The Privatization of North Carolina’s Public Schools – A Who’s Who

Remember Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina last year for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th  ,2017) with lawmakers brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos who had just been confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education)?

It was another ominous omen of what has been and will continue to be attempted in North Carolina – the further privatization of public education in North Carolina.

This meeting with Rhee that was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – public school educators. The media did have a brief chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, but what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 (the latter two soon after Mark Johnson was elected as NC State Superintendent).

Despite what they claim, the intentions of BEST NC and other “reformers” to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other both outside of the state and inside.

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. It’s very busy and probably confusing. It’s supposed to be.

Consider the following national entities:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • National Heritage Academies
  • Charter School USA
  • Team CFA
  • American Federation for Children

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC (but not of late).

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above have been at play in North Carolina even before that meeting with Michelle Rhee and BEST NC which took place literally days after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

They continue to be at play, more so now than ever before. And other are joining in thus making this document a work in progress.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting that took place in February of 2017 was just another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

First, consider the national scene.

graph11

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

BEST NC, based in Raleigh and architects of the recent controversial principal play program in the state, is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for DFER to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures. It shows something interesting.

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Part of that national scene includes three charter school chains.

National Heritage Academies is based in Michigan in the same state where Betsy DeVos began her quest to privatize public education. They’ve enabled each other. National Heritage Academies has 11 schools in North Carolina. One of them is Greensboro Academy. On the board of that school is Alan Harkes who sits on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina. That’s convenient.

Betsy DeVos is also the founder of a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. called the American Federation For Children. On February 15th, 2018 Darrell Allison who was for years the head of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, was chosen to assume a leadership position with AFC.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently given a green light with Dr. Eric Hall as the superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB4. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale. It is run by Jonathan Hage whose political contribution to politicians in North Carolina are rather numerous.

Now consider North Carolina.

graph3

Those numbers correspond to:

  1. North Carolina General Assembly
  2. Charter School Advisory Board and State Board of Education
  3. Civitas Institute
  4. John Locke Foundation
  5. BEST NC
  6. SAS
  7. State Supt. Mark Johnson
  8. Gov. Dan Forest
  9. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
  10. Carolina CAN
  11. Jason Saine
  12. Jerry Tillman
  13. Innovative School District
  14. Bill Rabon
  15. Trinity Christian School
  16. David Curtis
  17. Hope Street Group

Go back to Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

graph5

  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation. He’s #12 on the state map.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well. He’s #11 on the state map.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well. He’s #16 on the state map.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations. He’s #8 on the state map. It is also worth noting that Forest is also on the state board of education and is ramping up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2020.
  • There’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate. That’s the bill that would have been a clean fix of the class size mandate that was replaced with a poison pill called HB90. He’s #14 on the state map.

Furthermore, Jason Saine has just been named the new National Chairman of ALEC and is helping to open yet another charter school called West Lake Preparatory school that is affiliated with Charter Schools USAhttps://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just a few years ago merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country. StudentsFirst was started by Michelle Rhee.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers. Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation. Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. In fact, there has been no evidence that BEST NC had even worked with Hope Street Group in any endeavor of late meaning that BEST NC really does not reach out to any teacher-affiliated groups.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Innovative School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

The North Carolina General Assembly has backed Johnson with money and resources to fight the state board of education in a rather long-timed lawsuit thus showing he NCGA’s loyalty to Johnson and not the state board. Furthermore, it has reduced DPI’s budget significantly and allowed Johnson to hire people loyal to him including a former official with the Mississippi Charter Schools (#14 on national map) as a high ranking person in DPI.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th, 2017 feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

And remember that Darrell Allison who served as president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina for the past few years will now be a director in DeVos’s American Federation for Children. Allison still plans on being based in North Carolina.

Oh, Allison is also on the UNC Board of Governors. He will remain in that capacity. So a man who has influence over the state’s university system is employed by national school choice advocacy group founded by the current secretary of education that feeds funds to ALEC, an organization that just named a NC lawmaker (Jason Saine) as its national chairman.

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

graph6

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Now look at that first map again:

graph1

Hopefully, it makes a little more sense.

