About That ReOrg at DPI And What The Hell Is a Deputy Superintendent of Innovation?

As reported yesterday by many outlets, Mark Johnson announced a reorganization at the Department of Public Instruction, one of the many results of a recent court case that took over a year to settle and an audit that cost over a million dollars which said that DPI was underfunded.

Alex Granados of EdNC.org published the actual email sent out by Johnson to staff at DPI.

Dear Colleagues:
As most of you know, since becoming state superintendent, I have advocated a strategy of bold innovation and true urgency at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to support our state’s educators and students.
Today, we are taking major steps toward those goals by changing the way DPI is organized. To provide better support to the field, we need more efficiency and fewer silos in our organizational structure. (You can see the new structure here.)
To that end, I am creating a new deputy superintendent structure to drive innovation, collaboration, and operational efficiency. All deputy superintendents will now have a more effective number of directors reporting to them, which allows us to flatten the org chart and break down silos in the department. More division directors will be closer to leadership in this flatter structure.
Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, who has been invaluable to me and to the department, will remain in her position as Deputy Superintendent for District Support. Dr. Eric Hall will become the Deputy Superintendent of Innovation. The new Deputy Superintendent of Operations position will relieve the other deputies from dealing with the department’s procurement, contracts, IT, HR, and other operational matters. This will allow Maria and Eric to focus on better supporting educators, students, and parents while the department can now make long-overdue improvements to our internal processes.
Eric’s group will house divisions including Charter Schools, the ISD, Career and Technical Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Accountability, and Federal Programs – all areas that will focus on generating, implementing, evaluating, and scaling successful strategies across the state to improve student outcomes.
Maria’s district support group will include the new Regional District Support, the new Educator Recruitment and Support, and other divisions that assist school districts and educators. The vision for this group will be to begin the shift to a data-driven support model through regional support teams. Teams will utilize a central data repository to improve local decision-making in partnership with schools and districts.
Maria will play the key role in driving collaboration as the Regional District Support team will need to work across the entire department. In fact, you may notice that there doesn’t seem to be a perfect break between the Innovation and District Support groups; that is by design. Overall, the changes are intended to foster more cooperation and collaboration among directors for the ultimate benefit of our educators and students.
Today, Maria, Eric, and I met with division directors to begin the work to develop plans for the transition to the new structure. I will begin to meet weekly with my DPI leadership team and regularly with division directors to drive our vision for transforming K-12 education in North Carolina. Also, all DPI staff will have an opportunity soon to discuss this new structure with us.
Thank you for your patience as we move to implement these changes. I know there has been a significant amount of change at DPI over the past 18 months. I appreciate all the work staff and local districts have done while these shifts, sometimes painful and sometimes merely distracting, have played out around us. I sincerely hope that we are at a point where we can begin to focus on urgently driving the innovation our system needs to truly fulfill the educational aspirations of educators, parents, and students.
In the coming weeks, we will be communicating more with you and the field about how these changes will be implemented and what changes districts and charter schools can expect.
Thank you for all you do for North Carolina’s public schools. North Carolina is fortunate to have you.
Mark
Important contact information:
  • Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin will be the Deputy Superintendent for District Support.
    • When local district officials or superintendents have questions or concerns for DPI, Maria is your best point of contact as she will reach across the department to drive collaboration and customer service for schools.
  • Dr. Eric Hall will be the Deputy Superintendent of Innovation.
  • Dr. Pamela Shue will remain the lead for early childhood education as the Deputy Superintendent for Early Education.
  • The Deputy Superintendent for Operations has not been announced yet.
  • Alexis Schauss will fill a new position as the Chief School Business Officer for NC public schools.
  • Stacy Wilson-Norman will be the division director for Curriculum and Instruction. Thank you to Christie Lynch-Ebert for serving as the interim director.
  • There are no other changes in division directors.
  • Regularly scheduled webinars will continue for now as Eric, Maria, Alexis, Stacy, and other division directors formulate best practices going forward (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/24/superintendent-mark-johnson-announces-new-organizational-changes-at-dpi/).

Forget that Stacy Wilson-Norman actually spells her name “Stacey” and that “true urgency” took over 18 months to happen, there are some things worth noting about the new organizational chart.

Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.

chart1

This is what it looks like now.

orgchart

The first thing to notice is that on the older chart some positions were titled with ALL CAPS and had a thicker border surrounding them. That meant that these people were Dual-Report Positions. In short, they answered to both the state board and to Johnson. However, that went away on July 1 with this:

With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/17/state-board-of-education-loses-power-over-dpi-leadership/).

