Open Letter to the Registered Voter Who Believes in Public Schools

Note: I have combed through all of my op-eds, posts, rants, and lists and compiled from them what follows as a last posting to help get people to vote next Tuesday for pro-public education candidates.

The current General Assembly and governor are very scared of public school teachers and those who support them. Without their support in this next election cycle, many candidates for office simply cannot win. That’s why the governor and NCGA have touted so many “band-aid” style electioneering schemes to make them appear pro-public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

  • Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.
  • Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best
  • Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.
  • “Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.
  • Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.
  • Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.
  • Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.
  • Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that “profits” only those who take taxpayer money and has no successful track record no matter what state they have been established (lookout Georgia!).
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

So what can be done? Actually lots. And it all starts in the ballot boxes.

Remember, North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in over 65. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. Add to that their supporters. The numbers get bigger.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly and governor have done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight.” If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

Do your homework and see which candidates truly support our public schools.

Educate yourself, then please vote.

vote

Open Letter to Kami Mueller Concerning the NCAA, HB2, and “Political Peacocking” – Sorry, the Political Peacocking Bit Makes Me Laugh

Dear Ms. Meuller,

I read with great feigned interest your statement on behalf of the NCGOP concerning the NCAA’s decision to remove all championship athletic games from the state of North Carolina because of their stance on HB2, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill.”

kami-mueller

It reads,

“This is so absurd it’s almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams. Under the NCAA’s logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation. If you are unwilling to have women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women’s team? I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor. Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking — and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation’s collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field.”

Actually, it was more like surprise and bewilderment with which I read your statement. It almost made me wince and cringe like when I would watch The Office and Michael Scott would say something so insensitive that you became embarrassed for a fictional character in a satirical sitcom that made fun of office dynamics.

However, after having read your statement a few times, I sensed that there might be more method to this madness – that there was an ulterior motive – some purpose in the way your message was framed to an unsuspecting audience.

So I got out my rhetorical triangle complete with lenses to detect changes in diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax and came up with a few possibilities why your statement may have been more meticulously planned rather than the fart in the wind that others claim.

  1. It’s really satire.

Actually, it could be farce. You said yourself, “This is so absurd it’s almost comical.”

You even comically suggest that there should now be unisex collegiate sports. And why not? We have unisex classrooms where both men and women sit in congress with each other mentally engaging in a variety of subjects taught by members of different genders. Sometimes there are even study groups with members of the opposite sex.

It’s so apparent that it is the intent of the NCAA to “merge” all teams together. Talk about equal rights! And you brought it to light for the world to see!

And the way that you equated sexual assault with transgenderphobia? Wow! Even more hilarious. You literally paralleled the egregious acts of rape by football players who were identified as men on their birth certificates against women in Texas with fantastically unsubstantiated claims that there was ever a sexual assault committed by a transgender individual against a woman in North Carolina! Brilliant!

Forget that Baylor University, a Baptist school nonetheless, tried to cover it up from the NCAA and the world outside the campus. You go ahead and satirically blame the NCAA for that! Another fantastic move! And the way that you never mentioned it was Kenneth Starr who resigned from Baylor because he failed to act on the information properly – the same Kenneth Starr who tried to get Bill Clinton impeached because he had “relations” with an intern, but fumbled the opportunity (forgive the pun) – the same Bill Clinton who is married to the very presidential candidate who may win NC’s electoral votes? That’s gold!

And the best tongue-in-cheek part of your statement? That’s right – “political peacocking.”

No explanation needed for that.

  1. You are secretly working for the democrats.

That’s right. You delivered a surreptitiously calculated statement meant to make the NCGOP look so bad, so infantile, so whiny, so illogical, so stupid, and so insipid that you were really swaying more people to become prone to voting democratic in the November elections.

Maybe you knew that if you threw a rotten red herring out there in the form of egregious acts committed on a Texas college campus that voters here in North Carolina would know that it is a totally different issue than the one that HB2 brings to light.

You knew that a fear of the LGBT community did not equate to automatically assuming that all LGBT people are sexual predators, but in explicitly saying there was a correlation you created a statement so full of BS that the NCGOP would get blamed for it.

You knew that even insinuating that the NCAA condones rape openly when it has sensitively wrestled with issues linked to Title IX (sex discrimination in sports) and Title VII (minority rights) would make people look at your statement as an absolute joke of an explanation and wonder why they would even vote for a party that would think this way.

  1. You actually were serious and therefore recorded one of the most ill-advised statements that could ever be conceived in the minds of humans.

This is the worst scenario of all for the NCGOP and the one that is most accepted by pundits in the media.

It may be that it was rashly constructed then immediately printed in the heat of the moment with emotions so high like the actual HB2 bill was prepared, passed, and signed into law in a very short secret session last spring.

But to make it at this time is simply senseless. The GOP governor and the GOP-led NCGA are dealing with coal-ash spills, fallout from an unconstitutional Voter ID law, fallout from gerrymandering, and other efforts to slight the citizens of North Carolina and you deliver this delectable piece of ammunition for those who oppose the NCGOP’s actions.

