle with the state board obviously has involved a lot of money in legal fees and while the state board is using its allotted budget to fight against Johnson’s unconstitutional power grab, Johnson is using taxpayer money to fight a legal battle to represent a bunch of lawmakers who refuse to use taxpayer money to fully fund the very schools that service most all of the children of those taxpayers.

The taxpayers that Johnson is supposed to serve.

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Besides the hiring of Ms. Shue at twice the salary of a veteran educator is doubly redundant. Why? BECAUSE THERE IS ALREADY A 23-PERSON STAFF IN PLACE FOR EARLY LEARNING CALLED THE OFFICE OF EARLY LEARNING.

Let’s go further than that. Johnson is spending taxpayer money to hire people to do work already taken care of and wage legal war against the state board of education when the very General Assembly that is financing him and propping him up just cut the budget for the Department of Public Instruction by nearly %20 over the next two years.

And just this past week, it was reported by Lindsay Wagner in “Without action, class size mandate threatens Pre-K in some school districts” on the Public School Forum of North Carolina website,

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/). 

Pre-K education is the very initiative for which Shue was hired to oversee is already being threatened by an unfunded mandate that Johnson has not fought against. There is nothing on record from Johnson that has been reported concerning this action.

It doesn’t stop there. Last week it was also bantered about by the gerrymandered Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform an idea to scrap the teacher salary schedule.

Has Johnson said anything about that?

Of course he has not. He should have been the first to make a comment.

In fact, the last time many teachers have heard from him was a video message with one of those surveys attached to it. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGYhL-1gOXs&feature=youtu.be.

It is not very in-depth. It talks about using technology to do professional development with a free-tool that he identified within IBM’s Watson program. It’s nice, but he fails to even acknowledge the herd of elephants in the room. One of those elephants is “time.”

In the video Johnson accomplishes a lot of things: he uses technology to “communicate” with teachers; he offers a chance for teachers affected by the HB13 law to get more resources for an ever changing pool of standards; and he gets to feel like he has helped teachers.

What really happened is that he got to not answer direct questions, specifically how are teachers going to be able to take advantage of this resource when the state has put so much on them that they have to get professional development on their own time rather than attend together in collaborative settings like it used to be when North Carolina was a leading state school system.

And time might be the most valuable resource that teachers are in need of. Katherine Correll’s recent op-ed in EdNC.org makes a great case for this – https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/14/need-provide-teachers-luxury-time/.

When Mark Johnson does not have the time to address the very contradictions of the “reforms” that he both defends and champions, then his silence begins to scream louder than any of the propaganda coming from people like Phil Berger, Tim Moore, and Chad Barefoot.

If Johnson is to make any case for being a leader, then he needs to stick out his neck and speak up more and do something he hasn’t done so far: spend time fighting for public schools rather than spending time rubber stamping bad reforms.

North Carolina’s Continued Passive Aggressive War on Public Education

Rep. Tim Moore’s recent missive in EdNC.org (“Education reforms for North Carolina’s future”) begins with one of the more sweeping fallacies made by many in Raleigh who champion the crippling policies surrounding public education.

TimMooreNC

He starts,

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

Popular with parents and students? Meaningful? Focused on shared priorities?

Well, consider the following list that just highlights some of those “reform” efforts from just the last eleven months.

  1. House Bill 17 was passed and “is meant to shift more power to Johnson and deem him the ‘administrative head’ of the state education department. The current law says some of the superintendent’s duties are ‘subject to the discretion, control and approval of the State Board of Education,’ but that language has been removed in several places in the proposed bill” (http://www.wral.com/bill-would-give-more-power-to-new-nc-superintendent-reduce-role-of-school-board/16341626/).
  2. A lawsuit by the state board against the superintendent over HB17 starts early in 2017. The General Assembly backs the state superintendent with taxpayer money in the case. The state board must use its own budget to finance lawsuit.
  3. The General Assembly passes a law (HB13) to limit class sizes in K-3 classrooms but does not allocate funds and resources to help hire needed teachers for new classes created in response or to help build extra classrooms.
  4. A principal pay plan that actually punishes many principals is passed without input from educators and is crafted in part by private business entities.
  5. Schools will no longer have Biology I test scores used to calculate school performance grade and school report cards when those scores have been among the highest in past years for each school.
  6. There is a new version of the N.C. Teaching Fellows that is a mere shadow of its former self.
  7. Opportunity Grants were expanded without any research backing its success to nearly a billion dollars over the next ten years.
  8. The Department of Public Instruction has its budget slashed by nearly 20% for the next two years.
  9. SB599 is passed and it allows people to enter the teaching profession with minimal training.
  10. An Innovative School District selects an unwilling school to turn over to a for-profit entity to “reform” it. That school system where the school resides is considering shutting down the school.
  11. Per-pupil expenditures still are one of the worst in the country.
  12. Textbook funding still lags millions behind what pre-recession levels were.
  13. There is a rash boon of a method to reformulate how monies are allocated to local school systems based political ideologies and personalities rather than principles.
  14. The state superintendent has not asserted himself as an instructional leader.