The NC GOP has been very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.

Also look at this timeline:

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants (vouchers) – 2014

Now consider SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

SAS controls the EVAAS software system. It is used by the state to measure teacher effectiveness. It uses rather surreptitious methods and secret algorithms to calculate its data – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/.

Other lawmakers aligned with the privatizing movement here in North Carolina include Sen. Chad Barefoot who heads the powerful NC Senate Committee for Education. It is rumored that he is being considered as a possible head of the NC community college system in the next few years.

What has happened is that much of what should be “public” in the North Carolina school system is now being guided by non-public entities.

And we in NC get this:

graph4

Simply put, the privatization of the public school system.

“Snowbirding” on the Court of the Class Size Fix

When a player on a basketball court refuses to go and play defense and only wants easy passes for wide open shots to pad their stat sheet, that player is “snowbirding.”

Rather than doing the heavy lifting, playing hard to make a stop and secure the rebound, this player raises his hands, yells for the long pass, and celebrates making an uncontested shot (if he can actually shoot the ball) while never doing any of the very work that made the shot possible.

Metaphorically speaking, when it comes to the supposed victory in the “fix” to the unfunded class size mandate, State Superintendent Mark Johnson had the audacity to take credit for “work” done to help put off the class size mandate for a while longer with a bill laced with other harmful legislation concerning the environment and election boards for the coming elections.

snowbird1

He used that possessive plural personal pronoun called “our.” He tweeted,

Happy to report that our work to be a voice for parents, students and educators has paid off. Students will benefit from smaller class sizes, pre-K programs, and our school districts will benefit from dedicated enhancement teacher funding and a longer implementation.

Forgive me if I am mistaken in any way, but when was Mark Johnson a voice for parents, students, and educators for this class size fix? While many parents, teachers, and advocates were doing all of the hard work in rallying, speaking, galvanizing, canvasing, and talking to politicians, Mark Johnson was a no-show, a no-voice, but a smile on a television camera that he chose not to share with anyone who would challenge his actions (that’s a reference to declining an invitation to debate Mark Jewell of NCAE in television about comments he himself made).

He was “snowbirding,” waiting for the issue to be resolved, screaming for the microphone, and gladly taking credit for something that he had no part in.

That video referenced in the tweet is worth the watch if just to see someone whose very job is to advocate for public schools but rather takes credit for something that so many others worked for despite his inactivity.

If anyone needed any more evidence that our state superintendent is nothing more than a puppet for the NC General Assembly powers who put together the poison-laced class-size fix called HB90, then nothing will convince you.

Players who “snowbird” are not really team players.

In fact, they almost work for the other side.

Open Letter to Rep. Chuck McGrady About His Empty Class Size Mandate Explanation

Dear Rep. Chuck McGrady,

I read with great interest your recent missive “Class Size: A Simple Explanation of the Issue.” While I appreciate your wanting to explain the issue in what you may think is a truthful manner, I must admit that it just rehashes the same argument made by many others in the General Assembly which have been debunked or severely neutralized (https://nchouse117.com/class-size-a-simple-explanation-of-the-issue/).

Particularly interesting was the section entitled “A Longer Explanation and History of Class Size Requirements” not only because it follows the “simple explanation”, but because it leaves out a rather particularly vital aspect to this class size ordeal.

You stated,

“The class size issue is not new; the legislature has been instituting class size restrictions for the past four decades. Prior to 1995, there were separate allotments for classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers. In 1995, those allotments were consolidated into one allotment that included funding for both classroom teachers and program enhancement teachers.

Over the years as the legislature changed the teacher allotment ratio, it did not always correspond with an average class size requirement change. This is best shown through this chart:”

blackburn1

That graph is linked to teacher allotment. Yet if you are going to give a “longer explanation” of the class size requirements then it might need to include the removal of class size caps passed by the same NCGA that you and others in Raleigh but never seem to mention.