What that means is that those people who held those positions not only answer to Johnson now alone, but he has total control over what they do. A man with less than two calendar years of teacher training and classroom experience combined along with an unfinished term on a local school board now “calls” the shots for all of those veterans in a DPI whose budget is being slashed by the very people who prop up Johnson.

Also in the older chart, Johnson reports to the state board. In the new one, the state board of education does not even really have any ties to DPI except through an internal auditor. It’s like they do not exist, which is just what the powers that run the NCGA wanted.

Another change is that there are now FOUR Deputy State Superintendents: Operations, District Support, Early Education, and Innovation.

Innovation? One can see the concreteness of operations, support, and focus on early education, but “Innovation” sounds rather nebulous.

Or maybe not if you have followed Johnson’s track record these past eighteen months in office.

If you look under the Dept. Supt. of Innovation’s duties you will see the following:

  • Innovative School District
  • Charter Schools
  • Federal Programs
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Accountability
  • Curriculum and Instruction

That job is being filled by Dr. Eric Hall who until recently was only the superintendent of the Innovative School District. So now the super of an ISD that has only one school in its district which is many miles away from DPI and has yet to be opened as an ISD school much less proven its effectiveness but also has almost unlimited funds to ensure success – now breathe – will take over five other branches of DPI functionality?

If giving that many hats to one person who has yet to show results in the state as far as his previous post begs is innovative, then it is appropriately named.

If someone is going to be able to spin SB514, diversity problems, and a lack of accountability for the charter school industry here in NC with a positive light, then yes, that would be innovation. And it could happen because Dr. Hall oversees accountability.

Yet will he have the objectivity to be able to show how accountable or unaccountable charters and the ISD prove to be?

And believe it or not, innovation within curriculum and instruction is more teacher driven, but Johnson seems to not like teachers in any of his posts. Their experience and insight would prove him wrong.

Of course, any new state superintendent will want to put his mark on DPI, but this organizational change is just another way of placing people loyal to Johnson and ultimately loyal to Berger and Moore in positions to carry out other people’s wishes. Right now they are bent on privatizing as much of the public education system as they can. They need “YES” people in DPI. And no one is a bigger “YES” person than Johnson.

Maybe they forgot one crucial part to the new organization flowchart that would lend more clarity.

orgchart2

That’s more like it.

The North Carolina General Assembly Should Pass HB 1051 – Restore Master’s Supplement for Teachers

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The GOP-led NC legislature’s 2013 decision to end graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers entering the teaching profession was not only misguided, but another wave in the assault on public education here in the Old North State.

I confess there exist numerous studies that have shown that advanced degrees do not correlate with higher test scores and/or higher graduation rates. Even John Hood’s October 2015 op-Ed “Not a matter of degrees” on EdNC.org makes note of these studies. He states:

Since 1990, scholars have published more than 100 studies in academic journals that tested the relationship between teachers having graduate degrees and some measure of educational success, such as test-score gains or increases in graduation rates. In more than 80 percent of the studies, there was no statistically significant relationship. A few of the studies actually found a negative effect. Only 15 percent produced a positive association.

Yet, those words do not convince this teacher that having advanced degrees is not beneficial for teachers, students, and schools.

Since 1990, we as a nation have transitioned from Clinton to Bush to Obama; we have survived No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. As a state, we have gone from the Standard Course of Study all the way to Common Core (and its amorphous successor). And we have used several versions of EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s.

The point is that we have employed so many different barometers of learning utilizing various units of measurements that to actually compare current data on student achievement to historical data becomes almost futile. Even the SAT has changed multiple times since I took it in high school.

However, there is one constant in our classrooms that has provided the glue and mortar for public schools since 1990 and well before that: experienced teachers.

If the North Carolina General Assembly thinks that abolishing the graduate degree pay increases for teachers is a good policy, then it needs to convince North Carolinians that our state does not need veteran teachers who are seasoned with experience. Teachers who seek graduate degrees in education (and/or National Certification) are themselves making a commitment to pursue careers in public education. When the state refuses to give pay bumps for graduate degrees, then the state just ensured that North Carolina will not have as many veteran, experienced teachers in our schools in the near future. Those teachers will not be able to afford to stay in the profession. Yet, we as a state cannot afford to lose them.