And that lawsuit between the state board of education and the state superintendent is still ongoing as it has been requested by the state board for the N.C. Supreme Court to hear the case all the while the very General Assembly that is propping the state superintendent is trying to recreate how judges in this state are elected and selected as well as drawing new judicial districts in an effort to take over the judicial system. That’s the same General Assembly that has been called out for gerrymandering districts – twice.

And Tim Moore wants to claim “The North Carolina General Assembly is implementing meaningful public school reforms that are popular with parents and students because they focus on families’ shared priority of improving student achievement.”

If “implementing meaningful public school reforms” means “waging war on public education” in this context, then Tim Moore is exactly right.

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.

Hawkins Middle School : How “Stranger Things” Shows Support For Public Schools

The fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana became the epicenter of a lot of “binge-watching” in the last month as the second season of the hit series Stranger Things was released in nine episodes.

Following the trials and tribulations of these school-age kids and their families is rather surreal; the music, the fashion, and the hair styles are as authentically presented now as they were actually in the 1980’s, especially if you are a middle-aged public school teacher who listens to The Clash like he did growing up in a small rural town in Georgia where he rode his bike everywhere without a digital link to everything else in the world.

He just had to be home by dinner.

While the kids and adults in this fictional town battle forces from the “upside down” amidst a government cover-up during the Cold War, it is easy to get lost in the sci-fi aspects of this well-written show. And it is very well-written and produced. But there is one non-human entity that is foundational and serves as the cornerstone to those people in a small section of Indiana: Hawkins Middle School, Home of the Tiger Cubs.

Stockbridge_School

Is there ever an episode where the school was not used as a setting? A place for Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to find answers? Is there ever an episode where the school is not juxtaposed against Hawkins National Laboratory where secretive actions took place?

Think about it. One place is an established public good where taxpayer money helps to educate all of the students who pass through its doors no matter what socioeconomic background they come from. They could be students from single-parent families or presumably stable nuclear families. They could be interested in a variety of curious endeavors like Dungeons & Dragons or audio/visual technology. Some of the kids ride their bicycles to this place.

stranger-things-filming-locations-hawkins-middle-school-2

The other is surrounded by gates and fences and can only be entered by people who are “chosen.” That place does not have to show others what happens there or how it “assesses” matters. If someone who is not a “staff member” or “student” there is caught on the premises, then punishment ensues.

But like the first place, this one is also financed by taxpayer money. Yet here, money is being used to create something private that is supposed to combat a problem that does not exist, but it creates an even bigger problem for all people.

While the parallels between Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins National Laboratory may be an exercise in fandom, they are rather apparent to those who question the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly when it comes to “reforming” public education.

If there ever was a cornerstone for the characters in Hawkins, IN, then it is the public school. It serves as the greatest foundation of that community.

The AV Room. Heathkit. School assemblies. The gymnasium. Science class. Mr. Clarke. Eleven channeling Will. Makeshift isolation tank. Portal to the Upside Down. The Snow Ball. Parents were students there. Ghostbusters suits.

hawkins

Those are tied to Hawkins Middle School.

So is growing up, coming of age, hallway conversations, epiphanies, learning about others, following curiosities, finding answers to questions you learned to ask.

Those are also tied to Hawkins Middle School.

What is attached to Hawkins National Laboratory is unregulated, politicized, and secretive. That is not to say that some charter schools do not serve vital purposes. But that is the exception and not the norm here in North Carolina.

Yes, the show takes place in Indiana and not North Carolina. My childhood roaming on a bicycle happened in Georgia and not North Carolina. But does that matter?

Ironically, Stranger Things happens to be a show created by two North Carolinians and shot in Georgia, but Hawkins is really any town where a majority of students go to public schools.

And just like in the 1980’s, public schools today are the heart of communities.