Let me refer to the Allotment Policy Handbook FY 2013-14 on guidelines for maximum class size for all classes. There is a table from p.26 that gives some guide lines to students per classroom.

class size

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes and you do mention that local LEA’s have flexibility. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on previous allotment numbers. And that’s huge! As classes around the state got bigger in size, the General Assembly was funding with the same allotment table. You even give another table.

blackburn 2

Actually, you are saying that the NCGA thinks that bigger classes should be the norm. From 2010-2011 to 2017-2018, the average class size for the allotment is bigger. That means fewer teachers being allotted for more students.

Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students. I mention the sizes for high school and middle school classrooms because to create a class size mandate for early grades affects the class sizes for all grades in a school system. If you say that there is already funding, then shrinking some classes to fit a requirement cause other classes to balloon and subjects to be dropped.

Plus you NEVER SHOW where the funding came in for the class size mandate. You just make a blanket statement in your “longer explanation.”

Another detail to emphasize is the change that some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher. But it seems that you are making an argument that funding is fantastically high now.

You also say,

“School building and other capital needs, may also be an issue. If a school is at capacity and suddenly has to have smaller class sizes, then it will need additional classrooms. This is a cost that is borne by the school system, not the state.”

Is that how you would explain it to local LEA’s and superintendents? Because according to the numbers, all of that funding that you imply was to go to “class size restrictions” actually is going to teacher salaries just to fill classrooms that already were getting bigger in size, were defined by DPI as viable classes, and already existed.

Kris Nordstrom, a well-known education finance and policy analyst, published a rather epic article on the class-size mandate and the lies that people like Barefoot and Moore have used in explaining their lack of action to fully fund the mandate (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/15/cant-general-assembly-leadership-stop-lying-unfunded-class-size-mandate/#sthash.UcohVyIb.dpbs). It is very much worth the read.

Within that article, Nordstrom states,

DPI publishes data showing whether a school district has transferred their classroom teacher money for other uses. It’s a bit complicated to find. But in FY 2016-17, just four districts transferred any money out of their classroom teacher allotment. The transfers totaled just $1.1 million. In that same year, districts received $4.1 billion of classroom teacher money. In other words, districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes.

That bears repeating:

“Districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year.” 

Nordstrom shows the numbers. You make blanket statements under headers such as “A Simple Explanation” which are then followed up by even more blankets statements in sections like “A Longer Explanation.”

Rep. McGrady, until you explain how your funding for the class size mandate has actually been made when you yourself helped to remove class size caps but not made corresponding changes to teacher allotments then I will take your words with more merit.

And until you explain how local LEA’s have been not using those funds already on teachers in still overcrowded classrooms, then I will consider your explanation empty.

When Your State Superintendent Won’t “Rally”‘ For Public Schools

Rally (noun)
1a : a mustering of scattered forces to renew an effort
2: a mass meeting intended to arouse group enthusiasm (merriam-webster.com)

It is the right of every American to come together and peacefully speak out for an issue. What someone rallies for speaks for their interests and values.

When a lawmaker or an elected official attends a rally, it can show his priorities and his loyalties.

Take North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Johnson for instance.

According to the job description of the state superintendent, Johnson is responsible for the “day-to-day” management of the North Carolina public school system. It seems that if anything was to threaten the public school system, then Mark Johnson would be the first to “rally” for the public school system and the students in the public school system.

This past weekend a rally was held in Raleigh at the Halifax Mall of public school advocates calling for a fix to the class size mandate that threatens most public school systems. This unfunded dictate will cause LEA’s to make decisions on what classes must be eliminated and how to navigate certain obstacles on classroom space and teacher allotment.

That rally was to petition Raleigh’s lawmakers to do the right thing. FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Mark Johnson was not there. Yet a former state superintendent was present, Bob Etheridge. He was rallying for public schools.

Other rallies have been held in recent years for public education dealing with funding and keeping teacher assistants. Mark Johnson was not there for any of those as there are no indications of his attendance. On his personal webpage as state superintendent, Johnson remarks,

…having served as a teacher, an education leader, and as a father of a young daughter soon to start school, improving education in North Carolina is a personal mission for Johnson (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/statesuperintendent/).

It seems that with this assumed pedigree of public school commitment, Johnson would be the first to rally for public schools – as a teacher, a “leader,” and as a parent.