Some teachers do not wish to earn graduate degrees simply because of time constraints and financial barriers. Some do not need graduate degrees to feel validated as master teachers, but the choice to further one’s education to advance in a chosen occupation should always remain and be rewarded. And if a teacher believes that it is beneficial to earn an advanced degree, then it can only help the teacher’s performance. Besides, it is an investment made by teachers who wish to remain in the educational field, especially when teachers here in NC still make salaries that rate near the bottom of the national scale. Even Governor McCrory called the recent budget’s influence on teacher salaries “chicken feed” in an episode of NC Spin.

In a report published in Education Week in March, 2015 entitled “New Studies Find That, for Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter”, Stephen Sawchuck recounted findings by Brown University scholars saying:

The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions, coming up in debate after debate about pay, professional development, and teacher seniority, among other topics.

 But findings from a handful of recently released studies are raising questions about that proposition. In fact, they suggest the average teacher’s ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career—and likely longer.

 Moreover, teachers’ deepening experience appears to translate into other student benefits as well. One of the new studies, for example, links years on the job to declining rates of student absenteeism.

 Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up, the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.

 “For some reason, you hear this all the time, from all sorts of people, Bill Gates on down,” said John P. Papay, an assistant professor of education and economics at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. He is the co-author of one of two new studies on the topic. “But teacher quality is not something that’s fixed. It does develop, and if you’re making a decision about a teacher’s career, you should be looking at that dynamic.”

This reiterates that we need experienced, veteran teachers  – many of whom believe that advanced degrees or even national certification are ways to improve their performance in the classrooms. That is not to say that all teachers who have advanced degrees are better than those who do not. I work with many teachers in my school who have earned just a bachelor’s degree and are master teachers who possess traits I wish to emulate.

What many who work on West Jones Street in Raleigh do not mention is that while beginning teachers have seen a big increase in pay, those with more experience have not. In fact, the salary schedule for public school teachers ensures that a teacher who enters the profession today will never make over fifty thousand dollars ever in a year throughout his/her career. That is one major reason we are seeing fewer and fewer teaching candidates in undergraduate education schools here in North Carolina.

Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. Furthermore, the amount of money it would take to repay the cost of a master’s degree would still take a teacher many years to make on a teacher’s salary, and in most cases that tuition is being paid to public colleges and universities. In essence, many teachers are reinvesting in the very public education system that they serve.

Ironically, not many of those who agree with eliminating graduate degree pay increases argue against that veracity of National Board Certification, which also leads to a pay increase. North Carolina still leads the nation in NBCT’s (National Board Certified Teachers). National certification is defined by a portfolio process which many schools of education emulate in their graduate programs. Additionally, national certification is recognized across the country and its process of validating teacher credentials has rarely been questioned.

But what really seems to be the most incongruous aspect of the argument against graduate degree pay increases is that it totally contradicts the message we send to students in a college and career ready curriculum. If we want students to be life-long learners and contribute to our communities, then where else to better witness that than with our teachers who want to get better at what they do. When students witness a teacher actually going to school (or knowing he/she went back to school), then the impact can be incredible because it means that teachers still “walk the walk” when it comes to furthering an education.

Besides, most all students know that public school teachers do not get into the profession to get rich.

Every North Carolina Lawmaker Should Be a Proctor for a State Exam

Of the many incredibly clever, spot-on, and ingenious signs from the May 16th march and rally in Raleigh, this one has remained my favorite.

proctor

“Can Anyone Here Proctor?” This gentleman was everywhere. That’s what made this sign so powerful – there is always a test to be administered and there is always a need for  proctor. If you want to get an idea of the absolute unenviable task of setting a testing schedule for a large school can be, then create one for all exams that allows for space and time and room for all accommodations.

And then find proctors for all of them.

Exams for our school system start May 30th.

They last until June 8th.

8 days for state exams.

Proctors needed for all of them.

So before the General Assembly passes yet more mandates and bills that show a complete ignorance of the tasks and duties of teachers and staffs in public schools, each lawmaker should serve as a proctor for a state exam just to get an idea of the inner workings of a school filled with duties and tasks that must be performed with limited resources and space.

Twice.

There is a booklet – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/policyoperations/prctrgd1617.pdf.

proctor2

There is also mandatory training.

Ours is tomorrow morning at 8:00.

Don’t be late.

Oh, and next year each lawmaker should be required to administer one of those exams.

 

 

The Office of The NC State Superintendent – Where Doughnuts Are More Important Than Public Schools

If Mark Johnson is willing to run for doughnuts, is he willing to walk with teachers on May 16 in a day for advocacy in support of public schools?