 

Rep. Tim Moore’s EPIC FAIL – A Response to Words on NCGA’s “Reforms”

Dear Rep. Moore,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You use that word – “average”. What you neglect to explain is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dear Rep. Moore,

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

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

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

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

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

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

ncga

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

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

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

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

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

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

You use that word – “average”. What you neglect to explain is that most of the raises have occurred at the very low rungs of the salary schedule. Of course, you can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. You would only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which we no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Concerning “Better Budgets,” you remarked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What Chad Barefoot and the NC General Assembly Can Learn From Betsy DeVos About SB599

If you don’t remember this past summer, a new bill was introduced to “reinvigorate” the teacher pipeline here in North Carolina. It was called SB599 and was originally championed by Chad Barefoot.

It is not too hard to see that the need for a “teacher pipeline” has been on the minds of the NC General Assembly. It is because of a manufactured teacher shortage – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/06/29/the-stench-of-sb599-raleigh-knows-why-we-have-a-teacher-shortage-they-created-it/.

Just a quick reminder:

“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.

This fast-tracking is how we got our state superintendent. It’s how we got our secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. But that fast tracking does not adequately prepare people for what the classroom will be like.

Or the terrain of public education.

Because to be in education, you have to have some education and time to be inside of the classroom to cultivate the craft of teaching and marry it to the social science of pedagogy.

It also helps to learn how to love all kids no matter where they come from and what they bring to the classroom.

There is already talk of how much longer Betsy DeVos will stay in office. A recent Politico expose called “The Education of Betsy DeVos” in its most recent edition.

DEvos politico

It’s long, but there is one paragraph that really stands out:

In retrospect, DeVos tells me, she blames the transition team for its handling of her confirmation. “I think I was undercoached,” she says. “The transition group was very circumspect about how much information they gave me about then-current policy and … it was in their view a balance between being prepared for a confirmation hearing and not having well-formed opinions on what should or shouldn’t change, so as not to get caught in a confirmation hearing making commitments that then I wouldn’t want to or be able to keep. And in hindsight, I wish I had a whole lot more information” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/01/betsy-devos-secretary-education-profile-2017-215768).

Simply put, she was not prepared.

And then this came from Salon.

Thomas Toch, director of independent education think tank FutureEd, told Politico that DeVos was ignorant of the job’s constraints when she accepted it and insiders are already preparing for her to vacate the position.

“She can’t fill her senior staff slots,” he said. “Morale is terrible at the department.”

DeVos was roundly criticized for her lack of basic knowledge about education policy during the confirmation hearing process. She blames President Donald Trump’s transition team, claiming she was “undercoached.”

One doubts most nominees for education secretary need to be coached not to cite grizzly bears as a reason for guns in schools.

“I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long,” Toch told Politico. “I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job” (https://www.salon.com/2017/11/06/officials-expect-devos-to-resign-from-trump-administration_partner/).

Again. She was unprepared.

It’s like she was allowed to become the head of the nation’s public school system through a fast-track “teacher pipeline” like SB599.

Do we really need to know why this has not gone well?

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 Misguided Narrative Over Differentiated Teacher Pay In North Carolina

“This idea that the school is a harmonious community and that teachers aren’t competing with one another is patently false. Teachers are constantly competing with one another. They want to outdo each other. They want to be a better teacher than the teacher down the hall. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to collaborate.” – Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation.

differentiated pay

The above quote is part of EdNC.org’s coverage of the debate concerning differentiated pay in Newton, NC on October 24th by Liz Bell.

The comment made by Dr. Stoops is more than interesting. It’s more than contradictory. It’s the very epitome of the mindset that is seeking to “reform” public education in North Carolina by undermining the teaching profession.

In fact, it’s (to quote Stoops) “patently false.”

If one looks at Dr. Stoop’s mini bio on the John Locke Foundation website, it mentions that he taught English in a Virginia public school (for 11 months according to LinkedIn) before embarking on a doctoral program and then becoming the Director of Research and Education Policy Studies for the libertarian think tank.

Dr. Stoops is literally paid to be a mouthpiece for JLF. It’s his job to tell people that teachers would rather compete against each other than collaborate. Devoid of the ability to look at education from the classroom perspective, he makes the above comment because it fits the narrative of his employer and aligns with the Art Pope mantra of free market competition even within the realm of a public good protected by the state constitution.

And that year in a classroom does not qualify Dr. Stoops to speak from a teacher’s perspective. Eleven months does not a veteran make; however, in the political terrain that was created by the likes of current GOP stalwarts, it would almost qualify him to be the state school superintendent.

As a veteran teacher, it would be great to say that every school is a harmonious community. But schools are literally fighting forces that are aimed at disrupting them. If anything is causing disharmony in schools, it is not the “competitive” streaks that exist in the teaching force; it is the constant placement of obstacles in the way of schools that teachers have to combat to help students achieve: vouchers, school performance grades, due-process right removal, graduate degree pay removal, constant flux in assessments, too much standardized tests, per-pupil expenditures lowered, charter school growth without regulation, and the list goes on.