Yet it has been documented that Mark Johnson has refused to answer inquiries in state board meetings about public school policy which is in essence a chance to “rally” for public schools.

But that does not mean he will not “rally” for people. Take for instance an event on January 23rd.

rally

Johnson will be there. He’s even the keynote speaker. He will rally for charter schools in a state that has gone out of its way to deregulate charter schools, ramp up vouchers, and use taxpayer money to fund those endeavors when no empirical data shows an overall increase in student achievement.

That’s the same taxpayer money that is not now being used for public schools and not being used to actually fund the class size mandate.

Interesting that a man “elected” by the people would rally for school choice but not for traditional public schools where around 90% of the state’s students “choose” to attend school. But it is not surprising.

Why? Because Mark Johnson does not really seem to stand for public schools as much as he “rallies” for private interests and GOP stalwarts in the NC General Assembly. If he disagrees with that statement, then he can come to a rally for public schools and explain himself. He can be more “public” to the “public.” However, his unavailability and his unwillingness to speak up for public schools are becoming more of the rule rather than the exception.

Make no mistake, Mark Johnson is a puppet – a man whose entire experience in teaching and teacher preparation is less than two calendar years and whose only foray into public education policy is an unfinished term on a local school board.

When Johnson said in the last state school board meeting, “I think what the General Assembly is looking for is accountability, accountability for the money that is sent to this department,” what he is implying is, “I work for people on West Jones Street and not the people of the state. (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/07/state-board-education-superintendent-mark-johnson-clash-dpi-funding/#sthash.hajrdpLu.hb54ZsZP.dpbs).

He indicated that he only goes to “rallies” that he is told to go to. Even the rally he will attend for school choice is in the legislative building where the General Assembly meets.

So limited is Johnson’s experience in education and politics and so narrow is his vision for what should be done to actually help public schools that his naivety to be used by the General Assembly to carry out their ALEC-inspired agenda has become something of an open secret.

School choice is part of the ALEC agenda.

Of course Mark Johnson would rally for them.

Now, what North Carolina needs to do is rally to change the people in Raleigh in the next election.

A Must Read: Kris Nordstrom’s “The Unraveling—Poorly-crafted Education Policies Are Failing North Carolina’s Children”

There are a few people who, when they write about public education, I automatically read.

And I read Kris Nordstrom’s work. A former research and policy analyst for the North Carolina General Assembly, Norstrom now is an analyst for the Education & Law Project for the North Carolina Justice System.

His eyes see public education in North Carolina with as clear a lens as anyone, his ability to explain fact from fiction is unparalleled, and his willingness to confront lawmakers on the issues is admirable.

This recent report is simply devastatingly clear and candid. Anyone with a stake in public education should read: http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=education/education-policy-perspectives-unraveling%E2%80%94poorly-crafted-education-policies-are-failing.

Nordstrom

Furthermore, it has been reported on Diane Ravitch’s blog: https://dianeravitch.net/2018/01/08/north-carolina-how-a-once-great-state-destroyed-its-public-schools/.

 

Sue Sylvester Would Repeal The Unfunded Class Size Mandate in NC And Make Public Schools More “Glee”ful

It is not hard to imagine one of the legislative offices at the North Carolina General Assembly to be inhabited by yet another individual who refuses to repeal the class size mandate that threatens to hurt our public schools.

Someone so dead-set against the arts that he/she would sabotage their funding with lies and antagonistic plans.

Someone who has so convinced him /herself that what is really needed in public education is more political agendas rather than public service.

Someone like the Sue Sylvester.

sue sylvester 1

In fact, the Sue Sylvester of the first four seasons of the hit-show Glee would fit in just fine with the GOP caucus that runs West Jones Street, especially when it comes to public education. In just a few short weeks, that entire caucus could be adorning themselves in matching Adidas brand track suits as they file into secret chambers for a midnight meeting during a special session to grab power in surreptitious ways.

Sue Sylvester would have a megaphone in that meeting.

sue sylvester 2

Yes, Glee is not that realistic in many ways.  It’s more like an episodic Broadway musical with characters who so dramatically play their roles “over the top” that they become their own caricatures. Shows survive by ratings, and ratings come with unrealistic plot lines.