Unfortunately, most teachers in this state already know the answer to that question.

ncae rally

Of all the issues that have surrounded NC and the General Assembly’s assault on the public schools of this state, one would be hard-pressed to find where our state superintendent has made a stand on behalf of the public schools. Consider:

  • per pupil expenditures
  • vouchers
  • unregulated charter schools
  • principal pay plan
  • merit pay
  • removal of due-process rights and graduate school pay
  • revolving door of standardized tests
  • need for more support staff
  • class size chaos

That is just a sampling. Oh, and Johnson and the state school board are still in a court battle concerning a power struggle over public schools. He’s using taxpayer money to fund his legal costs.

Yet with all of the lack of action on behalf of Johnson on really pressing issues, he has spent quite an amount of energy on … doughnuts.

This is the last missive teachers have received from the state superintendent in our inboxes this past week. It has been the subject of the last few communications between Johnson and public school teachers.

Educators:
I wanted to send you a wrap-up message about the 2018 Teachers Working Conditions Survey. Thank you to the nearly 110,000 school-based educators across the state who completed the survey. That gives us a final completion rate of 90.54 percent – the highest ever for North Carolina!
The results of the survey should be available about five weeks from now. We’ll send you a link when it’s up.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Now, the last piece of business we have is my wager with you that if we reached 95 percent completion, I would complete the Krispy Kreme Challenge – 2.5 miles, 12 doughnuts, 2.5 miles. We didn’t quite make it, although we did come within 0.41 percent of beating Kentucky’s mark for best-ever completion rate. But I am very proud that 109,449 of you took the time to take the survey. That is an amazing number and a true testament to your dedication to your profession.
So I’ll call it a split decision: I’ll run the race. As to how many doughnuts I’ll eat in the middle of the race, we’ll see…
Thanks again, and as always, know that we appreciate everything you do for North Carolina’s students.

That questionnaire really does nothing to address the very issues that plague North Carolina’s public schools because of the treatment by those in the NCGA. You can reference that questionnaire and an explanation of what it does not do here: https://caffeinatedrage.com/2018/04/03/somethings-wrong-with-the-north-carolina-dpis-teacher-working-conditions-survey/.

It is rather ironic that Johnson wants to have beaten a state in its “response to a questionnaire” that actually saw its teachers rally in great numbers on its state capital.

But what is most ironic is that the man who is supposed to be the educational leader wants to talk about what he will eat in a race next year rather than advocate for the students and schools he is supposed to support.

 

West Jones Street, The NC General Assembly, and The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg

eyes2

“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one-yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground” (The Great Gatsby, Chapter 2).

Almost every student who passes through an American literature class has the opportunity to at least glimpse into the classic text of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In a day and age of instant gratification and movie adaptations, plot lines and lists of symbols are easily accessed, the patience needed to be pleasantly haunted by a work of true literature sometimes escapes even the best of intentions.

But Gatsby is a book that is rather quick to read, easy to absorb, and forever reflected upon. Among my junior English classes, whether AP level or not, Gatsby tends to be the favorite. Students feel smarter for having read it. They despise the right people. They wrestle with the shallowness of the characters. They seem to like the character who spent so much time becoming the person he was not. They sometimes come to look at a narrator as unreliable.

And they pick up on the symbols like the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

When someone sits for a picture or portrait and stares straight into the lens, the result is the appearance of constant eye contact. The poster of James Baldwin in my classroom as he looks into the camera allows his eyes to always make contact with mine no matter where I am in the classroom. His smile, however, takes away any preclusion of judgement.

But the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg simply stare without any other expression. They are there to judge. They are the “eyes of God” in a society where many in power lack a moral compass, show spiritual depravity but scream religious fervor, and worship profit more than the welfare of others.

eyes1

They never blink.

They always look.

They seem to see all.

I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare (Chapter 2).

I am thinking of starting a GoFundMe Page to raise money to construct another billboard for the obviously deceased and still fictional Doctor T. J. Eckleburg complete with the same “blue and gigantic” eyes with “irises one-yard high” on “no face” complete with “a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose.”

And this billboard would be placed right outside of the North Carolina General Assembly building on West Jones Street, possibly near the parking area where each lawmaker who leaves the building would have to lock eyes with the celestial oculist after a day of wielding power that affects so many people.

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window.”— with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it ——” and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’”

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night (Chapter 8).

