The Interrogatophobia of Betsy DeVos – Or, The Secretary’s Kryptonite

Interrogatophobia – (noun)

  1. The fear of being asked a straightforward question

This post is not to dissect the various times that Betsy DeVos has appeared before a congressional committee to comment on her impending confirmation or her policies for protecting all students under the umbrella of civil rights. As the leader of the nation’s public school system, she has clearly shown an ineptitude worthy of remediation when it comes to answering questions about policy and law.

But she has to go to those meetings.

It’s where she chooses to go and not go that really answers a lot of questions, figuratively speaking. Why? Because Betsy DeVos chooses to go places where she does not have to answer questions.

Straightforward questions are her kryptonite. She’s deathly afraid of them.

large-feature-kryptonite-wallpaper

She avoids them like the plague which is why she declined an invitation to the recent Education Writers Association convention in the very town where she works, Washington D.C.

Mind you that every other secretary of education has addressed the convention (albeit not every year). It would have been an opportune time for DeVos to clarify some of her policies and positions.

But alas.

As reported on The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss,

Every U.S. education secretary has found time to address the Education Writers Association convention, and the organization was hoping that Betsy DeVos would agree to do the same thing at its 2017 convention in Washington. It’s not happening.

Caroline Hendrie, EWA executive editor, said the association invited DeVos to speak at the convention right after she was confirmed by the Senate as education secretary on Feb. 7 (which, you may remember, happened only after Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate, becoming the first vice president in history to do so for a Cabinet nominee).

When no response was forthcoming, Hendrie said the invitation was renewed several times, but it was not until late April that a staff member at the Education Department called to decline. Why? According to Hendrie, “They couldn’t make it work for her schedule.”

The Education Department did not respond to a query about why they couldn’t make it work (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/05/12/betsy-devos-was-asked-to-address-education-reporters-at-their-annual-convention-she-said-no/?utm_term=.78cb4cf55585).

It does not take a mental stretch to know why she did not show; it is filled with reporters. Reporters ask questions.

Damn questions.

And those questions demand answers.

Strauss continues,

DeVos has not made herself easily available — or available at all — to reporters who are covering her, and the Education Department does not always respond to questions posed by education journalists. Now she is declining an opportunity to address the journalists who cover her.  Some would call that a missed opportunity.

Think of DeVos as a teacher and reporters as students. We like to think that students should be inquisitive. If DeVos is the leader of the public school system of the nation, should she not be the first to be willing to answer a question or two?

If not, then she opens herself to scrutiny. JUST LIKE A TEACHER. Imagine if the teacher refuses to answer the questions posed by a parent or guardian? An administrator? A school board member? A legislator?

But DeVos is totally ready to present herself as a speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Denver summer conference this July.

According to a press release,

ALEC is pleased to announce that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be joining us for our 44th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“Secretary DeVos has been a stalwart champion of educational choice in the states, elevating the outcry over the status quo to the highest levels of government,” said Inez Stepman, Education and Workforce Development Task Force Director.

DeVos is serving as the 11th United States Secretary of Education. She was confirmed by the Senate on February 7, 2017. Secretary DeVos has been involved in education policy for nearly three decades as an advocate for children and a voice for parents.

DeVos served as an in-school mentor for at-risk children in the Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Schools for 15 years.

Don’t miss your chance to hear Secretary DeVos speak and all of our great speakers at our annual meeting July 19-21 in Denver, Colorado.

If you don’t know what ALEC is then do some research, especially if you are in North Carolina because here in North Carolina, your General Assembly is literally enacting every policy in public education that ALEC has conceived. Think:

  • Vouchers
  • Charters
  • School choice
  • Education Savings Accounts
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

Mercedes Schneider, a leading voice in public school activism and a wicked researcher, published a book in 2014 called A Chronicle of Echoes in which she explains the various forces that are working in the education “reform”ing movement. One chapter deals with ALEC.

It opens,

If the education reform movement were reduced to a single organization, that organization would be the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has existed for decades and is omnipresent in reformer circles, yet this colossal engine for privatization has managed to elude exposure until 2012. Though it might seem incredulous, through its membership, ALEC is present in every chapter in this book. Make no mistake: Privatization belongs to ALEC.

ALEC was formally organized in September 1973 in Chicago, Illinois, and received its 501(c)3, “nonprofit” designation in 1977. ALEC describes itself as, “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty” Chapter 24).

ALEC won’t ask DeVos questions. ALEC gives DeVos direction on how to privatize a public institution.

ALEC fills DeVos’s coffers with money and resources. ALEC validates DeVos and in return she validates them.

This is akin to the teacher who refuses to answer questions pertaining to the curriculum for inquiring, intellectually thirsty students during class, but incoherently rushes straight to the bell so she does not have to interact with students beyond a cursory level.

That’s not just fear.

That’s abominable.

School is Never Really Over – Thinking of Sen. David Curtis and “Summer Vacations”

It is the first day of “summer vacation” and at this time of year I am reminded of the iconic response to a teacher’s letter back in 2014 by one Sen. David Curtis.

It’s worth rereading for me at least because Sen. Davis Curtis’s response to Sarah Wiles literally started my foray into public school activism. It literally spawned the desire to start this blog.

You may review the texts of both Sarah Wiles’s letter and Curtis’s response here: http://wunc.org/post/teacher-email-legislators-draws-harsh-reply#stream/0.