But there is a lot about Glee and the Sue Sylvester character that does shed a bright stage light upon the fate of public schools. In fact, the creators of the show and its writers make it rather plain that they are very much advocates of the arts in our schools.

Sue Sylvester’s character is always at odds with the glee club because of what might be termed as “inadequate” funding.  Lack of funding in public schools is more than a running theme in North Carolina.

Sue Sylvester’s character is very much of a bully. There might be a few of those on West Jones Street.

Sue Sylvester’s actions got her fired. Considering the number of unconstitutional actions taken by the current NCGA with voter rights, gerrymandering, and removal of teacher due-process rights for veterans, there are many who might think those “fireable” offenses.

Sue Sylvester comes back to work after all she has done.  That coach at Trinity Christian in Fayetteville was allowed to go back to work even after he embezzled LOTS of money from taxpayer funded vouchers.

And then there’s what the creators and writers of Glee actually comment on schools through the entire series.

There’s the fact that the show emphasizes the arts with the glee club.

There’s the fact that issues such as bullying and sexual identity are heavily explored which is rather apropos considering the HB2 debacle and the “legivangelism” so prevalent in Raleigh.

There’s the fact the issues such as inclusion of exceptional students and kids are important. With characters (and actresses) who happen to have Down Syndrome on the show, Glee shows that people are always more alike than they are different – especially students.

sue sylvester 3

And finally, there is the series end where Sue Sylvester (as VP of the US – yes a woman in that high office) comes back to help dedicate the new auditorium at the school she once tried to bend to her will. William McKinley High now is an exemplary school because it embraces the arts.

Sue Sylvester came to her senses in the last season.

Makes you wonder if those lawmakers in Raleigh could come to their senses and repeal the class size mandate. If not, then we should cancel their “series” in the next elections.

But it would be neat to see Berger, Barefoot, and Lee in matching tracksuits.

Fully Fund The Specials, Raleigh – The Bible Tells Us So

 

Kep Calm

We live in a country that is the most evangelical in the world.

We live in a state that is part of the Bible Belt. In fact, it may be part of the buckle.

And it is amazing how many American politicians seek to gain a political endorsement from the Son of God. They know that seeking the endorsement of God is essential to garnering a very faithful voting segment of the population. Many in our state have done it.

Take a visit to the website for the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation – http://cpcfoundation.com/. That’s .COM. It’s commercially driven.

Now take a look at the North Carolina Caucus members – http://cpcfoundation.com/north-carolina-prayer-caucus-members/. See some familiar names?

  • Governor Dan Forest
  • Senator David Curtis, Co-Chair
  • Senator Chad Barefoot
  • Senator Jerry Tillman

These lawmakers abide by the CPCF’s Vision and Mission which state,

  • Protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer.
  • The CPCF will restore and promote America’s founding spirit and core principles related to faith and morality by equipping and mobilizing a national network of citizens, legislators, pastors, business owners and opinion leaders.

All in the name of religious freedom. Talk about your separation of church and state. All of those lawmakers are avid defenders of education “reform” like deregulated charter schools, vouchers, and de-professionalizing the teaching profession.

They also are in favor of the class size mandate that may plague public schools for many years to come – the same class size mandate that will force schools to eliminate arts and physical education classes because the lawmakers in Raleigh (including the aforementioned) will not fully fund the mandate to allow for more class space and teachers to be hired to completely honor what the law asks.

If Jesus came back to earth right now I envision him walking around in a pair of blue jeans and wearing a t-shirt with some sandals. And I do not think he would support these “reforms.” He certainly would not want to jeopardize the arts and physical education in our schools.

 

The predominant spiritual path in the United States, Judeo-Christianity, talks much of the need for music, dance, movement, song, and expression. I think of all of the hymns and musicals my own Southern Baptist church produced, some complete with choreography, which is odd considering that many joke about Baptists’ aversion to dancing.

Even the Bible commands “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth”(Psalms 96:1), and “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe” (Psalm 150:4).