Amazingly enough, if you were to visit the webpages of most of these lawmakers during election periods you might find some sort of piety meter that reflects their allegiance to a faith in God and Christian tenets.

We are in the Bible Belt. We are in a nation that calls itself Christian. We are by far the most evangelical country in the world. We are used to hearing people talk about how they bare their souls to God and look to God for guidance.

Yet,

  • Lawmakers passed a resolution to repeal a discriminatory law called HB2 that still allows for discrimination.
  • Lawmakers are playing with bills like HB13 that are forcing public school systems to contemplate how to keep vital arts programs alive and keep teacher assistants in classrooms that are already crowded in years to come.
  • Lawmakers are funneling more money to religious private schools like Trinity Christian which is guilty of embezzlement and shoddy accounting.
  • Lawmakers are refusing to expand Medicaid that would help more North Carolinians.
  • Lawmakers considered measures like HB467 to keep NC residents from suing industrial farms for polluting their air and water.
  • Lawmakers are not holding companies accountable for coal ash spills and GenX contamination.
  • Lawmakers are considering increasing health care costs for state employees while bragging about “surpluses.”

I understand. It may be a tad bit hyperbolic to equate a book that talks of a man who uses organized crime to build a life of opulence during the “Jazz Age” / “Age of Prohibition” in an attempt to control destiny who ends up crossing paths with a man of immense wealth who steamrolls over people because he can and looks at women and minorities as inferior then eventually gets killed by a mentally, spiritually, and financially crushed man to a modern setting.

Or is it?

By the way, the original billboard for Dr. Eckleburg is in the “Valley of Ashes.” Imagine if those ashes got into the water.

eyes2

In some places, they have.

Literature Assignment for the North Carolina General Assembly – Sparknotes Won’t Help on the Test

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In a day and age where STEM-linked educational initiatives are heavily marketed in the educational and political arenas, it is sometimes hard for this English teacher to not want to reiterate that a study of literature is just as vital. Furthermore, looking and reflecting on great works of literature is a genuine way to study our own being.

There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.

  • “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson
  • “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain
  • “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
  • “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Don’t Join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
  • “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archaeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.

And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.

Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the upcoming session of the North Carolina Assembly this spring in the hopes that those elected officials would possibly see how others see the same world through a lens that these legislators and politicians may have never considered.

Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on how life should be lived simply because my viewpoint is narrow.

Many of these titles I would never put on a high school reading list, but if you are an elected official, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that they carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.

Happy reading!

  • Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit of domination something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
  • Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
  • The Lorax by Seuss – to remind ourselves that fracking, GenX, coal ash are really bad for the environment.
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature according to my erudite uncle and lets us know that the dead still speak.
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when we objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently-abled.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.

The test for all of these is in how you conduct yourselves afterwards. Your grade will be given in the fall, probably around the early part of November.

Marching For Students & Rallying for Respect

respect

West Virginia.

Oklahoma.

Kentucky.

In those states, teachers are not “walking out” and confronting lawmakers because of singular issues like salary, benefits, or working conditions.

They are marching for respect.

What lawmakers in those states are learning very quickly is that there is a difference between rewarding teachers and respecting the teaching profession.

A reward is something that is given in recognition of someone’s service, effort, and/or achievement. One could get a reward for doing well on a project or completing a task. Some could look at a bonus check as a reward for accomplishing a goal.

However, this teacher wants more than a reward from my General Assembly. A lot of teachers want more than a reward. We want respect for all of our public school teachers.

To have respect is to have a deep feeling of admiration for someone because of his abilities, qualities, and value. It is understanding that someone is important and should be taken seriously.

In this highly contested election year, many will be fooled by lawmakers wanting to “reward” the teaching profession with bills that might offer more pay or actually fund a mandate and mistake that for respect. Respect goes much deeper.

I am very glad to see that NCAE will call on NC lawmakers to “Respect Public Education” on May 16th when the NCGA reconvenes because it brought to mind that there are many stark differences between rewards and respect.