My response to Sen. David Curtis was my first open letter to a legislator. He still has not written me back even though I have tried to engage him many times since. A copy of that initial one-sided conversation can be found here: https://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/20/a-teacher-in-north-carolina/.

I have even tried to visit Sen. Curtis. He was conveniently in a “meeting.”

curtis

There is one part of Sen. Curtis’s original missive that really comes to mind on this first day of “summer vacation.” He talked about our “eight weeks of paid vacation.”

Specifically, he said,

“Since you naturally do not want to remain in a profession of which you are ashamed, here are my suggestions for what you should tell your potential new private sector employer: …

  1. You expect at least eight weeks paid vacation per year because that is what the taxpayers of North Carolina gave you back when you were a poorly compensated teacher…

After taking my teenage daughter to her first of many driver education classes that in several cases are conducted on high school campuses and planning on what to do with a somewhat sick boy who would have gone to a summer enrichment that is run in conjunction with the school system and employs many elementary school teachers, I decided to just run by my high school to see if it had turned into a vast wasteland to be cocooned until preplanning of next year since teachers are on a paid vacation.

I envisioned what Sen. Curtis might have had in mind a traditional high school would look like in this intellectually barren time. Maybe that vision looks like the setting of The Shining – you know the hotel that is abandoned in the winter time because of seasonal trends and looked after by Jack Nicholson and his family, except this time there is no snow and ice.

shining

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Just today,

  • Offices were open to conduct business.
  • Student Services was open for registration and transcript analysis.
  • Teachers were on campus conducting various activities.
  • The yearbook staff is already at camp in Chapel Hill working on next year’s edition.
  • Rooms were being cleared and cleaned.
  • The baseball coach was conducting a baseball camp for community youth. He also coached over the weekend at the state games helping local talent get more attention from college programs as that might be a key way for some of them to go to college.
  • The soccer coaches also had their camps going teaching community youth skills. Some of the current and past players for a state championship team were on hand to help out.
  • State sanctioned workouts were happening on other fields.
  • Summer school classes were about to begin to help students regain credits.
  • Some teachers were already back from grading AP tests.
  • Some teachers were in professional development classes in various places.
  • Some teachers are prepping for new courses they are to teach because populations change and numbers of sections change.
  • Some teachers are preparing for National Boards.
  • Some teachers are tutoring.
  • Some teachers are moving materials on campus to facilitate summer cleaning and maintenance.
  • Some teachers are helping interview potential new teachers and then helping those hired get more acclimated with the campus.
  • Some teachers are taking inventory.
  • Some teachers just come to campus to get work done to prepare for next year like send items to print shop or get websites and databases ready.

And this is just the first week of “vacation.”

Lawmakers like Sen. David Curtis are literally talking about the budget for public schools right now. If his current views of public schools, teachers, administrations, and support staff still holds with his views expressed in that response to Sarah Wiles, then I would suggest that Curtis take a tour of local high schools in the summer time. Just as long as he does not use an axe at the door and scream, “Here’s Johnny!”

the-shining-1024x576

He might be surprised. More importantly, he may not look at the funding of traditional public schools in such a sterile, antiseptic fashion,

Our kids deserve better.

Sen. Ralph Hise’s Huge, Humongous, Heaping Hummock of Hypocrisy and Hubris

Gov. Cooper has no constitutional role in redistricting, and we have no order from the courts to redraw maps by his preferred timeline. This is a clear political stunt meant to deter lawmakers from our work on raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families.” – Joint Statement, June 7, 2017 concerning Gov. Roy Cooper asking for a special session to redraw districts in North Carolina declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States.

That joint statement was made by two lawmakers who helped lead the redistricting in 2011 that led to the ruling just recently passed by SCOTUS – one of whom is Sen. Ralph Hise.

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Furthermore, the above quote might be the richest, most potentially fertilizing statement made in the current legislative session when one considers the speakers, the subject, the audience, and the context.

Sen. Ralph Hise should be no stranger to special sessions. He has gleefully been a part of at least three in 2016 that were so politically motivated that the rest of the country looked at North Carolina in disbelief. The March 2016 special session brought us the economically disastrous HB2 bathroom bill that targeted the LGBTQ community unfairly under the guise of nonexistent transgender assaults in public restrooms.

Then there were those two end-of-2016 special sessions that proved that the GOP controlled NC General Assembly was hell-bent on making sure that the democratically elected governor did not have as much power as his predecessors did.

And Hise said they were there to make sure we were taking care of those hurt by Hurricane Matthew.

But wait. Sen. Hise is also the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Elections who currently faces charges of “pocketing” money from his own campaign (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/05/09/breaking-senate-elections-committee-chair-violates-disclosure-law-suspected-excess-payments/#sthash.WPouXpgI.3b7ZgFWz.dpbs). And he was also key in putting a provision in the Senate budget to stop SNA food assistance benefits that are funded federally for over 130,000 people in the state.

So as far as political stunting is concerned, Sen. Ralph Hise would certainly know it if he saw it, but it would be a huge, humongous, heaping hummock of hypocrisy and hubris for him to even suggest that of Cooper as the governor asks for a special session to address the findings of the highest court of the land which in the last month has issued three rulings that have cast North Carolina as the most racially gerrymandered state in the union.