You rely on empty arguments to defend a bill that could never be enforced, has economically hampered our state, and really takes away protections from people while discriminating others all while sexual assault was already against the law no matter what gender committed the crime.

And for someone who holds a rather high ranking job as a professional communicator, you make a statement that is insensitive, absurd, and overwrought in histrionics.

But I do have to admit that “political peacocking” makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help—not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

Open Letter to Phil Kirk, Chairman Emeritus for the NC State Board of Education

Dear Mr. Kirk,

I read with great interest your op-Ed for EdNC.org posted on September7, 2016 entitled “Outlandish myths about NC Republicans and education” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/09/07/outlandish-myths-nc-republicans-education/ )  It originally appeared in The News and Observer on September 6th .

Your initial paragraph in which you recount your unparalleled service and experience with education both in public schools and private universities more than qualifies you to speak about our current politically charged educational climate.  However, I also believe that it binds you to present your information in the entire context in which it resides.

As I read through your list of myths and their subsequent debunking, I could not help but think that you are presenting these myths with a lamp that does not fully shed light on the entire reality of the situation. It’s as if you defined the context of the claims and myths that many make in order to validate your explanations and allow them to fit within a politically motivated narrative that gives the current administration and legislature more credit than they deserve.

What you claim in the framework you present it in is totally correct. I am saying that you have said nothing that is incorrect within the context you present your points in. But there are so many other variables that affect the climate of public education that if investigated really show that you are doing more “cherry-picking” with numbers rather than presenting a complete outlook.

And with your background and understanding of public education, that’s simply outlandish.

  1. “Myth: Teachers are leaving North Carolina in record numbers. The truth is that last year, 6.8 percent left teaching to pursue a different career and only 1.1 percent left to teach in a different state. Some undoubtedly left because their spouses found jobs in other professions. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, 8,500 out-of-state teachers moved to North Carolina to teach while only 2,200 teachers left.”

Those numbers are correct. But it is how you are phrasing the first sentence that builds a different construct than what many have been worried about which is teacher turnover. The numbers you present are only what people are allowing you to know. You are assuming that all teachers who leave the profession “self-report”.

I would invite you to look at the report to the North Carolina General Assembly about the state of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. It is more comprehensive and shows many more variables than you present (http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/educatoreffectiveness/surveys/leaving/2014-15turnoverreport.pdf ).

The report also includes information on:

  • “Teachers who left the LEA but remained in education (31%) (Includes individuals resigning to teach in another NC LEA or charter school, individuals resigning to teach in a non-public school in NC, and individuals who moved to non-teaching positions in education)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for personal reasons (40%) (Includes individuals retiring with reduced benefits, individuals resigning to teach in another state, individuals dissatisfied with teaching, individuals who resigned for health reasons, individuals who resigned due to family responsibilities and/or childcare, death, and individuals who resigned due to family relocation, individuals seeking a career change)
  • Teachers who were terminated by the LEA (7%) (Includes individuals who were non-renewed, dismissed, or resigned in lieu of dismissal)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for reasons beyond the LEA’s control (15%) (Includes individuals who retired with full benefits, deceased, movement required by Military Orders, end of TFA or VIF term)
  • Teachers who left the LEA for other reasons not listed above (7%) (Includes teachers resigning or leaving teaching for reasons not listed or those who resigned for unknown and other reasons) (p.10) .”

The same report also shows that teacher turnover has actually risen during the current administration’s tenure (p.8).

kirk1

You state,

  1. “Myth: Republicans are cutting textbook funding. Since Gov. Pat McCrory was elected, spending on textbooks has tripled from $23 million to $72 million per year. In fact, it was the Democrats who cut textbook funding from $111 million to $2.5 million seven years ago. This GOP increase is in addition to $143 million in state and federal funds to transition classrooms to digital and wi-fi connectivity. In less than two years, N.C. will be one of a few states where all classrooms are connected.”

First, the current administration is not the first to try and get all classrooms in all schools plugged in digitally. Gov. Perdue was and still is very proactive in advocating for technological advances to be married to schooling. But let’s turn to textbooks. Below is a list of textbook expenditures over the last nine budgets that was presented by DPI. These numbers can be found on http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/ .

  • 07-08 – $99,490,211
  • 08-09 – $100,652,409
  • 09-10 – $111,162,790
  • 10-11 – $2,500,000
  • 11-12 – $23,431,227
  • 12-13 – $22,816,039
  • 13-14 – $23,169,585
  • 14-15 – $24,265,721
  • 15-16 – $52,384,390

I find it interesting that you concentrate on the 10-11 figures. And two words may be able to explain this expenditure – Great Recession. Revenues simply dried up. The economy was in shambles. Blaming the meager amount of money spent on textbooks in this year would be like blaming the entire recession on NC democrats.

But what is more telling is in that particular year more conservative Republicans were coming into the state legislature who looked to cut taxes and what you had is an incredibly injured revenue pipeline to fund public education in a state that literally had doubled in population in the previous 30 years. In fact, in Gov. Perdue’s last two years, she literally was facing a General Assembly that was veto-proof in the Senate, and nearly veto-proof (four shy) in the House (http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/blogpost/11273413/ ).