  • A reward sounds like something that can be used as a political ploy. Respect needs no political prompt.
  • A reward could be a one-time gift. Respect is continuous and grows.
  • A reward is a reaction to something. Respect guides your actions.
  • A reward is giving teachers a small bonus that gets taxed by the state and has no effect on retirement. Respect would be to bring salaries for teachers at least to the national average.
  • A reward would be to give a school some sort of distinction because it met a measurement achievement. Respect would be honoring teachers because of actual student growth in the face of factors out of the schools’ control.
  • A reward would be providing more textbooks. Respect would be to keep growing per-pupil expenditures to ensure that all students got the resources they need.
  • A reward would be giving a one-time pay hike to teachers. Respect would be to make sure they kept getting raises throughout their careers on a fair salary schedule and restoring longevity pay.
  • A reward may be speaking highly of principals. Respect would be not ever allowing our average principal salary to rank next to last in the nation for so long.
  • A reward may be to alter the teacher evaluation system. Respect would be to restore due-process rights for all teachers.
  • A reward may be to give more professional development for teachers. Respect would be restoring pay bumps for graduate degrees.

We have seen what a lack of respect for teachers has done to our state in a short amount of time. Where we once were considered a flagship state system, we are now in a state of regression. So while I will not decline a “reward” of a pay raise, I will tell my lawmakers that affording more respect to teachers, administrators, and teacher assistants could go a long in helping stop the attrition of teaching talent in North Carolina.

Why? Because if you respect something you will show it through your actions, not just your campaign speeches and vague promises.

And respect can work both ways. For those lawmakers who view public education as a priority and view teachers with respect, I will not only reward them with my vote, I would show my respect by supporting them throughout their terms.

But most importantly, don’t reward me for teaching. Respect me for being a teacher.

An Open Letter From a Veteran North Carolina Teacher to Young Teachers – You Are Vital

letter writing

Dear Fellow Educator,

I first want to tell you that I admire what you have chosen to do as a career. Teaching in today’s public schools is not easy. I know as I am in my 20th year of teaching. I still love my job. I still love being with the students. Outside of my family, this profession has fulfilled me like no other. I firmly believe my students would concur if asked.

And it has kept me young at heart and sharp in mind.

One of the main reasons I have adored public school teaching is I had great veteran teachers who mentored me and engaged with me, and who cared about how I progressed as an individual and professional.

But I worry about the future of our profession in North Carolina sometimes. I am afraid that we will not have as many veteran teachers in the future as we do now. That’s why I want to try and convince you to stay in the profession.

You are needed. You are vital. You can be agents of change and staunch advocates for schools and students. You can improve the profession and secure the very items that will strengthen our profession. You are beginning your career at one of the most crucial times where educational reform is at a fever pitch and schools are under constant scrutiny.

Teaching is that one “occupation” that everybody has some sort of stake in. If you are not a student, former student, parent of a student, employer of former students, then you are at least paying taxes to help support public schools. People who invest in any way, shape, or form are stakeholders and many will go out of their way to tell you what is right or wrong about our schools.

Teaching might be the most openly exposed, yet most misunderstood profession. With changes in curriculum, standards, evaluations, graduation requirements, salaries, policies, resources, laws, and personnel, it is arduous for even us veteran teachers to keep pace. Public education takes the largest part of our state budget; it probably takes up the most debate time and committee meetings in the General Assembly.

Class sizes are larger. High-stakes testing quantifies everything. Data gets crunched by outside entities. There are meetings with parents and administrators. There is the planning and grading and the revising of differentiated lesson plans.

And then there are our students, the very reasons why we do what we do. Their needs are upmost in our priorities.

Those needs are many: academic, mental, psychological, emotional, and physical. Those needs force us to “wear many hats.” Those needs force us to always learn how to best serve our students in conditions that could never be measured by standardized assessments.

When I became a teacher, my venerable uncle gave me some of his usual sage advice. A retired English teacher, he still is revered by former students. It was he who became the model for what I still strive to do in classroom. He told me when I began teaching to give it three years.

The first year would be a whirlwind simply trying to learn how to plan, execute, and instruct students. The second year would be a paper maelstrom because I was still trying to learn how to be a part of a school community and understand the inner workings of the school. The third year my immune system would get to the point where I wouldn’t catch every malady that students had and I would have familiarity with the job as a whole. My third year would be where I could see the profession holistically.

But the one thing he always stressed: enjoy the students. When the door closes for class, you can help some amazing things happen.

Students are what have kept me in this profession. With all of the flux that occurs in education, the criticism that schools receive, and the constant need for resources and support, students have been the constant and consistent foundation in my career.

Yes, the faces change from year to year, but they never disappear. Many will always want to stay in contact. All will have made an impression on you and you will impact them. If students always remain the center of what you do as an educator, those other stressors can be dealt with in proactive ways.

Having younger teachers energizes a school building. You bring in new ideas, contagious energy, and constant reminders of why we do what we do. You come in with new uses for technology and new pedagogical approaches. And it is up to us veterans to be useful mentors, good sounding boards, and constructive critics.