And each one of those “initiatives” that are actually obstacles is championed by the very “think-tank” that Dr. Stoops shills for.

Furthermore, all of those obstacles are compounded by the growing income gap experienced by many of the students who attend public schools that the current NC General Assembly is enabling.

As a teacher, I do not compete with other teachers to “outdo” them. My success as a teacher is so dependent on other teachers that to work against them would be to sabotage my own effectiveness. It’s insane to think that I am competing against other teachers when there is not another person in the school with my exact schedule or teaching load who teaches the same students.

I did not fill out a self-assessment at the beginning of the year with a state approved rubric that will be used by my administrator to evaluate me on the basis of pitting myself against others. In fact, that evaluation form (the NC Educator Effectiveness System) uses the word “collaborate” and its other forms over 20 times. The word “competitive” comes up only once – as a descriptor for students after they graduate.

Teachers demonstrate leadership by taking responsibility for the progress of all students to ensure that they graduate from high school, are globally competitive for work and postsecondary education, and are prepared for life in the 21st century.

I did not renew my National Boards this past year to show how I am competing with others. In fact, part of the process is to show how I collaborate with my fellow educators for students and the community. In fact, there is a section devoted to “collaboration and Ethics.” Did I mention that NC has more NBCT’s than any other state?

I do not meet with my fellow teachers in Professional Learning Teams to figure out ways to “outdo” them. In fact, they are the best resources I have in education.

I do not have students work collaboratively in class just for show. I do it because it works.

Interestingly, Dr. Stoops referred to schools as communities. “Community” is an interesting word. I think of schools as being a “community” in the way that it is a group of people trying to build “community” with common goals and fostering a positive school culture.

I also believe that teachers who want to become better do not measure themselves in a competitive way with other teachers. They use the wealth of knowledge and perspective from other teachers to help them become better than they once were.

Ironically, Dr. Stoops works for an entity that supports and is supported by people who have much control over the dealing on West Jones Street. When it comes to public education, the efforts to work against teacher advocacy groups such as NCAE has been rather intensified. In this “right-to-work” state that allows no unions, organizations such as NCAE and local chapters, pose the biggest obstacle to the agenda that is proffered by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an agenda that wants to privatize a public good like public education.

It’s that collaboration within groups like NCAE that is keeping public education as a public good rather than allowing it to be thrown into the private market where the rules of operation have already been rigged.

If anything, it’s the very collaboration that public schools naturally have and nurture that poses the greatest opposition to “reformers.”

And Dr. Stoops is having a hard time competing against that.

keep-calm-and-collaborate

Raleigh, Buy Us Some Damn Textbooks!

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks. With real pages and hard covers.

Yes, technology in the classroom can be a great avenue for learning. However, technology for technology’s sake can block many roads for students. And if technology is to be looked at as a simple substitution for other resources to save time and money, then leaders need to be sure that nothing is being sacrificed that may harm our students’ abilities to succeed.

It is important to have all classrooms digitally linked. No doubt about that. It is important that students have technological resources that allow them to easily assimilate information and data and also disseminate findings. Again, no doubt about that.

But we still need the printed texts. We need the textbooks. We need the kinetic and tactile exposure to the text.

We need the textbooks.

Business Insider recently published an article that reports on a research study about how students learn “way” more from printed texts than they do from digital texts. Entitled “A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens,” Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer convincingly speak to this dynamic. From the article:

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it (http://www.businessinsider.com/students-learning-education-print-textbooks-screens-study-2017-10?platform=hootsuite).

“Prefer” is the operative word here.

Further in the report:

Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Think about the state of North Carolina and its failing commitment to fully fund schools. One just needs to look at the textbook funding numbers to see that we as a state do not place a high value on textbooks. And it’s not as if we don’t have the money to do so; the North Carolina General Assembly has been gloating about a budgetary surplus that it has “created” for the last couple of years.

Actually, it’s a matter of priority. This graphic was posted to Twitter this week.

textbooks

If that doesn’t show a deliberate disparity, then climate change isn’t real.

Ask any teacher in public schools about the textbook situation and you will receive an answer that talks about the lack of funds, how outdated they are, or the terrible condition they are in.

When research shows that students achieve more when they have the printed text, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in textbooks?

Yes, it does.

Raleigh, buy us some damn textbooks.

And don’t take our lunch money to pay for them.