Furthermore, the Bible often talks of the body as being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and even commands Christians to stay physically fit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Not fixing the class size mandate in NC is egregious. It’s backwards. It’s forcing school districts to make decisions about whether to educate the whole child or part of the child in order to make student/teacher ratios look favorable. It’s either drop those courses or cutting teacher assistants and that would be yet another detrimental blow against public education.

That’s like going out of your way to get plastic surgery, liposuction, and body sculpting to create a new look while ignoring the actual health of your body. Without proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, mental health, and emotional support, we open doors to maladies.

When the Bible that people like Chad Barefoot and Phil Berger and Tim Moore read talks about a temple, it talks about the insides, not just the outsides.

Interestingly enough, many of the private schools and charter schools that receive public money through Opportunity Grants that many in Raleigh heartily champion have plentiful art programs and physical education opportunities.

So why put these programs for public schools in jeopardy if they reach so many more children?

What our history has shown us time and time again is that we needed music, dance, arts, and physical education to cope and grow as people and we needed them to become better students. To force the removal of these vital areas of learning would be making our students more one-dimensional.

It would make them less prepared.

It simply would hurt public education.

Don’t think Jesus would want that.

 

 

 

A Convenient Lie, Or Rather The NCGA’s Deliberate Distortion of the Truth

Remember when Sen. Chad Barefoot said this in February of 2017 concerning House Bill 13?

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/).

I do.

I thought about it a lot today as I read Justin Parmenter’s on-point op-ed in today’s News & Observer entitled “N.C. Senate ignores the class-size crisis” (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article191690189.html). Parmenter is a teacher-warrior and a vital voice for public education. He deserves any public education advocate’s attention.

Sen. Barefoot’s empty claim about having already “funded” the class size mandate is not the only one made, and it actually is the same manufactured lie conveniently used by GOP-stalwarts in Raleigh to hopefully silence the #ClassSizeChaos movement.

Parmenter makes mention of two specific versions of the same lie:

During the October session, when the Senate declined to take up class sizes, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said “those reductions have already been fully funded.” 

Senate majority leader Harry Brown said, “It’s obvious to us that money has been spent on something other than class size reduction…” 

But there is a purpose behind this lie. It’s purely political. It involves money. And it is being championed by those who want to privatize public education here in North Carolina.

Even the John Locke Foundation has helped to spread this lie. Recently, Dr. Terry Stoops, the less-then-one-year former teacher and mouthpeice for the JLF libertarian think tank, gave an interesting explanation of how the NCGA has already funded the class size mandate.

Take a look at the video on the link below.

https://www.carolinajournal.com/video/jlfs-terry-stoops-rebuts-claim-that-n-c-class-size-reduction-is-unfunded-mandate/

Stoops

Please notice that in the webpage above, Dr. Stoops writes a story that refers to Dr. Stoops in the title and in the actual article with a picture of Dr. Stoops in the video on a website for an entity that Dr. Stoops works for.

The only other living being (or muppet) who refers to himself in the third person that much is none other than – Elmo.

elmo

Perpetuating this deliberate distortion of the truth has become commonplace for this current NCGA, but there are many in North Carolina who are making the truth known.

One of those people is Kris Nordstrom, a well-known education finance and policy analyst. When Nordstrom publishes something, I read it. When he mentions something on Twitter, I look at it and read the links.

He’s just that good, and he doesn’t let statistics stand in the way because he is looking for the facts.

Parmenter’s op-ed makes mention of Nordstrom, who published a rather epic article on the class-size mandate and the lies that people like Barefoot and Moore have used in explaining their lack of action to fully fund the mandate (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/12/15/cant-general-assembly-leadership-stop-lying-unfunded-class-size-mandate/#sthash.UcohVyIb.dpbs). It is very much worth the read.

Within that article, Nordstrom states,

DPI publishes data showing whether a school district has transferred their classroom teacher money for other uses. It’s a bit complicated to find. But in FY 2016-17, just four districts transferred any money out of their classroom teacher allotment. The transfers totaled just $1.1 million. In that same year, districts received $4.1 billion of classroom teacher money. In other words, DPI publishes data showing whether a school district has transferred their classroom teacher money for other uses. It’s a bit complicated to find. But in FY 2016-17, just four districts transferred any money out of their classroom teacher allotment. The transfers totaled just $1.1 million. In that same year, districts received $4.1 billion of classroom teacher money. In other words, districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes.. Clearly, district mismanagement is not a meaningful barrier to reaching lower class sizes.