It is also a veteran teacher’s job to show you how to advocate for students and schools. It is that advocacy that helps keep students the focus of what we do and when we keep the focus on students we tend to stay in the profession longer, and when teachers stay in the profession longer it ensures that when new teachers come into the profession there will always be veterans there to help them and learn from them.

When I started teaching in North Carolina we had due-process rights, a salary schedule, and graduate degree pay increases. We had state-funded professional development and fewer standardized tests. We had a General Assembly that did a better job at fully-funding public schools. We had more time for each student to help “personalize” instruction.

Unfortunately, many of those conditions no longer exist. But they can again if you fight for them.

Advocating for students and schools means that you advocate for the teaching profession because schools do not work well without empowered teachers. Students need strong teachers who are supported for what they do; therefore, the more you advocate for the teaching profession, the more you are advocating for students and schools. It could mean that you make sure to vote in elections. It could mean that you join a professional organization like NCAE. It could mean that you write op-eds, visit legislators, or become involved with teacher groups. It could mean doing all of these.

Many in Raleigh will tell you that your average pay has increased as a beginning teacher an incredible amount. But if you really look at the overall picture, the removal of due-process, the removal of graduate degree pay increases, the recent mandate to keep new teachers from having state supported insurance when they retire, the stunted salary schedule, and all of the other measures enacted by the current NCGA, you will see why there are fewer teacher candidates in our colleges and universities.

But you are here, and I want you to stay. Your students, schools, communities, and fellow educators want you to stay, grow, and advocate. I want you to become a better veteran teacher than I am today who is willing and ready to help any new teacher get better at what he / she does which is help students. I want you to feel empowered to take action. I want you to be able to speak up for your profession, even if it means confiding only in trusted colleagues.

I will promise you this: if students see you advocating for them and their school, they will move mountains for you because when you keep students at the center of what you do, they will notice and act in kind.

And students are the reason we are here.

Our Public Schools Are Better Than the NCGA Would Want You to Believe

Our public schools are better than you may think.

Probably a lot better.

With the constant dialogue that “we must improve schools” and the “need to implement reforms,” it is imperative that we as a taxpaying public seek to understand all of the variables in which schools are and can be measured, and not all of them are quantifiable.

And not all of them are reported or allowed to be seen.

Betsy DeVos’s recent assertion on 60 Minutes that America’s schools have seen no improvement despite the billions and billions of dollars thrown at them was nearsighted, closeminded, and rather uneducated because she is displaying two particular characteristics of lawmakers and politicians who are bent on delivering a message that public schools are not actually working.

The first is the insistence that “they” know education better than those who actually work in education. DeVos has no background in statistical analysis, administration, or teaching. The second is the calculated spin of evidence and/or the squashing of actual truth.

Last week DeVos tweeted the following:

What she did not say was that:

  • “The U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution.”
  • “A sampling error in the U.S. administration of the most recent international (PISA) test resulted in students from the most disadvantaged schools being over-represented in the overall U.S. test-taker sample.”
  • “Conventional ranking reports based on PISA make no adjustments for social class composition or for sampling errors.”
  • “If U.S. adolescents had a social class distribution that was similar to the distribution in countries to which the United States is frequently compared, average reading scores in the United States would be higher than average reading scores in the similar post-industrial countries we examined (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and average math scores in the United States would be about the same as average math scores in similar post-industrial countries.”
  • “On average, and for almost every social class group, U.S. students do relatively better in reading than in math, compared to students in both the top-scoring and the similar post-industrial countries.”

Those bulleted points come from a study by Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnroy entitled “What do international tests really show about U. S. student performance?” Published by the Economic Policy Institute, the researchers made a detailed report of the backgrounds of the test takers from the database compiled by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Either DeVos does not want you to know that information because it would defeat her reformist narrative or she just does not know. But when the public is not made aware, the public tends to believe those who control the dialogue.

Those who control the dialogue in North Carolina and in many other states only tell their side of the spin and neglect to talk of all of the variables that schools are and should be measured by.

Consider the following picture/graph:

schools 1

All of the external forces that affect the health of traditional public schools generally are controlled and governed by our North Carolina General Assembly, rather by the supermajority currently in power.

The salaries and benefits that teachers receive are mandated and controlled by the NCGA. When graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights were removed from newer teachers, that affected recruitment of teachers. When the salary schedule became more “bottom-heavy” for newer teachers, it affected the retaining of veteran teachers.