However, if Hise wanted to exchange the hypocrisy for honesty and the hubris for some humility then he might have hummed these words:

We have been attempting to limit Gov. Cooper’s constitutional role in redistricting with our own gerrymandered majority’s special sessions because we so stupidly passed a discrimination bill that ruined Pat McCrory’s chances of being reelected, and we have no explicit order from the courts to redraw maps by his preferred timeline even though some of the people who are trying to limit his constitutional role may actually be unconstitutionally elected. This is a clear political stunt by us meant to deter lawmakers who actually serve the citizens of North Carolina from our work under the red herrings of raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families when we actually are crafting more policies to alienate people and putting money back in the pockets of those who have put money in our pockets.

Robbing Peter to Pave For Paul – Rep. Jon Hardister’s Misguided Amendment for Charter Schools

Robbing Peter to pave for Paul.

That’s what a recent amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister would do. According to the News & Observer,

A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and want to provide student transportation – a service that many charter schools don’t offer.

“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article153682054.html).

hardister

Hardister, a former board member of the Greensboro Academy Charter School (which now has Charter School Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes on its board of directors), has not been shy about his championing of “school choice.” Along with the Opportunity Grants, the Achievement School District, and charter school cap removal, Hardister has been a leading voice in offering “reforms” that have not shown any empirical evidence of working on a broad scale.

So, it is not surprising that he offers this amendment. But his quote above gives another glimpse into the disconnect that many in Raleigh suffer from when it comes to low-income students and academic achievement.

Hardister said, “If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school.” That’s true.

But if a student is on free or reduced lunch, it can be harder for that student to learn. Period.

Beginning his fourth year in the state House, Hardister has watched his own political party craft social policies and voted along party lines on the very issues that affect why so many students are on free and reduced lunch to begin with.

Ironically, Hardister serves an area in Guilford County that literally borders the infamous 12th congressional district that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for racial profiling. In fact, it was considered one of the top ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation by many watchdogs. That charter school he was a board member of? Yep, it’s in that 12th district.

It seems that if Rep. Hardister really wanted to make sure that kids who were on free and reduced lunches had a better chance for a quality education, he would have spoken loudly about how the very students who fit that description in his hometown and their families had their voices muffled because of the GOP’s redistricting efforts to place minority voters in the same voting areas.

And since Hardister is an ardent supporter of vouchers, he probably subscribes to the standard party mantra that “parents know best where to send their kids for school.” Give those parents a voice in voting and they may choose that what’s best is that the state fully fund public schools where their kids already have transportation and are already part of the community.

Did Rep. Hardister stand against recent budget proposals that literally wiped out a quarter of the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction? No. But he surely knows that while DPI is far from perfect, many rural counties with high populations of free or reduced lunch students depend very much on DPI’s services.

Did Rep. Hardister question the further investment in the Opportunity Grants when there still is a lack of oversight of the schools that take vouchers? Did he read the report by the Children’s Law Clinic at Duke University that showed how flawed the voucher system really is all the while voting on budgets that brought down the per-pupil expenditure for traditional public schools?

Did Rep. Hardister consider that the budgets he greenlighted made the state’s public university system more expensive for the graduates of our high schools? NPR did a report just yesterday that talked about how the dwindling investment by states like NC in their university systems is actually preventing more low-income kids from going to college. And after the catastrophe of Betsy DeVos’s first 100 days in office, the promise pf getting a student loan that could actually be paid off in a reasonable amount of time disappeared.

Did Rep. Hardister even fight to expand Medicaid for those in the state who have students in their families that receive free or reduced lunches? Hungry students have a hard time learning. Sickened ones do as well.

So this amendment to take money from the transportation budget to make sure that some of these charter schools can transport students to and from school seems more like lip service from a politician. Because if Rep. Hardister really wanted students who received free or reduced lunches to succeed in school, he would do everything in his power to make sure that those students did not have to get on a bus already hungry or sick.

But if those students did come to school hungry and sick, why not fully fund the public schools and give them the resources to combat the very needs that plague these students. More teaching assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, counseling, before and after school programs would help, but that would require investment. Is he willing to do that?

If Hardister is keen on helping kids, then he would invest in the very things that helped them.

And if education is the road to a better life in both the literal and metaphorical manner, then Hardister better not take money from the “road” budget; he should be adding money to it.

Evaluating the State Superintendent – Mark Johnson’s Job Performance According to the Rubric

super

It is no secret that the powers-that-be in the General Assembly have attempted to enable the new state superintendent of public schools with enough power so that he can blindly champion their reformation causes.  This seems to be in line with the market–driven, business-plan approach to public education that the state government in NC adopted under McCrory’s administration, and it continues suffocating a public school system that was once considered progressive and strong.

When Mark Johnson entered office as State Superintendent, he called for a sense of “urgency” and announced a “listening tour” to gather new ideas to present this summer for implementation to repair an “outdated” education model.

However, he seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the educational and instructional leader for the state, even if his actual background and experience in public education is minimal.

That lack of educational background is showing itself – very clearly. Five months into the stagnating tenure of Mark Johnson as state superintendent, most high school teachers are finishing another evaluation process in which they are subjected to a series of measurements on standards defined by rubrics. If we are to take to heart this idea of urgency and accountability, then should not the very person who is the instructional leader of the state, the “educational leader” as he proclaims, not be subjected to the same evaluation system as the very teachers he says that he is working on behalf of?