That bears repeating:

“Districts spent 99.972 percent of their classroom teacher money on teachers last year.” 

I would like to hear Stoops’s response to that.

I would like to hear Barefoot’s response to that.

I would like to hear Berger’s response to that.

I would like to a lot of people’s responses to that who believe in the convenient lie that this class-size mandate has already been funded.

But remember, those are the same people who believe that the current ratios of school nurses, guidance counselors, assistant principals, social workers, school psychologists, and teacher assistants to students are just fine.

Think about coming to Halifax Mall on January 6th to help hold Raleigh accountable for their deliberate distortion of the truth.

 

 

 

 

Not Ready to Lead: Mark Johnson’s Empty List of Accomplishments

After almost one full year in office, Mark Johnson has shown that he is not ready to be a leader.

In fact, he seems rather satisfied with going around in circles.

The State Superintendent’s most recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” is simply a long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car that should leave all public school advocates suffocating from the exhaust. (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

Why? Because what he said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how he is more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

It is indicative of someone more concerned with the appearance of matters rather than tackling the very obstacles that stand in the way of public schools succeeding.

It is symptomatic of someone who wants to appear that he is leading, but really is most reliant on certain people on West Jones Street to keep him propped up in office.

It is an avenue that someone with his lack of leadership would use when he has been asked multiple times by the state board of education what his actual plan for the state’s public school system is yet he stares ahead and balks at the opportunity.

In the first paragraph Johnson states,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which he defined his brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since Johnson was elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of his accomplishments as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions has taken taken are in direct contrast to his campaign “promises.”

  1. Johnson said that he conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. He said at one time that he would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But North Carolians have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. Johnson said that he would decrease the amount of standardized testing that NC would subject students to, but this past week he announced that he wants to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing.

  1. In his op-ed, Johnson celebrates the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. He said that people wanted more transparency.

But did he address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did he acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. Johnson has called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet his lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if he is calling for an audit, will he allow it to highlight the fact that he is using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money he was given to hire people only loyal to him and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, Johnson criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet he never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. Johnson even hired as his Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. Johnson did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with multitudes of elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet he seems to celebrate the arts and music in NC’s public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What has he done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, Johnson seems rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while he is actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives him control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect him to have.

In fact, when Johnson mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because he himself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND ALL OF THEM ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining public school students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

And this post has not even begun to talk about the use of vouchers, the deregulation of charter schools, and the absolute mess that the Innovative School District has become – all of which Johnson supports.

But here is the biggest disconnect with Johnson’s analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of his op-ed. He states,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While Johnson talks about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that he uses an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And his narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people he seems to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

A Response to Mark Johnson’s Latest Missive – With Help From Ricky Bobby

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I read with great interest your recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

And after reading your long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car, I found myself suffocating from the exhaust.

Why? Because what you said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how you are more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

In the first paragraph you state,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which you defined your brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since you were elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of your accomplishments from your first calendar year as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions you have taken are in direct contrast to your campaign “promises.”

  1. 1. You said that you conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. You said at one time that you would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But we have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. You said that you would decrease the amount of standardized testing that we would subject students to, but this past week you announced that you want to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing to me.

  1. 3. In your op-ed, you celebrate the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. You said that people wanted more transparency.

But did you address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did you acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. 4. You have called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet your lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if you are calling for an audit, will you allow it to highlight the fact that you are using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money you were given to hire people only loyal to you and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, you criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet you never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. You even hired as your Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. You did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with our elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet you seem to celebrate the arts and music in our public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What have you done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, you seem rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while you are actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives you control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect you to have.

In fact, when you mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because you yourself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND YOU ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining our students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

But here is the biggest disconnect with your analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of your op-ed. You state,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While you talk about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that you use an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And your narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people you seem to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

Even Ricky Bobby knows that.

ricky bobby