With the changes from NCLB to RttT, from standard Course of Study to Common Core, from one standardized test to another, and from one curriculum revision to another, the door of public school “requirements” has become an ever-revolving door. Add to that the fact that teachers within the public schools rarely get to either help create or grade those very standardized tests.

North Carolina still spends less on per-pupil expenditures than it did since before the Great Recession when adjusted for inflation. Who has control of that? The North Carolina General Assembly.

Within the next ten years, NC will spend almost a billion dollars financing the Opportunity Grants, a voucher program, when there exists no empirical data showing that they actually improve student outcomes. Removing the charter school cap also has allowed more taxpayer money to go to entities that do not show any more improvement over traditional schools on average. When taxpayer money goes to vouchers and charter schools, it becomes money that is not used for the almost %90 of students who still go to traditional public schools.

And just look at the ways that schools are measured. School Performance Grades really have done nothing but show the effects of poverty. School report cards carry data that is compiled and aggregated by secret algorithms, and teacher evaluation procedures have morphed more times than a strain of the flu.

When the very forces that can so drastically affect traditional public schools are coupled with reporting protocols controlled by the same lawmaking body, how the public ends up viewing the effectiveness of traditional public schools can equally be spun.

schools 2

If test scores truly dictated the effectiveness of schools, then everyone in Raleigh in a position to affect policy should take the tests and see how they fare. If continuing to siphon taxpayer money into reforms that have not shown any empirical data of student improvement is still done, then those who push those reforms should be evaluated.

So much goes into what makes a public school effective, and yes, there are some glaring shortcomings in our schools, but when the very people who control the environment in which schools can operate make much noise about how our schools are failing us, then they might need to look in the mirror to identify the problem.

Because in so many ways our schools are really succeeding despite those who want to reform them.

Dear State Supt. Johnson, $200 Per Teacher? How About Fight For More Per Student? Much More.

News last week that DPI is allocating almost $5 million to early grade literacy seems most welcome.

As reported by Liz Bell of EdNC.org:

The Department of Public Instruction is distributing a total of $4.8 million from funds allocated by the state in 2016 as part of its Read to Achieve initiative for “literacy support” in early grades. Johnson, in his time as superintendent, has emphasized the importance of reading proficiency and early literacy education (https://www.ednc.org/2018/03/09/superintendent-johnson-continues-push-early-literacy-announces-200-k-3-reading-teacher/).

Yes, this is good news. But it seems rather little when looking at the bigger picture. And it seems a little empty in the bigger conversation.

That money was part of funds originally provided in 2016, yet its allocation in 2018 is something that Johnson seems to want to get credit for.

In an op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “Doing more to help young students read across North Carolina,” Johnson totally accepts that credit.

He wrote:

In 2012, the General Assembly passed the Read to Achieve initiative, which provides funds – an additional $66 million in 2017-2018 alone – focused on early childhood literacy. Through this investment, schools obtained new reading tools and resources, and school districts now provide free summer camps for students who need extra literacy support. Unbelievably, though, not all the Read to Achieve funds meant to support our students and classrooms made it out of Raleigh.  

That is where my team in the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction came in. 

Dr. June Atkinson shed some light on this last December. It might be worth reading this report from NC Policy Watch – “Mark Johnson accused of misleading the public regarding literacy program spending.”

Johnson never responded to that report.

So now, a program (Read to Achieve) that was originally started by Dr. June Atkinson’s administration but hamstrung by the GOP dominated NC General Assembly now gets “saved” by the very person who allowed for DPI’s budget to be cut by 20% without a fight because he is the NC General Assembly’s puppet?

On the surface – yes. And this is where the overall picture needs to be investigated.

Almost $5 million dollars seems like a lot, but in the scope of things it is a little dent. Take a look at this:

funding

That %7.9 percent change in funding per student will not be dented by $4.8 million dollars. Johnson needs to fight for so much more.

So much more.

Do not get me wrong. This money that is going to each K-3 reading teacher will be used well if teachers are allowed to use it to their discretion.

But this “grant” is not for every teacher. Literacy is taught by all teachers across the entire curriculum. In reality, this is adding maybe at most $4-5 dollars extra to per pupil expenditure for K-3 students.

Johnson needs to fight for so much more.

So much more.

And he needs to do it without making it a public relations activity.

Oh. by the way of the ten states listed above, one just had a massive teachers’ strike. Two others are building their own movements to affect change.