Yes, he should.

In North Carolina, system superintendents are evaluated by a process that highlights seven different standards. According to the North Carolina Superintendent Evaluation Process Manual (2007) they are rated as follows:

  • Not Demonstrated:
  • Developing:
  • Proficient:
  • Accomplished:
  • Distinguished:

If system superintendents are evaluated by such criteria and they directly report to the state superintendent, should it not be transferrable to the state superintendent in the same manner, but instead of looking at the local school system, look at the state school system? It would mean changing only a few words, but the spirit and meaning would be the same.

Except, there would be one more rating for the state superintendent because more is at stake. We would still have Not Demonstrated, Developing, Proficient, Accomplished, and Distinguished, but there would also be:

  • UnreMARKable

Standard 1: Strategic Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents create conditions that result in strategically re-imaging the state’s vision, mission, and goals to ensure that every student graduates from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century.  They create a climate of inquiry that challenges the community to continually repurpose itself by building on the state’s core values and beliefs about the preferred future and then developing a pathway to reach it.

The part where it says “climate of inquiry” is especially curious given that Johnson seems to shun answering questions at all or giving statements. When the state Senate released its budget proposal a couple of weeks ago, Johnson was asked for a statement considering that his department (DPI) was targeted for a 25% cut. His staff told news outlets that he would be unavailable for interviews all that week.

Consistently unavailable for inquiry does not lend itself to leading. Not many communities outside of the GOP chambers of the North Carolina Genera Assembly seem to have had any audience with him. That’s not creating community; that’s alienating people.

Possible artifacts include:

·         District strategic plan

·         School improvement plans are implemented, assessed, and modified

·         Effectively functioning, elected school improvement teams

·         Superintendent’s performance plan aligned with state and local strategic priorities and objectives

·         Staff can articulate the district’s direction and focus

·         Student performance data

·         Student achievement and testing data

 

Actual artifacts include:

·         A few quotes in news outlets.

·         A video for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

·         News that there were visits to some place on the listening tour, but no concrete details of what was discussed.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 2: Instructional Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents set high standards for the professional practice of 21st century instruction and assessment that result in an accountable environment.  They create professional learning communities resulting in highly engaging instruction and improved student learning.  They set specific achievement targets for schools and students and then ensure the consistent use of research-based instructional strategies in all classrooms to reach the targets.

Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) are sometimes called Professional Learning Teams (PLT’s). The word “team” here is curious because as a state superintendent, Johnson is part of the State Board of Education.

He’s suing them. They are suing him. Now that’s collaboration!

There is still no word on “specific achievement goals” – must still be on that listening tour.

Possible artifacts include:

·         District strategic plan

·         School improvement plans

·         Professional development plans based on data (e.g., student  R performance, results of the NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey)

·         Student performance goals

·         Student performance data

·         Use of formative assessment to impact instruction

·         District instructional evaluation program

Actual artifacts include:

·         A few quotes in news outlets.

·         Talk of talk that there might be a plan

·         Otherwise, the sound of crickets.

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 3: Cultural Leadership

Superintendents understand and act on the important role a system’s culture has in the exemplary performance of all schools.  They understand the people in the district and community, how they came to their current state, and how to connect with their traditions in order to move them forward to support the district’s efforts to achieve individual and collective goals.  While supporting and valuing the history, traditions, and norms of the district and community, a superintendent must be able to “reculture” the district, if needed, to align with the district’s goals of improving student and adult learning and to infuse the work of the adults and students with passion, meaning and purpose.

By definition, the State Superintendent of Public Schools is the leader of public instruction. On http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/statesuperintendent/, Mark Johnson is described as,

North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson was elected to the post in 2016. His career in education began at West Charlotte High School where he taught through Teach for America before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Superintendent Johnson served as a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education and was legal counsel at Inmar, an international technology company based in Winston-Salem. 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.”

What that description does not tell you is that he prepared to be a teacher for five weeks through TFA, spent only two academic school years in the classroom, and never completed one full term as a local school board member. In fact, much of that time as a school board member, he was campaigning to become state superintendent. That’s not a glowing resume for a “connection with traditions” in public education.

And it’s hard to “reculture” something if you are not present and available.

Possible artifacts include:

·         Climate survey data

·         NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey results

·         Teacher retention data

·         Student performance data

·         Awards structures developed by the state and schools

·         Community support of the state

Actual artifacts include:

·         The sound of crickets, but very much looking forward to the results of working condition surveys.

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 4: Human Resource Leadership

Superintendents ensure that the district is a professional learning community with processes and systems in place that result in the recruitment, induction, support, evaluation, development and retention of a high-performing, diverse staff.  Superintendents use distributed leadership to support learning and teaching, plan professional development, and engage in district leadership succession planning.

Human Resource Leadership? Simply look at May 30th’s report by Alex Granados from EdNC.org entitled “House budget highlights tensions between education leaders” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/05/30/house-budget-highlights-tensions-education-leaders/).

Here’s the first part of that:

“While the public waits for the House to unveil a full budget, including its proposal on teacher pay, the portions of the House plan released last week highlight a rift between education leaders in the state. 