Look at what was spent for textbooks in the three previous “democrat” years. Now look at the years that republicans have been in control. Furthermore, this is in real dollars which are not adjusted for inflation through the consumer price index.

Again, you are viewing what happened with selective vision. In this case, rather egregiously.

  1. “Myth: Spending on K-12 spending has been cut. Since Republicans assumed power, spending on K-12 has increased by 18 percent, including a $700 million increase in this year alone. North Carolina is unique in the level of state funding it provides for K-12 public schools with 64 percent of funding coming from the state compared with the national average of only 46 percent. Education receives the largest share of the state budget, and K-12 receives by far the largest chunk of those dollars. Only in government can increases be called reductions!”

Sen. Jim Davis made the same claims in a Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting this past summer. A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

And what he claimed and what you claimed are really padded points made by many in the current administration. I will rebut to you with what I wrote the senator.

“Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 Great Recession. million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.”

Add in inflation and those numbers become more startling.

  1. “Myth: Teacher salaries are being increased only because this is an election year. Two years ago, North Carolina raised teacher’s salaries more than any other state in the nation. Teacher salaries were increased by 14 percent for beginning teachers. Last year teachers with six through 10 years experience received raises between six and 17 percent. This year teachers received pay increases averaging 4.7 percent, and those experienced teachers between eight and 19 years on the pay scale received raises of 10 to 13 percent!”

Are you sure about that? My paycheck doesn’t really reflect all that you say. Why? Because you use the word “average.”  Saying that North Carolina raised teacher salaries more than any other state in the nation in 2014 is misleading. One can raise the salary of first year teachers by a few thousand dollars and it would give them an average raise of maybe 10-15%. One would then only have to give veteran teachers a very small raise funded by longevity pay (which all veteran teachers no longer get) and the OVERALL average raise still looks good, and not much money has to be invested.

I invite you to read James Hogan’s recent posting about teacher pay on his blog entitled “No, NC Republicans Have Not Fixed Teacher Pay” (http://www.forum.jamesdhogan.com/2016/09/no-nc-republicans-havent-fixed-teacher.html ). It’s devastatingly accurate and it doesn’t even talk about the removal of longevity pay.

  1. “Myth: Principals have been left behind as teacher pay has been steadily increased under the Republicans. That has been true for the past eight years when they received a total of 1.2 percent increased pay. This year the Republicans granted two percent raises with a study approved for administrator compensation. Small, yes, but a recognition of the problem and a step in the right direction.”

We are 50 out 51 in principal pay. You can’t really take credit for identifying a gaping wound now when everybody else has been seeing it for years.

  1. “Myth: North Carolina’s pay for teachers compared with other states is slipping. As McCrory took office, pay had slipped to 47th. We will move to at least 41 this year and to a projected 34th next year. Total compensation, including fringe benefits, now averages $66,000 for 10 months’ employment. Is that enough for the tough job teachers face every day? Not for the effective teachers, but the trend has certainly been reversed and is headed toward our paying our teachers the most in the Southeast.”

The words “projected” and “reality” are very different.  You said earlier in your op-Ed that we had the largest increase in teacher pay in 2014 and look what it got us. We are still near the bottom. Either the numbers are skewed somewhat or your claim lacks adequate explanation.

You are also assuming that we will rise in rankings without considering that other states will be increasing their own salaries and benefits packages.

Furthermore, you will need to convince me that we only do ten months of work. The budget now requires us to seek more certification renewal on our own time and schools do not prepare themselves over the summer. No school is ever really closed. Besides, there are a lot of coaches out there who work more in the summers than people really ever know.

  1. “Myth: Class size has been increased. The truth is that kindergarten is capped at 18 students, first grade at 16, and second and third grades at no more than 17.”

What about 4th grade?  5th?  6th?  7th?  8th?  9th?  10th?  11th?  12th?

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

kirk2

However, local authorities can extend class sizes if there is a need in their eyes. If you look on the very next page of the same handbook there is the following table:

kirk3

That bill referred to, HB112, allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the previous table’s numbers. And that’s huge! Some classes on my campus push upwards to 40 students.

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

You end your op-Ed with a semi-rhetorical question that begs even more explanation – “Does all that and more justify the political rhetoric that Republicans don’t care or fund education?”

Well, yes. Because there are more truthful “myths” that I need you to address in the full light of reality such as how the following are moves to help our schools and its teachers.

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, especially if you consider my claims in this letter outlandish.

Stuart Egan,
Public School Teacher

Open Letter to Sen. Jim Davis Concerning Misleading Claims

Dear Sen. Davis,

It was with great anticipation that I viewed and watched your comments at a recent Macon County Board of Commissioners meeting in which you were “invited” to rebut the legitimate claims of a highly respected, veteran educator named John de Ville.

A video of that presentation is available here – http://livestream.com/accounts/16465545/events/6107359/videos/132381404.

However, that anticipation quickly turned into an exercise of patience as I listened to a three-term state senator do nothing but rehash the same talking points of the GOP establishment in Raleigh that claims to have strengthened public education when in reality has created the very circumstances that Mr. de Ville is fighting to remedy for the sake of our students.