A provision of the proposed budget would give State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson funding to hire 10 positions that would report directly to him and would be exempt from the State Human Resources Act.

When asked about it during the State Board’s Every Student Succeeds Act work session today, Johnson said the reason why he needs those employees in his office is clear. 

“I’d refer you to the ongoing court case between me and the State Board,” he said. 

Johnson is party to a lawsuit over legislation passed during a special session in December that transferred some of the State Board’s power to the superintendent. That suit will be heard in late June. One of the powers Johnson gains under that legislation, should the legislature’s move stand, pertains to who he can hire and fire. Currently, he is able to give input on some hires but the State Board has the final say.

“I did make that very public affidavit because that kind of sets forth what’s been going on in this department,” he said.

In that affidavit, which is part of the lawsuit, Johnson lists his grievances about the State Board’s hiring process and is critical of the process the board uses to hire for new positions. He lists specific instances where the Board refused to vote on a candidate he recommended, choosing instead to create committees to review potential hires. In the case of the position of chief financial officer, Johnson makes clear in the affidavit that the person the Board ultimately hired is not who he would have chosen.”

That’s not leadership.

That’s whining.

Possible artifacts include:

·         Student performance data

·         State strategic plan

·         NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey results

·         Number of teachers with National Board Certification and graduate advanced level licensure

·         Teacher; school executive; and staff diversity, recruitment, and retention data

·         Record of professional development provided staff and an assessment of the impact of professional development on student learning

·         Leadership development plan

·         Copies of professional growth plans for school executives

·         State plan or policy defining the role of teachers in making or participating in making resource allocation decisions, such as the use of time, budgets, and other resources, to meet the individual needs of each student

·         State leadership succession plan

Actual artifacts include:

·         Still, very much looking forward to the results of working condition surveys.

·         Might want to see what happened to the graduate degree pay

·         Might want to see retention rates, especially of teachers with experience

·         What leadership development plan?

·         In fact, what is the plan?

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 5: Managerial Leadership

Summary:  Superintendents ensure that the district has processes and systems in place for budgeting, staffing, problem solving, communicating expectations, and scheduling that organize the work of the district and give priority to student learning and safety.  The superintendent must solicit resources (both operating and capital), monitor their use, and assure the inclusion of all stakeholders in decisions about resources so as to meet the 21st century needs of the district.

Read explanation for Standard 4. One can’t display managerial leadership if one has to have the General Assembly craft legislation so that he can say he is a leader.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 6: External Development Leadership

Summary:  A superintendent, in concert with the local board of education, designs structures and processes that result in broad community engagement with, support for, and ownership of the district vision. Acknowledging that strong schools build strong communities, the superintendent proactively creates, with school and district staff, opportunities for parents, community members, government leaders, and business representatives to participate with their investments of resources, assistance, and good will. 

Again, read explanation for Standard 4.

Rating: UnreMARKable

 

Standard 7: Micropolitical Leadership

Summary: The superintendent promotes the success of learning and teaching by understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, ethical, and cultural context. From this knowledge, the superintendent works with the board of education to define mutual expectations, policies, and goals to ensure the academic success of all students.  

Actually, this one is tricky because it says “influencing the larger political, social, etc.”

The problem is that Johnson is totally being INFLUENCED by the larger “political, social, legal, ethical, and cultural context.”

Possible artifacts include:

·         Parent, community, and staff survey data 

·         Teacher, school executive, and staff retention data

·         Ability to confront conflict and build consensus

·         Shared decision making

·         Outreach efforts

·         School board policies

·         Minutes and reports

·         Superintendent’s performance goal

Actual artifacts include:

·         Still, still, still very much looking forward to the results of surveys.

·         House Bill 17

·         Affidavit

·         Senate budget allots $300,000 to pay legal fees to sue state school board

·         Senate budget allows for 5 positions to be funded for Johnson

·         House budget allows for 10 positions to be funded for Johnson

 

Rating: UnreMARKable

So we have as a result:

Standard Rating
UnreMARKable Not Dem. Developing Proficient Accomplished Distinguished
1 X          
2 X          
3 X          
4 X          
5 X          
6 X          
7 X          
OVERALL X          

 

This is not what we deserve in North Carolina.

Measure That – What If Every School Sent Its Yearbook To The North Carolina General Assembly?

yearbook

With the insistence of people like Sen. Chad Barefoot to send “data” to the General Assembly concerning how money is spent and how resources are being used, why don’t schools also send them a copy of their yearbooks.

Around this time in many schools, yearbooks are being distributed to students and others who early in the school year purchased what some might call a keepsake.

But yearbooks are more than that. They are living artifacts that capture the very pulse of a school that no test or state report card could ever hope to measure.

My school’s annual this year is over 500 pages of vibrant, colorful, living memories put together by a talented group of students who came up with a vision, a theme, a business plan and met multiple deadlines to create a product that will never lose its value.

In fact, it will increase.

That business plan means the selling of ads and determining price points because like so many other activities within public education, in order to have them, you must pay for them yourselves. And that’s exactly what these students do; they create something that will always be cherished. They will work during lunches, before and after school, and on weekends. They will attend every event possible to ensure that it is chronicled. It’s simply data in its purest form.

In a school of over 2000 students, it can be a rather herculean task to make sure that all students, faculty, and staff somehow get represented in the yearbook, but to think that it is just about printing a copy of everyone’s school picture is shortsighted.

Yearbooks capture the culture and spirit of a school.

Snapshots, clubs, activities, extracurricular, sports, profiles, dances, homecoming, trends, facts – whatever defined that year bundled together in one volume.

When I graduated high school over half my life ago, I was on the yearbook staff. Instead of digital cameras and computer programs, we had rubber cement and layout pages with typeset. Pictures were developed and then selected and cropped with scissors.

I still look at my old yearbooks at least once a year when I go back to the house I grew up in. Memories flood back. Games replayed. Conversations revisited. Friends reacquainted. A glimpse of actual hair on my head. And I realize that the kids now are wearing what was in style back then.

As students finish the year with exams and state tests that will eventually correspond to numbers and rankings in the eyes of many a lawmaker, I am tempted to send a copy of this year’s yearbook to Raleigh.

You realize there are those blank pages in the front and the back for the notes and the “signings.” What if every student wrote something for the General Assembly in their copy of the yearbook?

Then I would ask them to find a way to measure the effectiveness of the school according to what is presented in the pages.

They would not be able to.

Some things just can’t be measured.

Shakespeare and the Achievement School District Staged in North Carolina

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

-Juliet, Romeo & Juliet, II, ii

“A turd by any other name will still smell the same.”

-some t-shirt I saw on the internet

Although the North Carolina House presented a more palatable budget proposal for education, it bears repeating that almost anything presented in proximity to the senate’s disastrous pitch would sound better. But there are some particular peculiarities obvious in the House’s budget.

One such convenient action involves the Achievement School District (ASD), a reform initiative that was passed last year.

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A recent WRAL report stated,

“The Achievement School District bill was passed during the 2016 General Assembly short session. At the heart of the legislation is the creation of a district which will include five low-performing schools from around the state. The schools, which are yet to be named, could be turned over to for-profit charter operators” (http://www.wral.com/nc-house-unveils-portions-of-two-year-education-budget/16725640/).

The model for the ASD is based on what the state of Tennessee implemented about six years ago with Race to the Top initiative monies, and the results of that experiment have not yielded great dividends.

In fact, last August the Tennessee ASD was reported to have failed an audit and be forced to go under control of the Department of Education out of Nashville. From an August 17, 2016 Times Free Press report:

“Even as Division of State Audit accountants’ examination was still underway this spring, the state Department of Education, which had allowed the ASD to operate independently, informed the Comptroller’s office in April that it had staged an intervention and seized control over the ASD’s “fiscal and federal processes.”

As a result, the functions were transferred from Memphis to Nashville with a turnover of the ASD’s financial staff. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s staff told auditors they were hiring a fiscal director, fiscal manager, accountant, account tech, federal programs director and federal programs manager” (http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2016/aug/17/state-audit-documents-chaotic-financial-operation-tennessees-achievement-school-district/381759/).

And now there is news that there are enrollment problems as well – http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/02/28/the-enrollment-problems-that-plagued-asd-schools-in-turmoil-theyre-not-unique/.

And don’t forget that there has been a major slashing of staff for the ASD in Tennessee – http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/05/04/tennessees-achievement-school-district-cuts-team-overseeing-direct-run-schools/.

Cutting staff should not be a surprise with many school initiatives if they were initially funded by Race to the Top monies; however, if there was success with the ASD, then would Tennessee not continue to budget it fully?

But here in North Carolina, we have lawmakers so bent on re-forming schools that learning from the mistakes of the past with others is not part of the West Jones Street curriculum. In fact, without even having really seen any results of the North Carolina version, we have near-sighted legislators willing to invest more into it because it will work in their minds.

Reality is far different.

But as Sen. Chad Barefoot said in January of last year (2016), “Our state is totally different than other states. Not every state is organized like we are” (http://wunc.org/post/nc-senate-passes-charter-school-takeover-bill#stream/0).

And North Carolina is very organized. It takes a lot of planning, structure, and preparation to create gerrymandered districts with “surgical precision” according to the courts and an unconstitutional voter ID law that still affected outcomes in 2016.

One of the ways that North Carolina is making sure that it does not repeat the mistakes of Tennessee is to simply rename it.

Consider the aforementioned WRAL report from this past Friday. It states that the recent house budget proposal:

“The legislation also gave districts that participate in the ASD the opportunity to pick up to three other low-performing schools in their districts to join an Innovation Zone. Schools in this zone would have charter-like flexibility but would continue to be managed by the school district.

The House budget changes the name of the Achievement School District to the North Carolina Innovative School District (ISD). It also adds a provision that says, if a district participating in the ISD has more than 35 percent of its schools identified as low-performing, then all of those schools could become part of an Innovation Zone should the district elect that option.1

However, another provision initially said that, if a low-performing school in an Innovation Zone does not exceed growth for two continuous years, it will be forced to join the ISD. That means those schools would no longer be under the control of the district and could be turned over to for-profit charter operators. Those provisions together could end up increasing the number of schools that become part of the ISD” (http://www.wral.com/nc-house-unveils-portions-of-two-year-education-budget/16725640/).

Not Achievement, but Innovative.

Not ASD, but ISD.

Not Datsun, but Nissan.

Not Time Warner, but Spectrum.

Oddly, a change in name does not mean a change in the product. In fact, the use of the word “Innovative” in the new name is neither innovative or accurate.