When you were introduced by one of the commissioners, it was obvious that your presence was there to simply squash Mr. de Ville’s well prepared argument. In actuality, you strengthened Mr. de Ville’s argument.

You approached the podium with the “purest of motives” and considering the circumstances under which you were present, it seems more like you there with the purest of political motives.

As I mentioned earlier, you simply restate the same talking points that others in Raleigh have used to validate your legislative actions, and again it bears responses that clearly show that you either misrepresent the truth or simply ignore it.

  • “Stimulus money and non-recurring revenue”

You made mention of the 2008 budget and that it was bolstered by Obama’s stimulus money when he took office and when democrats controlled Congress. Not counting that fact that Obama did not actually take office until 2009 and stimulus money was not released right away, you are simply revising history about the Great Recession. Mr. de Ville actually explains this better than I could in a recent exchange. He said,

“Yes, 2008 was the high water mark for recent public education funding … Democrats were running the state. That’s why all of us who are public education advocates use that as a baseline, because that’s how well we were doing ON OUR OWN and without the current hostility to public education we are currently experiencing.  But it is IMPOSSIBLE that any federal stimulus money was spent on public education that year (2007 – 2008) because (a) the Great Recession did not hit until the fall of 2008… When George W. Bush was in office. (b) the stimulus wasn’t passed until February of 2009 and the stimulus/EduJobs monies didn’t flow to states and counties for educational use until later in 2009 for use in the 2009 – 2010 year.”

  • “We have increased educational funding every year.”

Sen. Davis, you are correct, but there is so much more involved. You are making the same talking point that Gov. McCrory makes on his website for reelection.

Of course there is more money spent on education now than in the past. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country. More people mean more students to educate. But it is interesting that the per-pupil expenditure under this present leadership is lower than it was before the Great Recession.

Here’s an analogy. Say in 2008, a school system in your district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s approximately 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2016, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to your claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly by about 2300 dollars per student or 23 percent.

Your argument doesn’t hold much credibility when you claim to be spending more overall, yet the average per-pupil expenditure has gone down precipitously.

  • “The state budget spends 56% on education.”

That’s true. And it seems like a large amount. And it is higher than the national average. But it’s supposed to be. The very state constitution that you are sworn to uphold calls for it. I have made this argument before to Rep. John Hardister. I will repeat that argument here.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education. The rest of my explanation to him can be found at this link, http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Letter-to-Hardister.pdf.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a “Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature,” the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. As I stated to Rep. Hardister,

“…those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this administration. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering. Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting numbers of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?”

Also lost in this is the uneven fashion in which money from the state is actually dispersed to LEA’s on the county and city levels. One of the more cohesive explanations of North Carolina’s state funding practices is a publication by the Center for American Progress entitled “The Stealth Inequities of School Funding” produced in 2012. It summarizes our state’s practices in a fairly concise manner, especially on page 46.

And that uneven distribution to LEA’s (central offices) has been cut by the most recent budget, the one you claim creates a surplus for our state.

  • The NEA statistics and the fact they “will tell you they have problems”

It’s odd that the NEA’s report on educational spending is usually considered the standard in the nation. The John Locke Foundation’s John Hood and Dr. Terry Stoops have used it to bolster their baseless claims. Even the GOP has used it to claim that teacher salaries are rising on average more in North Carolina than any other state. But you seem to dismiss it with an uneducated perspective.

Below is another source of information, the U.S. Census Bureau. It pretty much confirms the same findings as the NEA report.

census

Not flattering at all. And the benefits package that you refer to? Yes, it is better than some and worse than a lot.

Also, you made mention of NC in comparison to other school systems like Detroit and Chicago. It is interesting that you compare an entire state against two cities; it really is like comparing apples to oranges, or maybe vegetables. They give different tests and more glaringly, they have teacher unions which have collective bargaining powers. North Carolina is a right to work state and with the removal of due process rights and graduate degree pay bumps for new teachers, you have created an entirely new dynamic here in NC that does not exist in Chicago or Detroit.

Furthermore, Chicago and Detroit have been more known for their corruption from elected officials, not school employees. That fact that they have teacher unions might be one of the very thing that is keeping their students in school.

  • “Tax Burden”

You make many references to the easing of tax burdens. Again, that is selective. And you make references to surpluses. That too is misleading.

That “stronger, healthier economy” you refer to was built on many things that were actually deleterious to working North Carolinians. Think of the tax deductions and exemptions that were eliminated for many middle-class families. While the state could now claim to have “lowered” taxes, many families were actually giving more money to the state because they could not claim item deductions as they could in the past. Also, with the move to a consumer-driven economy newer taxes on goods and services (auto repairs, eleimiatioj of tax-free school supply weekends, etc.) has “burdened” the citizens.

And the last two years are the first in my teaching career that I had to pay the state taxes in April instead of receiving a refund.

And of course you can always create a surplus – simply by not spending the money or in this case reinvesting it in our students.

  • “Teacher Salaries”

This is still one of the most egregious claims that this current administration makes – that average teacher pay has risen to over 50K a year.

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

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

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

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to each central office of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to actually offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements.

And we have not even mentioned your role in allowing unregulated charter school growth and Opportunity Grants to take even more monies and resources away from the schools in your very district.

Sen. Davis, you represent a district that borders three different states – Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. They all rank better than NC on the aforementioned chart. Considering that Mr. de Ville is a veteran teacher and a member of the Hope Street Fellows, you should be thanking him for informing his district and elected officials what will help make your district thrive.

To be someone who claims he is very proud to be among the current leadership in Raleigh, then you must be very proud of the fact that six different times you have been a part of unconstitutional laws and legal actions – gerrymandering of districts, the redrawing of Wake County districts, NCAE automatic deductions, judicial retention elections, and the Voter ID law. Furthermore, your stances on same-sex marriage and HB2 are well documented and both have been (or will be) overruled by the Constitution of the United States in the court system.

It seems to me that the Jim Davis who created the iconic Garfield comic strip has a much firmer grasp of reality here in North Carolina than you do.

Open Letter to Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of NC Values Coalition, Concerning HB2

Dear Ms. Fitzgerald,

I read with great interest your remarks conveyed in an interview outside of a Winston-Salem courtroom concerning a recent federal hearing of the HB2 bill.

I read with greater concern that your ability to speak on platitudes is only surpassed by the circular reasoning you seek to influence others to continue to discriminate.

The recent article by Triad City Beat (https://triad-city-beat.com/2016/08/tami-fitzgerald-trans-people-use-bathroom/) features an impromptu interview with you concerning your views on HB2. What was most interesting was your exchange with Lily Carollo, a J-School student at UNC-CH.

Here is what Triad City Beat posted about that encounter.

Several reporters drifted over to get Fitzgerald’s take on the legal debate, including Lily Carollo, a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill who is an intern at Indy Week (our fellow alt-weekly in the Triangle).

Carollo asked Fitzgerald how she thought transgender people who have physically transitioned yet have not updated their birth certificates should handle the bathroom dilemma created by HB 2.

“I think the law offers them the opportunity to update their birth certificate once they have sex-reassignment surgery,” Fitzgerald said.

Carollo quickly personalized the question in a way Fitzgerald might not have anticipated.

“I haven’t had my birth certificate updated, but I don’t have a penis anymore,” she said. “Should I be allowed to use the women’s bathroom?”

“I think you are allowed to apply for a new birth certificate so that you can,” Fitzgerald replied.

“What do I do in the meantime though?” Carollo pressed.

“Well, I think you should go right now today to apply for that,” Fitzgerald said.

Carollo persisted.

“But it takes three months for the birth certificate to come through,” she said. “So what do I do in the meantime if I’m on campus or if I’m in a state building?”

“I don’t know,” Fitzgerald said before recovering her talking point.

“Under HB 2 you should continue and use the bathroom on your birth certificate,” she said.

Ms. Fitzgerald, those are empty answers to real questions. It seems when you are actually pressed for an explanation on your views points and why they are valid you seem to stumble.

You seemed to rely on the use of “birth certificates. “

So did the Voter ID law that was just overturned in time for the November elections. With the current ruling of the 4th Circuit Court came a strong statement concerning the deliberate use of racial motives in denying some people the right to vote. It had to do with the use of birth certificates and knowing that poorer people and older people who needed them to obtain valid ID’s would have a tough time getting them.

The very people that your coalition praises in your NC 2014 Pro-Family Scorecard as “Champions for the Family” (NCVC-2014-Pro-Family-Scorecard-Final1.pdf) voted for House Bill 589 (the Voter ID Law). In fact, all of the House of Representatives you single out to praise on the Scorecard (except only five) were sponsors of that very bill.

(Might I also add that your list of “Champions” in both the House and Senate is comprised solely of white individuals who obviously hold religious views that are close to yours and the coalition’s – Judeo-Christian.)

Is it not interesting that your coalition and those you support seem to rely so much on the birth certificate argument to validate the passing of discriminatory laws to create politically motivated solutions for problems that never existed? Voter fraud is practically nonexistent in North Carolina; Sexual assaults by transgender people is the same – practically nonexistent.

But you said in court earlier that day that it was a big problem. In another example of giving of empty answers to real questions you made a claim and then could not back it up with proof or data. As reported in the Winston-Salem Journal on August 2nd by Michael Hewlett (“Judge hearing request to halt House Bill 2 questions why legislators passed the legislation”),

“Tami Fitzgerald, president of N.C. Values and a strong supporter of House Bill 2, said there is a false narrative that men haven’t gone into women’s bathrooms dressed as women and sexually assaulted women. She said there have been 100 incidents around the country but didn’t give specifics. According to PolitiFact, there have been few incidents in which sexual predators have pretended to be transgender in order to sexually abuse women.”

You presented no specifics given for a claim that is under scrutiny to begin with. Sexual assault is already against the law.