It is still a borrowed failed idea that will take public money and put it into the hands of for-profit charter companies by people who have found many ways to force public schools to survive on less.

New name. Same stench.

 

 

I Would Like to File a Missing Person’s Report For Our State Superintendent of Public Schools

As the North Carolina House readies its release of a budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, it bears repeating that public education is the number one expenditure of the state. That’s not a surprise. According to the state constitution, it is designed to be the top expenditure. In fact, it’s that way for the almost every state in the country.

A couple of weeks ago, the state senate released its budget proposal. It called for a 25% cut in the operating budget for the Department of Public Instruction.

It would make sense that the leader of the public school system in the state be one of the first to speak out about what the General Assembly plans to allocate for schools and the operating body that helps to run the state system.

Be reminded that on Thursday, January 5th, 2017, just days after he took office, Mark Johnson stated the following at his first State Board of Education meeting:

“Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our students is a day that our students lose. Every day that we don’t take bold actions for our teachers is a day that our teachers lose. Complacency is the antithesis of urgency, so I ask that we act with urgency and not be complacent in anything that we do. If we don’t act with urgency, we will continue to betray students and we will continue to lose teachers and have difficulty retaining them and recruiting them.”

The operative word there is “urgency.” Johnson really gives it renewed vigor juxtaposing it with the word “complacency.”

In that same prepared statement, he also said,

“We have a lot of issues and challenges facing us. We have to own them. We have to own that we need to do something about testing. We have to own that there are students graduating from our schools that we are giving diplomas to that are not prepared for college or the workforce. We are the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. It is our job to own those challenges and find solutions. We must be innovative to find solutions.”

In that slice of rhetoric, he identified himself as part of a whole – “we.” And he talked about the “we” being the “Department of Public Instruction.”

So, after more than five months of a “listening tour,” the words “urgency,” “ownership,” and “we” seem to have morphed into something else. A lot can happen in five months, because five months is literally half of a school year.

At this time of the year, we have tests. Students have their “achievement” measured. Schools get “graded.” Teachers get “evaluated” mostly on how people do on these tests – the ones that Mark Johnson says “we need to do something about.”

And we have this budget that literally decimates the very construct he heads – the “we” he so passionately talked about in January.

Actually, this is Mark Johnson’s first test.

And how has he responded?

Take a look at Alex Granados’s article on EdNC.org entitled “Funding cuts to Department of Public Instruction in question” from May 23 (https://www.ednc.org/2017/05/23/25-percent-cut-dpi-maybe-not/).

He reports,

“Meanwhile, while the Senate is asking for a 25 percent cut to DPI and eliminating eight positions outright, it is also spending about $432,000 in recurring dollars to fund five positions that directly report to the State Superintendent — the person that oversees all of the positions in the Department of Public Instruction.

That person, Mark Johnson, was critical of the Department of Public Instruction during last year’s election campaign.

Sounds about as antithetical as “urgency” and “complacency,” does it not?

But here is the telling part.

Attempts to contact Johnson for comment on the Senate’s plans for DPI were unsuccessful. A member of Johnson’s staff said he would be unavailable all week for interviews.

So much for “urgency.”

So much for “we.”

So much for “bold.”

So much for “ownership.”

So much for “action.”

And when the words “unsuccessful” and “unavailable” become associated with the leader of the public school system, then it does not take a lot to figure out how well his test results will be.

But don’t worry. His score will surely be “curved” by those in control in the General Assembly.

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“Suffer the Children” – The Willful Ignorance of the North Carolina Senate

suffer

Matthew 19:14 in the King James Version of the Bible states,

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is a verse that combines two very specific words: “suffer” and “children.”

The KJV was produced over 400 years ago under the direction of the monarch who followed Elizabeth I to the throne of England, a woman who ushered a golden age for her country and launched its exploration into the new world patronizing the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh for whom our state named its capital.

Interestingly enough, the word “suffer” in that context means “permit.” Jesus was instructing his disciples to allow the children to come unto him.

In the Raleigh, North Carolina of today the words “suffer” and “children” have been often combined.

Except, “suffer” means something totally different and something totally non Christ-like.

In this modern context, “suffer” means to subject to something bad or painful. And what has been revealed this week in the North Carolina Senate’s budget proposal certainly is adding suffering to many children.

This is the same governing body that refused to expand Medicaid to many low-income families that have children thus negating their access to preventative healthcare.

And while bragging about a state surplus in revenue while “serving” a population where over %20 of the children lives in poverty, the NC Senate proposed the following according to NC Policy Watch’s Brian Kennedy:

As we wrote about last week, the Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL).

A special data request to the Department of Health and Human Services finds that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from more than 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, 51,345 of whom are children who will also no longer receive free or reduced cost school lunched.

Thirty-six percent of the households that will lose food assistance have children, 28 percent support elders, and 23 percent are households with disabled persons.

What is most egregious about this provision is that SNAP is completely federally funded. The elimination of CAT El would result in ZERO cost savings to the state (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/05/15/nc-senate-budget-strips-food-assistance-children-families/#sthash.5GQaO9W7.dpuf).

It should also be noted that the same senate budget proposal also LOWERS North Carolina’s ranking in per pupil expenditure from 42nd last year to 43rd this year according to figures reported by WRAL (http://www.wral.com/nc-ranks-35th-in-nation-for-teacher-pay-ranked-41st-last-year/16693105/).