Ironically, on the NC Values Coalition website (http://ncvalues.org/about-us/mission/), your profile as the Executive Director states that you were “Chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC, the official referendum committee that successfully passed the North Carolina Marriage Amendment.” That amendment was struck down by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals as being unconstitutional. The Supreme Court followed that up with legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation. In essence, you were supporting something that was unconstitutional.

The Voter ID Law – (HB589 from 2013) that you supported was just declared invalid and in essence, unconstitutional.

And now comes HB2, which will be decided upon in the courts. However, recent court cases suggest that it is a matter of time before it is repealed. And Butch Bowers assertion that HB2 is merely a law of reaffirmation of privacy and could not really be enforced is not a strong precedent to stand upon. It is a law, like the Voter ID law, based on hypothetical situations that became gospel due to fears of others interpreting happiness in their own way.

And it’s strange that you would defend hypothetical situations such as transgender sexual assault of voter fraud when you yourself seem not to take stock in “hypothetical” situations. Allow me to refer back to the Triad City Beat article, farther down the post.

Paul Garber, a reporter with the Winston-Salem public radio station 88.5 WFDD, picked up the question and took it in a different direction.

“Look, I’m a guy and if a transgender woman wants to use the same bathroom as me, it’s not a big deal to me,” he said. “But what if a very masculine looking person with facial hair who is biologically female comes in the women’s bathroom. How would you feel about it?”

Fitzgerald hesitated, as if wary of a trap.

“You’re asking me a very hypothetical question,” she said.

Reactions from the handful of reporters hovering nearby were immediate and visceral.

“It’s a hypothetical, but entirely predictable situation, given HB 2,” Winston-Salem Journal reporter Michael Hewlett protested.

“And it’s a situation you created,” an unidentified camerawoman seethed. (Fitzgerald is not a lawmaker, but her son-in-law, Chad Barefoot, serves in the Senate.)

After getting Garber to repeat the question, Fitzgerald acknowledged, “Probably there would be some discomfort before there’s a change in the birth certificate.”

Then, back to another talking point.

“I’m more comfortable defending the right of privacy.”

You use the word “right” in discussing privacy. The word “right” comes up many times in our revered historical documents that defined our nation.  There’s the wonderful statement from the Declaration of Independence that says,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

I do think it right of me to say that it includes men and women despite their sexual orientation or identity. And with religious freedom (that NC Values Coalition states is a key issue with them) the word “Creator” could mean anyone’s conception of a higher power. Then how can I or anyone stand in the way of someone else’s happiness much less their need to relieve themselves?

Ms. Fitzgerald, I also noted that on the website for NC Values Coalition that there is a strong connection with Biblical teaching. “The Mission statement” says,

The mission of the North Carolina Values Coalition is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture of North Carolina from a Christian worldview.

“The Primary Strategy” states,

  • Educate and equip voters to elect to public office those who hold a Christian worldview
  • Hold elected officials accountable for anti‐faith, anti‐family, & anti‐freedom votes
  • Educate, inform, and influence NC citizens, politicians and policymakers
  • Engage pastors, churches and people of faith
  • Coalition building and networking with other like‐minded organizations to accomplish common goals and optimize resources
  • Organize and equip grassroots advocacy

In both of those excerpts you say the word “Christian.” I would like to ask if that worldview takes into account what Christ says about homosexuality and transgender people. Actually he said nothing about either one of them. He talked of love. There is the Golden Rule of “love one another as you would love yourself” (John 13:34), but other verses come to mind as well, not just from Jesus, but from his disciples and apostles.

For example there is 1 Corinthians 13:13. (And I use the NIV.)

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Galatians 5:6

“For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. All that matters is faith, expressed through love.”

Discrimination is not love Ms. Fitzgerald.

And you’re discriminating.

Open Letter to Gov. McCrory and the NCGA Concerning Bonus Pay for Teachers

Dear Gov. McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly,

This may not be a popular opinion, but it is one that is a matter of principle to me.

I will be receiving $2,000 in bonuses this year for having a certain number of students pass the AP English Language and Composition Exam for the 2015-2016. Many of you may think that it will somewhat ameliorate tensions with public school teachers like me. I do not think it will at all. I feel that it just exacerbates the real problem: lack of respect for all public school teachers.

I am not going to keep my bonus. To me it’s just academic “blood money.”

I have read about this provision of bonus money frequently in the summer. It’s in the budget that the governor is expected to sign this week, a provision adding bonus pay for teachers of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, CTE, and 3rd grade. As the News and Observer reported this week (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article89154042.html),

“Advanced Placement course teachers will receive $50 bonuses for each of their students who score 3 or higher on AP exams. Teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program courses will receive a $50 bonus for each student who scores 4 or better on IB exams.

Those bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year. Scores from 2015-16 and 2016-17 will be used. Bonuses are to be paid in January 2017 and January 2018.

Teachers whose students earn approved industry certifications or credentials will win bonuses of $25 or $50 per student, depending on the value of the credential as determined by the state Department of Commerce. The bonuses are capped at $2,000 per teacher per year.”

In fact, I would receive more money in bonuses if there was no cap. But unlike class sizes, you have capped the bonuses.

But, as I said, I will not keep the bonus. Part of it will be taxed. The state will get some of it back. The feds will get some of it. Some of what the feds will get may be paying for Medicaid in other states, which is ironic because we didn’t expand it here in NC. None of it will go to my retirement plan.

The rest I will give back to my school. And don’t think I do not need the money. I do – two kids, car payment, mortgage, therapy for a special needs child, etc.

But I can’t make it this way, especially when I know why the bonus is given and the fact that it doesn’t really belong to me because so many more people at my school helped my students pass my particular AP test, one that does not even have any influence on their transcript.

I know that there are other teachers I know well who will receive bonuses for their students passing AP tests. If they keep that money, that’s their business. They need the money. They have families and needs. I will not in any way ask them what they will do with it.

There are many reasons for my opinion, and all are rooted in principles and respect, but I will attempt to explain them clearly and concisely.

1. I do not need a carrot stick. If getting a bonus to get students to perform better really works, then this should have been done a long time ago. But it does not. I do not perform better because of a bonus. I am not selling anything. I would like my students and parents to think that I work just as hard for all of my students in all of my classes because I am a teacher.

2. This creates an atmosphere of competition. I did not get into teaching so that I could compete with my fellow teachers and see who makes more money, but rather collaborate with them. Giving some teachers a chance to make bonuses and not others is a dangerous precedent.

3. I did not take those tests. The students took the tests. Sometimes I wish that I could take the tests for them, but if you are paying me more money to have students become more motivated, then that is just misplaced priorities. These students are young adults. Some vote; most drive; many have jobs; many pay taxes. They need to be able to harness their own motivation and hopefully I can couple it with my motivation.

But many of these students are taking eight classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and helping families. Plus all of the testing that we put on students that takes away from actual instructional time is staggering. Sometimes, I am amazed at what our students actually accomplish in light of the gravity they are placed under.

4. I was not the only person who taught them. To say that the success of my students on the AP English Language and Composition Test solely rested on my performance is ludicrous. While the cliché’ “It takes a village” might be overused, I do believe that the entire school’s faculty and staff has something to do with not only my students’ success, but my own. The content, study skills, time management, discipline that students must exercise to pass the AP test certainly did not all come from me. Everyone on staff, every coach, every PTSA volunteer has helped to remove obstacles for students so they could achieve.

5. Bonus pay does not work. It’s like merit pay. There is really no evidence that it helps public schools. Remember the ABC’s from the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s? Yep, I do too.

6. The state does not have a reputation of fully funding their initiatives. Again, remember the ABC’s? I still do. Those bonuses dried up because they were not fully funded. And after the bonuses are taken away in the future (which they probably will), will the expectations of student performance be lessened? History says that it will not.

7. My class is not more important as others. They all matter. I wrote Rep. Stam last fall concerning his views on merit pay and what subjects were more important than others,

“If some subjects matter more than others, then why do schools weigh all classes the same on a transcript? If some subjects matter more than others, then why do we teach all of those subjects? I certainly feel that as an English teacher, the need to teach reading and writing skills is imperative to success in any endeavor that a student wishes to pursue after graduation. In fact, what teachers in any subject area are trained to do is to not just impart knowledge, but treat every student as an individual with unique learning styles, abilities, and aptitudes in a manner that lets each student grow as a person, one who can create and make his/her own choices. “

8. This sets a dangerous precedent in measuring students and teachers. As I stated in my aforementioned letter to Rep. Stam,

“Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick. Furthermore, the GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores. When some of our colleagues deal with students who experience more poverty, health issues, and other factors, then how can you say that those teachers do not “grow” those students when an arbitrary test score is all that is used to measure students?”

9. This is a reward, but far from showing respect. It’s an election year. Many teachers got a raise, but again that is an “average” raise. Bonuses in this case seem more like “hush money” and a means to brag that you seem to care about teacher compensation. But if you really respected teachers, you would do more for them than give “bonuses” to a few of them. You would reward them with salaries comparable with the rest of the nation. You would restore due-process rights for new teachers, you would give back graduate degree pay, you would stop measuring schools with a defeatist model, and you would restore longevity pay.

10. It’s pure electioneering. There is uncontrolled charter school growth. There are loosened sanctions on for-profit virtual schools. There are massive amounts of money going to Opportunity Grants which will no doubt fill the coffers of schools that do not even teach the same curriculum as those teachers you want to “reward” with these bonuses. There is HB2, HB3/TABOR, and an ASD district still out there. There is the lowered per pupil expenditure. All of this affects the very schools that you think a bonus will help to hide.

These bonuses are not part of the solution. They are a symptom of a bigger problem. And while I will defend each person who receives this bonus his/her right to keep it and spend it any way he/she chooses, I plan to give mine to my school, one of many that you have not fully resourced.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Open Letter to Fellow NC Public School Teachers – What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have a voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have virtual charter schools that have loose regulations.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are usually constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the Voter ID law.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about more money coming from out-of-state Super PACS to fund pilitiacl races here in NC than exists in the operating budgets of many counties.
  • Think about TABOR and HB3.
  • Think about HB2.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

SB 873 – Shame on Apodaca and Kraweic – The Farce of the Access to Affordable College Education Act

Note: Be sure to view a note by John de Ville, public school advocate and Hope Street Fellow from Macon County, following this op-ed. He highlights that Western Carolina University has strong reservations and provides a link to their statement on SB 873 – The Affordable College Education Act. Thanks to John.