And add to that, there was this as reported by thinkprogress.org’s Lindsay Gibbs:

At 3:07 a.m. on Friday morning, North Carolina Senate GOP leaders rushed through a budget amendment that stripped education funding for teaching assistants and STEM programs in districts led by Democrats, cut funding to provide fresh produce to food deserts, reallocated money that was supposed to go to an arts museum and a downtown revitalization project, and eliminated a position that works to secure federal aid for disaster relief.

It appears the amendment wasn’t passed to achieve specific policy goals though, but rather as an act of political retribution after a prolonged and contentious budget negotiation in the state’s senate (https://thinkprogress.org/north-carolina-senate-gop-targets-children-who-live-in-democratic-districts-37e03adae03d).

So there are actions that affect the health of children. And there are actions that affect the food sources for children. And there are actions that affect the education for children.

That’s a lot of suffering and children, but not the kind of “suffering” Christ seemed to be talking about.

Ironic that many of those same state senators profess Christ as their savior and moral compass.

But professing Christ and acting like Christ can be two completely different things.

 

State Superintendent Johnson, Whom Do You Serve?

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I appreciated the words in your video address to teachers thanking us for our work during the National Teacher Appreciation Week. For those who may not have seen that video, here is a link: https://youtu.be/asLHLCxjQ6k.

You talked about how teachers are not thanked enough, and while it is nice to hear those sentiments, the teacher, the public school parent, and the voter in me wants to see something else: action.

Why? Because during this week of “Teacher Appreciation” and polite ceremony, schools in many districts were still struggling to find the necessary resources and having to ask for essential support as the North Carolina General Assembly’s Senate chamber rolled out a budget proposal that did nothing to improve funding for public schools.

In fact, what happened on West Jones Street this “Teacher Appreciation Week” showed how much many in Raleigh do not appreciate what happens in public schools.

And this teacher, parent, voter, and advocate needs to ask you as the chief administrator of public schools, “What are you willing to do?”

First, it is quite disconcerting to not have heard you speak about the proposed cuts to the Department of Public Instruction. Actually, they aren’t really cuts. It’s more of a severing of limbs.

As suggested in the budget proposal, http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/PDF/S257v2.pdf, there would be a 25 percent cut in operation funds for DPI.

NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball reported on May 12th, 2017 in “Senate slashes DPI; state Superintendent silent,”

North Carolina’s chief public school administrator may be silent on Senate budget cuts to North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, but the leader of the state’s top school board says the proposal has the potential to deal major harm to poor and low-performing school districts.

“There’s no question about that,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey told Policy Watch Thursday. “A 25 percent cut, which I can’t believe will be the result of this process, would cut into very essential services for particularly the rural and poor counties.”

Cobey is referring to the Senate budget’s 25 percent cut in operations funds for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), a loss of more than $26 million over two years that, strangely, has produced no public reaction from the leader of the department (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/05/12/senate-slashes-dpi-state-superintendent-silent/).

Whether or not you want to give a statement to NC Policy Watch, the fact that you have not openly responded to this is actually quite surprising. And this is happening in a year where the same lawmakers are touting yet another SURPLUS in revenue.

Frankly, your power struggle to obtain authority over segments of public school policy with the state board has pretty much put a lot in limbo as far as crafting what you said in January were “urgent” reforms needed in our education system. Furthermore, those reforms and changes do not seem to have any shape or form in your first 120 days in office.

And it seems to have helped bring about a reduction of the very office that many look to help sustain many needed facets of public education in the state, especially in rural districts – by a fourth!

Some of those very districts were hurt by some late night underhanded partisan backstabbing this past weekend.

Colin Campbell of the News &Observer reported in “At 3 a.m., NC Senate GOP strips education funding from Democrats’ districts” on May 13th,

“The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article150397682.html#storylink=cpy).

What is your position on that?

Those districts’ schools are your schools. That proposed cut of twenty-five percent to DPI affects your schools. This prolonged lawsuit against members of your own party affects your schools.

Actually, they are our schools. And you were elected to work for our schools.

At the beginning of your term that you stated you would be conducting a “listening tour” for your first few months. I and others are very interested in learning what you have heard and how it may guide your policies.

However, a LOT WAS SAID THIS WEEK in words and actions – budget cuts, falling from 42nd to 43rd in per pupil expenditures, “super-vouchers,” and attacks on programs that help small districts. So, the obvious question might be, “What are you going to do about this?” It appears if you truly appreciated teachers and public schools, it seems that you would be screaming at all of this.

But the real question might be “Who do you serve?”

That same budget which is causing many people to doubt our state’s commitment to public schools also gave you money to do a couple of things. The first concerns a legal fund.

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That’s three-hundred thousand dollars to use so you can sue the State Board of Education to get powers as a state superintendent that have never been placed in the hands of the office before. The face of the State Board of Education is the same person who commented above about the cuts to DPI when you did not.

The second is to secure loyalty.

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This allows you to have five more people to work for you than the previous state superintendent which is odd considering that the same people who gave you this appropriation and the money to sue your own state board are the very ones who have cut DPI’s operation budget by a quarter.

So I ask again, “Who do you serve?”

Actions say so much.

And in this case a lack of a reaction screams.