Sen. Joyce Kraweic is now offering red herrings from the North Carolina General Assembly’s political menu, and it serves as a reminder that there are many in our General Assembly who are simply intent on hurting public education.

John Hinton’s feature story in the May 29th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, “Bill to lower WSSU tuition draws fire”, outlines the Access to Affordable College Education Act which was introduced by Sen. Tom Apodaca and co-sponsored by our local state senator.

The bill “would require Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University, to lower tuition beginning in the 2018 fall semester to $500 for state residents and $2,500 for out-of-state residents.” That would cut current tuition by %69 for in-state students, almost %61 for out-of-state students.

In what is being hailed by Apodaca and Kraweic as a means to make education more affordable for students, this bill would spell certain bankruptcy for these schools which include flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus west of Asheville. It is a pure and simple attack on the public university system in our state.

While Apodaca could not be reached for explanation, Sen. Krawiec gave enough political spin to reveal the absence of foresight evident in this bill and a lack of being educated on how this legislation would devalue what these schools offer students.

When asked about the impetus for this bill, Krawiec stated, “The cost of education in North Carolina has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, rising by 72 percent.”

It would make more sense for the senator to find out why tuition has “skyrocketed” and attack those causes, one of which is the state’s unwillingness to extend more funds to the entire UNC system to help defray costs for our state’s students by slowing tuition hikes.

Or better yet, stop putting more of the state’s tax burden on the very people who send their students to these public universities. Extending Medicaid might ease financial burdens for many; fully funding k-12 public schools would give all public school students a better chance to succeed in post-secondary studies; slowing down the siphoning of money to unregulated charter schools and unproven vouchers would save money that could be reinvested in public systems.

However, more of the actual intention of this bill appears in Kraweic’s last quote in the report. She says, ““We must find a way to increase student population and provide a quality education,” she said. “The buildings still have to be maintained and professors compensated even when classrooms are nearly empty. The legislature has committed to compensate any shortfall in funding due to reduced tuition.”

When Sen. Kraweic states that the legislature is “committed” to repay any budget shortfalls to the universities because of tuition revenue loss, she does not mention that Apodaca has already admitted that the bill “wouldn’t commit future legislators to continue that funding to the UNC system” after the first year. So, how would that really benefit these affected colleges and universities?

It wouldn’t. It would simply drive down their appeal to students because if the university cannot recoup revenue losses, then the ability to attract a viable faculty, keep the best resources on hand for students, offer financial packages through scholarships, and ultimately get alumni donations will all diminish.

More egregious is that this bill targets schools with a history of educating minorities, one of which is literally next to Kraweic’s district, Winston-Salem State University. Her own bill would hurt the very community that she serves, the very people she is supposed to represent.

Most ironic is that Sen. Kraweic is a real-estate broker by trade. She should know better than anyone that the price of a piece of property is intrinsically tied to its value. That is not to say that if one simply raises the price on something that the value automatically goes up. The market will even that out.

However, if one all of a sudden lowers the price on a piece of property by over %60, then there is a perception that what is offered is not as valuable. What would happen to the senator’s property value if the house next to hers sold for one-third of its value? Would the state come in and repay that financial setback? It wouldn’t.

Comparably, if schools like Winston-Salem State offer an education for a fraction of the cost to supply it, like any business, it would go bankrupt.

And the senator should know that.

 

From John de Ville:

The faculty of Western Carolina University says, in a blinding flash of strenuous diplomacy, that they understand perfectly well the NC Senate’s goal to crash them into the mountain and convert the venerable institution into a community college:

“Part III. Reduced tuition at certain institutions.

This is certainly the most attention-getting provision of the bill; it is both the most immediately attractive feature, and simultaneously the most problematic. A tuition rate of $500 per semester, if offered equally to students across the state, and, if matched with an identical investment back into the affected campuses, would be a great benefit for the people of the state. It would reflect the ideals represented in our state Constitution, and would clearly support a commitment to accessible, affordable, extraordinary higher education for North Carolina citizens.

Unfortunately, the current version of the bill only mandates the $500 tuition fee for five universities, does not offer a rationale behind selecting those universities, and provides no promise or even hint of current or future funding to make up for the catastrophic cut in these five universities’ budgets. We appreciate the verbal commitment by the bill’s sponsor to include an appropriate offset in the upcoming Senate budget (as reported in the News and Observer). However, having the $500 tuition cap in one bill, and the offset funding in a single biennium budget, creates a very precarious funding scenario for future years—when the overall cost of the plan is likely to increase many-fold. In order to make sure these universities are able to continue to provide a quality educational product to their students, the method of funding this plan should be included in the same bill as the plan itself.”

https://docs.google.com/document/d/19zlO7AqnFkUKGVqVxNAFbEERWZbMksgT8PHc-LVeFYU/edit